Classic weird films and TV, plus the meaning of weird

The independent and underground world often bring us the unusual and new, but occasionally mainstream goes weird too. There are too many examples to mention but here are some of my favourites, beginning with two well known ‘uns.

1. Twin Peaks. There may be a segment near the end of series two that goes slightly astray but the good episodes of this programme are way better than most other things that have been on TV. Fire Walk with Me is also very worth seeing.

2. The Twilight Zone. An obvious classic, and the good episodes (there are many) are half hour plays of entertaining freakiness.

3. Three Cases of Murder. I recently watched this at 2am when I couldn’t sleep and was very happily surprised. I love portmanteu horror films (more than one story linked by a main tale – Tales from the Crypt and the Vault of Horror are my personal favourites -) but this ‘un from 1955 is one I’d not heard much about before.

My favourite was the first segment directed by Wendy Toye (yes, a lady in the fifties!). When it begins you prepare yourself for harmless whimsy as Alan Badel observes his own painting with a curator at a gallery, but it quickly descends into something more disturbing. With its skewed camera angles and obsessed characters it was one of the more bonkers things I’d watched that evening. The final segment contains Orson Welles and Alan Badel again (he appears in all three stories) and I actually laughed loudly, though the comedy is, of course, mixed with something a little bit darker.

4. The Unknown. The twenties and thirties made some very peculiar filmic gems, ‘Freaks’ being one example. Another is The Unknown from 1927 by the same writer/director Tod Browning. Joan Crawford (pre ‘wire hangers’) and horror regular Lon Chaney both work in a circus.

He’s the armless (?) knife thrower and she the beautiful assistant. He loves her, and she has a terrible phobia of men’s hands. Oh, and he’s also a robber and murderer with two thumbs, who really does have hands, and decides to have them removed permanently when one of his victims recognises him. Can he live dementedly ever after with Joan, or will things go horribly wrong?

5. Weird Night. There was a 90s-tastic series of BBC programmes in 94 during a special evening entitled ‘Weird Night.’ At 13 I’d not been exposed to too much of this sort of thing yet and I consumed it eagerly. The schedule ran as such:

1.Fortean Review of the Year
2.Strange Days-Coincidences
3. The last American Freak Show (different to the one mentioned in a previous post)
4.Strange Days-Visions
5.W.S.H
6.Strange Days-Beasts
7. Weird Thoughts

You can watch each of the programmes on this youtube channel (thanks skynet!). Below I’ve included all segments of the final show – Weird Thoughts – in which ‘experts’ debate their opinions on all things weird. Weird weird weird weird (my painkillers just kicked in). As expected, everyone laughs at silly old scientist with his knowledge and that.

6. Eerie Indiana. Another 90s offering which shaped my interests growing up. Watching it as a grown up is better though; not only do you have nostalgia but you notice the horror/sci fi references that appear throughout, thus satiating the geek beast within.

7. Sacred Weeds. The 90s seemed to develop an obsession with the ‘out there’ and odd. If it wasn’t Fortean it was mind bending plants.

This was a truly odd documentary series. One person who had never consumed a certain natural drug (proper drug, not homeopathy) and another who had taken them before joined a team of scientists in a big house to trip balls while being asked questions. I’m serious, it happened. Cue many peculiar scenes of suited men assisting in salvia bong hits and mushroom tea dosage. The plants tested (one per episode) were: Fly Agaric mushroom, Salvia, Henbane and Blue Lilly.

Thats enough for now you greedy little pickles, we shall meet again.

Domestic pyromania

During this series of Tales of the Slightly Unexpected we’ve had suspension parties, living in a squat, acting in a low budget horror and being an intern at Bizarre magazine. Now its time for something much more mundane…the night I set fire to my room.

I had just turned 15. My room was decorated in that 90s ‘I’m an oddball’ fashion of suns, moons, stars, Nirvana and Radiohead everywhere and a friend of mine had bought me a joke present, a book of witch’s spells.

Halloween was in the October air as I flicked through the pages one evening, never intending to enact any of the ‘magic,’ as I was far too lazy to draw pentagrams or collect leaves facing only in a south-easterly direction on a Tuesday etc. However I stopped when I reached a particular page.

Being a normal 15 year old girl I had a crush on somebody, and the ‘love spell’ was the only thing that wouldn’t require lots of effort. All I had to do was write their name on a piece of paper and burn it. Easy, right?

I eagerly wrote the name down and got out my lighter – for candles and oil burners – and set alight to the corner of the paper. I watched the orange flame flicker and grow stronger and the thought occured to me…what now? It wasn’t stopping automatically, it didn’t decide ‘Maddie’s one true love is now waiting outside therefore I shall put myself out.’ No, of course it carried on burning and began to make a frightening roaring sound.

Me after the redecoration but before the broken dreams

I panicked and threw it away… in the bin. In the wicker bin. It really picked up at that point and consumed it with ease, growing taller and roaring and reaching for more. I watched it happen, doing a sort of hopping up and down dance. It hadn’t occured to me in my panic that my bin was under the curtains.

I emitted a helpless whimper as the bottoms of the material caught alight and the flame began to travel smokily upwards. I realised if I didn’t snap out of my shock I was going to burn the house down. My eyes flicked around the room…the empty glasses I was always being told off for! “Stop taking up a different glass every time you have a drink,” mum would say and yet here they were, calling out for me to use them.

I grabbed as many as I could and ran to the bathroom, filling them with water and trying to breathe evenly so as not to spill too much on the journey back. It was working…the flames began to recede and I made a scrambling dash to the bathroom with more empty glasses. I heard a voice travel up the stairs: “Maddie, I can smell smoke, what’s going on?”

“Everything’s fine!” I called like a housewife on valium, and soon the fire was nothing more than a smoking, smouldering mess of wicker and black curtains.

“I can definately smell something, I’m coming up!” She did come up the stairs, and she wasn’t happy. I did, however, point out the life saving role the empty glasses had played. For some reason she wasn’t as impressed as I was.