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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.

Review: Black Sabbath @ The Electric Cinema

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blood wall

Now before you start bombarding me with pedantic troll comments, I’m talking about Black Sabbath the 1963 Italian horror anthology film, not Black Sabbath the Birmingham band. Got it? Really got it? Good.

So I went to the last showing of Black Sabbath as part of the Electric Cinema’s Shock and Gore festival yesterday. I took along my film-buff brother, and a friend of my husband’s who I think was left wondering about the cinematic tastes of my family. And so he should haha.

Not for me the torture-porn films so beloved of modern day horror fans. I was looking for a schlocky, Technicolor hoke-fest full of organ music and clashing discordant brass instruments in the score. Black Sabbath did not disappoint.

Setting the scene:

The Electric does a great job decorating for Shock and Gore. On the mirror leading to the upstairs theatre were written quotes from Saw, Hellraiser, The Shining and many more. Fun Fact: In the late 1990s when my brother was ten, we went trick or treating and he dressed as a pint-sized Pinhead from Hellraiser, using my mum’s hair pins and a white swimming cap).

Yo ho ho and a bottle of blood.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of blood.

Upstairs were neat little Rorschach butterflies (for the Silence of the Lambs showing tonight), anatomic sketches of eyeballs (for the Evil Dead double bill), broken wax dolls, bottles of blood and a veeeeerrry creepy sort-of human (but with a tail and flippers) voodoo baby in an antique pram. I was cooing over the unfortunate infant when one of the staff came over.

‘It moves, you know,’ he said. And flipping the baby on its back, he flicked a switch which immediately sent the tot into gurgling convulsions. Awesome.

The guy smirked, hoping he had sufficiently scared me.

‘Aw. I want one…if Kate can have one, so can I!’ I cried out petulantly. The staff member backed away with a disturbed expression. Never underestimate the power of a woman demanding a voodoo baby (or any baby) to freak a bloke out!

  He gave me the card for Tom Ellis who was responsible of this awful little creation. I recognised him from the Curious Oddities shop front in the Great Western Arcade.

Voodoo Child: Tom Ellis' mechanical demon baby.

Voodoo Child: Tom Ellis’ mechanical demon baby.

The unluckiest cupcake in the world:

Regular readers of Brummed Out will know I have a slight obsession with cupcakes, so I couldn’t resist this gory little  number:

The ill-fated cupcake in its former glory

The ill-fated cupcake in its former glory

I took it upstairs with my G&T and after sucking up the licorice ‘entrails’ I put it down on the step next to me (the cinema was pretty much empty). Then two horrific things happened:

1)      I accidentally stepped on it. Just a little. I decided to eat the other half due to the one second rule.

2)      A lady with a seeing-eye dog came in. The dog took one look at that blameless little cake and swallowed it whole!

 ‘He’s had the whole bloody thing!’ I cried as if alerting the cinema to a murder. I had to laugh. I think this is fate’s way of getting me to stick to my diet.

 The film itself:  

Someone's gettin' a cursed: broken wax dollies upstairs at The Electric.

Someone’s gettin’ a cursed: broken wax dollies upstairs at The Electric.

I recovered enough to settle into the film, which starred Boris Karloff and Mark Damon (sorry if you just clicked on the link – I couldn’t resist – no, I don’t know who Mark Damon is either). I knew going in that we were being shown the version of Black Sabbath that Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler would have seen as hormone-laden teenagers. This would be the US version, complete with bad dubbing, heavily edited stories (there are three stories in the anthology) and less shots of Boris linking the stories.

It really showed.

Black Sabbath poster with the original Italian title The Three Faces of Fear

Black Sabbath poster with the original Italian title The Three Faces of Fear

Having come home and read up on the original version shown in Italy, you could see a ton of plot holes and mistakes in the editing. For instance the running order of the stories is wrong. The scariest story was shown first and the least scary shown last (this was the opposite in the Italian original). Having said that, the beginning story alone is scary enough to recommend this film. If you’ve ever been freaked out by being in the proximity of a corpse (well why wouldn’t you) be prepared to revisit a nasty place.

The dog added accompanying smellorama by farting out my cupcake, just to rub it in.

The middle story ‘The Telephone’ seemed to be about a girl being stalked by a dead lover who she’d turned in to the police. She rings up his ex to come over and protect her (instead of leaving the flat, obviously) and then he kills the other girl and she stabs him. It was crap but my companions enjoyed watching a beautiful woman running around in a see-through nightie.

Rosy the call-girl getting freaked out by one of her many stalkers.

Rosy the call-girl getting freaked out by one of her many stalkers.

Now I read the original synopsis on good old Wikipedia and it says this story was heavily edited for America. The original left out the supernatural element resulting in a more standard Italian Giallo thriller. The girl was meant to be a high-class hooker who had turned in her pimp and was being harassed by her former lesbian lover pretending to be the pimp on the telephone (huh?) who was then killed by the escaped pimp who, in turn was stabbed by the hot hooker. Make sense? Nope, I didn’t think so.

Anyway, I doubt this mattered to Ozzy and co who were probably too stoned to care and were just grateful to have come out of the experience with a good band name.

Buffalo Bill wants his suit back!

Buffalo Bill wants his suit back!

Downstairs in the lobby, the voodoo baby had been moved to pride of place by the front door and was gurgling away, happy as Larry. Awwwww. There was also a fabulous cake version of the lady-skin dress that Buffalo Bill was making in The Silence of the Lambs, courtesy of Annabel de Vetten at Conjurer’s Kitchen. I want her to make my next birthday cake! And off we went to discuss how gorgeous those Italian birds were over drinks at The Victoria. I’ll be back next year – hopefully I get to the all-nighter one of these days.

But until then…

Please, pretty please Shock & Gore, could you show the Italian version of Black Sabbath at next year’s festival? For artistic integrity?

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