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.

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…)

The Flesh and the Fiends

The Flesh and the Fiends. 1960. dir. John Gilling. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

I drank too much last night. There. I admit it. The truth can’t hurt you (but the alcohol certainly can). It crept up on me, and there you are. A combination of a few days off, a stressful week – the usual excuses. The only reason I’m telling you this – except to satisfy a need of self-confession, in the sure and certain hope that it’ll strengthen my resolve to go teetotal – is to say I’m a little delicate, and struggling to make sense of the morning. So who better to turn to than Peter Cushing. I can quite imagine what Peter Cushing would say to me, if he should stroll into the bedroom where I’m typing this, yawning, and raising a coffee cup with a trembling hand. His eyebrows would flicker up a millimetre. He’d tug his waistcoat down a touch, straighten his cuffs, then say with great clarity and urgency: ‘I would like to speak with you in the LYE-BREH-REH’. And I’d immediately feel better.

So in lieu of that, here’s a film with him in – playing the part of Dr Knox in the Burke & Hare story. A role I can imagine him playing with great asceticism and truth. Because if there were ever a man you could imagine buying and selling bodies, it’s Peter Cushing. It’s also got Donald Pleasence in, which is a bonus.

That’s it. And as Ru Paul would say (another hero): Good luck. And DON’T fuck it up.

00:01 After the Rank Organisation gong (who IS that guy?) – a cemetery at night, and then in big white letters: THIS IS THE STORY OF LOST MEN AND LOST SOULS. IT IS A STORY OF VICE AND MURDER. WE MAKE NO APOLOGIES TO THE DEAD. IT IS ALL TRUE. Which bodes well for a hangover.

00:50 The cemetery looks a bit rundown. Hardly a cemetery at all – more like a pile of trash with a few headstones. The church in the background makes it look official, but apart from that, not a place you’d want to hang around in… unless…

01:03 Two guys with lanterns trudge through the cemetery, drop some chains, produce some shovels and start digging at a grave (whose stone wobbles a bit). Then a blare of trumpets and the title THE FLESH and the FIENDS. Starring Peter Cushing. (Hooray!) Donald Pleasence! (Who-hoo!) June Laverick! (Who?)

02:00 My favourite name – the camera operator Chic Waterson. I don’t know why. I can totally imagine being on the set and saying Hey Chic? D’you want anything? (not an alcoholic drink, though – obviously).

02:32 Back to the two guys digging in the cemetery. The gravestone says To the Loving Memory of Tobias McIntosh. Ironic. Not much loving going on with all these spades and chains.

02:42 They haul Tobias out head first. Not sure what they did with the coffin or how they managed it, but they’re the professionals. Tobias McIntosh looks how I feel – except more motivated.

03:00 A horse & carriage (as opposed to just a carriage, which would be weird), trots into the yard of Dr Knox’s Academy. The year? 1828. The town? Edinburgh. The time? I don’t know, it doesn’t say. Late, anyway.

03:12 A woman in a ludicrous bonnet and fur muff steps out. I wonder if that’s June Laverick? Inside the academy there’s a guy carrying a skeleton on a pole and another guy – Dr Mitchell – reading a book, so you immediately know you’re in a place of learning. Dr Mitchell opens the door to June – she smiles, but her muff is so enormous he might have to open the other door to let her in. He gives her a faint smile. Looks like she’s done this before.

03:39 He didn’t recognise that this is actually Martha, Doctor Knox’s niece (which sounds dangerously like Knock Knees, but whatever). They chat. She asks if she was really so awful three years ago and he says Well you were very young. But he says she’s very beautiful now. So that escalated.

04:01 ‘How is the doctor?’ says Martha.
‘Oh – he doesn’t change. Brilliant! Progressive! Provocative! Verbose as ever… ‘ (the doctor, or you?)

04:06 Dr Mitchell shows her into the lecture theatre where Dr K. has just told a brilliant, progressive and provocative joke and all the students are laughing in a heartily RADA way.

04:48 He’s giving a lecture about the miracle of the human body, but I can’t stop thinking about the miracle of his bowtie. It’s almost as big as Martha’s muff.

04:56 ‘…and so, today, some of you become doctors in your own right…’ continues Dr K – but honestly? His bowtie! It’s like someone used a table cloth, wrapped that round twice and used both fists to make a bow.

06:11 The students give Dr K a standing ovation. But only because it’s Peter Cushing. You’d give him a standing ovation if he came into the room and complained about the Citroen in his parking space.

06:50 Jackson, one of the students, hurries after Dr K. He wants to know why he’s not able to graduate. Dr K gives him a stern talking to, telling him he needs to be more logical and less emotional. And by the way, is he short of money…? (Er..hem). Actually, what he wants Jackson to do is ‘treat the subjects’ (by which I think he means corpses – because Jackson doesn’t look too thrilled).

07:33 Martha sneaks up on Dr K in his study. As Dr K admires her and pours her a drink (I feel queasy…), Jackson comes in and says there are ‘two gentlemen to see him with a stiff’ – which is nice. Dr K leaves with Jackson to check out the stiff; Dr Mitchell pours Martha a stiff one.

08:44 Martha’s acting is creakier than the Academy doors. She takes a little breath before each line, looks down then up again, smiles showing her bottom teeth each time like a ventriloquist’s dummy. She’s a miracle of engineering. They probably keep the battery in the muff.

09:20 Meanwhile out in the yard, Dr K meets the two grave robbers. ‘Nice n’fresh sir. Just a week in the grave,’ says the one with the line. ‘And 100% organic.’ (I added that). Dr K looks at the corpse’s face – which is a bit like me when I woke up this morning – except fresher – and says he’ll give them five guineas.

10:02 Jackson shifts the crate with the corpse in it (I swear the corpse actually blinks – but they did say it was fresh, so…) over to a tank of brine and tips it in. A bit like tuna, I suppose. Only in a shroud and not a tin.

10:25 Scene change. Outside the Merry Duke, the pub where the grave robbers hang out. In the street there are some jolly wenches laughing and carrying on. I’m not sure what a wench is. I think it’s the opposite of what Martha’s supposed to be. With wild hair, frills and no muffs. Inside the Merry Duke it’s drunken debauchery all round, something I roundly condemn. Cut to: Donald Pleasence in a ruined top hat, bad frock coat &c. He looks absolutely amazing and I want this as a tattoo, please.

10:58 Donald speaks in a weird accent – more Irish than Scottish, but hey – Donald Pleasence!

11:15 He says ‘surpraysed’ like he’s from Belfast. But honestly – I don’t care. Turns out both these guys are called Willy. Donald Pleasance is Hare, though, so that’s fine – sorry – foine. I’ll still call him Donald Pleasence, out of respect. Burke is the other one. (And he’s either wearing bad dentures or he’s got weirdly mobile lips).

NOTE: I just wiki’d Burke and Hare. They WERE from Northern Ireland! But it’s nothing you wouldn’t expect from Donald Pleasence – solid research, and a squint to die for.

11:53 Billie Whitelaw is one of the wenches. Which is a terrific bonus! What a cast! (Shame about the pub).

12:30 Jackson has gone to the pub to finish paying off the grave robbers. He gets into a fight with a drunken sailor who stole Billie’s skirt and is using it like a toreador. Billie rescues Jackson by smashing a bottle over the sailor’s head. (Every night the same in the Merry Duke. The perils of drinking. Mark my words.)

13:40 Jackson gets mugged outside the pub by Burke and Donald Pleasence. Billie scares them off, then takes him back to the brothel where she works. Everyone there is having as rowdy a time as at the Merry Duke, so I’m thinking Edinburgh in 1828 was quite the place. Her room’s a bit hovelly though. Dinge, with touch of squalour. She seduces Jackson and he almost knocks a picture off the wall in his haste.

16:30 The next morning, Jackson gets dressed and sings the kind of lah-dah-dah-dee-dum kind of nonsense song you might expect.
‘How’s your head?’ says Billie.
‘S’Alright’, says Jackson, innocently. They arrange to meet up again tomorrow.
Outside is a typical street scene – a guy demonstrating how to handle a chicken, a peasant buying fruit, extras haggling over pots, urchins dancing, that kinda thing. A little urchin girl tells Donald Pleasence and the other guy to hurry back home. Turns out some old guy has died. We see him getting nailed into a box by an undertaker in a top hat so roomy it’s probably where he keeps his tools. The old guy was a lodger and owed Burke three pounds. They decide to sell him to Dr K to clear his debt.

22:00 Cut to: a party at the Academy. The opposite to a party at the Merry Duke. Everyone’s hair is done up in curls, and when they get hot they don’t tear their clothes off they wave a fan. Dr Mitchell chats to Martha, but I’m distracted by the extras in the background doing some kind of formal dance. I think one of them was the corpse from the cemetery at the beginning. Certainly moves in the same way.

23:30 Dr K argues with a cleric about whether there’s a soul or not.
‘Can you see it?’ says Dr K. ‘…between the eyes, in the ‘Ab-DOH-men..?’ He’s a scientist, so maybe that’s how you’re supposed to say abdomen.

24:50 Burke and Donald Pleasence show Dr K the body of the lodger. ‘We heard you like ‘em fresh, sir. This one’s as fresh as a new cut cabbage’.
Whatever. They tip him in the brine.

26:00 Martha and Dr Mitchell are out punting, which is niche. When they get off the punt they run into Jackson and Billie. Jackson introduces Billie to them. Billie looks Dr Mitchell up & down like she’s pricing the job. Dr Mitchell offers them the use of their punt. Billie laughs. She doesn’t want wet drawers. This makes Dr Mitchell and Martha VERY uncomfortable. Jackson and Billie walk off (from the back it looks like Jackson forgot to take the coat hanger out when he put his jacket on). Martha & Dr Mitchell sit down for a picnic. They kiss, Dr Mitchell’s quiff almost knocking Martha’s bonnet askew (and yes, askew IS a word).

28:40 Billie persuades Jackson not to study tonight as she wants to go out for a drink. I’m guessing that’s why Jackson is still a student at 45.

29:20 Burke and Donald Pleasence have drunk all their lodger money in a boozer (I wouldn’t do that, absolutely not, nope). Donald Pleasence puts on some gloves and gets ready to convert one of the other drinkers into hard cash. They lead her outside. A geriatric in a hat with a lamp (the geriatric has the lamp, not the hat). ‘Twelve o’clock and all is well’ he says, staggering along. An early form of Apple Watch, I suppose. Burke and Donald Pleasence take the drinker back to Burke’s lodging house. Burke smothers her while Donald Pleasence dances a ghoulish jig. And there’s no-one dances a better and more ghoulish jig than Donald Pleasence. He gets a box to put her in and freaks out when he sees a rat. Everyone’s got their weak spot.

34:00 They take her to Dr K and agree to provide more. Donald Pleasence offers Dr K some snuff but if there’s one person you’re almost guaranteed not to want to take snuff from it’s Donald Pleasence (playing Hare – the actor himself you’d take as much snuff as he had and be joyfully sneezing all over the place).

35:50 Dr K is lecturing in the theatre. ‘May I draw your attention to the protuberance on the frontal lobe…’ he says, rapping a skeleton on the head with his cane. It gives a satisfying clack. He’s a great lecturer. The protuberance is actually quite big. More like a beluga whale. It’s what made the specimen a criminal, apparently. That’s why criminals are easy to spot. And so difficult to buy hats for. Jackson is caught napping and can’t explain how he would’ve treated this patient other than cutting off the protuberance with an angle grinder.

38:00 Jackson is back in Billie’s flat, waiting for her to come back from the Merry Duke or wherever. When she falls through the door she doesn’t like the expression on his face so sets the flat on fire. He puts it out. He asks her to marry him. She says no, she’s not the girl for him. Half of her wants to be a doctor’s wife and travel around in a punt, the other doesnae.

40:30 Donald Pleasence shows off his new waistcoat. Burke loves it – very harristocratic. A geriatric guy like the talking Apple Watch from earlier asks about the room to let. Donald Pleasence gives Burke a nudge. Turns out his name is Angus, a crofter who walked down from the Highlands, looking for work. He wanted to come to Edinburgh and end his days in peace. Donald Pleasence approves of that. Next thing you know, Angus is boxed up and being carried into Dr K’s back room. Dr Mitchell wonders how Angus got a bruised head, but Dr K appears and says don’t worry, there’s no need to cross examine. ‘We’ve had several prize specimens from these gentlemen in the past’. He’s all about the body, basically.

46:00 A deputation of doctors – as substantial as a three piece suite from DFS – demand to see Dr K on urgent business. Dr K shows them through to the LYE-BREH-REH. Turns out Dr K wrote a scathing article about one of the doctors who lanced an abscess that turned out to be an aneurysm. He gives them a high-handed talk about why this is dumb, and so on, and unethical – which is rich coming from someone dealing in briny cadavers.

49:50 Back in the Merry Duke, Billie is drinking plenty (not me, not any more, nope). She goes to the brothel to finish off the night. When Jackson finds she’s not at home in the hovel, he goes to the brothel, too. Confronts Billie but she’s mean to him. He runs away. She runs after him (maybe to set him on fire, not sure). Falls to her knees in the middle of a deserted street, and gets found by Burke & Donald Pleasence (and yes… .I admit that doesn’t have the same ring as Burke & Hare – but c’mon… Donald Pleasence!)

55:00 They take her to their lodgings. Donald Pleasence murders her. Mrs Burke comes in. ‘What’s she doing here? Did you touch her?’
‘No’, says Burke. ‘Donald Pleasence just killed her.’
‘Oh. That’s alright then,’ says Mrs Burke.

58:20 Jackson is working late in the lecture theatre. A porter wheels in a body under a sheet, as casual as if he’s pushing a tea trolley.
‘The Dr wants some drawings taken before we put her in the brine,’ he sniffs.
Jackson goes over, pulls back the sheet, sees Billie, collapses.
Dr Mitchell comes in – his quiff preceding him by a full five seconds.
Jackson rushes past him, muttering ‘Burke & Donald Pleasence! Burke & Donald Pleasence!’

59:00 Jackson confronts Burke in the lodging house. Starts strangling him, figuring to work up to pummelling via assault. Donald Pleasence saunters up behind him and stabs him in the back.
‘That’s one subject we won’t be selling to Dr Knox’ he says, wiping his knife on his cravat.

1:02:00 Daytime, the market square. An early form of social media shouts about the murder of Jackson. A street urchin called Daft Jamie who witnessed Burke & Donald Pleasence dragging him along smiles to himself and runs off.

1:03:20 Dr K identifies the body of Jackson at the police hovel – sorry – station. ‘D’you know why anyone would want to kill him?’ says the policeman. ‘Nope,’ says Dr K., neglecting to tell them about how yesterday he’d bought the body of Jackson’s girlfriend off Gumtree. Dr Mitchell covers for him. They talk about it in the cab home. I’m sure Dr Mitchell’s cleft chin is actually deepening the further into this mess he gets. Pretty soon he’ll have two chins, one facing the other. Maybe that way he’ll get a film to himself.

1:05:00 Daft Jamie tries to shake Burke & Donald Pleasence down. Apparently he took a ring off Jackson’s body and wonders if he should take it to the police. They say he should bring it to their house tonight, instead. Don’t go, Daft Jamie. It’d be… well… daft.

1:06:00 Martha (we haven’t seen much of her since the punting incident) – she appears at the Academy to Dr Mitchell. ‘I have a confession to make,’ she says. She’d overheard the students saying that Dr K isn’t particular where he gets his bodies. Dr K comes in. He’s wearing a cloak. He stops when he sees them talking, takes off his top hat, slams the door and walks forwards. I’m worried his cloak has caught in the door.
It hasn’t.
‘Can we discuss the lecture tomorrow?’ he says. ‘The subject is… the heart.’

1:08:00 Daft Jamie stops by a pig pen and laughs at the pigs. Maybe that’s how he got his nickname. But no – he calls two of the pigs Burke and Donald Pleasence, so he’s not that daft. He carries on into their dark house, though. Which IS daft. They attack him. There’s a big messy fight and somehow he escapes. They catch up with him and murder him in the pig pen. All this is secretly witnessed by Maggie, one of Billie’s friends from the brothel.

1:11:10 Maggie runs into the market square shouting murder. ‘It was Burke & Donald Pleasence! I seen them!’ She takes the police to their house. Then on to the Academy (this is a shortened version.. obviously the police are EXTREMELY thorough)

1:13:00 Back at the Academy, Dr Mitchell warns Dr K not to buy any more subjects from Burke & Donald Pleasence. I mean – you can have TOO fresh, and what with Daft Jamie going missing and everything. ‘Oh – d’you mean this one?’ says Dr K, flipping the sheet back. Yes. THAT Daft Jamie. The police arrive. ‘That’s him! That’s Daft Jamie!’ screams Maggie, pointing to the body on the slab, which I’m pretty sure is definitely Daft Jamie. I recognise him from the pig pen.
‘Have you examined the body yet?’ says the policeman, like it was the most natural thing in the world to come looking for Daft Jamie and find him on a slab.
‘What was the cause of death?’ he says.
‘Violence,’ says Dr K, cleaning his hands on a dirty cloth. ‘Without any doubt.’
I don’t get the feeling this policeman will EVER make detective.

1:14:00 Outside the Merry Duke a posse is forming in the classic way, flaming torches, cudgels, the works. ‘Burke and Donald Pleasence have been murdering people under our noses!’ shouts the landlord. ‘Let’s get after them!’

1:16:00 Burke & Donald Pleasence run away to hide in a warehouse. The crowd approaches making improvised rah-rah-rah noises. I’ve never SEEN so many hats. Burke and you know who bolt the warehouse door but the police have an enormous truncheon that takes a dozen of ‘em to carry and they batter down the door. Donald Pleasence throws Burke down the stairs at them, like skittles, then runs into the back room. The mob drag him back. The last we see of the mob, they’re making even more improvised rah-rah-rah noises and waving their hats in the air. So that WAS a successful mob. The long queue at the studio catering wagon was TOTALLY worth it.

1:18:46 Cut to: Martha embroidering in a drawing room. Quite a contrast. Her improvised embroidery stitches are about as believable as the crowd’s rah-rahing. Dr K paces nervously about. His bow tie is enormous again, which is no doubt a sign of anxiety. Dr Mitchell comes in. ‘They’ve arrested Burke & Donald Pleasence’ he says.

1:19:00 In the courtroom (things moved quickly back in 1828 Edinburgh). Donald Pleasence comes to the witness stand. Then cut to: a town crier announcing the verdict. Burke guilty! Dr K no charge! That’s the fastest courtroom scene I have EVER watched. And all the better for it.

1:20:40 Dr K turns up to give his lecture. The theatre is almost empty – and the students that have turned up have been fighting. A brick comes through the window. ‘Take your seats,’ says Dr K. ‘The subject of today’s lesson is neurology.’

1:21:25 Burke is led up to the scaffold. His last words are about how they hadn’t been paid for the last subject, and if they had, he’d have been able to afford a nice pair of trousers to meet his public. Meanwhile, Donald Pleasence slips out the back door of the police station, ignoring a blind beggar, which is never a good look. Various people step out of the shadows and confront him. They blind him with a torch, then when he collapses the blind beggar feels his way toward him along the wall.

1:24:50 Another mob has gathered outside the Academy (it’s obviously quite the season for mobs). He walks through the angry extras to his carriage, then gets taken to the medical council to be struck off. So not a great day, all in all. Dr Mitchell joins the medical council. He’s so concerned with events, his dimple has merged with the crease in the middle of his forehead, like a giant cottage loaf put aside to prove. He makes an impassioned plea to the council, which is – to sum up – you’re all a bunch of immoral crooks, so don’t you dare strike him off. They’re outraged, but can’t immediately disagree.

1:28:00 Dr K is walking through the empty marketplace. A little girl runs up and asks for a hennie to buy some sweets (I’m guessing a hennie is a penny – or, if it is an actual hen, I wonder how many sweets you’d get for it – probably a lot).
‘I haven’t any money,’ says Dr K, smiling in that warmly sinister way he has, ‘….but if you come to the house I can get you some.’
‘Oh, no,’ says the girl, running away, ‘You might sell me to Dr Knox.’
Dr K looks stunned. This is the first time he’s realised what he’s done. AND he hasn’t shaved.

1:29:00 Back at the Academy Dr K has a heart to heart with Martha. He admits he knew how the subjects died. He’s become an ogre, he says. He’s failed. He takes a book and wanders out of the LYE-BREH-REH. Dr Mitchell comes in. He says the medical council has exonerated him. Dr K carries on to the lecture theatre. He’s never missed a lecture, he says. ‘It’ll be quite a novelty, talking to empty walls. But at least they won’t criticise me.’ No – but the decals can be hurtful.

1:33:30 The lecture theatre is actually full, and all the students give him a standing ovation when he comes in. (Which proves my earlier point). Dr K gives a speech before the lecture. ‘Let us consider the Oath of Hippocrates. The sacred oath of our profession… blah blah … and never do harm to anyone.’ He cleans his glasses. The music swells…


That’s it! So what’ve I learned?

  1. Donald Pleasence had a squint and a whispery voice, which was perfect for playing murderers, psychos and Tory politicians.
  2. A hennie is a pennie but a hen is an oviparous feathered biped and easily forged.
  3. Burke & Hare are bodysnatchers. Not to be confused with Farrow & Ball, who make paint. Both make a killing.
  4. A large bow tie may look freakish and weird, but if there’s a fire in your hovel you can unravel it at the window and climb out.
  5. Punting looks fun but it’s really only for doctors

The Abominable Snowman

The Abominable Snowman, 1957. Dir. Val Guest. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

No excuses for choosing yet another Peter Cushing movie. I just wanted to see him again, okay? There’s something horrifically reassuring about him. And whilst you’re wondering about that, can I just say he was a lifelong vegetarian, wildlife enthusiast but had a fear of the dark? Fine. So settle down with your laptop in the LYE-BREH-REH as we press play on The Abominable Snowman.

1:08 Opening shots of the Himalayas, with a ponderous score like a sherpa making an ascent with saucepans on their feet.

1:39 Hairdressing is by Henry Montsash. I wonder if he did the Yeti, too. I think the Yeti mightn’t be so abominable if it had a stylish bob.

2:20 Starting in a monastery. Lots of chanting. A monk plodding across the courtyard with some sticks on his back. If you didn’t like snow, or heights, or chanting, I suppose you just wouldn’t volunteer for this shit.

2:37 I mean – austere doesn’t cover it. Even the carved faces in the pillars are grimacing.

3:05 Two monks take a plate of tea through to an elderly monk who’s either meditating or performing his morning ablutions with austere dignity.

3:14 Actually, there are two scientists in the room as well – Peter Cushing and Richard Wattis, who are hunched over a microscope getting ludicrously excited over some Latin names. ‘Yees – that’s Gackomandis Perficorus’ or something. Their film names are as follows: John & Peter. So when I say John I mean Peter. And when I say Peter I mean Richard. I hope that helps.

4:18 The scientists are there to study some exciting herbs. The lead monk lets them take a whole bunch (quite literally). PC (I’ll call him that because otherwise I’ll get confused and anyway who cares his name is supposed to be John) – PC explains to the lead monk that he used to be a climber so he knows the Himalayas well. He had to give the climbing up because he had a ‘stupid accident’ although he doesn’t go into details – maybe he tried to abseil down an icicle or something, not sure.

6:01 The lead monk freaks PC out by saying the rest of the team will be there in ‘a few hours’ – this is pre-mobile phones, of course, and anyway the reception would’ve been patchy even if he had one. The lead monk’s eyes go a bit crossy, which disconcerts PC, because he’s a plant doctor not an ophthalmologist.

6:30 Richard Wattis – whose nickname is Foxy for some reason – strides across the courtyard. His legs really are VERY long (an advantage in the mountains, you’d think). He takes some herbs to Helen, PC’s scientist wife who’s also on the trip. Foxy complains about the country, the cold, the tea &c. He seems quite high maintenance. Maybe useful in an avalanche (as a cave prop), but otherwise strictly comedy value. Helen seems sensible. Her sweater is very 1950s, which means pointy. Also useful in an avalanche.

7:08 Back with the lead monk, who seems to be a trance (probably all the herbs). He’s talking about the men who are coming, particularly worried about the leader of the party, who seems to be searching for something (I’m guessing a yeti, but I’m not a scientist, or a scriptwriter). By the way, I’ve never seen sleeves as big as the lead monk’s. Each arm is the size of a tent. Warm, I’d guess, but a bastard for housework. The lead monk also seems to know when Helen is approaching – explaining that ‘here one has an awareness of many things’ – except the size of your sleeves.

9:00 Helen comes in with a box. The lead monk lets it slip that PC is going on a climbing expedition – then leaves them to it. Helen is furious. After what happened with the icicle.

10:30 So it all comes out. It’s not just a botanical expedition. PC wants to look for ‘that creature’ (she doesn’t say abominable but you can read it in her expression).

10.36 Cut to a monk banging two enormous bells with a gigantic cotton bud – a symbol of the domestic we just witnessed. Or dinner, maybe.

10:48 It looks like the monks are about to have some kind of festival. There’s actually some glittery ribbons around, which is a nice change from all the stone. Helen is in the kitchen making supper (well – it is the 1950s). The other scientists arrive, wearing mittens on strings, which is cute. The scientists are loud types – the kind of guys who walk with a swagger and their arms crooked out, mittens or no. Helen gives them tin plates with a scoop of stew so tiny you’d think she’d mistakenly served them the relish instead. But they seem happy enough. I don’t think they’re the brightest snowballs on the mountain.

13.58 The new arrivals sound off about the yeti. One of the scientists – the one with the most sensitive chin – says he’s seen the footprints. ‘On the Rakaposhi glacier’ (which TOTALLY sounds made up. ‘Yeah – I saw some too. On the Gapagoomi slopes’). Anyway, he seems pretty anxious about the whole affair. He was with a climbing party, two years ago…. followed the tracks till they disappeared on some bare rocks…’ ‘You’re an impressionable man, Mr McGee,’ says Helen, shovelling in the relish. She’s right. He seems amazingly disturbed by the fact that he saw some big footprints. God knows WHAT he’d do if he saw the real thing (which hopefully won’t be long).

15:30 Tom, the lead scientist, pulls out an heirloom – a silver cylinder with inscriptions that PC translates – something about protection against a local god. Tom gives it a twist to reveal what’s inside – a giant tooth. ‘The canine tooth of an ape or a gorilla’ says PC, measuring it with a tape measure Helen probably gave him.

16:20 A gong is struck outside. Tom opens the door and sees all the monks dancing around with two ferocious looking dragon masks. They seem to be enjoying themselves in an austere kinda way. ‘Holy men doing a holy dance! Hey – this is good! Jock – get a picture!’ laughs one of the scientists – NOT someone you’d want on an expedition into the Himalayas, then. He’d make a trip to the shops unbearable. I’m hoping he gets eaten first. Then maybe the guy with the sensitive chin. Then Tom. But not PC. I hope he’s okay (and doesn’t do anything stupid with any icicles).

17:00 The actor playing Tom is Forrest Tucker. He’s extremely crabby & craggy. He makes the Himalayas look like a bunch of scatter cushions. Mind you – he’s not so ornery he doesn’t accidentally sit down on a dirty plate to explain about the expedition. But I suppose the others are too scared to say ‘watch the plate’ or ‘here’s a cloth to clean the relish off your pants’.

18:00 Tom explains that the territory they’re heading into is ‘like the craters of the moon’ with lots of rockfalls and so on – terribly dangerous. Which freaks Helen out – even when they say they’re taking Kusang, a sherpa who’s actually seen a yeti. PC ducks the issue of whether he intends to go along too by saying he’ll show the tooth to the Lama (who I’ve disrespectfully been calling the ‘lead monk’ and for which I apologise).

19:06 The Lama says he knows the object. It was stolen many years ago. He says it’s not a real tooth, though. Tom isn’t put off. He’s still going. His dimple demands it. PC says he’ll go, too. Helen storms off. The Lama gives PC some advice – which sounds like a warning about climate change, but that’s me talking from the future. The yeti as a stand in for the global climate emergency – which is pretty abominable, I have to say, so…. ‘Go in peace’ says the Lama, and waves him off to a background of more chanting.

21:40 Down in the yard, Ed (the mouthiest scientist) is packing their rucksacks for the trip – in a VERY shouty way, I have to say. I mean, doesn’t he KNOW about avalanches? I’m guessing not. I’m guessing he’d laugh like a donkey when he saw one coming, and carry on laughing till he got whacked by a million tonnes of ice and grit. Which is what it’s like talking to Tom, BTW.

22:15 Helen comes up to PC with an ice pick – looking like she’s in two minds whether to give it to him or hit him with it.

22:40 Can I just say – I’ve never seen Peter Cushing looking SO good as he does here in his steampunk explorer goggles, woolly hat, cagoule and corduroy trousers tucked into woolly socks. And I’m sure any Yeti would think the same. They’d probably lick their paw, slick their hair back and say ‘JOLLY nice to meet you old chap’.

23:00 Helen has a premonition she’ll never see him again so she gives him one last kiss. ‘Be careful, my darling,’ she says. Their fond farewell overlooked by the Lama from the balcony with a sour expression on his face along the lines of: Don’t come running to me when the Yeti rips your legs off.

23:50 And they’re off – into the Himalayas. Five seconds later and Ed is complaining they’re walking too fast. ‘Last time we went an easier way,’ he says, like maybe there’s a ski lift or something. They all start singing ‘John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave…’ to keep their spirits up. Kusang hangs well back and who can blame him.

25.20 PC points to three men on the skyline who seem to be following them. ‘Let’s just keep moving,’ says Tom. Who’s surname seems to be ‘Friend’. Which seems unlikely.

25.56 The three men start shooting at them. Ed shoots back, his chin sticking out so far he can use it to steady the pistol.

26:50 Tom and Ed shout at each other when the team stops to rest. Why they have to shout at each other the whole time is anyone’s guess, although maybe it’s some elaborate courting ritual.

27:30 They need to ‘rope up’ to go along a steep bit to the hut that Tom says is over the ridge. PC has a rope that looks about long enough to reach from here to the bathroom, and about as thin as a bootlace. No wonder Helen was worried.

28:08 Ed’s shouting causes a small avalanche. ‘No more shouting’ says PC. ‘You got that, Ed?’ shouts Tom.

29.30 The one with the sensitive chin (I must find out his name) loses his footing and the rest of them have to haul him up the ridge. (Maybe I’ll find out what it is when he gets to the top. Maybe Ed’ll shout it out.)

30:10 Inside the hut the guys eat stew. Ed shouts about having to bury the empty stew cans. Tom helps himself to a tiny bit more stew, which looks suspiciously like shit. You really do have to be tough to be a mountaineer – as well as have good lungs.

31.30 PC smokes his pipe and tells them how he thinks the yeti lives – eating hares and voles and things like that, roots and what have you. Occasional forays online. He describes his theory of parallel evolution, chuffing on his pipe and looking meaningfully at Ed.

33:20 Ed and Tom break it to PC that they want to capture the Yeti, not study it. ‘Did you think we’d just want Jock here to take a picture of it…?’ Jock! His name’s Jock! Now my studies are complete. You’ll find me in the LYE-BREH-REH with a large BREN-DEH.

33:40 They all shout at each other, except for Jock, who puffs anxiously on his fag and stares at the door. He thought he heard a scream. They rush outside. Shout at each other to be quiet. Then go back inside. ‘Jock? You need some sleep,’ says Tom. I don’t get the impression this is a restful kind of trip, though.

35:20 PC and Tom go outside for a smoke because the wind’s dropped. Eurgh! Tom puts two fags in his mouth, ligths them both and hands one to PC. The last time I saw that done was Paul Henreid to Betty Davis in Now Voyager. What’s Tom going to say now? ‘Don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars…’? (Except shouted).

36:40 Tom lays out his plans for the Yeti, which seems to boil down to TV appearances, chat shows, that kinda thing. To satisfy a curious world. And maybe start a new brand of cosmetics.

37:20 Back at the monastery the monks are arguing with Helen – who knows what about? The dreadful stews she’s been making, maybe? Foxy comes to her aid and shouts at them, which seems to work, as shouting seems to be general currency round these parts. The monks are angry because they haven’t been paid, which is fair enough. Helen’s worried that the monks know the party isn’t coming back. ‘Drink this and take some tablets,’ says Foxy. (I get the impression in these early films that the women either had to cook, look sexy, have hysterics or get sedated).

39:00 Foxy goes to speak to the Lama about the restive monks. The Lama is in deep meditation, an expression on his face much like mine when I do these reviews. Foxy goes out again.

40:00 Back out on the jolly ol’ Himalayas. Lots of crashing cymbals and so on. The director probably said ‘Write me some majestic shit’. And this is what he got.

40:45 The party has split up. Tom, Ed and Kusang, and then PC and Jock. PC is digging around in the snow looking for herbs he can smoke in his pipe. Jock admits he doesn’t like climbing or expeditions. He only came because he’s become obsessed with the footprint and the Yeti. He says he paid Tom to let him come on this expedition – but he promises to try not to do anything too dangerous.

42:38 It’s heavy going (the expedition AND the film). PC and Jock reach the crest of a ridge and when they look over see that the rest of the guys are gone. ‘Helllooooo?’ shouts PC. Nope. Not even a bellow from Ed in return. When Jock shouts HELLO he seems to squeeze his butt cheeks. Just a little detail I’ve noticed (but that PC has chosen to ignore).

43:57 Unfortunately Jock steps in a bear trap, no doubt set by Tom for the Yeti. Ed runs over and sets him free. Also says the plan worked and they caught ‘one of those things’. (He also says ‘Watch out! It’s icy up here’ – which is an odd thing to say to anyone in the Himalayas, but hey – that’s Ed.)

45:50 Turns out, what they’ve caught is a monkey. ‘That’s a Langor!’ says PC. ‘Let it go!’ Some trackers.

46:50 Later on they gather round a radio for a weather forecast ‘for Himalayan climbing parties’. Blizzards! ‘That’s all we need!’ says Ed, who seemed surprised earlier to find ice. I guess he normally goes on expeditions to Staten Island, or maybe Coney Island if he’s feeling adventurous.

48:11 Turns out Tom Friend isn’t his real name (I thought the Friend bit was suspicious). He was mixed up in some earlier scandal about some wolf children. ‘Why – you’re nothing but a fairground trickster!’ says PC. They fight. Break the radio. ‘It’s the altitude – makes you lose control’ says Tom (or whatever his name is).

48:44 The monkey (or Langor) starts screaming. They run out of the tent, leaving Jock to recover and be anxious on his own. They find the cage all bent out of shape and the monkey / Langor gone. ‘I…I just don’t understand this!’ shouts Ed. (Erm… yeti?) They find some big ol’ footprints. ‘15..16 inches long!’ (Erm… yeti?) ‘There’s no doubt about it. There was something else here, too,’ says Tom, looking round. (Erm… YETI?)

50:07 Back in the tent, Jock watches in anxious horror as a horrible hairy hand (erm… YETI?) wriggles under the canvas and reaches for the rifles. Kusang arrives, sees it and screams (not a great look for a Himalayan yeti guide, but still). The rest of the team hurry over with flares and smelling salts. Jock is in some kind of fugue state. They grab a load of guns and even more flares and then shout at Kusang to tell them what he saw. ‘I see… I see what man must not see…’ he says, ‘I see…. YEEEETTTTTIIIII’ – then runs off down the mountain pursued by Tom.

52:07 Tom stops chasing Kusang when he notices that the bear trap has been all broken up. He flashes his torch about, then hurries back to the tent where he finds Jock still in a trance – ‘hypersensitive to the presence of the beast’. In lieu of anything else, Ed rushes out to shoot wildly. A terrible beast howls in the darkness (Erm – yeti?) Looks like Ed got lucky. The three of them follow a bloody trail. Find the yeti dead behind a boulder. We know it’s dead because Tom flexes its horrible hairy hand about. ‘That’s really it,’ he says, sensitively. Ed goes off to get a sledge. They listen to other yetis calling to each other across the valley. There’s more than one. (Ya think? Otherwise they woulda died out YEARS ago).

56:08 Back at the monastery, Kusang bangs on the gates. He collapses into the other monks’ arms (and sleeves). Helen sees all this and doesn’t take it well. She wakes up Foxy then goes off to see the Lama. Faints at all the creepy statuary, then wakes up being offered tea by the Lama (probably with sedatives in it). The Lama says he can’t do anything to help PC because his destiny is controlled by his own actions (and he can’t fly the helicopter because of his sleeves). Foxy arrives to take her back to her quarters where there’s some cooking or maybe something hysterical to attend to.

59:20 I take it back! Helen has put on a sheepskin jacket and a headscarf and she’s heading out into the Himalayas to find PC. She’ll take some sherpas along, too, and a packed lunch. Foxy puts on a tie.

1:00:05 Back in the tent, Jock has recovered enough to ask what the yeti looks like. PC says it had a kind of sadness. No doubt being shot didn’t help.

1:00:01 They all hunker down in a cave, dragging the dead yeti – or deti – on a sled. The other yetis call mournfully to each other across the valley. Jock crawls out of his tent. Trudges off through the snow towards the sound. Reaches the top of the mountain.

1:02:41 PC goes back to the tent – finds it empty. Tom runs up. Together they watch Jock climb higher then fall to his death, crashing like a very poorly constructed mannequin down onto the polystyrene rocks below.

1:04:31 Ed shoots a couple more yetis as they attack the cave. ‘You don’t know what it’s like!’ he says as PC and Tom run up. Tom gives him a drink of whisky. He says the sun was in his eyes… he couldn’t get organised… and he missed them. Ed panics for a bit – says ‘they’ll know it was me!’ Then seems to recover. ‘Ah – I’ve had it before’ he says. ‘Me and this grizzly one time…’ Despite his misgivings, Ed agrees to act as bait – to hide in the cave with a net over his head and tempt the other yetis in like that. Hmm. Ed seems okay with it, though.

1:06:39 Helen and Foxy have made it as far as the first hut. Helen wants to press on but Foxy tells the sherpas they’ll camp there and maybe Helen can make them some stew.

1:07:40 Tom tells Ed they’ll keep him covered from the tent. Ed settles down. I get the impression Ed isn’t the sharpest icicle in the cave.

1:08:11 Ed sits and waits on a ledge with a rifle on his lap and a cross-eyed look of cluelessness on his face. The blizzard outside means Tom & PC can’t see a damn thing from the tent. Instead they argue about the morals of the case. Tom doesn’t want to just take a dead yeti back to be pickled or something. He wants something he can take to dinner parties and maybe a promotional tour of some kind (I must admit I lost the thread of his argument). Earn some greenbacks, anyway.

1:10:00 Meanwhile, back in the cave, Ed keeps rubbing his eyes – never a good look for someone who’s supposed to be ready to spring a trap.

1:10:20 ‘See anything?’ says PC as Tom looks out of the tent again. ‘No,’ says Tom. ‘I thought… for a second… nah! Let’s have a cigarette…’

1:10:50 But as soon as PC shakes out a couple, they hear a gunshot and some grunty, abominable noises. They hurry out of the tent into the blizzard. In the cave, Ed’s rifle jams! He looks up in terror as the shadow of a yeti falls across him…. ‘TOM!’ he yells.

1:11:14 They eventually make it to the cave. The net is ripped to pieces. Ed is lying on the ledge, dead – with a horrified but at the same time strangely camp expression, like the yeti killed him in a particularly abominable way.

1:11:55 PC wonders why the gun didn’t go off – but then finds it was loaded with blanks. ‘I didn’t want another dead one,’ says Tom.

1:12:28 PC and Tom finish knocking a grave marker in ‘EDWARD SHELLEY’ carved in wood, on a pile of stones so small they must’ve buried him standing up.

1:14:00 It looks like the yetis knew the gun was loaded with blanks ‘by thought transference.’ PC says that the yetis didn’t kill Jock – he fell when he climbed without a boot. And Ed died of a heart attack. PC says that the yetis aren’t the problem – THEY are. Tom doesn’t seem fazed – has another cigarette, which probably adds weight to the theory.

1:14:40 PC holds back the sheet and examines the yeti’s face (we’re not given that pleasure, though). He says it looks like an old face, a kind face. He says maybe the yetis are just waiting for mankind to go so they can have a crack at ruling the planet. ‘Suppose we’re the savages?’ says PC. ‘The WHAT?’ says Tom, savagely.

1:16:41 PC thinks he hears a weather forecast telling them they must get off the mountain immediately. He goes a bit crazy and tries to leave the cave. (I’m guessing it’s a yeti thought-transference thing again). Tom holds him back. ‘What’s the matter with you – are you cracking up?’ he says – having done his counselling certificate.

1:17:17 Suddenly Tom seems to hear someone calling ‘Help me!’ from outside. (I’m guessing it’s maybe a yeti voice throwing thing). Tom goes crazy, grabs a pistol. Wrestles with PC but elbows him out the way and runs outside the cave. Shoots the pistol in the air. Causes an avalanche. Gets buried and dies.

1:20:30 PC digs his way out of the cave. Staggers around the polystyrene boulders for a while, then heads back to the cave. Inside, sees the shadows of two yetis on the wall. They approach him. You see the top half of the face of one of them. One looks like Ken Dodd, coming backstage after three hours straight at the Winter Gardens. PC passes out.

1:22:50 Helen is in the hut. She’s woken up by a yeti call. Goes outside. Foxy wakes up. Goes after her.

1:24:15 Helen is climbing mindlessly in the snow. Finds PC frozen stiff. Foxy catches up – sees a big footprint nearby (erm… yeti?)

1:25:14 Back at the monastery a monk bangs the bell with the giant cotton bud again. A LOT of chanting. The Lama is talking to Helen and Foxy … and as the camera pulls back…. to PC, as well! He thawed out quite nicely, thank goodness. ‘What you were looking for does not exist?’ says the Lama to him. ‘Yes. I am certain of it,’ whispers PC ‘There is no yeti!’ says the Lama, widening his eyes, hypnotically. The orchestra swells. Distant shot of the Himalayas – a yeti waving goodbye on a crest (no, not sure about that bit).

The End.

That’s it! So what’ve I learned?

  1. The Himalayas can by icy, so go steady
  2. Shouting is not good for team morale or avalanches.
  3. Yetis are strong, have big feet but don’t get on with Langor monkeys.
  4. If you can’t take the chanting, keep outta the monastery
  5. Peter Cushing can play anything (so long as it’s Peter Cushing)

The Blood Beast Terror

The Blood Beast Terror, 1968. Dir. Vernon Sewell. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

Just a couple of things before we start. Firstly, I can only apologise for jumping straight in with another Peter Cushing film. I couldn’t help myself. I just wanted to hear him say LYE-BREH-REH again. Secondly, the title. It feels like something you’d get from the horror film equivalent of a band name generator. I love the way it packs in those three emotionally loaded words, with ‘the’ thrown in front to give it a vaguely grammatical anchor. The other names they probably considered were The Skull Scream Claw, or maybe The Fang Spurt Chop – which probably sounded more like a recipe, so that’s why they didn’t use that. So – on (with the headphones) and out (with any other plans for the morning) as I press play on The Blood Beast Gruesome, or whatever. Peter Cushing, at least.

00.10 It starts with three guys in a canoe. The guy in front couldn’t be more white. He’s wearing a white pith helmet, a white military suit. He’s carrying a rifle and pointing at things he’s interested in shooting. The two guys paddling the canoe are black. So I’m guessing we’re in colonial Africa, and the scene is meant to portray sensitively and adroitly the historical UK engagement with that particular continent.

Side note: I’m guessing they really shot it in Henley.

1.08 They park the canoe and the white guy gets out. He’s carrying a little lunch box, or maybe a specimen box, or maybe a box of wipes for his helmet, not sure yet. White isn’t a great colour to wear when you’re sloshing through mud. Just saying. Why make work?

1.42 He uses his rifle to swipe the undergrowth aside (not great from a health & safety point of view). Sees lots of beautiful monkeys and parrots he’d like to kill – but he’s looking for something in particular…

2.05 He sees some interesting pods and puts them in his box to smoke later.

2.20 Cut to: a horse drawn carriage. POV just behind the coachman. A dark country lane. A gong is struck and we see the red titles: ‘Tony Tenser presents’ (love the name, BTW. I’m already tenser). The Blood Beast Terror in 60s gothic script, along with the kind of score that’s like the orchestra staggered back from the pub, picked up an instrument they didn’t know, and the conductor said ‘I don’t care – just be horrific’.

3.26 Favourite name (amongst some nice ones): Peter Bryan (screenplay). Only because I love names that are basically two first names strung together. It’s the eponymous equivalent of a shrug.

3.50 After the credits, we stay with the carriage. The white horses spookily lit by the carriage lamp. Although having said that the whole thing looks quite romantic. I wouldn’t mind an evening carriage ride through the woods. Until…

3.56 …the sound of a man screaming somewhere. The coachman pulls up. Gets out. Takes his lamp and goes to investigate. Finds a young guy lying on the ground in a bloody frilly shirt (by which I simply mean a frilly shirt with some blood – I wouldn’t say it’s excessively frilly – er-hem). There’s a lot of overhead flapping. The coachman looks up in horror as something ‘orrible descends on him.

4.50 ‘Next slide please…’ as we cut to the selfie of a toothy insect.

4.55 ‘The potter wasp’, says the professor. We’re in the middle of an Edwardian magic lantern kind of presentation about insects. The professor says ‘antennae’ in a really weird way – emphasising the ANT syllable. ANT-en-AYE. I mean, okay, so he’s a professor and everything – but REALLY?

5.10 The audience of young Edwardian gentlemen are listening to the professor with as much animation as a shop window filled with smoking mannequins. They’re staring at him as if he’s the biggest and dullest thorax they’ve ever had the misfortune to listen to, but hey! It’s the early 1900s and no-one has a smartphone.

5.26 The professor goes on and on in a vaguely sexualised way about the life of the potter wasp. Again – early 1900s. No alternatives. The young Edwardian gentlemen will go home from the lecture and fantasise about wasps in corsets.

5.45 They should have called this film The Boring Insect Lecture. Because we seem doomed to sit in the room listening to this professor banging on about the colouration of various species of moths. Which would be completely amazing if you liked moths. But I think they should have carried some kind of warning at the beginning.

5.55 Thank God! Peter Cushing strides up to a front door and pulls the bell. I hope it’s to interrupt the professor, because otherwise I’m going to completely moth-out.

6.10 A butler so haughty he probably has a higher certificate in haughtiness, haughts his way across the lobby and very haughtily opens the door.

6.12 ‘Good Evening Inspector’ he haughts. ‘Good Evening,’ says the inspector. (I’m really REALLLY hoping he asks to be shown to the LYE-BREH-REH. No. He doesn’t. He asks to see Professor Mallinger (you can tell he’s a professor by the ovipositor and the disposition of the sucking mouthparts).

6.30 When the butler turns to take the inspector’s hat you suddenly see he’s got terrible scarring down the right side of his face, which makes for a more interesting butler, in my opinion, and goes some way to forgiving the haughtiness.

6.47 ‘The privet hawk moth,’ the professor explains, ‘is to be found around privet…’ The inspector glances round the hall to see if anyone else is thinking what he’s obviously thinking.

7.12 The lecture ends and everyone claps (except me). The professor says he’ll answer any questions, and asks someone to ‘raise the gas’. I’d want to ask why they can’t raise the quality of the lectures.

7.50 The butler haughts in with a tray of glasses, followed by Wanda Ventham dressed as Marie Antoinette. The inspector and the professor share a moment, their noses almost touching. The inspector is sucking on a mint or something, which makes him seem even sexier, but it’s probably just because they’ve all been smoking.

8.13 A horse-drawn police carriage pulls up outside. Even the horses are wearing helmets (I think).

8.30 The inspector says he’s come to ask the professor about ‘young Fisher’ (the guy who was found dead earlier). ‘One of my best students, brilliant chap’ says the professor. ‘What was the coroner’s verdict?’ ‘Murder by person or persons unknown’ says the inspector. Wanda screams. Closeup on a rubber spider on the arm of her dress. She faints. Two of the students grab their toy spider back (I’m guessing they’re not the professors best students, and not particularly brilliant). The professor goes over and slaps the student holding the spider.

9.05 The butler haughts in and tells the inspector his sergeant’s outside and wants to see him.

9.27 The sergeant shows the inspector another student they found, thrown in the back of the police carriage . ‘Watch your clothes,’ he says, ‘there’s blood everywhere.’ ‘Get the professor,’ says the inspector. When the professor comes out he asks the inspector to stand clear, then reaches in and kills the student. ‘It’s too late, I’m afraid,’ he says. ‘He’s dead.’ (When they said the professor was deadly they didn’t just mean his teaching style).

10.20 The inspector is talking to the sergeant back at the station. The sergeant has the kind of sideburns that are actually just a moustache that extends backwards. Or more technically, half a beard.

10.48 The doctor, a big guy in a too-tight suit, waddles in dabbing his neck with a red handkerchief. ‘How’s he doing, doctor?’ says the inspector. ‘Mad as a hatter’ says the doctor. He means the coachman, apparently. ‘We’ll have to get him to the asylum in the morning,’ he says, pulling a sympathetic ‘that’s how we deal with loonies in the 1900s’ face. The inspector goes to see the coachman.

11:40 The doctor and the inspector go into the cell to see the crazy coachman (who’s not SO far gone he forgets to call them SIR). ‘It had horrible eyes!’ he says. ‘And wings, sir!’ The doctor reassures him by holding him down. The inspector wanders out and thinks about what’s happened. The sergeant brings him some moustache – sorry – tea. The inspector wonders if the coachman couldn’t have done the murders. They all go next door to the morgue to examine the bodies.

12:53 Turns out, Roy Hudd works in the mortuary, but he’s a professional and can play to any crowd. It helps that he’s wearing a comedy mortician’s outfit, being a white shirt, leather apron, red neckerchief and stout walking boots. He’s sitting down to have a pork pie and a tankard of ale, with a corpse on the table. The sheet doesn’t cover the feet – because Roy has used the feet as a mug holder. He cleans his fork on the sheet, then starts in on the pie. Nice.

13.10 The bell rings. It takes him half an hour to open the mortuary door, which might be Roy improvising a laugh or just a dodgy door, it’s hard to say. Eventually he lets the doctor and the inspector in. ‘Hallo ‘allo!’ he says, stooping, rolling his eyes. ‘You brought me something, ‘ave you?’ Silence.

14.00 Roy carries on regardless, being an old trooper. He says he ‘always puts the interesting ones by the window’. When even THAT doesn’t get a laugh, he goes back to his food. ‘Pie tonight!’ he says. ‘Well – makes a change from cold meat. Hey?’ The doctor and the inspector turn their backs and perform their autopsy (which sounds fancy, but just involves a lot of lip-pursing and tentative stroking of the corpse’s ears). ‘Drained of blood,’ the doctor says. ‘There’s been six of ‘em so far!’ says Roy, rolling his eyes some more. ‘You’ve been most helpful’ says the inspector, heavily.

16.14 Cut to: a comedy policeman suddenly standing up in the tall grass. A documentary about wild policemen? No – the inspector has set them all out to look for weapons. You can tell we’re in the country now because the inspector is chewing a grass stalk (he’s out of mints).
The sergeant hands him some odd little things they found in the area. ‘Pop them in this envelope, would you?’ says the inspector. ‘I’m going to see Professor Mallinger.’

17.30 The professor is in another mood, chucking chemicals around in his laboratory. The inspector comes in and asks him whether there are any eagles round the area. He says the coachman (who’s now in a ‘mental home’ apparently) says he saw one. The professor says that ‘eagles are indigenous to mountainous countries’, which kills the vibe somewhat. The inspector switches off and reaches for his mints. ‘How large are the claws of an eagle?’ he says, eventually. ‘Come with me, inspector,’ says the professor. He shows him a stuffed eagle. They rule it out as a suspect.

19.38 The inspector shows him the strange things in the envelope the sergeant gave him. They look like tiny leaves (but I’m guessing they’re moth-related). The professor says he’ll examine them in his laboratory (I wish he’d let Peter Cushing say LAB-OR-A-TREH. It’d be better than nothing.) The inspector leaves.

20.20 There’s a scream from somewhere in the house. It’s the butler, prodding a live eagle with a broom handle. The professor sends him away (but doesn’t slap him like he did the student). The eagle looks at the camera just about as confused as I am at this point.

21.20 The professor goes down into the cellar. Puts on a pervy leather helmet. Unbolts a door. Picks up a whip. Goes through to the sound of supernatural screams – eagle, human or Wanda, it’s hard to say.

22.10 A meeting with the chief of police. A singular individual. His hair is as lustrous as the fleece of a coal-black man goat. This fabulous creature says they’ll blame the murders on a wild animal, and meanwhile, carry on searching the heath. ‘Very good, sir,’ says the inspector, crunching his mint intemperately.

22.35 Cut to: a newspaper hoarding that says: POLICE SEEK BIRD OF PREY.

22.48 A guy in a pastel suit walks into the police station (which sounds like the beginning of a joke, which in a way, I suppose, it is). We only see him in profile, which is mostly nose. The way he says his lines – it’s like the script was carved in granite. ‘Can you tell me the way to Clare House, please?’ he says. ‘I’m a complete stranger.’ He goes on to explain to the suspicious sergeant that he’s a naturalist newly arrived from Africa with some specimens to deliver to the professor. The sergeant narrows his eyes, but asks a constable to take him there.

24.06 Two seconds later and the butler is showing the naturalist into the drawing room. (Ironic he calls himself a naturalist, being about as natural as a mannequin on a trampoline). The butler has met his haughty match. Let’s just say they don’t exactly ‘haught it off’ (pause for thunderous laughter). ‘I hear you’ve had a murder here’. (Which is one here too many, if you ask me.) ‘The body of a man WAS found on the heath,’ says the butler, maxing out his haughty credit. ‘If you’ll excuse me, sir, I will tell the professor you’re here,’ he haughts, before the naturalist can deliver any further lines.

24.59 Wanda is watching from the stairs. There’s already a frisson between them (or is it me reading too much into her frills?) She’s wearing the same Marie Antoinette knock-off she wore in the spider incident, so I’m guessing they shot this scene the same day. ‘Mr Brightwell!’ she says, descending, one hand trailing seductively on the banister. ‘I’m Clare Mallinger.’ Turns out the professor is her father. ‘Come and sit down by me and tell me all about Africa,’ she says. ‘What’s it like?’ ‘Very hot’ ‘Yes, I can see.’

25.46 Mr Brightwell tells her he caught the sun. ‘When we were going up the Limpopo I was laid up with it for several days.’ Wanda says she’d be quite at home in the jungle and swamps. Mr Brightwell isn’t so sure. ‘Snakes, crocodiles.. all of them sting or bite.’ ‘And moths?’ says Wanda. (Maybe it’s just spiders she’s not good with).

26.30 She tells him the students are putting on a play and she’s in it. ‘What’s it about?’ says Mr Brightwell. ‘Wait and see,’ says Wanda. ‘You’ll be very surprised.’ (I’m guessing maybe moths).

27.05 The professor strides in. ‘Your daughter tells me she too is interested in entomology,’ says Mr Brightwell. Wanda and the professor share a look.

28.00 The professor and Mr Brightwell look at the chrysalids he’s brought him. ‘They’re magnificent!’ he says. Whilst he gloats over the pods, Mr Brightwell fiddles with the lid of a vivarium. ‘Don’t touch that!’ yells the professor (but doesn’t slap him like the student).

30.00 Cut to: the students’ play. A mad scientist electrifying a heart to the sound of thunder & lightning. The whole thing is meant to be cartoon-like and preposterous, but actually looks more authentic than the film, which is the risk you run with scenes like this, I suppose. I wonder what role Wanda plays?

30.55 The housekeeper comes on. She says there’s a man outside called Mr Stark Adder. ‘Stark Adder!’ says the mad scientist. ‘Goooood!’ He touches his assistant on the shoulder. ‘James? This may be it!’

32.00 Stark Adder and his mate, two Burke & Hare wannabes, sell the scientist a fresh corpse they strangled for a tenner.

Side note: This scene goes on longer and with less interest than the opening lecture about the potter wasp.

‘Connect up the batteries!’ says the mad scientist, with a level of desperation I completely understand.

33.30 The housekeeper runs on again. Tells the mad scientist his daughter Josephine has just been run over by a train.

34.00 Cut to: the inspector wandering around the grounds in the dark. If there was one thing Peter Cushing was born to do was to wander around the grounds of an old house in the dark. That and to sit reading in the LYE-BREH-REH. He peeps through the window.

34.30 They put Wanda / Josephine on the table. ‘She’s still warm!’ says the mad scientist. ‘Switch on the batteries!’ Wanda comes alive just enough to strangle the mad scientist – then dies for the second time. ‘Oh God!’ says the assistant (did I mention there was an assistant?) Curtains. The End (of this dreadful little play segment). Everyone claps – much like they did at the end of the wasp lecture. Wanda says she’ll see Mr Brightwell outside ‘for some air’. But she needs to take her wig off first. The professor chats to his butler. Says there may be something in galvanism, and can the butler get hold of any batteries? The professor asks the director where he got the idea for galvanic stimulation. ‘I made it up,’ says the director, staring wildly. I’m surprised the professor doesn’t slap him.

37.20 Just about everyone seems to be creeping around in the dark outside the house now, including the butler. Wanda and Mr Brightwell play hide and moth – sorry – seek. I’m worried something awful’s about to happen, like a dramatic moment.

39.46 If the moth attacks Mr Brightwell it’ll get a mouthful of splinters. Just sayin’.

39.55 The moth attacks Mr Brightwell. The inspector hears his screams and runs over. We get a glimpse of something standing over him, something unspeakable, in a ghastly moth costume. I’m not sure, but I THINK it might be Wanda, horribly transformed. Is THAT why she’s so interested in moths? (And doesn’t have any friends?)

40.40 The inspector attends to the mortally injured Mr Brightwell. ‘What did you say?’ he says, looking peeved, holding off on any first aid. The butler looks on from a bush.

41.25 The inspector takes Mr Brightwell to the professor. ‘If you’re quick you can save him’ says the inspector, forgetting how effective the professor was last time he showed him someone badly injured by a moth. ‘Well there’s nothing I can do,’ says the professor. ‘He’s dead.’ When the inspector asks if he knows who he is, the professor lies and says he’s never seen him before.

42.36 The inspector is talking to the incredible Chief of police again, a man with such lustrous locks Paris himself would sigh and lay down his golden apples. Or something. ‘That’s all he said,’ says the inspector. ‘Death’s Head.’ ‘A lot of them say strange things before they go,’ intones the Chief. He’d like to take the inspector off the case. He thinks he’s too close. The inspector respectfully declines. The Chief radiates godly knowledge and power over all things. Or something.

43.20 Cut to: the butler putting sheets over everything in the house, then picking up his broom handle to go and torment the eagle. Which sounds allegorical and very well may be. But the eagle is off its perch (can’t blame it). The butler goes down the cellar steps. The eagle jumps him and you hear the butler screaming. It’s probably a daily event.

44.10 Cut to: The inspector seeing his daughter Meg off to her holiday in Sussex – which is probably family code for a spell of treatment in the mental house. The sergeant tells the inspector about the last victim – a bug collector from Africa. ‘Claire House as fast as you can!’ shouts the inspector to the carriage driver, completely forgetting about Sussex. But you can’t blame him.

44.50 Meg watches from the safety of her hat as the inspector rings the doorbell. Then runs round the back. Forces a window. Walks through the house. Goes down into the cellar. Unbolts the second door (without the pervy helmet – oh, Peter…) Puts a hankie over his nose and mouth because it smells bad (the cellar, not the hankie). Sees lots of skellingtons on the floor (the orchestration is blaring trombones – which seems appropriate – that, or xylophones, maybe). Goes back out, covered in cobwebs, which he obviously finds distasteful, having on quite a nice suit. Takes the jacket off to give it a shake (I’d be the same if I just walked out of a cellar full of skellingtons). Puts the jacket back on. Finds another bit of dodgy moth material (which is a description you could apply to this whole goddamn film). Puts it in an envelope and walks back up the cellar steps. Goes into the professor’s lab. Sees blood coming from a pine wardrobe. Opens the door. The butler rolls out in a haughty heap onto the floor, dead.

49.00 The inspector goes back outside to see Meg. ‘Back to the police station!’ he says. ‘But I’ll miss the train!’ says Meg. She likes Sussex and doesn’t want to miss it.

49.30 Back in the mortuary, looking at the butler’s corpse. ‘Could the wounds have been self-inflicted?’ asks the inspector. ‘Impossible!’ says the doctor. Roy, the mortuary clown, mugs about in the background. The sergeant comes in. ‘Excuse me, Inspector,’ he says. He’s found the staff of Claire House. The inspector hurries away to interview them (and escape from Roy’s mugging).

50.38 The housekeeper tells him they were all given a month’s wages and told to leave at once. It was the butler what told them to go. The inspector sucks a mint. Something’s not right, what with all the murders, the skellingtons, the sudden termination of domestic contracts and everything.

51.40 It appears the professor has nicked off via Waterloo. The inspector interviews two cockney porters who say they wouldn’t forget the professor in a hurry. Had lots of wooden boxes with ‘im. Wouldn’t let anyone touch ‘em. But he did give them half a sovereign each. Which was nice. The labels on the luggage said Upper Higham. ‘Thanks for the clue’ says the inspector.

52.08 The inspector goes to see the Chief of Police, a man with curls as deep and iridescent as the night sky and a voice as hypnotically sonorous as the moon. The Chief gives the inspector authority to pursue the professor to Upper HIgham. He’ll take his daughter, Meg, too, who could do with a holiday, after her Sussex disappointment.

53.00 ‘Father! What am I meant to DO here?’ says Meg in the carriage on the way to Upper Higham. (and I hope that paints enough of a picture). The inspector tells her he’s in disguise ‘…a bank manager from Kingston… and you’re my daughter, Miss Thompson.’

53.26 Cut to: the gardens of a country house in Upper Higham (I’m guessing). Wanda comes out, wearing something draggy that looks like an unholy cross between a throw and a negligee. She wants to talk with the gardener, a muscular young thing who’s out in the garden fondling some privet. ‘Good day’ she says. ‘Good day, miss,’ he says, stroking the front of his trousers. HIs name’s Clem. They have a deeply sexual talk about where Clem lives, and how often he sees his parents. ‘Well – good day, Clem,’ says Wanda. ‘Good day, Miss,’ says Clem, touching his fly again, then picking up a spade. And… scene.

54.30 The inspector and Meg arrive at the Inn.

55.08 Cut to: The professor prodding dead frogs with electrodes (nice to have a hobby.) Wanda wanders in. ‘What do you want?’ shouts the professor. ‘You know very well,’ says Wanda. ‘You must be patient!’ shouts the professor, not exactly modelling patience, it has to be said. Looking a bit slappy, if you ask me.

56.12 Wanda wanders off to stare at Clem through the window. He smiles at her as he trains some clematis. Wanda looks extremely mothy in that get up. (strokes chin…sucks a mint).

56.30 The inspector – disguised as the bank manager Mr Thomson and looking EXACTLY like Peter Cushing – comes down into the dining room of the Inn. Stares at two stuffed pike for clues. Another stuffed pike – a businessman down for the fishing called Mr Wallinger – comes into the room for dinner, too. They drink madeira and chat about absolutely nothing at all ha ha, good man. Meg comes down. Gets introduced to Wallinger Jr, who’s a young entomologist – ‘at home known as Billy the Bug Catcher’ – which is NOT attractive, but may or may not prove useful later. A waitress dressed as a jar of marmalade very unselfconsciously serves dinner, being a floury loaf and a latrine of soup.

1.00.15 Everyone goes fishing. Everyone – including the director – seems to have forgotten about all the murders, the skellingtons in the cellar and what have you. Meg goes off to pick some blackberries. If I didn’t know better I’d worry they’d shot some documentary footage and accidentally left it in.

1:01.38 Billy the Bug Catcher is off catching bugs. With a big white net, of course. A peacock butterfly lands on Meg. She catches it, but won’t give it to Billy so he can kill it. With cyanide. Not an auspicious first date.

1.03.08 Cut to: Wanda in the garden, snipping the heads off dahlias. She sees a huge moth on the wall and stares at it in much the same way she stared at Clem, the gardener.

1.03.22 Billy and Meg are chasing butterflies together, seemingly over the whole ‘killing wildlife with cyanide’ thing. They’ve strayed onto the grounds of the professor’s house. Wanda sees them and runs over as Billy catches something in his net. ‘What have you got in there?’ she says. ‘A moth!’ says Billy. Wanda narrows her antennae – sorry – eyes. Meanwhile, the professor is doing more experiments with electricity in his lab. He fills a dodgy looking cylinder with electricity (which sounds like a battery, I know, but this one is bigger, with a hook). He takes it into the cellar where a giant chrysalid is hanging from a beam. He feeds the chrysalid the electricity, but the chrysalid only looks depressed, and I would, too. Wanda goes into the cellar. ‘I told you not to come in here,’ says the professor, slappily. Wanda is impatient again but the professor says electricity isn’t enough. It needs blood. ‘Human blood’. ‘Blood of a young girl?’ says Wanda. ‘That would do perfectly’ says the professor. A touching domestic scene.

1.06.35 Wanda catches up with Meg, who’s strolling down the lane. She apologises for her behaviour. ‘I can’t bear to see beautiful things killed or injured,’ she says. The horse rolls its eyes worse than the mortuary clown. ‘Why don’t you jump in?’ says Wanda. She does – and the next thing you know she’s lying on a couch being transfused directly into the chrysalid, who looks like me, completely desiccated, half an hour before lunch.

1.09.15 The professor has hypnotised her (a technique he uses to great effect in his lectures). He orders her to return again tomorrow. She goes back to the Inn and straight to bed without any soup because she’s got a headache (and a low blood count).

1.10.20 Clem is chopping wood. I’m sincerely worried for his feet, the way he handles that chopper. Then he lights a tiny pile of leaves, dangerously close to hedge – so I’m guessing Clem missed the session on Health & Safety at horticultural college. Wanda runs up (her cloak dangerously close to the leaves), straight into Clem’s arms. She leads him into the woods. They kiss. You see Wanda’s hand on the back of his head. Her hand goes all mothy. So that’s it! Wanda is a moth monster! Or mothter, for short. Cut to – the professor standing outside the house, hearing Clem scream. He runs over there. Finds Clem’s gorgeously muscular but lifeless body on the ground. Sound of flapping overhead.

1.13.10 Back at the Inn, Billy shows the inspector a Death’s Head moth. Explains about the scales on a moth’s wing – and shows him some under a microscope. The inspector realises what all the strange crap was the sergeant gave him on the heath. He goes off to the local telegraph office to send a message.

1.14.25 Wanda is back in the cellar, hanging out with the chrysalis. ‘You couldn’t wait, could you?’ says the professor, shaking her by the shoulders, then slapping her, just like a student. He suddenly realises what he’s created – and throws some explosive acid over the chrysalis, which goes up like Clem’s leaves. In fury, Wanda changes into the mothter again, killing the professor her father. Another touching domestic scene.

1.15.50 Billy and Meg go to tell Mr Wattinger they’re going for a walk. He’s fishing again – but his line gets caught. But it’s not a big pike, though, it’s Clem!

1.17.05 The inspector is back from the telegram office and reading not in the LYE-BREH-REH but in the dining room. The sergeant strolls in with a briefcase of clues. They sit down to go through them. They figure out that what they’re looking for is a giant moth. The landlord comes in and says thanks for coming so quickly Sergeant – he’s got the drowned guy on the table next door. They examine the body and decide he was killed like all the others. The landlord says it’s Clem, from up at the old house. Where Meg and Billy have gone.

1.21.18 They all drive out to the house. Meg is way ahead of them, walking in a trance. Billy is on the front porch talking to Wanda. He shows her his Death’s Head moth. Wanda says she knows about moths. Yes – and we know about Wanda.

1.22.51 Wanda shows him to the end of the drive because apparently she can see very well in the dark. Meanwhile, Meg walks into the back door as the professor commanded. Goes down into the cellar. Screams when she sees the professor on the floor, which wakes her from her trance. She grabs a lamp and runs through the house, but all the doors are locked. Trips and falls down the stairs, setting the house alight.

1.23.55 The carriage pulls up outside. The inspector and sergeant run inside and rescue Meg. The inspector carries Meg outside while the sergeant puts the fire out. Wanda turns into the mothter and attacks Billy. Billy screams. The sergeant shoots over the mothter to scare it away. Billy isn’t badly hurt, though (shame). The sergeant (who – it transpires – is called Alan – true story) shoots wildly in the air, but the inspector tells him he’ll never hit it. Instead, the inspector sets fire to a bush. The mothter is attracted by the light (I think), flies down to look, catches fire, and burns to death on the lawn in front of them, changing back into Wanda just long enough for the inspector and Alan to wince a few times. ‘What are we gonna tell ‘em, sir?’ says Alan, as the mothter disintegrates. ‘They’ll never believe this at the yard.’ ‘They’ll never believe it anywhere,’ says the inspector. Then checks his pockets for a mint.

And that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. Lepidoptery is not the study of leopards.
  2. A cellar full of skellingtons isn’t really such a big deal.
  3. Moths do best on human blood and electricity.
  4. Never prod an eagle with a broom handle.
  5. If you like swamps, why not try Henley?

Island of Terror

Island of Terror, 1966. Dir. Terence Fisher. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

0.45 Opens with an island quayside scene so cute you expect to see rabbits and dormice unloading the boats. Except they’re smoking pipes. And wearing duffle coats.

0.58 ‘Alright. Let’s have it on the truck’ says the gruffest rabbit. But he doesn’t mean sex, apparently – he means a crate labelled Phillips Laboratories, Chemical Equipment, Handle with Care.

1:05 I love the acting in these old films. There’s a guy with a clipboard – he carefully sucks the end of his pencil, slowly taps the pencil on the clipboard, then says ‘Is that all they need?’ You can say what you like about the Island of Terror, but the admin is thorough.

1.27 Actually, I have to say, so far it’s only an island of terror if you’re scared of duffle coats. Not sure where this island is – hard to tell from their accents. One of them sounds Welsh, the constable Northern Irish. The monster’s probably a cockney.

1.58 I mean – SO many guys in duffle coats, looking cold, moving VERY slowly. It doesn’t make me want to go and live on an island. Or buy a duffle coat.

2.41 Cut to: the lab! Dials and knobs and beakers and bubbling noises. What are they cooking in there? Crystal meth?

3.10 ‘The cell cultures are prepared. We’re ready to begin.’ says a white coat. About time. Three minutes in and all we’ve seen are duffle coats.

3.24 I’m guessing they cast the chief scientist because his eyebrows go up in the middle. It’s so easy for him to look sincere.

3.34 One of the lab techs mentions ‘…the vapour applicator’ I love that! I totally want a vapour applicator. Although maybe he just means the kettle.

3.50 Turns out they’re working on a cure for cancer. What they really need is a cure for duffle coats.

4.05 The screen goes red! We get the opening credits! Wow – I can’t believe this was all just the warm up.

4.15 ‘Island of TERROR’ blares the title. Big emphasis on terror. That’s why I don’t work in film. I’d have been tempted to emphasise ISLAND.

4.51 Favourite name from the credits: John St John Earl (the art director). If I say it over and over it sounds like a car I had once that never used to start.

5.44 A guy in a duffle coat is walking in the fog with a lamp looking worried. (The guy’s looking worried, not the lamp. It’s Hammer Horror, not Disney).

6.03 There’s a horrible noise coming from somewhere. That cave? He goes in to look. You hear screams, the light wobbles about. Sound effect like me eating cornflakes. Horrific.

6.50 Cut to the constable sitting at his desk drinking beer. You’d drink a lot of beer on the Island of Terror. Someone knocks on the door. Mrs Bellows comes in with her head in a scarf and her hand in a handbag (which sounds more terrifying than it is). Her husband is three hours late and she’s worried. ‘I’m sure he’s alright’ says the constable. Well I’m pretty sure he’s not, judging by the cornflakes sound effect and all the screaming.

8.00 The constable goes off to look for Mr Bellows. Finds his body lying in the cave. Looks disgusted. Prods it with his truncheon. The duffle coat is about the only thing left. Urgh. Mind you, if I was a monster and I ate someone, I’d probably leave the duffle coat, too. Even if I wasn’t a monster I’d leave the duffle coat. What am I – Paddington?

10.05 In the posh drawing room of Dr Lander, who’s practicing his fly fishing, never mind the antiques. The constable knocks on the door. When Dr Lander opens the door he almost has the constable’s eye out with his pipe. He’s like some strange Medic/Clown hybrid.

10.50 ‘I’ve just seen Ian Bellows and his body’s like jelly.’
‘Jelly?’ says Dr Lander.
‘Aye! It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.’ (Although it IS like jelly, which he HAS seen).

10.59 ‘…there was no face…just a horrible mush…with the eyes sitting in it….’
(Sounds like something I might serve up at a dinner party).
The constable takes him to the cave to check out the mush.

11.50 Dr Lander pokes the body of Mr Bellows with a stick. He says he doesn’t think the body has any bones. I’m hoping Dr Lander isn’t the Coroner, or if he is, he writes his reports in crayon.

13.00 No – he IS the coroner. Back at the mortuary he confirms that this IS the body of Mr Bellows. He recognises the appendectomy scar (and the duffle coat). He tells the constable he needs to get the help of the eminent Dr Stanley – which I’m guessing is Peter Cushing, because that sounds like the sort of part he might want to play.

13.58 Dr Landers meets Dr Stanley in his lecture hall (Dr Stanley’s lecture hall, not Dr Landers-es). I have to say Peter Cushing has the best voice ever. It’s like a glass of cold blood. With a biscuit. Absolutely top class. Now. What can I do for YOU?

14.50 I mean, the way Peter Cushing says LIBRARY. LYE-BREH-REH. Every letter articulated. Beautiful. My time is completely vindicated. LYE-BREH-REH. Mmmm.

15.02 They both go to see an eminent bone expert. We see him at home pouring a couple of drinks, a sleazy sax playing in the background. The shadow of a woman getting dressed just visible through an open bedroom door. This is the kind of life an eminent bone expert would lead, I suppose. Maybe golf – with a femur for a Pitching Wedge (and you can bet I Googled THAT)

15.13 She comes through, wearing his shirt. ‘How’s the dress?’ he says. ‘Oh, the spot’s out but it’ll take some time to dry,’ she says, sitting down. He sniffs her feet. Apparently they met when she wrote off a Maserati and broke her leg. He was the bone doctor and they fell in love. There’s some sexy banter, then they kiss – in that awful, mouth closed, head rocking from side to side way that they learned one afternoon at RADA.

17.40 Dr Landers, Dr Stanley and the eminent bone doctor Dr West talk about the strange case of the man with no bones. ‘No bones?’ ‘No bones.’ ‘Not a trace?’ ‘Not a thing.’ etc etc. Dr West has never heard of this before. At least he’s spared the constable’s description of the ‘horrible mush with eyes sitting in it. ‘With eyes sitting in it?’ ‘Eyes.’ ‘In the mush?’ ‘In the mush’ etc etc.

18.20 Dr West’s girlfriend offers them her dad’s helicopter if she can come to the island to see the body, too. ‘Are you a good screamer?’ says Dr Stanley. I’m kidding – but I bet she is. ‘Jolly good. I can show you my LYE-BREH-REH,’ says Dr Stanley. I’m kidding – I just wanted to hear him say library again.

19.02 For reasons I don’t understand, the helicopter can drop them there but can’t pick them up again for a while. Maybe it’s rush hour or something. ‘This means we won’t have any contact with the mainland,’ says Dr Landers, impressively.

19.50 Off they go in the helicopter. This scene takes a full five minutes. Maybe there weren’t many helicopters in 1966. Wow! I mean – look at those rotors… The orchestra gets pretty worked up, too. A xylophone plays loudly – which I suppose is reminiscent of a helicopter. Kinda choppy.

20.35 The constable is waiting for them on top of a craggy outcrop. He lights a bonfire then stands well back – just as well if a helicopter is going to be flying over a bonfire. We get an extended close-up of him looking at the night sky admiring the helicopter as it xylophones in.

21.00 Lots of hellos and what not. We get to hear about Dr Phillips, the reclusive professor hiding away on the island, working in cancer research. ‘Before we do anything, let’s go and look at that body,’ says Dr West, who’s really only here for the bones.

22.10 Cut to: Dr Lander’s autopsy room. He pulls a sheet back from Mr Bellows. We see his face for the first time. Looks like me after I’ve eaten too much risotto.

23.00 They talk about the results of their examination. The body is covered in tiny holes. Maybe something sucked the bones out through them? (I’m guessing they got their medical degrees online). They need to go to Dr Phillips’ lab for more tests, because he’s in research and enjoys more funding.

24.50 Dr Phillips’ house ‘looks like Wuthering Heights,’ says Dr Stanley. He probably read the book in his LYE-BREH-REH.

25.40 They ring the bell but no one answers. Dr Stanley takes a torch to find a way in. He forces a window and climbs in. Creeps around. Almost trips over the boneless body of Dr Phillips in the library. Lets the other chaps in. They creep around trying to find the laboratory. It takes them ages. It’s worse than the helicopter.

28.40 Actually, the lab’s in the crypt behind a door marked KEEP OUT : RADIATION. They go in.

28.50 ‘Isotopes!’ says Dr Stanley, looking inside. Maybe that’s a sciency swear word, I don’t know.

29.10 All the lab technicians are lying boneless on the floor. Typical lab technicians. I mean – the pay’s terrible, it’s repetitive work, they get creative with the isotopes…

29.13 Peter Cushing tips his hat back, which is Peter Cushing for ‘Fuck Me this is Awful’.

29.22 ‘Good news – they found a cure for cancer. Bad news – it sucks your bones out.’ (This is why I can’t ever be a script writer).

30.07 They look in the computer – sorry, filing cabinet – for clues.

30.10 Cut to: a worried looking villager walking down a creepy looking road (mind you, all the roads on Terror Island look creepy. It’s probably in the brochures and everything).

30.40 He finds a horse – or a cow? I don’t know, I’m not a vet – with all its bones sucked out. Runs to find the constable. Tells him he found one of his horses dead (Ahhhhh).

32.09 The constable rides over to Dr Phillips’ place to tell Dr Landers about the boneless horse. He lets himself in. Finds the bodies. Explores the rest of the house. Goes down into the crypt. Into the lab. Hear’s a noise coming from a room marked ‘Test Animals’. Opens the door. Gets a tentacle round his throat and his hat falls off.

35.00 Dr Landers goes round to the constable’s house. Rings the bell. Nothing. Gets back in his car. Drives down to the harbour where some guys in duffle coats are aimlessly painting the hull of an upturned boat (it’s the little details that make the film so authentic). The farmer is there. The farmer tells him about his boneless horse. Dr Landers jumps back in his car again. The farmer has the best quote of the film: ‘There’s some peculiar goings on going on on this island’. Try it for yourself. You can’t help but sound mysterious.

37.00 Everyone seems to be going to see everyone else about the peculiar goings on going on on the island. With their hands in their duffle coat pockets. The head of the island walks to his landrover with another guy at about the same pace the doctors walked out to the helicopter. But this time without xylophones.

37.20 Dr West is busy smoking a fag and explaining how Dr Phillips probably found a cure for cancer. Which is just as well. Toni, Dr West’s girlfriend, (I should edit that in earlier but I’m running out of time) – Toni says she doesn’t want to be left alone when they go off to look at the boneless horse. If the monster appears they’ll need a good screamer.

38.33 Toni watches from the car as the three doctors stand around the boneless horse prodding it with a stick. She hears a horrible noise. There’s a thud on the car roof. Something hideous and globular slides down the back window and when she realises it’s not Dr West she screams. The doctors come running but when they get there, it’s gone. ‘What did it look like?’ ‘I don’t know! I don’t know! It was greyish!’ Hmm. They get back in the car to drive to the village for help – but the next thing you know, they’re pulling up outside Wuthering Heights again.

41.00 They see the constable’s bike outside. Down in the crypt they find him lying on the floor, boneless (not that much different to when he was alive, to be honest). A tentacle sneaks out round the door and flaunts itself in their faces. Then the rest of the creature trundles round the corner. It looks like shit on wheels. A motorised pile of shit with a tentacle on the front. They turn to run, but there’s another pile of motorised shit in front of them, waving. Toni looks particularly distressed – having seen something similar back in Dr West’s flat.

41.55 Dr Lander grabs an axe that’s on the wall behind him. Whacks the motorised pile of shit (MPS for short). But the MPS grabs him by the tentacle – which is worse than it sounds – and sucks his bones out. Then it splits and a whole load of spaghetti comes out. Sorry to be so scientific about it. I can only describe what I see. One of these days I’ll write a paper on it and put it in the LYE-BREH-REH.

43.38 Dr Stanley manages to sneak past the shitty pile of spaghetti. Toni is too scared to follow, of course. But Dr West shouts at her and that seems to work. They escape up the stairs.

44.23 The car won’t start. So Dr West opens the bonnet to check the screenwash or something. Meanwhile another MPS is sneaking up on them across the lawn. ‘Hurry!’ says Dr Stanley. ‘I’m trying!’ says Dr West. ‘….I think that’s got it!’ he says, slamming the bonnet on his fingers (I wish). They speed off.

45.10 Back in a house somewhere. Toni is resting in bed. Dr West mixes some powder into some water, for menstrual cramps or screaming, I’m not sure.

48.00 Cut to: the docks. Two villagers meet with another villager. He’s only there because he wants ‘his guts’ (I think – no idea – must be an island thing). Tells them about all the doctors who came in last night on the plane – although it was clearly a helicopter, so … erm .. what about his guts? The villagers look suspicious and hurry away to find the doctors.

48.19 Nineteen seconds later and they’re walking in the door whilst the doctors are reading through Dr Phillips’ notes. Dr West explains about the MPSes, how they’re killing everyone and threatening the island. How they were the results of Dr Phillips’ anti-cancer experiments. ‘I’ll need ten good men in half an hour in the meeting hall’ he says. ‘Right,’ says the chief villager, or mayor, or whatever you want to call him. The one in the hat, anyway. ‘I’ll better go and tell the constable,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry. You’re too late. He’s dead,’ says Dr Stanley. ‘And Ian Bellows.’ Awks.

50.50 Everyone meets at the meeting hall for the … erm … meeting. Dr Stanley explains that Dr Phillips created a silicate monster that eats bone. Everyone looks at the village dog, for some reason. They make a plan to find as many guns and bombs as they can. Also to deny the MPSes food by hiding the cattle. The guys all go off and Toni is left to organise the kitchen and stop everyone from panicking (although she needed a powder earlier on, so….)

55.20 All the guys including the doctors go out with shotguns and bombs as it’s now MPS open season. The doctors shoot an MPS right in the tentacle, but it’s no good. Dr Stanley goes over with a geiger counter – which looks suspiciously like a lunch box – and almost gets filleted by an MPS that sneaks up on him. Dr West throws some petrol bombs. The MPSes seem to actually like the flames. At least it means they don’t have to wear a duffle coat. The farmer who lost his horse says he’ll get up closer. One of MPSes is up a tree and drops on his head. He ends up like his horse – a non-runner. ‘Come on – let’s try the dynamite!’ says Dr West. I wish he was my doctor. Although if he’s wary prescribing antibiotics, he’ll be even slower handing over dynamite.

1.00 A villager runs up. It’s his big moment. He gives a big, breathless speech about how one of the MPSes is dead after eating Dr Phillips’ dog. You know – the one that had all that radiation poisoning? He drags the speech out as long as he can, but it has to end sometime and they all run off to look, with him tagging on behind wondering when he’ll get another acting job (which is never, I’m guessing, on the strength of the radioactive dog speech).

1.01 Dr Stanley prods the MPS with a stick (I could be a doctor; I can prod stuff). Yes. It’s dead. They load the dog and the MPS on the truck and take them back to the clinic.

1.03 They examine the MPS. Decide that the only thing that can kill it is Strontium 90. If they can poison the cattle with Strontium 90 then let the MPSes eat the cattle – well, it’s not the vegetarian option but it’s some kinda hope. Dr Stanley and Dr West drive out to Dr Phillips’ place to get the Strontium 90. Jeez – there’s a lot of driving on Terror Island.

1.04 Back down in the crypt. The lights flicker. They go into the lab and put on some protective clothing. It takes them ages. Even longer than putting on a helicopter. The tension is undetectable.

1.05 They end up looking like inflated condoms. I bet they gave their agents hell.

1.06. Seriously? Now they’re putting on enormous gloves. Very slowly.

1.07 All to open a cupboard marked ISOTOPES. Mind you – I’m the same when I go to the fridge to check if the hummus is still in date.

1.08 Dr Stanley has the isotope gun in a briefcase and goes back up the crypt stairs. Dr West goes back – he’s forgotten the gloves (yeah, right). Dr Stanley is so busy locking the briefcase in the boot he doesn’t notice an MPS. It grabs his hand. He shouts for Dr West who comes running back up and cuts Dr Stanley’s hand off with an axe – which is possibly a psychotic response to the recent glove trauma. Then takes one of the gloves, shrugs and tosses it over his shoulder (just kidding – it’s horrific – poor Dr Stanley – how’s he going to fondle the books in his LYE-BREH-REH?)

1.10 Back at the clinic, Toni bandages his stump and gives him a paracetamol. ‘Thank you nurse’ he says.

1.11 Dr West goes all James Herriott. Drives over to the cows. Puts on some enormous gloves. I thought he was supposed to inject the Strontium 90, not shove it up their arses.

1.12 Back at the hall they hang lights around the hall like they’re going to have a ceilidh or something. The Island of Terror (and Community Dancing).

1.16 There’s a romantic scene between Toni and Dr West (just after he’s attended to Dr Stumpley’s stamp – I mean – Dr Stanley’s stump). He almost proposes – but Toni says Ssh and puts her fingers on his lips. All of them. ‘David? Be careful,’ she says. ‘I love you.’ They kiss (worse than being slapped in the mush by a tentacle). He doesn’t say he loves her back, though. She can totally do better. (Shame all those lab technicians got completely boned so early on).

1.18 The MPSes attack and eat the cows. Dr West, the Mayor and a guy in a duffle coat watch through binoculars. ‘It’s a nightmare,’ says the Mayor. Which is true. It’s night, he’s the mayor. Just sayin’. They hurry back into the hall.

1.19 The MPSes surround the hall. The lights go out. The villagers panic, light scented candles. But I’m guessing if Strontium 90 won’t do it, a Bay & Rosemary candle doesn’t stand much chance. Ironically, the sound cuts in & out on me at this point, so I panic along with the villagers. It looks like the mayor points the gun at the villagers and says nobody move, but I could be wrong. Tentacles smash windows. A villager gets deboned where he stands. Then an MPS drops down through the roof and debones another one. They all run out into the corridor. ‘Steady as you go’ says a marshall, the sound cutting back in. He sounds surprisingly calm, but that’s probably why he got the gig. They all retreat into the clinic and put clinical furniture up against the doors. It’s all looking hopeless. Dr West gets a needle ready to euthanize Toni (honestly? she REALLY could do better). But then the tentacles start to go flaccid. ‘Careful’ says the mayor. Dr West throws the doors open. ‘We’ve done it!’ he says. ‘They’re dead!’

1.24 The helicopter comes to pick them up. I know! A helicopter! ‘Have you searched the island thoroughly?’ says Dr West. ‘Yes. We killed them all. I’m certain of that,’ says the mayor. ‘If it had happened anywhere else, I don’t think we would’ve been able to destroy them,’ says Dr West, hugging Toni, who looks about as boneless as anyone at this point, TBH.

1.25 Cut to: A Japanese lab. A racist’s impression of a Japanese scientist knocks on a lab door, gets no reply. Opens the door. Cornflakes sound effect. Screams.

The End.

And that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. Motorised shit with a tentacle is surprisingly effective, except when it comes to duffle coats
  2. Helicopters sound like xylophones
  3. Never give a bone doctor an axe
  4. Everybody should hear Peter Cushing say LYE-BREH-REH at least once
  5. No. Seriously. LYE-BREH-REH. Mmmm…