Saturday, November 5, 2011

Top Ten epitaphs

Pondering death, as one does, the other day, I started thinking about epitaphs and went looking for some good 'uns. Here they are:

Top Ten Epitaphs ( in no particular order).
Spike Milligan is buried in the grounds of St Thomas, Winchelsea, East Sussex.
His epitaph reads:

"Duirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite",

which is Irish for:

"I told you I was sick.".

  • Swedish Author, Fritiof Nilsson Piraten is buried in Ravlunda Cemetery, on his grave it reads:

    "Här under är askan av en man som hade vanan att
    skjuta allt till morgondagen.

    Dock bättrades han på sitt yttersta och dog
    verkligen den 31 januari 1972."

    Which (roughly translated) means:

    "Here lie the ashes of a man who had the habit

    of postponing everything until tomorrow.

    However, at the end of his life he improved,

    and actually died on the 31st of January 1972."

  •  Perhaps not a clever epitaph, ( or even one that tells us much about the person it commemorates) but definitely memorable is the inscription on the first grave of Jesse James which reads:

    "Murdered by a traitor and a coward
    whose name* is not worthy to appear here" 

    It was written by his mother, and we can tell she wasn't pleased.

  • *Robert Ford: in fact

  • An even angrier epitaph, is found on the headstone of John laird McCaffery in Montreal which reads:

    Free your body and soul
    Unfold your powerful wings
    Climb up the highest mountains
    Kick your feet up in the air
    You may now live forever
    Or return to this earth
    Unless you feel good where you are!

     ---Missed by your friends"

     The 'friends' who paid for it were his ex-wife and his mistress so you have to wonder if he was in on the joke or not. ( If you haven't figured what the joke is, it's an acrostic poem, where the first letters of each line spell out the ultimate meaning )

  • Mel Blanc, actor best known for providing the voices of Bugs Bunny & Porky Pig, is buried in Hollywood. His headstone reads

    "That's all folks"

  •  The only Inmate buried on the grounds of the Idaho State Penitentiary is Lester Moore, a man shot while trying to escape, it simply states:
    Here lies the body

      of Lester Moore
     shot by a guard with a fourty-four

      Now there is no Les

      no more.

  • Perhaps Lester might've agreed with John Gay who wrote the Beggar's Opera in 1728 and composed the inscription for his own tomb in Westminster Abbey which reads:

    "Life's a jest, and all things show it;
    I thought so once, and now I know it."

  • And moving on from  Gay to another Gay, albeit of a different type this time: a 'Gays in the military' --type-Gay
    by the name of  Leonard Matlovich ,whose headstone sums up the achievements in his life, both as a soldier and activist, with these words:
    When I was in the military,
    they gave me a medal for killing two men
    and a discharge for loving one.

  • The Architect Christopher Wren,of course, designed St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

    He is buried there and his marker reads:
    "Lector, si monumentum requiris circumspice."
    which is Latin for

    "Reader, if you seek his monument, look around"

  • And finally, one last stop; the great author H.G.Wells who was writing brilliant science-fiction back in the days of steam and who we have to thank for 'The Time-machine' and 'War of the Worlds',was cremated and his ashes were buried at sea, which I think is  a real pity.
    I've decided to include his chosen epitaph anyway, it was:
    "I told you so, you damned fools".
    In a fair universe he would have that, instead of just this boring plaque:

  • Friday, October 21, 2011

    Top-ten dream-haunters

    I common with a lot of folk, ( horror fans included I imagine ), I find nothing horrific about horror movies, so I figured with Hallowe’en coming on, and people getting into all things spooky, I’d put together a personal Top ten of fillums that genuinely freaked the bejesus outa me:, for whatever reason. 

    WARNING all manner of unpleasantness ahead.

    This is my Top Ten films that have frightened me, with emphasis on the word ‘me’ ( it’s all about me folks). In other words, personal factors, such as my age when I saw them and what exactly I was expecting to see, weighed heavily in how frightened I was, and have weighed heavily in my choosing.

    I thought I’d mention the ones that nearly got in  first, and they are: ‘Jaws’, ‘Darby O’Gill’ and ‘The Butterfly Effect’.

    ‘Jaws’ lost out, because for me, there was only one individual crap-my-pants scary instant. It was a brilliant instant, but over-all it’s other ‘shock’ moments didn’t upset me and Jaws didn’t weigh heavily on my mind. I still think that it’s an excellent film mind you, and for my money, probably Speilberg’s best,- but for this list: no dice.

     Darby O’Gill had the Coiste Bodhar and The Banshee which, of course, were familiar to me already so seeing them come alive on screen was utterly terrifying, but, as I was scared of the Death Coach and The Banshee anyway, I’m
    not sure how much credit goes to the fillum for frightening me and how much to
    my parents and their love of (and fervent belief in ) the supernatural, so it’s
    off the list. 

     The last of the also-rans is ‘The Butterfly Effect’ specifically the prison scenario. All of this  ‘young man on his own in prison gets eaten alive and violated e.t.c.’   bothers me: it bothered me watching Scum, or Shawshank, or Oz or American History X, but for some reason the scenario in ‘Butterfly Effect’  bothered me the most: something about how, after they've abused him, they’re reading his diary out loud and laughing at him and also the fact that he only escapes by ‘magic’ made it worse than those others.
    Still, it doesn’t make the list either just because I found the rest of the film so
    reassuringly ludicrous.
    So lets begin theTop Ten of fillums that haunted my dreams,




    An oldfilm, a black & white film, a badly-acted and fundamentally silly film but
    freaky not only because of its genuine menagerie of freaks but its whole oppressive atmosphere. The film’s attitude ( to the people it depicts ) is freaky in and of itself . I only saw it once and I’ll never forget it despite its age. It was still scary except for the very end: without the final scene, it would have been be further up the list.

    skip to next


    Last Exit to Brooklyn.

     This film follows the fortunes of various characters and not only do things not go well for one character in particular, they go truly horrifically badly, and in a way that I found totally believable and consistent with the darker side of human nature. Nightmares ensued.

    skip to next



    Don’t Look Now.

    All the way through its story, Don’t Look Now has an atmosphere which I find engaging and unsettling. The grimy Venician canals, the echoes down the labyrinthine passages, the careful balance of showing the audience what might be psychological disturbance or supernatural or just plain dangerous. The entire film feels haunted to me.

    skip to next



    Like the couple in Don’t Look Now the men of Deliverance are displaced in a foreign environment. There is no hint of the supernatural here, just a group of rash and foolhardy city-slickers who find themselves adrift and at the mercy of quasi-human inbred weirdoes ( who they’d probably laugh at if they saw them on TV but suddenly on their own turf in the middle of nowhere don’t seem so funny ). This one's a head-haunter.

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    Requiem for a Dream.

    Perhaps one of the most frightening things about this film was that I could figure out more or less what was going to happen in the first 10 minutes, but like all of the main characters, I became hooked. I’m glad I saw it, I’m glad that they had the artistic integrity to highlight their subject warts and.... maybe more warts, I felt for the characters, I never want to see it again.

    skip to next


    Man Bites Dog.

    The reason this frightened me so much was the circumstances under which I saw it. If you for example had never seen of heard of ‘The Blair Witch’ and the first time that you came across it was when you found a video camera  in the woods and the Blair Witch was the film inside on the little mini DV tape this would be different from seeing it in the cinema.- I thought when I was watching  Man bites Dog that I was watching an old French documentary about an architect or artist or something, so when it started to go strange, it was very freaky.

    skip to next



    The Vanishing. (original Danish version)

    So utterly believable and that feeling when it ended, almost as if everybody in the cinema really needed a hug but were too scared to ask. Perfect. I know that there’s an American version; I’m not interested. The film I saw was perfect, and terrifying.

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    A brilliant film this, about a Russian/Estonian girl who dreams of experience of the world and gets it. True and terrifying to me and if you’ve never seen it I recommend
    you do. I saw it alone which may have made it either easier or more difficult -I’m not sure. Do something nice afterwards.

    skip to next




    This is an awful film. A mean-spirited, angry, audience-hater of a film that tries from the very outset to show you as much ugliness as is humanly possible, and then
    throws in the ‘Memento’ editing trick to justify its nastiness as ‘art’. It was such a transparent attempt to shock and disturb that I didn’t think anything could bother me about it, and then there was one very long scene in a red tunnel.
    I’ll say this for it, it was realistic. I’m ashamed to admit it, but the whole world has been an uglier and more frightening place since I saw this trash: it frightens me to know that there are people who would make something like this on purpose and feel good about themselves afterwards. Not recommended. 

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    There has been so many zombie-apocalyptic or epidemic-apocalyptic films in the past few years, it’s easy to see why Blindness hasn’t been seen by more people. As a film, it’s similar to, and probably not as good as, Children Of Men, and doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact-- but maybe it’s just because personally I have one scarred retina, the idea of waking up one day blind and living in a blind world with only other blind people stumbling about into one another terrifies me.  This film combines that fear with a demonstration of the ugliest side of human nature which is also far from reassuring. I saw this film late at night on my own, ( when I should have gone to bed earlier ) and I couldn’t sleep afterwards, I was shaking.  Blindness scared the living bejesus out of me. ( I did enjoy the film though, mind you ).

    So that's my Top Ten, not all good films but all of whom ( for better or worse ) haunted Darren's dreams.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    The Black Hole

    Today I shall talk about The Black Hole.

    When The Black Hole was released in 1979 it was the first film to have an entirely digitally composed film score, ( Some folk think that the first film to have an entirely digitally composed film score was Star Trek the Motion Picture but they're wrong ), the fillum's opening credits sequence featured the longest computer graphics shot that had ever appeared in a fillum, it was the first proper Disney film to have a PG rating, and , at the time, it was the most expensive film Disney had ever made ( $20 million ,plus another $6 million for its advertising budget).

    In other words, it was a big deal.

    And a big disappointment.

    It never performed anywhere near as well as Star Wars had done (it made 36 million, Star Wars cost about half as much to make and pulled in 200 million in its first year) and it doesn't have a huge cult-following, in fact it is very much maligned, it's 'Rotten Tomatoes' rating is currently 42%.

    I watched it recently because I was curious:
    when I saw it last I was a kid and I didn't actually remember much about it, ( other than it wasn't half as good as
    Star Wars, ) but I did like B.O.B. and V.I.N.CENT. Although nobody could have forseen, in 1979, that V.I.N.CENT. in the year 2011 would be a dead ringer for Eric Cartman :

    So, The Black Hole : where shall I begin?

    For me, the most remarkable thing about The Black Hole watching it now, is believing that it came out after Mr Lucas's Opus. It just looks about a decade older. The combination of visible wires and eccentric choreography ( intended to make the crew seem weightless ) may have been inspired by Stanley Kubrick, but unlike his work, it wouldn't convince an eight-year old. The overweight Ernest Borgnine's effort at miming weightlessness is so poor at times that it's even kind of sad.

    The story is a strange mix of other things done better elsewhere: gothic horror (Dracula), action sci-fi(Starwars), and philosophical sci-fi ( a la 2001) and the film's attempt to be each of these disparate genres simultaneously prevents it from being an enjoyable attempt at either horror/action/philosophy which is a pity because whatever else I could say about it, a lot of work went into this film, and it could have been a good version of any one of those kinds of stories.

    Which is not to say that it isn't an interesting film. I think The Black Hole is a very interesting film, to talk about and to think about, the tragedy is that it isn't as interesting a film to watch.

    A summary of the story: Here be spoilers aplenty:(skip to conclusion)

    On a mission to find 'habitable life'* ( *actual dialogue from the film) The crew of The Palomino travel onwards in unconvincing weightlessness until they find themselves suddenly in the dangerous vicinity of a black hole. Near the black hole is an apparantly lifeless ship which has been missing for 20 years called 'The Cygnus'. Around the ship, there is a strange anti-gravity thing going on. The Palomino gets pulled towards the black hole and suffers some damage before breaking free and landing on the mysterious Cygnus. The Cygnus suddenly comes to life.

    This part is awesome, in the true meaning of the word; I'm so used to the long detail-rich shot of the big, enormous, more enormous, even-more-enormous starship —that it is very cool indeed to see a huge Gothic Spaceship unlike anything before or since — and not only interesting and different and cool — but exactly what it should be for the sake of the story. When the Cygnus lights up it transforms from a strange, spiky and cathedral-like black silhouette into this... thing. It looks less like a star destroyer and more like the Crystal Palace, or the Eiffel Tower. It looks like a proper Jules Verne vision. Entirely impractical for realistic space-travel, I suppose, but exactly where a mad and enigmatic genius should live, as creepy as it is beautiful. I really fucking love the ship.

    Needless to say, this is the spookiest and the best part of the film for me.

    They enter Castle Dracula, sorry, they come on board the Cygnus and the master is nowhere to be seen, but his automated systems destroy their guns before inviting them to take a theme park ride along the length of the ship in a transparent tube to the main bit. The matte effects for this journey are exactly as lame as the original sight of the ship was impressive and they all but obliterate the memory of how good it was.

     Then we find ourselves at the nerve centre, and again somebody has designed something impressive. The ships 'bridge' is as colourful and as busy and as elaborate as the rose-window of a Gothic cathedral. Placed in front of it are robotic, faceless medieval monk-type drones in billowing capes.

    Unfortunately, the bottom of the screen, featuring the crew, doesn't properly match up with the top, but still, it is quite good. It's a great vision. Imagine something like Umberto Eco's The Name of The Rose in space! ( Well you'll have to imagine it because The Black Hole doesn't provide it ) . Next the crew meet Maximilian, a robot so sinister that there was clearly no other design brief for it's creator other than "create something sinister", ( but one could say the same of Darth Vader's respirator/nuns habit combo so lets let that pass) .

    Just when everybody's about as freaked out as they could be,  Reinhardt pops up from nowhere in that style that great villains are so fond of   ( like Lord Summerisle in The Wicker-man —  I loved it then and I loved it now). Unfortunately Ernest Borgnine makes a pithy remark about dramatic entrances which ruins the effect and makes me hate both him and the writers who put that unnecessary dreck in his mouth. Speaking of dreck, there's more to come.

    The expository dialogue is painful to witness, and boils down to Reinhardt saying he's been alone for the past 20 years, because 20 years ago the ship was damaged, he sent the crew back to Earth (they never made it) but he stayed with the 'sinking' vessel and then, overtime he fixed his ship with the 'power of genius' and built a vast crew of robots and the coolest ship ever out of the wreckage while he was at it.

    'Cause he's a geniuz.

    He has Maximilian guide two of the crew to repair storage while he gives a guided tour to others , Borgnine (who is supposed to be a journalist) goes snooping for a story and tries to interview one of the monk-robots who just hobbles awkwardly away from his questions.

    At the storage centre we meet B.O.B. ; an earlier, quainter, more red-neck model of the V.I.N.CENT. ( V.I.N.CENT. is voiced by Roddy Mc Dowell and spends a lot of time quoting the writings of the great Roman Marcus Tullius Cicero: B.O.B is a battered old  Robot made in Houston and voiced by Slim Pickens the red-neck henchman of Heldey La Marr in Blazing Saddles and Stetson-waving missile rider from Dr Strangeglove. At no time does B.O.B tell V.I.N.CENT. :

     "Gee Boss, you put words together purdier than a twenty-dollar whore!"

    But I was half-expecting it.

    One of the two men, who comprise the repair crew, also slips away for a snoop around the ship, he finds the vast and uninhabited crews quarters with unifroms hanging up in the wardrobes and then he witnesses the cybermonks having a creepy funeral-type ceremony and shooting a coffin out into space.

    Reinhardt invites everybody to dinner that evening.

    Rather than attend dinner, the robots are sent off to while away the time in a shooting gallery where they wont bother the grown-ups.
    The dinner is served in an Edwardian dining room, replete with cut-glass chandeliers, silver candelabras and a magnificent gilt-edged oil painting of the Cygnus. Dr Reinhardt shocks his guests ( but not the audience ) when he declares that it is his intention to enter the black hole.

    Back at the shooting gallery, the leader of the sentry robots cheats and it becomes obvious that B.O.B. has been a long-term victim of bullying by the sentries, V.I.N.CENT sticks up for floating robots with cute eyes everywhere by beating the leader of the sentries ( Captain S.T.A.R.) : whuppin' his ass at a game of shoot-'em-up and then inadvertently killing him.

     This is supposed to be funny,you can tell because because S.T.A.R angrily waves his fists and smoke comes out of his ears before he collapses in a heap of unrealistic animated sparks.

    Emboldened by this victory, B.O.B. reveals to V.I.N.CENT. that the silent cybermonks are not actually robots but in fact the original crew, who have been lobotomised into zombies by the good Dr Reinhardt to  prevent mutiny. Either for regular lobotomy top-ups, or some other reason, the humanoids are placed in one of three rotating coffin things and lasers are fired at their brains. B.O.B. shows V.I.N.CENT. this procedure taking place to back up his story.

    Doctor Reinhardt
    abruptly leaves the dinner party upon the return of a probe ship that he has sent as far as the event horizon of the black hole. His absence gives the guests the opportunity to air their collective hunch that he's a lunatic, although Anthony Perkins from Psycho reckons he's just a little eccentric ( I cant help thinking that, in comparison to Norman Bates, he is just a little eccentric ).

    V.I.N.CENT sends an E.S.P. message alert asking the crew to meet with him in the Palomino, the captain, the other guy and Ernest Borgnine leave and only Anthony Perkins and Kate remain. Reinhardt returns from his probe and begins to talk Anthony Perkins into joining him on the trip inside the black hole.

    In an astonishingly clumsy piece of writing, right in the middle of his pitch he just stops all persuasion and conversation and begins mumbling scientific formula to himself, this provides the opportunity for Kate to receive the ESP message ('that the cyber-monks are people') and to relay it to Perkins without Reinhardt noticing.
    Reinhardt just as suddenly comes back to life again and walks menacingly towards her her, ignoring Perkins.

    Anthony Perkins removes the silver dome from the front of one of the humanoid's heads and discovers that the crew are indeed human zombies. He tries to escape with Kate, but the lift doors close too soon. The sinister Maximilian advances on them. Perkins tries to hold him back with a book but the robot's rotating blades rip it into confetti, and then do the same to his insides. We dont see it happen, we just see his face as it happens, which is kinda worse.

    Dr Reinhardt calls his robot off, and then out of nowhere, he whispers the intriguing words: "protect me from Maximilian" to Kate. The woman's not interested in protecting him so he sends her off to the hospital with his sentry robots to have her brain fried. Genius that he is, he forgets that she can contact the Palomino crew with her magic ESP. Or maybe he believes that wrapping her head in tinfoil prevents the ESP from working because that's what they put her in before lying her down in the Lobototron 9000 ™.

    She is of course rescued, in the nick of time in a very odd action scene where the action music is so repetitive, that it seems looped or out of synch or something.
    The 'thought ray' that does the lobotomising is on Kate for a few seconds but doesn't leave her with any ill-effects. Conversely, the same ray causes a Sentry Robot's head to explode instantly. Which is handy.

    Out in the impressive walkway we have a hum-drum shoot-out between our heroes and the forces of darkness, which involves an eccentric musical score again and sniping from behind barrels in a B-Western style.

    They become pinned down and the others leave the ship to help them, worried that he might get shot, Ernest Borgnine fakes a broken leg and scurries back to the Palomino.
    With a yeehaw! the last of the sentries are dispensed with, and everyone heads to the ship.

    In an act of complete wilful bastardry, Ernest Borgnine decides to leave everybody behind and operate The Palomino back to earth himself. As soon as he takes off, Reinhardt shoots the craft, causing it to spin out of control and smash into the Cygnus, Borgnine dies in a ball of flame.

    Then the Cygnus suddenly finds itself in a meteor shower of glowing red meteor bubbles that seem more like blood corpuscles or something in a lava lamp than giant pieces of rock. They tumble towards the Cygnus like the rose petals in American Beauty before toppling towers and ripping into the fragile structure.

    For no reason in particular, ( other than to have something cool happen ) the only completely spherical meteor crashes through the ship and rolls it's way down one of the vast mid-sections like a giant red glowing bowling ball in a gutter. It trundles right towards the bridge that our heroes are trying to cross smashing it just as they complete their passage. It is ridiculous, it is unnecessary but it is a singularly spectacular pre-CGI effect and really well done.

    In what is obviously the Black Hole style of doing things, the great rolling meteor scene is immediately followed by something lame, a fight scene in the gardens where a hole punctured in the roof causes some more half-assed 'floating' done with wires and truly terrible weather effects.

    Meanwhile,  like the empirical scientist and genius that he is, Reinhardt reasons that his flimsy glass-house ship that has just had the Palomino crash into it, and then been been strafed by enormous meteors ripping through the hull; - is at last ready and ship-shape to begin it's journey into a black hole.


    Astonishingly, the ship doesn't seem up to it and we are informed, via creaking noises and a wobbly walkway, that the Cygnus is experiencing 'structural overload'.
    The spindly greenhouse cannae take it captain!
    An enormous flat-screen telly, that for some reason we haven't seen before, crashes down on Dr Reinhardt, trapping him. He calls to Maximilian for help but the robot ignores him and goes to meet the Palomino crew.

    Maximilian blasts B.O.B. and has a showdown of sorts with V.I.N.CENT. where V.I.N.CENT. beats him by driving some sort of drill into his mid-section,  ( effectively doing unto him what he did to Anthony Perkins). Eviscerated of his electronic innards, Maximilian floats up into the red mist with a few badly animated sparks and is gone. Dr Reinhardt continues to scream. B.O.B. dies and V.I.N.CENT. leaves him.

    Go Disney!

    Then...yadda yadda yadda...a crew member floats up into the mist but is rescued.
    The Cygnus begins to break apart like a giant interstellar Titanic going down.
    The crew escape into the probe ship but find, once they are inside, that they cannot control it: it has been pre-programmed to head straight for the black hole.

    As they enter the black hole the set and the actors start to rotate independently at different speeds. Half-heard echoes of each of the crews thoughts ( including V.I.N.CENT.'s) bounce around, and the whole experience is a mix between  the scary tunnel in Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory. and the ending of  2001, and the the Dude appears.


    More accurately,  Dr Reinhardt is suddenly depicted spinning through red mist with very long hair and a beard looking a lot like 'The Dude' on a bad trip , then he is confronted by the Maximilian robot. The last we see of him he seems to be trapped inside the shell of Maximilian on a mountain top in a version of hell populated by the humanoid Monk/Zombies, only here they have skulls for faces...

    Sweet dreams children.

    The Palomino crew, who were on Santa's other list, follow an angel through a series of lancet arches made of glass and emerge unscathed on the other side of the black hole. The last we see of them, they are heading towards a planet that we can only hope contains the ' habitable life' that they've been looking for all along.

    The End.


     A black hole is by definition the darkest thing in the universe, and while not quite as dark as the darkest thing in the universe,-Disney's The Black Hole  is still surprisingly dark: the creepy Cygnus, the zombie crew, the silent space-funeral, the satanic monster robot who clearly ( albeit bloodlessly) disembowels one of the main characters , the death of plucky robot B.O.B. and the mind-fuck ending ( with Reinhardt trapped in the pit of Hades ) all add up to a film that is really a universe away from the adventure-serial tone of Starwars.

    Rather than being a total rip-off of Starwars, The Black Hole probably owes more of its inspiration to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea; with  Reinhardt as a bat-shit Captain Nemo* *(or Ahab: see 'comments') who has completely gone over to the dark-side. It feels like it's trying to be a Gothic version of that tale, with a little Starwars-type adventure thrown in, before opting for a 2001 ending. It didn't work then and it doesn't really work now either, but it was worth watching again if only to remind myself what a strange fillum it is.

    I only discovered, when researching this blog, that there's actually a remake in the pipeline, and from the sounds of things they're going for a more hard sci-fi reboot that focuses on the 2001-ish element of the original, while retaining Maximilian and the awesome design of the Cygnus.

     I'm not sure how you can keep that ship and still strive for realism, but what the hey.

    Personally, I regard the majority of remakes as entirely unnecessary, but with this, ( as with the up-coming Judge Dredd ), there is everything required to justify a re-make: i.e. some visually inspirational source material and enormous scope for improvement on the original.