Doesn’t the air smell of faded leaves and over excitement?! I for one can barely wait to start digging up bodies and spoon feeding them cake and chocolate. That’s what you do, right?
The evenings are drawing in and what better way to relax than with a few informative, yet suitably weird, documentaries?
The Addams Family
These first three really count as one. I’m not sure what TV channel broadcast them first or if they were DVD extras, but it’s a 2007 look at the TV series and original cartoons of the Addams Family.
The Aswang Phenomenon
If you’ve seen bizarre cult classic Mystics of Bali you may have heard of the witch who separates her head from her body and floats through the air…her lungs and spine dangling beneath. Well, apparently they have a similar creature in the Philippines, the Aswang, who oddly seems to take many other forms according to whoever tells the story.
Ripley Believe it or Not!
Ripley’s Museum of Oddities will always hold a special place in my heart as Bill and I visited for our second date (my choice of course).
This documentary charts Ripley’s beginnings from cartoonist to global weirdo phenomenon, celebrating those who always felt a bit different on the way.
Frankenstein and the Vampyre, a Dark and Stormy Night
Two legendary horror monsters were created during the same holiday in Geneva, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and the modern, aristocratic vampire by John Polidori. Also with them were poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont.
Their trip isn’t just famous for their creative output, however, there were also drugs, sexual confusion and scandal. Exciting!
If you’d like to see more documentaries on romantic gothic literature, including the Brontes and Edgar Allen Poe, toddle off to this link here.
An atmospheric wander through urban legends that turned out to have some basis in fact, whether before or after the telling. Remember, Halloween wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t all think nice old ladies were trying to kill us with sweets (candy).
Sacred Weeds: Henbane the Witch’s Brew
This was one of the oddest documentaries I remember from the 90s. It seemed to me that during that period everything went very sun and moon and incense, and to be honest I still secretly love it. There were four episodes in the series; Blue Lily, Henbane, Salvia Divinorum and Fly Agaric, but Henbane deals with Gothic folklore and witch trials.
The premise is what makes it so strange, two people turn up to a castle in the middle of nowhere so scientists in suits can watch them trip out of their tiny minds. The scientists argue before the trial and after, not a single one agreeing or changing their mind in the least. To be honest, though, fair enough if you’ve done the research and others clearly haven’t.
Watch out for the man who seems to have wandered in from some fetish dream, declaring with little to no evidence that witches definitely rubbed ointment on their vaginas and held naked sabbats.
Good day my little vegetarian sausage sandwiches, here’s another dose of weird things to soothe the constant rumble of the sponges in your brains.
I love everything about pre-code Hollywood movies from dubious morals to glamorous women, especially if those women got their jewels and furs via nefarious means a la Red Headed Woman, Baby Face and Midnight Mary. Interesting tidbit, Red Headed Woman was one of many vehicles originally meant for Clara Bow which she turned down due to her lack of interest in Hollywood after sound hit.
However some pretty odd films emerged, strange to today’s eyes either because of attitudes (black people relegated to servants with one line is never an easy watch but some go even further), artistic weirdness or sheer incompetence.
An odd curio, fascinating for its unadulterated ugliness and gleeful wallowing in mankind’s lowest nature.
A disabled man living in remote Congo is believed by the local tribe to be a God due to his parlour tricks, because of course the African natives are simpletons who would revere anyone who can produce birds from a small tin. He also speaks to them with the broken English usually reserved for Native American stereotypes. He lives for revenge, believing a girl he sent to a convent years before is the product of his wife’s affair with another man.
His plan comes to fruition when he has the girl, raised in purity and naivete, brought to his claustrophobic home for he and his small group to torture. She goes from sweet girl to alcoholic harridan in 0.5 seconds, her only hope being a doctor addicted to a local root.
Interestingly the gang includes ‘Mexican spitfire’ Lupe Velez, who either drowned in the toilet after taking pills to commit suicide, cracked her head on the bowl or lay resplendent upon the bed, depending on which story you believe.
Murder at the Vanities is an entertainingly daft musical comedy about attempted murder.
While by no means a brilliant film (some of the songs are terrible!), it’s a ritzy, glitzy screwball story of backstage jealousy and lies. There’s enough pre-code moments to satisfy including almost nude ladies and the oddest Hollywood musical number I’ve ever seen (see clip below). It’s good fun and doesn’t really try to be anything else, with enough what the…? moments (or wtf if you want to be modern about it) to keep it entertaining.
I couldn’t really make this list without Freaks, a classic of horror and sideshow cinema. You could dismiss it as Ableism, and you can’t deny their ‘otherness’ is used as a disturbing climax, a “primal, oozing nightmare” as Mark Gatiss so beautifully said in BBC series A History of Horror.
However director Tod Browning famously lived and worked in circuses and the performers are mainly depicted sympathetically. The real monster is Cleopatra, the beautiful Trapeze artist, who manipulates Hans the dwarf into marrying her and then slowly begins to poison him for his money. The merry nature of the ‘freaks’ contrasted with Cleopatra’s ugly soul is best shown in the famous and oft mimicked wedding dinner scene.
Despite the success of Dracula (featuring, of course, Bela Lugosi), Tod Browning lost his momentum when sound came in and faded from the business.
I’d love to tell you what on earth is going on but I really don’t know. There’s a mad scientist and his assistant doing experiments on returning the dead to life in your average, run-of-the-mill Hollywood lab. There’s intertitles explaining various ‘diseases of the mind,’ then there’s cats fighting. Then the assistant kills the scientist, seems to forget he’s supposed to be bringing him back and decides to brick him up in the wall in a reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s Black Cat and, as though this reference reminds him, he gets offended by a nearby cat and plucks out it’s eye in a surprisingly well done piece of gory special effects.
At the same time there’s a nude girl they’ve taken from the morgue and a man they’ve injected with over-actor’s juice. They collide in one of the oddest ‘monster carrying off girl’ scenes I’ve ever witnessed – he seems to decide her boobs aren’t showing enough and puts her down to expose them further before carrying on.
From the deep, dark vaults of Hitchcock’s British films lurks this unassuming little who dunnit. A woman is killed and another is on trial for it, though she doesn’t remember committing the act. One of the jurors believes her to be innocent and begins his own investigation. Hitchcock himself wasn’t fond of who dunnits but he does the best he can, ensuring at least one visually arresting moment is included by way of a circus performance at the climax.
What makes this film so uncomfortable is the reason behind the killing of one woman and framing of the other – she was telling her the secret of one of the acrobats, that he is half black. Knowing the acrobat is involved in the murder somehow but not yet knowing why, the juror asks the imprisoned woman if she was in love with him. “No,” she says, horrified, “it’s impossible.” “Why?” he asks, before she explains he is ‘half-caste.’
Attitudes change, as we know, and perhaps it’s a plausible reason for killing. After all, it could have spelled the end of his career. However it’s not Hitchcock’s best film so you won’t be missing much if you decide to give it a pass.
Dirty books have a lot to answer for, leading to sex, drinking and ultimately games of dice. And death. Or at least according to this propaganda piece from 1934 they do. In fact the weirdest thing about this film is its lack of bad behaviour – a young girl makes a new friend who introduces her to drinking and a new boyfriend, though she gets tired of him and moves on to someone else.
After a party the girls are examined by a doctor and denounced ON PAPER as sex delinquents, and she dies in disgrace when an out of wedlock pregnancy forces her into a backstreet abortion. Should have stayed at home reading knitting magazines.
A wayward young lady (Miriam Hopkins, one of my favourite precode ladies) spends her time teasing men and spurning the proposals of an upstanding but boring lawyer. One night she goes on a drive with a man and crashes in a rainstorm, and then things get weird.
They make their way to a shack occupied by a rural family and a group of gangsters hiding out from the cops. The acting is dreamlike and strange and each male presence is sexually threatening, creating a nightmarish atmosphere. Finally one man, a gangster named Trigger, crashes into the shed she takes refuge in.
It’s never 100 per cent clear what motivates her afterwards and therein lies the most peculiar aspect of the film. Who is this lady? Is she a moll who willingly follows Trigger to the city, or is she a victim of kidnap or Stockholm syndrome? Is it, as often lies in dreams, somewhere in between? Not to mention the heavy symbolism laced throughout the narrative (when Temple falls in court it’s in the shape of one crucified).
Acidemic makes a fascinating case for this as an early Lynchian story of the subconscious, and there’s a great post on PreCode.com too.
The film itself is unavailable to buy but the whole thing is on YouTube. I’ve added it below because I’m brilliant and you love me.
Merry Egg Day!!! Come join in the frivolity of scary bunnies and multi-eyed eggs, and may you never leave…
We begin proceedings with my favourite nail lady ProfessionalDQ doing psycho rabbits and scary chicks. Visit her channel for brilliants upon brilliantses and never feel sad again: That’s a 100 per cent guarantee from Dr Quack:
Still not dark enough for your nail bunny needs? Try some grotesquely evil circus rabbits:
Rather sweet tutorial on painting multi-eyed, cobwebbed horror eggs:
What’s better than the Easter Bunny? A zombie Easter Bunny. The sound is quite bad but bear with her:
Alternatively if you still wish to pursue your rabbit dreams but the zombie is too much, here’s a DIY on becoming Alice in Wonderland’s acquaintance:
More rabbits! Make your own gothic cuddly rabbit. The actual tutorial seems to start about three minutes in, so you might want to skip ahead…
There we have it! Merry Easter and watch out for those murderous egg wielding beasties
Where can you make things out of clay, or sew your own toy, watch a two person short play and a monologue about the Marquis De Sade before toddling off to the Cabaret tent to watch burlesque? The Chelmsford Fling in Essex, that’s where! Have a look online here. And the best part? No children!
In the cabaret tent Desmond O Connor (who’s popped up as MC for Bizarre Magazine’s Ball more than once) serenaded us with increasingly rude songs on the ukelele and Ginger Blush engaged the crowds in burlesque bingo (like normal bingo but with corsets), all punctuated with lovely ladies dancing about and removing items of clothing. Oh, and one man, he was quite nice too.
Elsewhere in the Make Do And Mend tent you could create your own toy, or watch two professional actors in a short play in the Storytime tent. If that’s not enough you can make things out of clay or your own hat if you don’t mind looking really stupid, or watch experimental films whilst drinking refreshing smoothies in the Psychedelic Film tent. Oh yeah, and somewhere there was some live music playing.
Obviously it’s already happened this year, but make sure you get to the next if you can and buy advance tickets as the price goes up considerably on the door. Now here are some pictures to highlight the experience:
Woo hoo, got another erotic short story out with publishers Forbidden Fiction, read it here. This time a jolly old time is had in a Victorian funfair. Here’s the description on their site:
“Ettie visits a funfair with her bullying husband in Victorian London. When a sword-swallowing sideshow performer grabs her attention, she finds herself drawn into a new world of strangeness, freedom and passion. (F/M, F/F. M/M, group).”
Now doesn’t that sound exciting? It was more than I did last Friday. You should have a look!
I’ve been in a documentary mood lately (it comes in fits and starts) and have managed to stumble on some rather interesting ones. Here we go:
1. Henry Darger: The Realms of the Unreal. Very sweet and rather sad story of a janitor nobody really noticed who, upon becoming ill, was found to have created an illustrated novel of over 1,500 words by his neighbours.
Titled The Realms of the Unreal, it was an entire universe he’d worked on his whole life. It truly proves you can never have anyone completely figured out, and ‘boring’ people probably don’t exist – we just don’t know what’s going on inside.
2. Derailroaded. In a similar theme to the previous entry, Derailroaded explores the life of Larry ‘Wild Man’ Fischer. Plagued by mental illness, Larry nevertheless had flirtations with fame first by appearing on Frank Zappa‘s label Straight Records and then releasing albums with out there artists Barnes and Barnes.
Whether you like his music or not is beside the point, this is a fascinating film of an unusual personality. On the flip side, though everyone already knows about this I’m sure, I also loved the film about Daniel Johnston. Watch that one too.
3. Live Nude Girls Unite. Strippers formed a union and took their argument to a tribunal? I can hear you chuckle. However this shows each of the characters involved in the fight for fairness at club The Lusty Lady through the eyes of Julia Query, a woman who strips between comedy gigs.
I found this film quite amusing, so maybe you will too. It’s very low-fi and quite short, but it was a fun way to pass an afternoon.
4. The Last American Freak Show. I’ve mentioned this one before but I like it, so I’m mentioning it again. As a disabled man filmmaker Richard Butchins is uncertain of the ethics behind freak shows and rightly so.
The 999 Eyes travelling show is ramshackle, poorly organised, ill equipped to deal with all of its member’s problems and the owners spout constant nonsense about why freak shows are actually really good. But…its this unexpected turn of events that makes it so fascinating. We glimpse the reality of life on the road and meet some genuinely interesting characters. And meeting new people is good.
5. Man on Wire. I’ve seen this film lots of times and I’m sure everyone else has too, but it’s beautiful and very French and it contains a circus performer, so why not hear about the tight-rope walker who balanced his way between the World Trade Centres in New York one more time? Plus the music by composer Erik Satie helps me sleep at night.
Well, Bob’s your Aunt and Fanny’s your…cousin, that’s your lot. Before we pop orf however I’d like to leave you with two lilting melodies garnered from the films mentioned. Number one is the dreamlike piano of Erik Satie, and number two is a rousing tale of fish heads and their various uses by Barnes and Barnes:
Well hello! Icicles hang from the trees outside (unless you’re in Australia, in which case I still can’t get my head round your weather, now sort it out). With the festive party season drawing near I’m sure everyone is wondering what to wear, and as I may have mentioned I love unusual and alternative fashion.
Why not take the old advice and learn from history? They appear to have had a spooky pre-knowledge for what the catwalks of today hold.
Before Lady Gaga was even a concept of a twinkle in the eye, this bacon sporting gentleman from 1894 and hardware displaying lady from the 1890s were strutting the streets. Of course, the man is taking part in a fancy dress party and the lady is a ‘banner woman’ for a hardware shop, but this diminishes nothing.
They’re all fascinating and the designers have used the past as inspiration. I recommend you have a jaunt on over to the original post of this even if you don’t the others, but I think this one obscurely deciding that society will form a medieval circus is my favourite:
Finally I absolutely love this news item from the 1930s. Designers collaborated to predict what we would be wearing in 2000. Ooh, swish!
I’ve had to interview various unusual and creative ladies for magazines and it got me thinking about a few that people may not have heard of, but would like to.
I’m on some pretty heavy painkillers (have a read of my post on endometriosis) so forgive me if I don’t make much sense…
The first two are musical. I like ethereal music ladies such as Bat For Lashes and CocoRosie, and two singers/musicians I came across in the last few years have caught my interest.
Anneka Snip lives in Brighton and has collaborated with electronica artists like Milanese, Blue Daisy and Ital Tek.
Kid A (or Annie T) is an American lady who is currently on tour with Scroobius Pip. Have a listen:
Next up is a cabaret artist known as Missy Macabre. A one woman vintage burlesque freak show, I interviewed her about a short comedy/horror film she appeared in called Annabelle’s Tea Party. Have a look at her in action:
A few days ago myself and two friends got back from the Edinburgh Fringe. I’ll be using photos I found online because, rather than reflecting the beautiful Georgian buildings or lively street performers, most of our holiday pictures look like these two below:
For further details of streets and shops have a look at this previous post). For now here is a list of my favourite shows this year:
1. The Curious Couple from Coney Island. Set to a background of 30s jazz and covered with a sprinkling of sideshow history, this engaging couple swallowed swords in ever more dangerous ways, pulled condoms through noses and made me laugh lots. By the end I wanted to run off with them to form an alternative lifestyle couple.
2. Backhand Theatre and Circus Performs Edgar Allen Poe. Using poems and snippets of story from the gothic horror scribe, The Backhand Theatre company have formed a very visual and very intriguing play. I was amazed by the constantly moving sets and spooky story of a mental asylum owner willing to do whatever it took to keep the hospital running his way.
3. Richard Wiseman. Psychologist, magician, author and supernatural debunker Richard Wiseman led us on a very funny journey of video clips and magic tricks. He reminded us how fascinating the brain really is by explaining our need to see faces in everything in case we miss the one hunting us in the trees, thus creating ‘ghosts’ in the darkness. He illustrated his point by showing us pictures of sneaky roofs and happy light switches.
4. Simon Munnery. My favourite I’ve saved to the end. Simon Munnery is one of my favourite comedians ever. Partly inspired by Andy Kaufman, he’s a delightful bag of surreal silliness. We went to both his shows this year, I Am A Fylm Makker (in which he performed the entire show off to the side, projecting his face via camera onto a big screen in front of us) and La Concepta.
Whilst I loved the songs and silly cardboard figures he’d made for Fylm Makker, nothing can compare to 8 of us sitting around a table in a windowless artist’s warehouse being served bizarre and silly concepts for dinner.
Because they only sold 8 tickets at a time, the amount of chairs available in the ‘restaurant,’ it was an intense experience and felt a bit like we’d all swallowed an untested drug, especially his final entrance wearing an enormous chef’s hat pumped up by pneumatics attached to his feet. The video I’ve added below won’t capture that experience, but here are a couple of the things we witnessed at La Concepta restaurant:
But wait…there’s more! Along the way we visited a hippie chocolate and milkshake place with surrealist cups hanging from the ceiling called The Chocolate Tree, wandered around the book fair (missed getting tickets for Neil Gaiman though) and sat in the spooky Jeckyll and Hyde pub, as featured on eeriepubs.co.uk.
So that’s it from me. Below I’ve included the best picture of the three of us, just to prove that we are indeed human beings like anyone else.