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When my husband, Martin, leaves for work, counting down the days until he can finally retire, I will often find myself sat in our kitchen, with my dog Gladstone by my side, reminiscing on my life and my days with Shelley Holmes. I have written about how my friendship with that incredible woman left such an indelible mark on myself, and how our time together in her detective agency was some of the most exhilarating of my life. Had things not ended the way they had, I like to think we would still be running through the streets of Manchester righting wrongs.

Often, my dives into memory are nothing more than day trips, a fleeting remembrance of a life that was. On this day, however, my thoughts circled around the same topic they had done for some time. At the weekend, Martin encouraged the children – lord knows why I still refer to them as children now that they’re both nearly three decades on this – to help carry some things down from the attic, in the hopes of finding things suitable for a car boot sale.

Amongst the bric-a-brac and items stored away with a half-arsed notion to retrieve them one day, my old keepsake box. A metal tin in which I kept various items I believed, in my 20s at least, would be of sentimental value in my later years.

Rifling through numerous flyers for bars no longer open, and photos of men I would rather not discuss with my husband, it was evident that younger me was a bit of an idiot; overzealously placing a higher value on these items than I would today. Underneath these trinkets though, rattling at the bottom of the box, was a small tape recorder.

‘Good lord,’ whispered my husband. ‘Not seen one of those in years.’

My eldest, intrigued by his father’s ‘old fashioned’ item, quickly formulated a campaign to have me play the contents of the tape so we could all laugh at my more idealistic self. Having taught at a city college for several decades now, it was often remarked upon by my loved ones that I had become quite serious. The prospect of hearing me without the baggage of the education sector having worn me down would apparently be amusing.

Bowing to peer pressure, I agreed and Martin, with a devilish grin, pressed play. And yes, the first twenty minutes were entertaining enough as I listened to the John Watson of yesteryear, dictating his stories into the tape, and cursing himself when something didn’t work. Then, after one particularly impressive bout of swearing due to being unable to recall a particular synonym, the recorder skipped to the next file and I heard her voice.

‘Right,’ She said. ‘Is this on?’

I snatched the tape out of my husband’s hand and pressed the off button. Whilst there was much protestations and accusations of me spoiling everyone’s fun, I quickly left the room as if being pulled by some unknown force. Guided by this spirt,  I made my way to office and dropped the tape recorder into my top drawer, locking it away. I couldn’t have it listened to, I simply couldn’t.

Returning to the living room, I played up my sudden departure by joking that the voice on the tape was that of a former lover. Martin feigned a jealous, but jokey, anger, whilst my children seemingly regressed several decades to that of stroppy teenagers. Sensing the conversation was hurtling towards discussions about S-E-X, they stuck their fingers in their ears whilst making spewing noises.

‘Oh, Dad. Bleurgh. Just don’t. Bleurgh.’

Later that night, after the children left, my husband politely, but bluntly asked me why I did not just own up to the room that it was SH’s voice on the tape. I offered up an explanation that to do so would only encourage them to want to listen to the rest of it. Growing up, they had had an insatiable appetite for SH and their father’s time as a detective. Even now, they will ask me to read out one of my adaptations of our  adventures. Of the ones that I have self-published, their reviews are always the boldest online.

 

This case though, I told my husband, was not my story to tell. The things that happened, that SH talked about on that tape, cut my friend to her very core. To the rest of the world, it did not change her, but I saw the signs that said the Baskerville Case had taken its toll.

I am blessed that my husband is an extremely understanding man and knowing he wasn’t going to get

anything more out of me, retired to bed whilst I stayed up with wine and cigarettes.

It has been several decades since the Baskerville Case happened and as I type this, I am reminded of the numerous online conspiracies that plagued SH. Although she was forcibly distanced from the aftermath, I knew of the weight of it hung from her neck for some time.

The media speculated over how it could have ended the way it did, and the official account was seemingly clear cut. For SH, though, the case became an example of every negative point of the temptations she fought hard against, and which, despite her cavalier attitude, steeled her resolve to ensure nothing like this would happen again.

This is the case that has been dominating my daily musings. Looking back on that time, I feel I wasn’t there enough for SH. Back then, I was drifting from the agency a touch and finding love in all the wrong places. I should have tried harder to break the long periods of silence that greeted me when I returned to our home. Instead, I just waited it all out until she was back to semblance of her usual self. All done, nothing to worry about, let’s go on an adventure.

I’m not sure if Shelley ever reads my work; I have never received evidence to suggest she does. I know the very idea of it would appal her, but I think it’s why I do it. To prove to someone, anyone, that she was deserving of praise, even when fate was against her.

Spilling everything on to the page like this, I realise, has merely been a ruse to convince myself of what I should do.

 

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Terrifier (2018)

September 9, 2018 — Leave a comment

What do a clown, a hacksaw, a brutally murdered journalist and a reference to Silence of the Lambs have in common? Well, they all play a part in Damien Leone’s Terrifier, a brutally violent slasher that plants both its feet firmly in the aesthetic of the 80s.

After an opening that gives more than a discreet nod to Nightmare on Elm Street, the film sees two college students being stalked by the maniacal  Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton), a monochrome killer whose creepiest affectation is the distinct lack of noise he makes. Even when screaming in a violent rage, barely a peep comes out.

Based on Leone’s short film of the same name, which ended up playing a large part in the anthology All Hallow’s Eve, Terrifier is aimed squarely at those people who found Hostel to be too plot heavy. From the minute Art catches sight of his two victims, Tara (Jenna Kannell) and Dawn (Catherine Corcoran), the film becomes nothing more than a long chase sequence loaded with gore. The only real plot development is the arrival of Tara’s sister, Vicky (Samantha Scaffidi), and several disposable men. Not that that is a bad thing. Terrifier’s raw simplicity is actually one of its strengths. You just may want to look elsewhere if you’re after anything with a bit more meat on the bones. Speaking of meat, Leone is clearly a man who delights in making his audience squirm with scenes of vulgarity that make good work of the film’s limited budget.

So, sure, if this sounds like your cup of tea, then drink up. However, before diving in it seems fair to point out that at times Terrifier relies too strongly on the torture porn tropes we all assumed had died after the straight to DVD effort that was Hostel 3. Case in point: a centrepiece of the film sees someone being split down the middle in an excruciatingly blunt manner. It’s uncomfortable and not in the way you’re expecting. It’s hard to say why, in a film that sees a clown running people over whilst listening to freestyle jazz, scenes like this unsettle the most. Perhaps it’s in Leone’s execution (pun not intended) which walks a thin line between the depraved and the titillating. This critic is no prude, but sometimes you just have to say, ‘nope’.

If you can overlook these moments, then you’ll certainly get a kick out of Terrifier. Particularly Thornton’s performance as the mute Art. Terrifying? Maybe not. Uncomfortable? For sure. It’s certainly one of the bleaker films streaming on Netflix right now.

Earlier this year, I entered Big Finish’s Paul Spragg Memorial competition, The lucky winner got to have their Doctor Who Short Story published. Whilst I didn’t make the shortlist, I did receive some fantastic feedback that has encouraged me to finish it. I’ll be chipping away at it over the next few months, in between my other projects.

The writing sample I provided acted is my first scene, so it only seems right that we start there. 

Doctor Who: Them What Lives Here Knows

The snowstorm the night before had covered everything in a thick layer of white. The news said no one was expecting it. Particularly not in June. No one else dared come out to play despite there being no school, but I had used my parents’ latest fight as cover to escape into this surprise winter even if for only a few hours.

That’s when I’d found the man sat cross-legged on top of the wooden playhouse built in the centre of the playground; a much-coveted item amongst the girls and boys of my village. Some saw it as a castle to be protected from hordes of unnameables, whilst others would use it as a club house for meetings about what stickers were available for swapsies and who was willing to offer them up.

‘What are you doing up there?’ I asked the man.

He didn’t appear to hear me. He just took a deep breath and exhaled. Still cross-legged, he brought his arms together at the elbow, with his palms touching as if in prayer. You could have said he seemed quite stern. In his black leather jacket, dirty jeans, and shaven head, he looked like what my mum would have called, ‘one of them rum types.’

‘Excuse me,’ I said a little louder. ‘What are you doing?’

He opened one eye, which did as good a job as two as it stared through me.

‘It’s Venusian body manipulation,’ He replied in a broad northern accent. ‘I’m focussing my energies on what’s happening inside me, so I am prepared for eventualities outside of me. The stretches I’m performing are movements borne from eons of spiritualism, atheism and, in some cases, gods themselves.’

‘My mummy has a Geri Halliwell video where she does the same pose,’ I replied.

Both eyes were open now, ‘Of course she does.’

‘Why are you sat on the roof?’

‘Because there’s no chairs inside.’

I giggled, ‘You can’t sit on a roof.’

‘I’m doing a pretty good in spite of your protests, don’t you reckon?’

I brought my hand up to my face to stifle another giggle. Grandma said you should never laugh in someone’s face if you weren’t sure they weren’t telling a joke. As if trying to tempt more laughs out of me, the man began to wriggle his big ears.

‘Is that part of your body manipulatation?’

‘Maybe,’ He replied. ‘Maybe not.’

He stuck out his tongue and I let out a full belly laugh. It wasn’t even lunchtime and I was already having the best day. First the unexcepted snowstorm, school closing and now my own personal clown.

‘Bit funny all this snow, isn’t it?’ the man said. ‘For July I mean.’

‘I guess.’ I shrugged. ‘Mummy said it’s because of Ceefax gases.’

‘CFC.’

‘What?’

‘Nothing.’

The man uncrossed his legs and jumped off the Wendy house with an elegance that betrayed his bulky demeanour.

‘What’s your name?’ He said, holding out a rough looking hand.

‘I’m Sarah.’ I smiled, shaking his hand.

‘Hello, Sarah.’ He said. ‘I’m the Doctor. Are you ready to go to war?’

I didn’t know what to say. I was only 6 years old.

Dorian Gray (2009)

So, how do you turn a novella which is mostly exposition and suggestion into a ‘summer’ movie? Well, if you’re director Oliver Parker (St Trinian’s), you add a load of nudity, some wooden acting, and finish it off in the 1910s just so you can have a car chase…

Any subtlety of the first hour is lost in a sea of floating CGI nonsense in the final act. You’re left wondering what the point of it all is? That said, it’s not as bad as that abomination, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Jurassic Shark (2012)

Another entry in the ‘Big Shark is Bigger Than is Expected! Ooh Scary!’ genre is Jurassic Shark. Reminiscent of Roger Corman’s school of filming – take a heist script and stick a monster in it – the film sees a group of ker-razy kids getting caught up in the playful shenanigans of a bunch of art thieves. Oh, and a Shark from the Jurassic period, because history.

After losing their booty in the middle of a Jurassic Shark infested lake, the group of art thieves try to formulate plans to get it back. Nearly 90% of these involve wading into the water and being killed instantly. You may not be surprised by this,but there are much better Giant Shark movies to be found.

100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck (2012)

Following on from the exploitative nature of 8213 Gacy House, the Asylum crew build their latest cheapovision horror around the legend of real life serial rapist and murderer, Richard Speck. People run through dark corridors, then walk, then run some more, then shout, ‘What, what the eff was that?!’ whilst running. It’s all very tedious and reaches the pinnacle of vulgarity when we, the viewing public, are treated to a two-minute sexual assault scene by Richard’s Ghost. 100 Ghost Street plays like a bingo card for all other found footage horrors, showing a lack of originality I haven’t seen since Exorcismus. Avoid like the plague!

Founded in 2007, Astron 6 is a Canadian production company specialising in 80’s aping, schlocky movies that routinely dip their toes in the horror/comedy pool. The genius of Astron-6 is that you really feel that their works are a labour of love. Unlike something like Poolboy: Drowning out the Fury, they don’t just don a funny wig and wag their fingers at the clichés of the 80s in a snarky fashion. They embrace those clichés and tropes to add colour to their dark, comedic landscapes. They have a number of features and short films out, but here’s just a few of my favourites.

Manborg (2011)

Mankind has been taken over by the denizens of Hell led by the evil Draculon (Adam Brooks). A nameless soldier (Matthew Kennedy), brought back to life as a cyborg known only as Manborg, soon finds himself fighting tyranny alongside a gang of futuristic gladiators/freedom fighters. Can good overcome evil? Sure, why not.

Manborg has an incredibly tight budget, but that doesn’t mean it’s limited in scope. Director Steven Kostanski (The Void) uses a heady combination of green screen and models to create dystopian backdrops that utterly convince. Well, maybe not completely convince. This is, after all, a nod to straight to video flicks and a little complacency is more than allowed.

All of Astron 6’s films are laced with black humour of some kind, but Manborg somewhat bucks the dark trend with an almost innocent sense of self. There’s a lot here that reminds you of Mel Brook’s filmography, where prison guards lament unrequited love for their prisoners and our heroes stop the action to make noodles. In summary: it’s a definite must see.

Father’s Day (2011)

Chris Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdock) has become one of the most feared serial killers in Tromaville. Targeting only fathers, his crimes have become legendary. Hot on his tail is Ahab (Adam Brooks), a man hell-bent avenging the death of his own father. Joining him in his quest is Twink (Conor Sweeney), a young male prostitute and Father Sullivan (Matthew Kennedy), a naïve and eager to please priest (Matthew Kennedy).

Filmed on a budget of $10,000 and directed by Astron 6 as a collective, Father’s Day is a balls to the wall, schlock fest that tips its hat to the exploitation films of the 70s. As gory as it is funny, it delivers a ballistic 90 minutes that never lets up. It’s near knuckle jokes will not be for everyone, but if you’re willing to let Father’s Day wash over you then you’re guaranteed a good time. Plus, it has one of my favourite downbeat endings ever.

Cool Guys (2010)

Cool Guys is the tale of two nerds, Chad (Conor Sweeney) and Rick (Matthew Kennedy), looking forward to finally getting laid over the summer holidays. With Uncle Murphy (Adam Brooks) in tow to help guide the boys, they hit the beach, attempting to meet girls and avoid the steely glare of the Mayor’s son (Falcon van der Baek).

If you love your 80s nostalgia, then the above description will sound like any number of sex comedies, from Meatballs to Revenge of the Nerds. The twist, for want of a better word, of Cool Guys is the halfway gear change when directorial duties pass from John Hughes to David Lynch.

An act of debauchery (well, several in fact) is so sudden that it’ll take a while to process. Cool Guys’s short running time means there’s no time to process and as we enter the third act, Chad and Rick’s noble actions – to raise money to save a beloved building – is tainted by everything we’ve seen previously. The film having already played with, and destroyed, our expectation of 80s movies, now wants us to go back to what we though before. It’s like watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and expecting to still cheer Ferris on at the parade after you’ve just seen him beat a homeless man to death in the second act.

Cool Guys is a lot of bleak fun, but you will most certainly feel dirty in the morning.

Death Wish IV: The Crackdown (1987)

The Death Wish franchise trundles on with this new chapter that sees J. Lee Thompson take over directing duties from Michael Winner. Paul Kersey is back and has settled into a relationship with another disposable girlfriend who may as well be called ‘Token Female Character’. This plot progression in a skirt has a daughter who quickly dies of a drugs overdose, which of course lights a fire in Kersey’s belly for some instant justice.

With Death Wish 3 being such a euphoric high, Death Wish IV: The Crackdown sees its audience coming down hard and fast. This is a decidedly dull entry in the franchise that echoes Death Wish II with its lack of originality. Bronson has clearly given up the ghost, speaking his lines with one eye off camera checking to see if the ink has dried on his cheque yet.

By the far the only real interesting thing that happens in this after-school special of a movie is an opening dream sequence which sees Kersey gun down a perp that looks exactly like him. Waking in a cold sweat Death Wish IV suggests Kersey will do a little bit of soul searching and ask whether he’s become just as bad as the people he kills. Then, one overdose later, the prospect is thrown over a rainbow never to be seen again.

Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994)

Well, it’s been seven years since the last Death Wish, so it’s time to warm up Charles Bronson in the microwave and stick him front of a camera. Cannon Films, the producers of the last two films, is dead but here comes 21st Century Film to save the day. It should be noted that 21st Century Film is owned by one half of Cannon. Yay! I think.

Paul Kersey is now under witness protection and in a relationship (yeah, I know) with Olivia, an ex-gangsters moll. Said gangster, Tommy O’Shea (Michael Parks) is up to shady business and when Olivia becomes a witness to his crimes, he sets about getting her killed.

If you’ve got this far in the series, you know where this is all going. However, despite the crushing inevitability of it all, Death Wish V reminds you that the franchise is actually somewhat watchable when it’s bathing in its own bloody-mindedness. Like Death Wish 3, Kersey has become a cartoon again; taking out baddies like a revenge thirsty Bugs Bunny. It’s all rather comedic and, as such, you can see a little sparkle in Bronson’s eye in the action. Yes, he looks way to old to be doing this, but he at lest looks like he’s having fun on set again.

Worth watching just to see Kersey blow someone up with a football.

Death Wish (2018)

Released only a few short weeks after the Parkland High shooting, anticipation for this remake of Death Wish with Eli Roth (Hostel) at the helm was running low. That said, when gun crime is so prevalent in American news, there’s perhaps no right time to release a piece of media that appears to champion gun violence. See, for example, Netflix’s Punisher.

Eli Roth’s films have never been particular favourites of mine. The Green Inferno is the only one that’s ever grabbed my attention thus far. Death Wish roughly follows the same plot as the original with Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), now a doctor instead of an architect, seeking revenge for the assault on his daughter and murder of his wife. Actually, it’s about an hour of Bruce Willis looking terminally bored whilst he debates whether to get revenge before the final act sees his stunt man take over and skulls start getting crushed.

Willis has put more effort in the VOD films he’s been in of late than he does this film. When he laments over the assault of his daughter, you could almost be forgiven for thinking Roth edited in a rehearsal take by accident. The only person who comes out with any dignity is Vincent D’Onofrio as Kersey’s brother, and he is given very little to do. For a filmmaker who once showed us a man having sex with a roast turkey, it’s staggering how little imagination or energy has been pumped into this remake. Roth doesn’t even appear to be running on autopilot like he did in Knock Knock. This is just a tired film that tries to play both sides of the gun control debate whilst secretly championing lashings of spent bullets. So, I guess, in that sense, it shares a lot with the Michael Winner original.

Death Wish (1974)

Michael Winner’s Death Wish is loosely based on the novel of the same name from Brain Garfield. How loosely? Well, Garfield was so incensed by the interpretation of his work, he wrote a sequel to rectify the situation.

Charles Bronson (The Evil That Men Do) plays Paul Kersey, a liberal, pacifist architect. Or as today’s alt-right would call him: a cuck. When his wife and daughter are brutally assaulted – in a scene that truly never needed to be as long as it is and proves that Jeff Goldblum can only ever play Jeff Goldblum – Kersey retreats into himself, impotent with rage at a society that would let the perpetrators escape. This fire and fury is sharpened when our humble architect meets an Arizona gun nut, whose stance on justice encourages Kersey towards gun-ishment.

Sure, the film dips its toe into the debate about vigilantism and Kersey is seen throwing up after his first official kill. However, this is just foreplay before the inevitable shootouts that see Kersey running through the streets taking out mugger after faceless mugger. The fallout of which sees him being carried around New York city on the shoulders of the police, who love his strong defence against muggers. Okay, that’s not exactly what happens, but it’s clear that Death Wish, slickly directed by Michael Winner, is well and truly has its feet planted in the pro-gun lobby. If this doesn’t do it for you, the sequels are going to really bum you out.

Death Wish II (1982)

Eight years after the events of the original, Paul Kersey is now living in LA with his Radio DJ girlfriend, Geri (Jill Nichols) and his daughter from the first Death Wish, Carol (Robin Sherwood). Despite the events of 1974 leaving Carol a shell of a woman who doesn’t talk, life seems idyllic. That is until Laurence Fishbourne and his crew of violent thugs break into Kersey’s house, rape his maid and kidnap Carol. Carol is subsequently sexually assaulted in a warehouse, before jumping to her death to escape her attackers. With his daughter having been metaphorically stuffed into a fridge, Kersey gets the whiff of blood in his nostrils once again.

In a slightly more focussed rampage than last time, Kersey actually tries to track down the men who did him wrong, rather than simply taking pot shots at anyone running with a handbag. The drop in quality between this and its predecessor is staggering. It’s easy to point fingers at Cannon Films, famed for their act first, think later approach to producing, but the blame can also rest with the terrible script, Bronson’s phoned in performance, Michael Winner’s dull as dish water direction and the deep hatred of women that runs throughout the film. Yes, calling films of this calibre misogynistic is a lot like calling fire hot, but holy moly! A lot of sequels play up what made the first so popular, but surely no one was asking for more sexual assault? Surely.

Death Wish 3 (1985)

In 1987’s Batteries Not Included, the tenants of a rundown apartment building in New York find their lives up turned when they’re visited by tiny little alien crafts. These diminutive extra-terrestrials help their tenants stand up to ‘the man’ and everything works out for the best. Death Wish 3 is a lot like Batteries Not Included. The rundown apartment building in New York is a rundown apartment building in New York, ‘the man’ is a group of vicious Hispanic thugs (a number of whom are clearly not Hispanic) and the tiny extra-terrestrials are Charles Bronson returning once again as Paul Kersey.

Death Wish 3 feels like a coked-up executive somewhere said, ‘We should make a Death Wish cartoon! You know, for kids!’ A pilot was written up, dropped and then picked up to form the bulk of this second sequel. Death Wish 3 is utterly ridiculous and, after the despair of the previous film, is actually pretty watchable. What surprises the most is how we hit the ground running. After a friend is killed in their apartment, Kersey is already on the hunt for the killer before the film hits the ten minute mark. From then on, Kersey helps the other tenants to arm themselves like they’re in Home Alone, before finally running through the streets with a Colt Cobra and then a machine gun.

Death Wish 3 is as subtle as a slap from a brick and often makes little sense. It also can’t help itself when it comes to sexual assault, because, obviously, how is Kersey supposed to get really angry if no one is getting assaulted. A scene made ickier by the fact, the actor in question, Sandy Grizzle, would later claim Michael Winner used her as a sex slave.

And if you think I’m grumbling about the violence, I throw you over to Mr Bronson who had this to say about the film: ‘There are men on motorbikes, an element that’s threatening – throwing bottles and that sort of thing – and I machine gun them. That to me is excessive violence and is unnecessary.’

He came back for Part 4 though, didn’t he?