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.
The Victorian era is a continuing source of fascination for writers and artists alike whether it be a steampunk science fiction angle, high class manners and repressed affections or the out and out seediness lurking underneath. Why don’t we have a look at the various elements that draw us to them?
1. Repression. Certain things could not be discussed, even going to the toilet (what did women do around town? I’ve read a few articles which suggest they ducked down an alley but I don’t know how reliable that is). Unlike today where you can call a friend to go down the clinic and collect the morning after pill, such things back then were treated with the utmost discretion.
2. Bizarre cures. With marijuana, cocaine and opium (or Laudenum) all legal in the pharmacies it’s a wonder anyone got anything done. Laudanum was also known as ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and certainly kept a few babies quiet.
As well as this there were a number of ‘quack medicine’ products ie. stuff that didn’t work, flooding the market, including the relatively new and exciting idea that ‘electricity was life’.
4. Sideshows. Though these still occur in some parts of the world it’s difficult for us to comprehend that not only were people displayed in such a way, but they were exhalted as celebrities. After visiting perhaps a menagerie or pleasure garden, people would go along to a show. Joseph Merrick was possibly the One Direction of his day. OK, nobody deserves that, but you see what I’m saying. The posters are a colourful testament to a very peculiar point in history.
Well, there we have it, the weird and wonderful world of the Victorians. There’s so much more to say about them but it’s a start, and certainly their legacy will amuse and confuse us for decades to come. Visit blog ‘Diary of a Victorian Surgeon‘ for a glimpse into the daily life of a man who must have seen it all. Byee!
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 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.
Well, by golly they raised those funds and now they’re having a wrap party in London (have a look at their facebook page for more info). There’ll be performances from the likes of Veronica Valentine and others.
Last weekend I went to the circus in the 1930s. I’m clever like that. I had heard that the Roundhouse theatre was having a ‘Circusfest‘ during a previous London jaunt, and when I saw an ad for Professor Vanessa’s Wondershow – where the main stage would be transformed into a travelling circus on a village green – I got a ticket before asking if anyone else was free. I’m always assured of good conversation when I’m alone anyway.
So…after skipping around Brick Lane and Camden Lock, where the colourful clothes live, I found myself in the theatre main space breathing in the sickly smell of candyfloss and popcorn. On the way in I passed penny arcades and lurid posters, and was greeted with a row of tents lining the perimeter. I was excited!
In the middle of the floor was a small stage and here I watched a French, juggling tight-rope walker (I nearly proposed marriage there and then), a girl hula hooping with fire, aero-rope girls up above and… giant wasp taming. Everyone was free to wander and visit whichever tent they wanted, though its a lot to get through in only two hours.
Though I was at first concerned I would be having a ‘genuine’ sideshow experience (blockheads etc I love, but I’m really not sure about ogling a disabled person), I was quickly reassured that most acts were a mirror show. For example, ‘the Mummy’ featured a woman in Egyptian regalia transform into a centuries old mummy ” before our very eyes,” before she chased us out of the tent. Another showed early film clips and, being such a fan, it meant a lot to see them how they would have been at the very start of the twentieth century.
It was good fun; the tent shows were surreal entertainment and some of the stage acts in the middle were beautiful to watch. I always like a trip to the circus and if there are any French, tightrope walking jugglers out there come and find me.