Sunday, 29 January 2012

HYPNOBOBS 65 - The Secret Garden

This week we are returning to the works of the great GK Chesterton, for a second tale featuring his clerical sleuth Father Brown. At a dinner party held by the famous police detective Valentin, the little priest discovers an unwanted additional course on the menu... vicious bloody murder!


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Friday, 27 January 2012

The Truth About RAWHEAD REX Part II - Awakenings

When The Books of Blood were first published in 1984, to say they caused something of a sensation in the realm of weird fiction is something of an understatement. This first three volumes published by Sphere were very soon attracting praise from some of the biggest names in the field - Stephen King famously said "I have seen the future of horror fiction and its name is Clive Barker", a quote that very soon was emblazoned on the jackets of subsequent printings, and Ramsey Campbell remarked that Barker was "in the best sense, the most deeply shocking writer now working in the field".

And certainly it was a most shocking début - for here was a fresh, highly talented writer who had emerged full-formed out of nowhere; rather the usual route of short stories appearing in a variety of magazines first, Barker appeared on the bookshelves with three top notch volumes of tales, and another three swiftly followed.  Of course initially, the first half of the Books of Blood emerged with little fanfare, however it didn't take long before publishers were spoilt for choice with a host of awards to cite and a forest of glowing review to quote. 

Barker's own stated purpose for The Books of Blood was to show the diversity and flexibility of the horror story - they could be funny, poetic, sexy, mythological, psychological, and provoking a wider range of emotional responses than the usual fear and dread. Now often when an author states he wants to shake up or redefine the horror genre, this often results in dusting off the old guard - vampires, werewolves, zombies etc. - and giving them the dreaded 'new twist'. And while Barker's magnificent set of stories did feature classic genre staples such as the restless dead and summoned demons, it was far more than just making a reanimated mummy 'contemporary' by slapping on a set of Ray Bans on the dusty bandages. By and large, these were unconventional stories that avoided the typical paths and took us into new and delightfully disturbing territory, and when he did set out to reawaken an old terror, he looked much further than the Universal Pictures canon. 

In Volume III, Barker introduced us to Rawhead Rex, a slavering giant unleashed into the modern world, but as we discovered in the first part of this article, this rampaging beast wasn't one of the menagerie of original horrors borne of Clive's imagination, but an ancient British folk devil given a new lease of life. Seemingly taking a cue from earlier weird writers usch as Arthur Machen and HP Lovecraft who postulated that our angels, demons and fairies were distorted legends of pre-human horrors, the Rawhead-&-Bloody Bones of English folklore became a survivor of pagan times, a remnant of a pre-human race of "things which owned this land. Before Christ. Before civilisation". 

Although it is a fantastic monster-on-the-loose tale, this being a Barker story, Rawhead Rex isn't just an old legend on the rampage. Speaking in Nexus #04 Barker noted "Monster on the rampage stories are about the phallic principle. Large males run around terrorising women. Basically, I wrote a story about a ten foot prick which goes on the rampage." And indeed in this darkly poetic tale, the titular ancient king does embody masculinity run amok, with themes pitting paganism against Christianity, the urban against the rural, and enough symbolism to fuel dozens of academic papers. In other words, exactly the kind of material that had The Books of Blood flying off the shelves.

And given the big splash these début volumes had made, it wasn't long before Hollywood came calling. Or rather, a small independent UK film company asked Barker for a screenplay. The result was Transmutations aka Underworld, a project that barely saw the light of day and that all parties involved were disappointed by. However the same folks also had snapped up the rights to the story Rawhead Rex and asked if Barker himself wanted to do the screenplay, assuringly him that the same mistakes would not be made again. And in fairness, largely they weren't, however the resulting movie Rawhead Rex (1986) didn't exactly meet with approval from either Barker or fans of The Books of Blood...

However despite it's poor reception, director George Pavlou's take on Barker's tale has developed something of a cult status. No one is claiming it to be an unrecognised classic yet, but it is fondly remembered by lovers of creature features and hokey B-movies. For this is exactly the flavour of the movie Rawhead's meat; pure burger and cheese.

To it's credit, it retains the infamous baptism scene and much of Rawhead's bloody violence, although as Pavlou acknowledged in an interview in Fangoria #16, they had to tread carefully on the gore front for at this point in the 1980s the censors were paying close attention to even minor independent horror flicks in the wake of the video nasty furore. However, the problem with Rawhead Rex is not that the violence of Barker's vision had been diluted, for it is still rather faithful to Barker's tale, but that the mythic qualities of the original text has been lost.

And so we have a straight-forward monster movie unspooling on screen, and while Pavlou tries gamely to play it straight classic horror style, unfortunately the constraints of the budget shrouds the entire proceedings in B-movie hokiness. Now for lovers of corny creature features, this makes for an entertainingly schlocky hour and a half, however Barker fans will be groaning at at the wandering plot, cheesy not-so-special effects, and the generally dumbing down of the original text. And when I first saw this flick, back in the days when VHS was king, I was very much in the latter camp.

Having seen numerous stills and heard Pavlou talking a good game in the aforementioned issue of Fangoria,  I was quite looking forward to it, however in the end the film itself left me disappointed. Now partly this was because the Rawhead FX didn't look as nearly as impressive when you saw them in motion - he looks great in photographs, but in the movie he's clearly a very large puppet head most of the time. But in fairness, Peter Litten and his crew did wonders with meagre resources and very little time, and the reason Rawhead ends up looking more comical than horrific is more down to the woolly direction.

Less forgivably on the FX front, and a perfect example of how this movie really loses its way, is the grand finale where assorted electric blue blobs are scribbled over the action to denote the ancient pagan feminine force that is the only thing that Rawhead fears. Now the trouble is not that the less-than-magical light-show is an el cheapo rendition of the ILM lens flare galas that crowned the climatic scenes of '80s blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Poltergeist, but more the fact that these unwelcome bad acid visuals are a sledgehammer blow to the plot as well as the eyeballs.

Now I appreciate that the ending as written by Barker may well have been deemed less than cinematic - in the original story, our pagan titan is subdued by a fertility icon and stomped to death by a mob of villagers. However while the replacement light-storm of neon doodles and glow-in-the-dark standing stones that somehow age Rawhead into a senile delinquent and cause him to buried once under the earth, may have looked better on paper, what we get on-screen is less than satisfying. Aside the budget not being up to delivering the fireworks, the trouble is that although the script has a nice twist in the use of this artefact, not found in the original tale, this final confront feels somewhat fudged.

Firstly because while the magna mater statuette seems to drain Rex of his vitality, it stops short of what any lover of monster movies expects - namely that he is not just going to age, but disintegrate before our very eyes. Secondly, and no doubt the reason why he doesn't crumble into dust, is the fact that at the very end he pops up again from the grave (© Carrie 1976) for no discernible reason. Well, other than to deliver a final shock and completely trash the logic of the preceding narrative. Finally there's a nagging sense of cop-out to Rawhead's defeat, with shades of a wizard did it - you can't help feeling that the death by mob ending of the short story would have been far more visceral and fitting. 

And this is the crux of the matter, the dark poetic guts of the story are torn out by rusty monster movie clichés. Now on one hand, I can appreciate Rawhead Rex as a slice of '80s schlock but on the other, you can see there's a better film of the tale to be made, that would be gripping and disturbing rather enjoyably corny. Indeed Barker himself has spoken at length on where the movie got it wrong, identifying in particular that they went in the wrong direction with  the character design -

I drew this big dick and they said 'it looks like a dark dick to us.' I said 'you've got it.' They thought more Arnold Schwarzenegger and I knew I was in trouble. They got this German ski instructor who was 6' 3" with bigger pectorals than Linda Evans - his tits overshadowed his navel. They got it all completely wrong. I whined at them a little bit and they said 'get out of our face'.

However several years later we would see a version of Rawhead that was closer to Barker's vision, when Eclipse Comics adapted the original story 1994.

Rawhead Rex as envisioned by Les Edwards

Now I'm sure you can understand why the film-makers were perhaps a little reticent to go down this particular design route and opted instead for the bestial ancient warrior look. And despite the excellence of Les Edwards' painted panels, I'd have to say that when you have the phallic metaphor rearing up before your very eyes, the story does lose something. The cheeky subtext become just text - Rawhead isn't just a symbol for a penis, he clearly IS a penis - and consequently you are left feeling like you are trapped in the middle of a curiously bloody dick joke. 

Hence I am not entirely sure that changing the design of Rex is the real problem, as the hulking beast-king of the movie is still suitably symbolically phallic to retain the subtext without tea bagging you with it. Rather what the movie is really missing, and whose absence reduces it to a standard creature feature, is Rawhead's point of view - in the story, we see many scene through his red-litten eyes. And without experiencing his interior processes, we are left with a ravenous but empty shell. 

Of course, capturing the flavour of the thoughts of a monster is a tall order for even the most gifted director. However just by the simple means of staging a few flashback sequences to Rawhead's reign in ancient days, or just having more mood shots of Rawhead roaming through his now lost kingdom, would have given our monster more depth and character. And that's what marks out all the truly great monsters: it isn't how fearsome they are or how bloody their exploits, it's their personality, whether it's the humanity we find in Kong, the elegance of Dracula, or sheer otherness of the xenomorph.  

However sadly the Rawhead in the film could easily be replaced by any other monster or even just standard slasher killer. Really the movie needed to build more of an atmosphere of a dark fairy tale, with a greater sense of the rural landscape - in other words, in needed to draw on the very folk-tales from which Rawhead sprang. 

But in another way the movie has been strangely influential. Barker was so disappointed with the way Rawhead Rex turned out, that the next time Hollywood came calling, he insisted on directing and the result was Hellraiser. So then, in a fashion that will no doubt delight students of monsterology, Rawhead Rex could be said to be the progenitor of Pinhead and the order of Cenobites...

Sunday, 22 January 2012

HYPNOBOBS 64 - Zombi Zombi Part I

In the first of new occasional series, Mr Jim Moon foolishly decides to chart all the various spin-offs, remakes and sequels to George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead. In this opening episode, we discuss the Zombi: L’alba Dei Morti Viventi - AKA Dario Argento cut of Dawn of the Dead, Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 AKA Zombie and Zombie Flesh-Eaters, and the Fulci/Mattei hybrid horror Zombi 3

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Friday, 20 January 2012

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Truth About RAWHEAD REX Part I - Excavations

Rawhead and Bloody Bones
Steals naughty children from their homes,
Takes them to his dirty den,
And they are never seen again.
- Northern British Nursery Rhyme

Much like many of my literary heroes, such as as the late great R Chetwynd-Hayes, the arcane field of monsterology as long been a fascination of mine. For monsters are born of our primal fears, and as such taxonomies may be constructed placing these horrors of the imagination in families according to the root terrors they are spawned from. Indeed we should note that the very word 'monster' reflects this symbolic nature in its etymology, being as it is derived from the Latin 'monstrum' which, as well as being a term for a hideous beast that evokes fear and wonder, also means 'omen'. Hence the sighting of a monster in the ancient world was not just fodder for a hair-raising tale, but a sign with a hidden meaning to be to be deciphered from the creature's chimeric make-up. 

However it is often claimed that much like jokes and plots, there are only so many monsters that can be made. And to certain degree this is true, given the same archetypal loins they are birthed from. However as cultures change, different beasts and bogeymen come haunt the shadows of our minds, with old fears gaining new faces. And while some, such has the Dragon and the Ghost never fade away, others disappear into the mists of history.  But as every student of all things monstreal knows, sometimes they come back. Take for example the strange case of Raw-head...

Now then, many of you will be familiar with Rawhead Rex, the tale of an ancient pagan man-beast released to wreak havoc in the modern word, penned by the legendary Clive Barker, and brought to the screen in a less than legendary fashion by George Pavlou. Equally I'm sure many of you too, will be thinking that the titular Rex is one of those unique products of Barker's celebrated imagination. 

Well that's not strictly the case, for until his appearance in The Books of Blood Volume III (Sphere 1984), Rawhead was a long lost English monster, surviving only in fragments collected by folklorists. For example, the great MR James remarked in the opening of this tale An Evening's Entertainment -

Nothing is more common form in old-fashioned books than the description of the winter fireside, where the aged grandam narrates to the circle of children that hangs on her lips story after story of ghosts and fairies, and inspires her audience with a pleasing terror. But we are never allowed to know what the stories were. We hear, indeed, of sheeted spectres with saucer eyes, and — still more intriguing — of ‘Rawhead and Bloody Bones’ (an expression which the Oxford Dictionary traces back to 1550), but the context of these striking images eludes us.

As we may infer from the above passage, unfortunately none of the tales circulated about Rawhead and Bloody Bones survived into the modern ages. However the fact that stories featuring these night-terrors must have been commonplace is evidenced by the number of references to them alongside the usual monstrous suspects. For example, in John Jeffere's drama Buggbears (1564), we have a monster shopping list that includes - 

Hob Goblin, Raw-Head, & bloudie bones and ouglie hagges Bugbeares, & helhoundes, and hecat the nyght mare

And a few years later in 1566, one  John Rastell notes in Booke III of his A Treatise Intitled, Beware of M. Lewel - 

There is not that Discretion or Consideration, by which they may put a difference betwene their Grandmothers tale of Bloudy bone, Raw head, Bloudelesse and Ware woulf, and the Churches Doctrine of Hell and the Deuill.

And aside from the tales relating to this particular bogey being lost and leaving us with tantalizing reference to ponder, there seems to be some confusion over whether Rawhead and Bloody Bones are one monster or two: sometimes they are listed separately and sometimes together as Rawhead-&-Bloody Bones.

Certainly after the 16th century, the terms appear separated in regional folklore. For example, there a references to local bogey named 'Tommy Rawhead' in East Anglia, Warwickshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire, whereas in Somerset and other parts of the South, tales were told of Bloody Bones.

In some places, these figures haunted caves, cliffs and stretches of water, preying on the the unwary and serving as a convenient warning to keep the young and foolish away from naturally hazardous locales. In others, they were evoked as a warning against bad behaviour, being said to come to carry off and devour those who did not heed their teachers, parents or masters.

But what was this beast actually like? Well the Oxford English Dictionary provides a hint in its definition of the term -

A bugbear or bogeyman, typically imagined as having a head in the form of a skull, or one whose flesh has been stripped of its skin, invoked to frighten children. Also occas.: a skull. Freq. used in conjunction with bloody-bones (see bloody-bones n.)

Further more detail is provide by folklorist Katharine Briggs in The Fairies in Tradition and Literature (Routledge 1967) who quotes Ruth Tongue's Somerset Folklore which relates that Bloody-Bones  -

 ...lived in a dark cupboard, usually under the stairs. If you were heroic enough to peep through a crack you would get a glimpse of the dreadful, crouching creature, with blood running down his face, seated waiting on a pile of raw bones that had belonged to children who told lies or said bad words.

However scholars subsequent to Dr James have not unearthed any specific tales; we still have no trace of any actually stories detailing this being's exploits. At least not in his native land, for evidently the presence of Rawhead & Bloody Bones was so widespread in the English oral tradition, that this mysterious yet rather busy beast, crossed the Atlantic with the early American settlers.

However in the New World, he was somewhat redefined. Although his name was still frequently used as a by-word for bogeyman, over time he changed shape and formed some new stories. Instead of a gore dripping spectre, Rawhead became a demonic razorback, but still retaining his appetite for violence and human flesh. A typical version of the story, as told in Missouri can be found here.

But what of the British Rawhead? Well he appeared to slowly fade away, along with many other traditional supernatural predators like Jenny Greenteeth and the Redcap, largely forgotten except by the afore-mentioned collectors of folklore and students of monsterology. However the need for monsters is ever present and it was only a matter of time before a certain Mr Barker was to reawaken him...

Saturday, 14 January 2012

HYPNOBOBS 63 - Dracula's Guest

This week as the snow and ice lies deep and crisp and even, Mr Jim Moon reads a wintry classic from Bram Stoker. So take your place in the carriage for a visit to Dracula's Guest...

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Sunday, 8 January 2012

HYPNOBOBS 62 - Rambling Through 2011

In a not-at-all definitive review of the year, Mr Jim Moon has a look at the state of film and TV in 2011. Items from the silver screen discussed include Fright NightThe Thing, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, X Men: First Class, Green Lantern, Paul, Attack The Block, Cowboys and Aliens, and Sucker Punch. And on the small screen, we talk about Dexter, Supernatural, The Walking Dead, Once Upon A Time, Grimm, American Horror Story, Merlin, Doctor Who, Black Mirror, Breaking Bad, Community, Game of Thrones and Holy Flying Circus.

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Friday, 6 January 2012


A *ahem* unofficial guest astrologer... one Bertie the Bat... delivers the prophecies for the week!