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Shock & Gore 2015, Docu-Shorts and Brum’s Evil Genius

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There is no shortage of film festivals in the town of Ann Arbor but at this time of year I always get a pang of homesickness when I see the schedule for Birmingham’s own Shock & Gore.

Though London’s FrightFest has been recommend to me by horror buffs, film critics and magazine editors over the years, I will always reserve a special love for the bloody brilliant horror fest staged by the Electric Cinema. And this year’s festival is of particular personal interest as there is a documentary on local artist (and evil genius) Tom Ellis of Curious Oddities.

Perhaps you have attended a Shock & Gore film and had the disturbing pleasure of encountering some of Tom’s work, or walked past his chilling window display at the Great Western Arcade.

Voodoo Child: Tom Ellis' mechanical demon baby.

Voodoo Child: Tom Ellis’ mechanical demon baby.

My personal favourite Curious Oddity was the monster baby in a pram left by the upstairs screening room door.  If it didn’t put me off parenthood for an extra couple of years on sight, it definitely gave me the willies when a member of staff pulled a cord on the baby’s back and it started writhing around in the pram and emitting demonic baby laughter!  I kinda want one now.

I love the way the Great Western gave over its vacant window space to artists such as Mr Ellis in the wake of the financial crisis. His collection of curious oddities, such as weird sea creatures, dirty dolls furniture and  yarn eggs – with eyes (!) made me wish the door to the shop front would open and I could go in and see just how dark things got…but then I was afraid of how dark things could get.

I wondered whether to try and interview him for this humble blog – in a public place of course, in case he took me to a cave with malevolent goblins living in the walls. His creatures seemed so lovingly made, detailed and worn-in and I was genuinely intrigued by how he made them. So I walked over to the GWA and the shop front had vanished. And I had lost his card from Shock & Gore, and was due to leave the country soon. I figured it was fate intervening and left it at that.

But now I am curious no longer; Tom’s friend, local filmmaker Andrew Rutter, has made a short documentary about the man and his craft. As I am so far away I caught it on Vimeo but think it will make a fabulous addition to the programme of shorts showing on Wednesday 22nd at 6.15pm at the Electric.

Tom’s sculptures are not the only reason that Shock & Gore continues to be such fun. The organisers think outside the box in terms of pairing films with scary activities. This year, a ghost walk around Birmingham precedes a showing of The Haunting (1963). Other creepy-cool experiences include an edible accompaniment to Shaun of the Dead, and an actual tutorial in how to kill the undead by Jonathan Ferguson who is a curator at the Royal Armory in Leeds and the definitive expert in vampire killing kits.

So if you like being scared, don’t be afraid of rocking up to some of these events laid on by the wizards of Shock & Gore.


Heads Up! Shock & Gore 2014 Schedule Released

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Oh how I love the Shock & Gore horror festival at the Electric Cinema. And oh how gutted I am that I’m stuck on t’other side of the pond for this year’s fourth celebration of the weird and wonderful side of cinema.

To fully understand how much I love Shock & Gore, click HERE and HERE.

Yup it’s that good.

So what would I be going to see this year? Well I have never quite gotten over Twin Peaks, even though David Lynch abandoned the show in it’s second season leading to a sharp decline in quality and the damn network insisted that Laura Palmer’s killer was revealed early on when it was never meant to be a solved case at all and then it got cancelled on a reaaaallly infuriating cliffhanger…OK Breathe, it was 25 years ago dammit.

Horror meets Americana: Twin Peaks

Horror meets Americana: Twin Peaks


Anyway the fact remains that for a while, Twin Peaks captured our imaginations rather like Game of Thrones does these days. It remains one of the greatest TV series of all time. And in view of this, S&G are having a David Lynch night on Friday July 25th. There will be a showing of the strange and compelling Mulholland Drive, followed by some sort of Twin Peaks-related viewing. I have no idea what form this will take; could be a Log Lady riddle, could be Red Room dream sequence. The only thing for certain is that coffee and damn fine cherry pie will be available at the bar.

Cronos: Guillermo del Toro breathes new life into M.R. James' old 'enchanted object' plot.

Cronos: Guillermo del Toro breathes new life into M.R. James’ old ‘enchanted object’ plot.


For those of you who couldn’t care less about Twin Peaks (do I really owe you anything?) here are some other S&G offerings…

  • Classic spine-tingler in the form of The Innocents (Friday 25th – Thursday 31st)
  • Movie buff -worthy screening of Alien: The Director’s Cut (Saturday 26th)
  • Obligatory vampire quota is served by Cronos (Friday 25th) and the Lost Boys (Part of the All-nighter on Saturday 26th).
  • Morbid curiosity satiated by the intriguing sounding Death Cafe at the Victoria on Sunday 27th
  • Utter terrifying and all too real misery in Threads (Wednesday 30th) with a live score to bring the nuclear apocalypse even closer to home.
  • Queer Eye for the Dead Guy: Michael Blyth from the BFI delivers a lecture on gay presence in horror films from the 1930s to the present day. I expect this will be a lot like The Celluloid Closet stuff that Vito Russo wrote about and could be good fun.

So whatever keeps you awake at night, make sure you indulge it next month at Shock & Gore. And tell us how it went!

What happens in your mind when you watch Threads.

What happens in your mind when you watch Threads.

Heads Up! Sushi Passion Expands Into Great Western Arcade

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Sushi Passion: I took this photo when it was still a very new business but it has since taken off (hooray).

Promised I’d keep an eye on the place, didn’t I?

There was a very heartening post on the Facebook feed this afternoon. One of the best foodie destinations in Birmingham is expanding.

Sushi Passion has been a big hit since it set up a tiny bar among the fish mongers of the Bullring’s Indoor Market.

It was a plucky, bold move for Adam the owner, who as mentioned in previous posts, was always the best chef at Yo Sushi’s former Brindley Place location. Adam struck out on his own, making amazingly presented, high quality sushi with a true foodie sensibility.

He received Facebook flack for setting up in the market and answered back valiantly.  Were they kidding? This is the best place to be, surrounded by ingredients at their freshest. Half the fun of shopping at London’s Borough Market is visiting the food stalls inside.

Thankfully  lots of us saw that this was a good thing and Sushi Passion had regular lunch queues and loyal customers. Customers who are about to be very happy with the news that Sushi Passion is setting up shop in the Great Western Arcade.

From August, Unit 31 will be open for sushi galore. There will be the familiar bar up front as well as low traditional tables and instructions on how to eat and what to order from the staff.

Adam is a very inventive chef so expect lots of specials.

This is good news for the Great Western Arcade, situated in an area that unlike Grand Central or the Mailbox, is not seeing an influx of city investment.

But with Sushi Passion joining the ranks of the Loki Wine Tasting House,  the Whisky Shop, Anderson & Hill and The Bread Collection, the Arcade is fast becoming a viable foodie destination in Brum.

And best of all, Adam assures me that the Bullring sushi bar is going nowhere. Bonus foodie points.





Ha! Tom Hardy IS Joining Peaky Blinders!

Tom Hardy is already rocking a Peaky Blinders Urquhart.

Tom Hardy is already rocking a Peaky Blinders Urquhart.

Do you remember this purely speculative post a few months ago?

Well it seems I’d come over all Mystic Meg because PB creator Steven Knight has got his Christmas wish in regular collaborator Tom Hardy joining his increasingly A-List cast. It will be good to see Mr hardy back on our television screens (I’ve always admired his turn as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights).

Now, can you just move more filming locations to Brum Mr Knight? Pretty please?

Total Film broke the news just yesterday.

Looking forward to seeing what twists and turns PB will come up with in the new season. Will  Brummed Out commenter Alex also be proven right in their theory that Grace is actually the daughter of Aunt Polly (Queen of Darkness)?




Apologies About Peaky Blinders Episode Six

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Jason Statham has previously worked with Steven Knight. Will he feature in series 2? Image: wiki commons

Jason Statham has previously worked with Steven Knight. Will he feature in series 2? Image: wiki commons

So I’ve been asked by a few people why I never posted on the final episode of Peaky Blinders…well this is a little embarrassing but I didn’t get to see the end! I had to leave halfway through the episode to pick my husband up from the train station and by the time I logged on to the BBC iPlayer to  get my Shelby fix, it had been taken off. Couldn’t find it on YouTube or the like either. So I didn’t get to wrap up my little series of posts and I’m sorry to all of you who have enjoyed reading about ‘urquharts’ and Freddie the Horny Bolshevik. I will (hopefully) be back on it when series 2 arrives next year.

Writer Steven Knight has previously worked with Tom Hardy and Jason Statham and says he would be keen to bring them on board for PB2. Given that Statham has found fame playing The Transporter, The Mechanic and one of The Expendables,  it’s likely he will assume the role of The Butcher, The Baker or The Candlestick Maker.

Tom Hardy is already rocking a Peaky Blinders Urquhart.

Tom Hardy is already rocking a Peaky Blinders Urquhart. Image Wiki Commons

What did you think of Peaky Blinders in the end? Good, Bad, Ugly? Will you be watching season two, and if so what do you hope will happen in our favorite Brummie saga?

Quick, Fat Gypsy Wedding: Peaky Blinders Episode Four

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There's an elephant in the room: The Shelby's can't look John in the eye.

There’s an elephant in the room: The Shelby’s can’t look John in the eye.

First off, here’s the link.

There was an awful lot going on in this week’s episode of the Small Heath saga; Freddie the Horny Bolshevik was ploughing ahead with his plans for a Marxist revolution (quick, someone alert the Daily Mail), bringing money from London to Stanley Chapman by barge (of course).

His increasingly up-the-duff wife Ada highlighted just how unsuited they are to each other when she complained: “How come you do all the work and Stanley Chapman gets all the money?”  Ada (bless her) was obviously too fixated on the tragedy of Freddie’s ‘urquhart’ to listen to his canon of socialist rants, or she might have noticed it is veeery unlike capitalism.

Looking shifty: Freddie waits for the revolution...conspicuously.

Looking shifty: Freddie waits for the revolution…conspicuously.

Something had to give, and for Ada that someone was Stanley Chapman who she promptly dobbed in to Aunt Polly (Queen of Darkness), who promptly dobbed to Tom Shelby, who promptly dobbed to C.I. Campbell who promptly ambushed Stanley, who promptly said he knew nothing (which was true – bless him) to the reluctant policeman, who promptly beat Stanley, who promptly had a seizure and died. Freddie was promptly declared public enemy number one in Stanley’s wake (not his actual wake, I doubt he got a wake – bless him).  Adda-girl Ada.

Apart from this, C.I. Campbell revealed the depths of his ruthlessness (and they were pretty disturbing); Tom hired Grace to be the ‘classy’ face of his legitimate bookmaking operation; Ada gave birth and Freddie got arrested, blah blah blah.

Anyway enough of that rubbish, the best plot-line this week involved Tom Shelby combining a peace treaty with his brother’s love life. The war between the Shelbys and Lees reached new heights this week when the gypsies planted a hand-grenade in Tom’s car and almost blew up his cute little brother Finn. Meanwhile widowed brother John (he of the WORST ‘urquhart’ and the quizzical Stan-Laurel expression) sought Tom’s permission to marry the local prostitute Lizzie Stark to be a good mother to his four children – how long did he look, five seconds?  Inconveniently for Tommy, Lizzie had hitherto been his regular prozzie. He tested her loyalty by offering her money for ‘bonus night’ which she took (bless her). This revelation broke John’s heart.

Papa Lazarou: Should he really be a role model for marriage brokering?

Papa Lazarou: Should he really be a role model for marriage brokering?

Tommy remedied this state of affairs by selling John to the gypsies!  After a parlay with the head gypsy momma in perfect Romany dialect (although I thought Irish travellers spoke Shelta, but a little research definitely points to Romani being used here), Tommy ended the war by arranging a marriage old style – under the shotgun. He basically got John to show up under false pretenses and the dumb schmuck looked like deer in the headlights (bless him). This was Papa Lazarou stuff – “aw, youuu’rrre myyyyy Brummie nooooooow!”  This made Patty Stanger’s match-making approach look positively subtle. Luckily, the bride was easy on the eye, but she’s played by Aimee-Ffion Edwards who specialises in deranged characters, if you’ve ever seen Luther or Skins. What has John let himself in for? As in Big, Fat, Gypsy Weddings tradition, there was lots of drunkenness (mostly by Ada, who also supplied the ‘fat’) and dancing (luckily this show predates the cringey moves contemporary travelling girls favour). It seems the Lees and the Shelbys might be a match made in heaven after all, and that spells bad news for C.I.Campbell and Grace.

Peaky Blinders’ Awards

Quote of the week: “Men and their cocks never cease to amaze me.” (Aunt Polly)

Boo-hiss moment of the week: C.I. Campbell threatening to put sweet little Finn Shelby in prison with the very bad men.

Delusional statement of the week: “London is crackling with revolution” (Freddie the Horny Bolshevik.)

Wrong end of the stick award: Tom Shelby for saying “Aunt Poll – give ‘em some new shoes” to lovelorn single parent John Shelby.

Biggest cause for celebration: Grace didn’t sing – not once!

My sincere apologies to regular readers for being tardy with this week’s PB post; there should never be an excuse but this week I was working out of a skeezy Docklands hotel after my husband returned from a business trip to New York for two months (ooo la dee dah!). Rest assured, I was watching on Thursday night, while trying to finish up a spot of freelance work, and praying the cockroaches didn’t eat me. I think I’m ready for my first National Geographic assignment now…


Pardys & Poker Faces: Peaky Blinders Episode Three

Peaky-Blinders dance

Here’s the link to episode three in case you missed it.

It’s three weeks in for Peaky Blinders now, and tonight’s episode was slightly disappointing. Not just because the promised “good ‘urquharts” (good haircuts) didn’t materialise during Tom’s trip to the gee-gees at Cheltenham, but because the episode mainly centred on Grace, who is by far the weakest link in the show.

Dublin’s answer to Mata Hari was here there and everywhere this week. If she wasn’t eavesdropping through walls, she was shooting an IRA man up the scrotum, if she wasn’t flirting with Tom then she was wandering around the art gallery with C.I. Campbell (who made it very clear he’s pimping her out, albeit in an avuncular way), if she wasn’t dancing with Tommy she was pimped out to Billy Kimber, if she wasn’t – oh you get the picture I’m sure.

“If you wanna be part of my organisation, you have to make sacrifices,” Tom tells Grace. She’s been sacrificing all through the episode mate, you don’t need to tell her now! Still, at least she wasn’t singing.

Smart and smarterer: Grace attempts to seduce Tommy who is already duping Grace who is...

Smart and smarterer: Grace attempts to seduce Tommy who is already duping Grace who is…

Grace did think all her hard work was paying off when she got to dance in her new red dress with Tom at the races. Suddenly they were in the Jazz Age of Downton Abbey and Brideshead Revisited – all marcel waves, flapper gowns and, dare-I-say-it, proper haircuts.  He called her ‘Lady Sarah’ playfully, whirled her around the ballroom, gazed into her eyes and almost entrapped her before she could entrap him – then he used her as cover to escape with loot at the most romantic moment between them thus far. Oy gavalt! Grace is the worst operative in the world as she appears to have fallen in love with her mark and can’t work out that he’d throw her over in a nanosecond, or in this case just bail from a decent party.  ‘Lady Sarah’ looked momentarily despondent as she gazed at the amorous couple in the space he had left behind, both wearing elegant attire and sporting really good haircuts.

I’ve noticed the girls in Peaky Blinders (apart from Aunt Polly – Queen of Darkness, of course) seem to have very white stockings and collars. Not just Ada (who managed to stay pristine on her shotgun wedding day to Freddie the Horny Bolshevik) but whiter-than-white Grace. But how, with all that smoke and coal smote flying everywhere do they stay clean? I wouldn’t even bother trying. It’s like that ginger kid on the washing powder ad – she just accepts people are going to throw stuff at her and gets on with life; that’s character. I don’t know if Grace and Ada are dumb or just overly optimistic.

The Black Swan in Sparkbrook came in for a bit of a roasting tonight. A place for inept, wannabe IRA rebels to hang out apparently. Later in the episode, the man Grace kills is shown coming out of The Black Swan, a rough building either caked in dirt or painted in tar – it’s hard to tell, and the moniker hastily written straight on the wall in chalk. It looked characterful, damp, smelly, a real dive. I wanted to drink there, or just be a fly on the spittoon. I had a look to see if it still exists but could find no mention of it anywhere. However, there is a White Swan in nearby Deritend on the Bradford Road. Maybe a power-hose was all it took for the name to change (maybe not, as the WS is a big old brown stone Victorian boozer).

The White Swan on Bradford Street. Photo from

The White Swan on Bradford Street. Photo from

A lot of people have read these Peaky Blinders posts in search of either the filming locations (disappointingly, a lot was filmed at the Black Country Museum rather than in the neighbourhoods themselves) or historical accuracy. Hmmm, this is a programme that routinely uses The White Stripes instead of meaningful dialogue so I’m thinking it’s a good 80 percent fictional. I’m not saying The White Stripes aren’t a pleasure to listen to (and being from the grittier bits of failing car town Detroit, they oddly fit the bill to draw parallels with industrial/ criminal Brum), but I don’t think we’re going to be seeing any ‘making of’ documentaries that are heavy on the Historical Advisor talking heads or vox pops. Otto Bathurst, the director has said: “Once I took off the shackles of historical accuracy, then we could make a really cool show.” I will start researching posts on the real Peaky Blinders gang, but just try to enjoy the show for what it is: an inventively entertaining Thursday night gangster-fest.

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