Saturday 27 February 2021




when you went away
I declared war on owls,
bereavement needs a target,
they happen to be here,
this indefinable sense of ‘but’
that burns like a galleon
on a different ocean…
my history is being edited,
pieces are chipped away
and flare into extinction,
I don’t like these spaces,
this silence is scary,
people who are part of me
are no longer here,
David, Gwen, Denis,
I become slimmer, more tenuous
by the fact of their leaving,
since you went away
I argue with my reflection,
pick fights with my shadow,
the one certainty in this
uncertain cosmos is
this slow bleeding
of the self…
yet this morning there are
new buds on the willow,
for each life lost
there is new life

Thursday 25 February 2021

GRACE SLICK solo albums


Album Review of: 

This is Grace Slick. But there’s none of that laser-voice supernatural intensity you associate with ‘Grace Slick’. With the Airplane/Starship in suspension, Grace did a quartet of solo albums that seemed unfocused and ill at ease with the post Haight-Ashbury meltdown. Although unkind critics at the time labelled it her Shirley Bassey album, 1980s ‘Dreams’ was the best received. This reissue adds the bonus singles-edit of the big power-ballad title-song that briefly graced the UK Top 50. And yes, from “Dreams” through to the grandiose sweeping closer “Garden Of Man” it’s over-the-top orchestral dramas worthy of Jim Steinman. “Seasons” has a Mary Hopkin la-la-la children’s chorus. “El Diablo” is a pleasantly exotic flamenco excursion – and ‘pleasant’ is not a word you’d normally associate with Grace! There’s some dated indulgent guitars-on-boosters plank-spanking, but little evidence of the Sex, Drugs And Rock ‘n’ Roll Grace of ‘Volunteers’. Is this really the voice that played LSD-games with the White Rabbit? If she had misgivings about this curious career-evolution she never betrays it. The self-styled ‘Queen of the Nut-house’ gives it every nerve and sinew. Yet it’s not entirely a disGrace, the benefit of the intervening years reveals moments to discover and enjoy.

Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.43 
(Jan/February)’ (UK – January 2014)



Just don’t mention Miley Cyrus. Some years before ‘Hannah Montana’ was even born, Grace Slick was already riding that Wrecking Ball. Perfectly cast as the chemically-fuelled acid ice-queen of psychedelia, Grace found adapting to musical landscapes following the messy fragmentation of Jefferson Airplane-Starship, somewhat problematic. She adopted different guises across four solo albums, each with a separate and not-entirely satisfactory character. These two-for-one albums (no bonus tracks) follow ‘Manhole’ and her big shot at power-balladry, ‘Dreams’. Using the same producer, engineer and guitar trio of Ron Frangipane, Ed Sprigg and Scott Zito ‘Welcome To The Wrecking Ball’ from 1981 tries on a clean AM-radio friendly guitar-heavy AOR sound, with the grit of Grace’s strident contralto set to attack. She adds lyrics to four tracks, including the jack-hammering title and the anti-militarist marching-feet and tape-effects of standout “No More Heroes” – even if it does steal melodically from “Bang Bang”. From 1984, ‘Software’ radically shifts focus to electro-digital modernity with Linn-programming from ex-Zappa and future-Starship Peter Wolf, with sharply satiric Techno-Pop near-hit “All The Machines” poking fun at gadget-addiction. Despite its flaws, Miley Cyrus – even riding her wrecking-ball naked, just ain’t in the same league. 

Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.52’ 
(UK – July/August 2015)

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Cult Albums: HOT TUNA



Album Review of: 
and ‘BURGERS’ 
 (T-Bird2 0041CD) 

‘Keep On Truckin’’ was a slogan ripped from an iconic 1968 Robert Crumb cartoon in ‘Zap’ comics. It spread like a rash across underground magazines, T-shirts and pretty much everywhere else. So what’s it mean? In ‘The Simpsons’, Marge admits to Lisa ‘I didn’t know then and I don’t know now’. Blind Boy Fuller wrote the song it was lifted from, and for him it was most certainly a sexual metaphor. It later became – not quite a certified hit, but at least Hot Tuna’s most recognisable song-title. A stand-out track from their third album, but a part of their live set from the start. There’s a tale that the group’s name came about as they sang ‘tell me, what’s that smells like fish pretty mama, I really would like to know’ – a line not entirely unrelated to aspects of female genitalia, when an audience wag yelled out ‘Hot Tuna’. 

As regards the recipe for Tuna, first deduct Marty Balins’ honey-coated balladry, Grace Slick’s piercing laser-tuned lyrics and Paul Kantner’s Sci-Fi fantasias from Jefferson Airplane, until you’re left with bassist Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, who – during a quiet hiatus period, spun-off to become the Hot Tuna nucleus, doing what they’d always enjoyed doing and did best. Which was electric and sometimes acoustic traditional Blues, old-timey country swing and loose musicianly free-jams. Along with lots of informal stoned self-indulgence with bluegrass rootsy touches. 

Freed of Airplane’s commercial constrains, and as Airplane wound down, Tuna’s splinter-group status grew more central. Benefiting from fiddle-player Papa John Creach, whose violin input is versatile enough to add a scratchy resonance to “Been So Long” (on ‘First Pull Up Then Pull Down’), a supernaturally eerie edge to “Sunny Day Strut”, and even a Stefan Grappelli feel to “Let’s Get Together Right Down Here” (both from ‘Burgers’). Although ‘First Pull Up…’ (June 1971) was their second album, cut live at the ‘Chateau Liberte’ club deep in the Santa Cruz mountains, it was their first focused product with light-touch boogying rag-time takes on Rev Gary Davis and Lightnin’ Hopkins. 

‘Burgers’ from nine months later took them into the studio with a greater quota of originals, while customising “Keep On Truckin’”, and with the group’s occasionally weak vocals compensated for by David Crosby adding his voice to “Highway Song”. “Water” is another stand-out, a beautifully reflective instrumental in the classic sixties mould, pleasingly tuneful with tasty finger-picking. Collectively, the album took them closer to mainstream recognition. But is it any good? Normal critical rules seldom apply. It has very little to do with Rock, Pop – or even West Coast hippie. It’s eavesdropping on the participants’ own private party, with a few friends around who are similarly in on it, doing exactly what they want to do. Fairly bewildering and intimidating to a newbie, probably best left to devotees. Yet, over the years since, with personnel shifting around them, Hot Tuna continued both on the live circuit, and with regular albums, through until, virtually… now. 

Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 Issue.28 (July/Aug)’ 
(UK – July 2011)

Monday 22 February 2021

CD: ATTILA THE STOCKBROKER 'Restoration Tragedy'


1649, MEET 2018
Album Review of: 
(Roundhead Records Helmet CD9) 

Worlds turn upside down, again. Cries for justice echo down the centuries – then, as we campaign today. Diggers, Ranters, Levellers, New Model Army, name-checking Seething Wells as well as Leon Rosselson… and progenitor Abiezer Coppe, all declaim a continuity of dissent. We know Attila The Stockbroker, he’s ‘been a Ranter for nearly forty years,’ he’s ‘done over three-thousand gigs and drunk a lot of beers.’ His stentorian voice fulminates, just the correct edge of grit, waking the dead for a wordy album of tricky rhymes inflicted with wit and precision. ‘Restoration Tragedy’ is an insurrectionary document, an incendiary Punk history with sideswipes at Corbynistas, esoteric as an issue of ‘History Revealed’ magazine, but direct as a kick in the head. 

He ignites English Civil War tales of violence, betrayal, pain, chaos, madness and pride, bold and steadfast, staunchly republican. There’s a mighty crumhorn re-creating “The Battle Of Worcester”, with Jason Pegg’s breakneck guitar, Attila’s nimble viola and mandola, marshalled into line by MM McGhee’s drums. John ‘Attila’ Baine formed Barnstormer in 1994, to celebrate ‘The Siege Of Shoreham’ (1996), where the opening “March Of The Leveller” triptych first appeared. 

A great album embodies the moment. This one spans centuries.


Restoration Tragedy’: 
Barnstormer 1649 

‘Restoration Tragedy’ is the new album by Barnstormer 1649 – and it doesn’t sound like anything else! It mixes early music and Punk in fifty-eight minutes of songs and instrumentals set around the aftermath of the Civil War and the English Revolution of 1649, when Charles I was beheaded, the ‘world turned upside down’ and unprecedented radical ideas spread across the land. 

(1) ‘The Leveller’s Trilogy’ (8:00-minutes, made up of ‘March Of The Levellers’, ‘The Diggers’ Song’ (written by Gerrard Winstanley) and ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ (written by Leon Rosselson)) 
(2) ‘Wellingborough And Wigan’ (4:17) 
(3) ‘The Monarch’s Way/ King Charles’ Cottage’ (6:29) 
(4) ‘Abierer Coppe’ (5:34) 
(5) ‘The Battle Of Worcester’ (4:58) 
(6) ‘The Man With The Beard’ (2:44) 
(7) ‘Pride’s Purge’ (2:40) 
(8) ‘Harrison’ (4:22) 
(9) ‘Burford Requiem’ (1:45) 
(10) ‘The Voice’ (2:28) 
(11) ‘The Fisherman’s Tale’ (3:15) 
(12) ‘Lord Protector’ (3:43) 
(13) ‘Cromwell’s Funeral’ (3:46, written by Robina Baine) 
(14) ‘Robina’ (3:21) 
It is the brainchild of poet and multi-instrumentalist Attila The Stockbroker, who has always wanted to do with early music and Punk what the Pogues did with Irish music and Punk. Now he’s done it. And it really, really doesn’t sound like anything else… 

Published in: 
‘R’N’R: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 no.73’ 
(UK – January/February 2019)

Sunday 21 February 2021

Tanita Tikaram, Live & CD


at ‘Sheffield City Hall’ 
(13 February 1990)

All good people read good books. Tanita’s been reading ee cummings, Willa Cathar, and the dictionary. 

She roars into “Sunset’s Arrived” in a hellish red glare of down-lighting that melts her eyes to holograms, and a lyrical weight that already has the stage-boards creaking. 

The peasants call her the goddess of gloom, but now she’s introducing a so-far unrecorded song called “Hot Pork Sandwiches” – ‘wrapped in foil, cornered and laced with gristle’, and it’s not lacking in humour. It was written in Basingstoke’s ‘Chelsea Coffee House’, in the tradition of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel”, Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning”, and… Sam Cooke. It concerns her three-way ethical struggle between her Islamist family heritage, her own vegetarian convictions, and the enticingly appetising pork aromas acting on her hunger. It’s a mouth-watering little song, and yes, Cohen and Mitchell – but why, I ask her, why Sam Cooke?

‘Because Sam Cooke used to sing about…’ despite her taste for dictionaries it seems she’s momentarily out of words. She grins up for help at a tour manager in a Bob Dylan sweatshirt, as if for inspiration. Because Sam Cooke sang about pork sandwiches? I suggest (not to my knowledge, he didn’t!). ‘Well – yes’ she resumes, ‘but he used to sing about sunsets, evenings, boys meeting girls, things like that. And particularly if you know some of the early songs like “Meet Me On The Corner”…’ So yes, I’m convinced. Gloom? ‘Rich with complaint’? No. She’s animated. She smiles and laughs engagingly. She twists her thick black hair into coils around her finger, then shoves its rich deluge aside while the Presley pout dances in and around her words. 

There’s some discussion about whether her fans are Tanettes (as in Brosettes), or Tikheads (as in New Kids On The Block-heads) – but whatever, with two huge albums in the shape of ‘Ancient Heart’ (no.3 in 1988) and ‘The Sweet Keeper’ (no.3 in 1990, both produced by Rod Argent), there’s no seat left unsold. There’s a five-piece back-up against shifting colour-fields of green, mauve and beyond. Frontline guitarist Mark Cresswell who liquidises “Thursday’s Child” with delicious edges of swooping slide, and the long charcoal-sketched shape of Helen O’Hara (former Dexy’s Midnight Runner) whose violin swathes powerglide the Patti Loveless song “Timber”, which Tanita collected from American C&W radio. Drummer Nick France, bassist Andy Brown, and Bob Noble’s keyboard provide sharp shades to “World Outside Your Window”, or hard angles to – say, “Good Tradition”, with sensitivity or aggression as required. But it’s in solo settings as white as cameos, on the touchingly exquisite “Cathedral Song”, that her tunelessly tuneful low-register voice stands in a relief sharp enough to warm the coldest critic. 

Tanita Tikaram, tonight dressed down in loose black collarless trouser-suit, sprang fully-formed from nowhere, healthily at variance to any discernible trend other than the vague catch-all of ‘World Music’. She does “Ain’t No Cure For Love”, a song by the ‘marvellous’ Leonard Cohen, and that’s about as close a clue as we get. It works amazingly well as a Tikaram song, until you start inverting the equation and imagine Cohen rasping out Tik-songs “Little Sister Leaving Town” or “Preyed Upon”, and it’s a useful exercise. Cohen’s oblique musical and lyrical strategies are compounded and upgeared through her occasional twenty-year-old’s pretentions, but remain intact. And if words like ‘pretentions’ don’t sit easy, her writing is still more fun than a chartful of Stock-Aitken-Watermans, and packs an infinitely less degradable trash-by date. 

 She droodles with the Roy Orbisong “Crying” between numbers, and passes on useful tips grabbed from breakfast TV’s she’s glimpsed in flashes from tour hotels – like ‘shave upwards to avoid spots’. And for every lyrically dense surrealist flourish (‘let the grass around him, scream the sound’) there’s the irresistible melodic beauty of a “Sighing Innocence”, or Helen O’Hara plucking strings over the Korg Oboe seepage of a “Twist In My Sobriety” that even Liza-with-a-‘Z’ plus Pet Shop Boys couldn’t louse up… 

Two hours and counting. Tanettes and Tikheads go away value for moneyed. 

All good children need travelling shoes. 

The pa plays out with the ‘Coronation Street’ TV-soap theme, another Tanita Tikaram joke. 

No goddess of gloom, she. 


 CD review of: 
(March 1992, Warner East West 9031-76427-2)

Jack Dee describes the kind of morning when your worst nightmares come real and you face the dread existential meaninglessness of all things – you burn the toast, the muesli pack rips apart as you open it, showering the carpet with a dandruff fall-out… 

…and then the radio plays a Tanita Tikaram record! 

Twenty-two years old, just into her fourth album, and already Ms Tikaram has usurped Leonard Cohen’s role as comedian’s punch-line. The drone that’s synonymous with melancholia bordering on manic depression. The title of that number four, borrowed from Richard Yates book of short stories, does nothing to discourage the impression. The lyrics are as elliptical, as sound-as-profound ‘if only you could decipher them’ as ever. Yet there’s nothing here quite as melodically luminous as “Twist In My Sobriety”, “Good Tradition” or “Cathedral Song” to rearrange such preconceptions. But while Tanita hasn’t gone to the extremes of – say, Kirsty MacColl who brought in a Rap Crew, and while she hasn’t included a C&C Music Factory Dance Remix, there are sufficient format variations here to suggest impressive evolutions. 

The long rich lines of her recent single “You Make The Whole World Cry”, the reflective sexual politics of “Men And Women”, and the glistening percussive colourations of “Love Don’t Need No Tyranny” are located well within her expected soundscape. But she’s noticeably ditched two of her long-time collaborators. Violinist Helen (Dexy’s Midnight Runners) O’Hara has gone, as has erstwhile producer Rod (“God Gave Rock And Roll To You”) Argent, although he guests once on keyboards. Producing herself for the first time Tanita achieves a sharper, tighter, more integrated group sound, Nic France’s drums are crisper and more up-front, exorcising Argent’s over-indulgent tendency to seam-free lushness, replacing it with attractively roughened edges. While her already mannered vocal delivery and phrasing get exaggerated into even more extreme positions. “Heal You” and the Blues-inflected “Any Reason” become slurred and pliable, electro-jolting alternating currents of charm and attack. But the album’s most bizarre excursion, “Elephant”, lurches and plods unpredictably, its sobriety decisively twisted from sudden emphasis to effects that sound alarmingly like the pachyderm equivalent of the death-rattle of a washing-machine not covered by an extended warranty. 

“To Drink A Rainbow” was sparked by a visit to Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ (1940), but Tanita’s is still an insular world, hermetically self-contained. She’s never going to cavort with Wonder Stuff on ‘Top Of The Pops’ like Kirsty MacColl, but while the likes of Jack Dee helps maintain her public profile as the Princess Of Pain, the assurance and greater willingness to bend the formula evidenced here shows there’s more to Tanita Tikaram than that image suggests. 

‘You Make The Whole World Cry’
‘I Grant You’
‘Heal You’
‘To Drink The Rainbow’
‘Out On The Town’
‘Hot Stones’
‘Men And Women’
‘Any Reason’
‘Love Don’t Need No Tyranny’
‘The Way That I Want You’

Friday 19 February 2021





Book Review of: 
(Tartarus Press, October 1995, ISBN 1-872621-19-7, £14.95, 202pp) 

Let us start as we mean to go on – monstrously. 

As black and shiny as beetle-shell, this original anthology of new weirdness is an expressway to your skull. Sixteen tales of haunting nastiness gathered together around a common thematic nucleus provided by Tartarus, editor Ray Russell’s stylish independent press. Erstwhile specialists in beautiful limited edition texts from the more restrained Horror archives of Arthur Machen, the key here is probably Peter Vincent’s story “Completion”. It recreates Machen’s slightly formal prose style perfectly to uncoil the consequences of a bookish Machen-collector locating the rarest of all Machen artefacts, a poem called “Eleusinia” printed in 1881 with only two copies known to have survived. Vincent’s tale is wistfully reflective. About a solitary man of bibliophile obsessions. A literary pleasure, about literary pleasures. 

Ramsey Campbell also develops the ‘enjoyably creepy’ atmosphere of low-key unease where darkness shifts on the landing and shapes move behind the mirror. His “Napier Court” is an internal dialogue of teasing hallucination, black delirium and strange compulsions which move inexorably towards an effectively disturbing climax. But it takes Simon Clark to effectively up-gear the Tartarus ethos and aim it straight at the centre of your brain. In his “Portrait Of A Girl In A Graveyard” he addresses the reader direct, YOU are the troubled adolescent with the Kurt Cobain poster on your wall, YOU swim through a mire of three-hundred-year-old coffins so tactile you feel their chill, YOU draw your own severed head from the deep buried black sack. Simon is less overtly concerned with literary antecedents, and more effective because of it. He switches the anthology’s centre firmly from the hung-over spectres of the bookish past to more fractured terrors of the now. And it’s a breathtakingly macabre sweep of magical realism. 

From there, Rhys Hughes – author of a simultaneous Tartarus collection called ‘Worming The Harpy’, adds an allegorical medieval fantasy in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Masque Of Red Death’ tradition, located in ‘the dusk between ecstasy and terror.’ Clare Johnson is trapped in a surrealist painting, Dale Nelson deals dustbowl dust-demons with skewed biblical subtexts, and Jon Preece is on a supernatural voyage into the African Heart Of Darkness. 

Horror SHOULD be more than mere slasher gore. If not morality there should at least be an ironic symmetry of cause and effect. Weird Fiction – Russell’s chosen term, ranges wide and is inhabited by many wondrous, strange and often terrifying beasts. It’s a place where owls, bats and other more nameless creatures circle and skitter, phantasms dance in darkness, monsters lurch and flinch beneath floorboards and poltergeist conspire mischief in their sad silent darkness. 

This book starts in whispers, and culminates with monsters. A unique, and very strange journey.


Full contents: 
‘Introduction’ by RB Russell 
‘The Forest Chapel Bell’ by Rhys Hughes 
‘Saint 505’ by John Clark 
‘Portrait Of A Girl In A Graveyard’ by Simon Clark 
‘Powers Of The Air’ by Dale Nelson 
‘As Gone As The Dead’ by Jon Preece 
‘The Interview’ Colin Pink 
‘Do Bats Eat Cats?’ by Alan Webster Lear 
‘Kruptos’ by Mark Samuels 
‘Forbidden Fruit’ by Elizabeth Brown 
‘The Paper’ by William Charlton 
‘The Reverend Douglas Delves’ by RB Russell 
‘The Lurker In The Room With A View’ by Andrew Darlington 
‘Talking Pictures’ by Clare Johnson 
‘Napier Court’ by Ramsey Campbell 
‘Completion’ by Peter Vincent  

Thursday 18 February 2021

Classic Horror Movie: Boris Karloff in 'Bedlam'





Review of: 
With Boris Karloff, Anna Lee, Billy House 
Director: Mark Robson. Producer: Val Lewton. 
Original Release: RKO Radio Pictures, May 1946, 79-minutes 
DVD, January 2011, Odeon Entertainment

‘Some are dogs, those I beat. Some are pigs, 
those I let wallow in their own filth…’ 
 – Boris Karloff as poet and 
‘apothecary-general of Bethel’ Master Sims 

This is a film ‘suggested’ by the eighth and final engraving in William Hogarth’s satirical ‘The Rake’s Progress’ series, and the agitational prints are used creatively from the credits on. This is also a Horror movie that critic Timothy Sullivan calls ‘a historical grand guignol set in a famous London asylum.’ With a malevolently brooding Boris Karloff as Master Sims, the ‘apothecary-general of Bethel’, the sadistic curator of St Mary’s of Bethlehem, who charges voyeuristic visitors ‘tuppence’ for the ‘merry notion’ of an afternoon’s entertainment laughing at the bizarre antics of the inmates. Dated precisely 1761, there’s madness afoot, but this is no House of Fun. ‘It does not look so merry a place’ says Nell disapprovingly. 

If there’s a hero, it’s Nell Bowen (played by Anna Lee), a proud, spirited and fiercely independent woman who first appears as Lord Mortimer’s protégé – although she makes it clear, as a former traveling player, she’s not dependent on any man’s patronage. The overweight Mortimer (Billy House) delights in Sims’ staged presentations featuring the unfortunate bedlamites, ‘a masque of madness to set you howling’. At one such pageant a performer is mocked in the guise of ‘Queen of the Artichokes’ (Ellen Corby), another – painted gold to represent ‘Reason’, dies of asphyxiation in a truly creepy scene which glances forward to Shirley Eaton’s gilded fate as ‘Jill Masterson’ in ‘Goldfinger’ (1964). Nell provokes the animosity, not only of Mortimer, but Sims too, by suggesting they improve the Bedlamites conditions. After Nell haughtily rejects Mortimer’s gesture of reconciliation, the scheming conniving Sims persuades him to sign a ‘Commission of Lunacy’, then slants her testimony to ensure that she also finds herself incarcerated in Bedlam.

‘Bedlam’ is the last in a series of nine imaginative low-budget horror films produced by Val Lewton for RKO, starting with understated cult classic ‘Cat People’ (1942) and ‘I Walked With A Zombie’ (1943) through to ‘The Body Snatcher’ (1945) – based around Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale, and preceded by ‘Isle Of The Dead’ (1945) which also stars Karloff, and also takes its theme from visual art – from an Arnold Böcklin painting. Now, a clever and articulate screenplay allows each character their voice, even Sims has his justification for ‘the loony’s in their cages’. ‘They have their world and we have ours’ he argues, and later ‘all those mawkish theories you learned from the Quaker are lies. Men are not brothers. Men are not born good and kind. Even the mindless ones are savage and must be ruled with force.’ On the opposing side of the moral equation, stonemason William Hannay (Richard Fraser) pities the ‘poor and afflicted’ even though his Quaker beliefs don’t allow him to fight on their behalf, ‘it’s a bad time for the poor and the people suffer’ he laments – even without a Cameron-Clegg coalition government! John Wilkes (Leyland Hodgson) was a real-life radical politician and journalist, whose excesses were indeed lampooned by Hogarth as ‘the devil’. He’s shown in a print-shop where they’re churning out such documents on an old winepress-style printing machine. And as Whigs and Tories bicker, he pledges to assist Nell, asserting ‘this is still England, and we have laws here.’ 

Inside the nightmarish Bedlam, she’s understandably terrified, but gradually comes to terms with a group called the ‘people of the pillar’. There’s ‘Dan The Dog’ (Robert Clarke), a woman who never speaks, and Master Sidney Long (Ian Wolfe) who has devised a flicker-book anticipating the principle of movies, which he cleverly uses to animate ideas of reform. Sims taunts and threatens her, challenges her to reform the insanely violent Tom with her gentle kindness. She accepts, and succeeds. With a ‘lady of the lamp’ candle she attends to the needs of other inmates. Meanwhile, efforts to free her gather momentum outside the walls, but before they can succeed Sims intends inflicting the same monstrous ‘treatment’ on her that reduced Tom to his brain-damaged state. Instead, the Bedlamites rise up and restrain him, allowing her to escapes. With eerie off-kilter echoes of Peter Weiss’ ‘Marat/ Sade’ (1963) – as supposedly performed by the inmates of the Asylum of Chareton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade, Master Long conducts a mock trial leveling charges against the terrified Sims of ‘neglect, cruelty, whippings, beatings, dirty straw to lie upon, chains and starvation’ as a staring inmate chants obsessively ‘split him in two, split him in two’. 

Yet Sims is allowed to state his own defense, that his treatment only reflects the evils of the outside world. And their verdict, ironically, is more just than those of their supposedly sane tormentors. They release him, but as he prepares to bolt, the silent girl impales him with a trowel that Hannay has smuggled into Bedlam for Nell’s self-defense. Protectively, they conceal his mortally-wounded body using stone and mortar to wall him in – anticipating Karloff’s later Roger Corman cycle of Edgar Allan Poe films as his eyes open in horror as the final stone is slotted into place. Finally, with Sims ‘disappearance’, he will be replaced by a ‘better man’. Hannay – who’s faith persuades him that Sims behavior was also a form of madness, suspects the truth, but Nell pleads for his silence. He smiles, they are now a couple. The final storyboard reveals that reforms were implemented in 1773, when a new hospital was built, leading to a more ‘enlightened and sensible treatment of the mentally ill’. Although it’s salient to recall that – in the decades following the release of this film, the Soviet block, and even supposedly progressive regimes elsewhere disposed of inconvenient dissidents and subversive reformers by imprisoning them in mental hospitals and neutralising them with a chemical cosh of drugs. Still, as critic Timothy Sullivan points out, there’s no other movie quite like ‘Bedlam’ (in ‘The Penguin Encyclopedia Of Horror & The Supernatural’, 1986). And in the spirit of William Hogarth’s social-reformist engravings on which it’s based, if this is horror, it’s horror with a social conscience, horror with a warmly beating liberal heart. 


‘BEDLAM’ (Original Release: RKO Radio Pictures, May 1946. DVD, 2011, Odeon Entertainment, Hollywood Studio Collection) Director: Mark Robson. Producer: Val Lewton. Screenplay: Mark Robson & Val Lewton (as Carlos Keith). With Boris Karloff (as Master George Sims), Anna Lee (as Nell Bowen), Billy House (as Lord Mortimer), Richard Fraser (as Quaker stonemason William Hannay), Glen(n) Vernon (as the ‘Gilded Boy’), Ian Wolfe (as Master Sidney Long), Jason Robards Srn (as Oliver Todd), Elizabeth Russell (as Mistress Kitty, Sims’ niece who replaces Nell in Mortimer’s affections, at Sims’ connivance!), Leyland (Leland) Hodgson (as ‘that Devil’ John Wilkes), Joan Newton (as Dorothea ‘The Dove’), Robert Clarke (as ‘Dan The Dog’), Ellen Corby (as ‘Queen of the Artichokes’) & Skelton Knaggs (as Varney, Nell’s loyal friend who first alerts Hannay of her plight). Music: Roy Webb. 79-minutes 

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‘VIDEOVISTA (March)’ (UK – March 2011)