Hello my little bottles of multi-coloured decorative sand. I’m watching more weird films for my next blog post but in the meantime here are a few documentaries from the web featuring our gothic horror writing ancestors, dodgy re-enactments and ominously misty trees included.
Edgar Allen Poe: Love Death And Women is an informative and entertaining account of Poe’s life and the women around him by crime writer Denise Mina. Plus whoever did the music is a serious goth; Bauhaus, The Cure, The Hunger soundtrack and more.
Frankenstein and the Vampyre: A Dark And Stormy Night illuminates the exciting summer in which Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) and the Vampyre (John Polidori) were created. Mary Shelley was only 19, which is fascinating, but less known is the author of the other story, a man mercilessly ridiculed by Byron.
Here’s a little more on Mary Shelley’s fabulously unusual life in Birth of a Monster.
Nightmare! Birth of Horror was a documentary from 1996 I remember being very excited by as a young ‘un. This episode looks at Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles.
This one looks at Dracula…
…And this one at Jekyll and Hyde.
The Art of Gothic series explores gothic literature and art in Britain from the Georgian to Victorian era and beyond.
And finally In Search of the Brontes is a two part series on the sisters in six parts each. That’s a lot of parts. However it’s worth it, many of the Bronte’s writing is firmly rooted in the gothic tradition, particularly the psychopathic Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.
Next week I shall be the busiest I have been since the last time I was really busy so, to make up for the fact that I may not be able to post, I shall share with you a documentary on Surrealist Cinema that was shown on the BBC in 1987 for a series called Arena. If you haven’t watched the others you should; there’s a great one on silent actress Louise Brooks and another on Japanese writer Yukio Mishima and his bizarre end. I am fascinated by a bizarre end, I can’t help it.
I notice he possibly didn’t have time to include Bunuel or Un Chien Andalou, but you can’t include everything.
It occured to me the other day how nature remains beautiful even when it’s being downright disgusting or bizarre, and I would like to honour that achievement.
So, today we shall look at the inspiration behind many people’s art: the Weirdness of Nature.
First let’s ease you in gently with some cute kitties on catnip, taken from BBC series Weird Nature:
Second is a series I find quite amusing (and very odd), Sacred Weeds. Shown back in the 90s, two test subjects take a natural hallucinogen (different in each episode) while men in suits ask questions and stare:
This is a rather sweet, inoffensive clip of mushrooms growing from the series Planet Earth (with some music added). I defy anyone not to chuckle at the willy shaped ones:
Back in March New South Wales, Australia was blighted by floods. The locals were evacuated and, desperate to escape the water, these spiders moved “onto higher ground” leaving an entire ghost town engulfed by webs. Story (and creepy pictures) here.
Next up I saw a lot of fairly grim things during the BBC series Life in the Undergrowth (creepy crawlies), but for some reason this made me go all funny:
And these leaopard slugs are beautiful (in a slightly grim, surreal way):
Anything deep sea is like visiting a hostile alien planet (just watch the BBC’s The Blue Planet). In the meantime here’s a little vid with some music:
I’d have loved to find a clip of vampire bats, particularly from the documentary that shows one creeping up on a pig. Unfortunately there isn’t one on youtube that doesn’t have a hokey American voiceover and I just can’t bring myself to do it. So you have to imagine it instead, which is probably good for you.
Penultimately have a look at series The Future Is Wild, where scientists hypothesise in a Walking With Dinosaurs kind of way on the direction the animal kingdom might go millions of years after we’ve disappeared.
Lastly is the one I find most amazing. It has all the elements: it’s beautiful, it’s disturbing, it’s insidious, it’s science fiction in the natural world; the cordyceps fungus, as shown on Planet Earth:
I’ve been watching a series on Sky Arts called Monty Python, almost the truth. Its really good and I recommend it for any other obsessives out there. I don’t think anything else has made me so jolly as Monty Python has. If I feel unwell or a bit down I’ll watch that or Not Only but Also (even though there’s hardly any of it bloody left).
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
3. The last American Freak Show (different to the one mentioned in a previous post)
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.