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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.

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?

Heads Up!: Shock & Gore Horror Fest 2013

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Shock & Gore has been delighting horror fans in the Midlands for quite a few years now, and while we may not be able to get to every event in the festival (I for one am gutted that I’ve never been free on the evening of their legendary all-nighter), there are plenty of tales of terror coming Brum’s way from July 19th to the 25th.

Whether you prefer your horror creepy (The Spiral Staircase), visceral (Dead Ringers), kooky (Gremlins), funny (The Evil Dead), foreign (Santa Sangre) or classic (The Exorcist), the festival never disappoints and often incorporates live Q&A sessions with directors and writers and performances by comedians, magicians and musicians.

Normally centred on the Electric Cinema (but of course), this year the event has also branched out to include venues such as The Custard Factory Theatre, St Columba Church in Moseley and Stageside Restaurant.

I’ve had some great times here over the years (watching Carrie springs to mind because my husband and brother seemed to burst out laughing whenever John Travolta was on screen for some reason) and the organisers go to so much effort to set a good-naturedly creepy atmosphere. Oh, and food is usually very important here too – lots of inventiveness (see below for some of this year’s culinary concoctions).

I’ve been looking through the schedule and there is so much choice but for me, the standout events include (but certainly are not limited to):

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (with wine tasting), Tuesday 23rd July, 8pm, Electric Cinema, £26 (sofa) or £20 (standard).

I just love me some tongue.

I just love me some tongue.

OK, so this isn’t an event to go to if you are a) a recovering alcoholic, b) a militant teetotaler or c) somebody who hates it when films get paused because there will be five different (blood red) wines doled out during pauses in the movie.

But if you love a tipple and you find Keanu Reeves’ attempts at an English accent really amusing (seriously, he has an English mum, he should have this down) and find Gary Oldman weirdly sexy then this showing of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 effort is for you. Enjoy.

The American Scream, Sat 21st July, 2pm, Custard Factory Theatre, Digbeth, £6, £4.50 concessions.

They're coming to get you Barbara

They’re coming to get you Barbara

 ‘A heart-warming documentary at a horror festival? What are they thinking?’ I hear you cry.

But this look at a Massachusetts community’s efforts to have the best haunted house at Halloween really appeals to me as a long-time Halloween fiend. I really love the way that Americans just get the kooky, spooky aspect of autumn, how important it is to childhood and just how fun it is to be scared.

I really want to spend Halloween there one day (and that might be happening sooner rather than later…) although I did once go to Hell in Michigan which celebrates it all the year round (read if you like small town Americana and accidental road trips).

Film Food Club – The Silence of the Lambs, Thursday 25th July, 19.45 (Meal at Stageside Resaurant) and 9pm (film at The Electric Cinema)

He just licked one too many icy flag poles, honest.

He just licked one too many icy flag poles, honest.

Don’t tell me you’ve never wanted to try this, of course you have. Well now is your chance to eat some liver (can’t ensure this will belong to a friend or neighbour though) with some fava beans and a niiiiice chianti sfa-sfa-sfa-sfa. Then you can throw it all up whilst watching Anthony Hopkins shrink Jodie Foster’s head while some guy collects women’s skin so he can make a lady suit.

If you take someone on a first date to this one and they don’t run off screaming, they’re a keeper!

Would You Rather, Saturday 20th July, 8.30pm, The Electric Cinema, £7.40 and £5 (concessions)

You want me to strap Tena to my head? OK

You want me to strap Tena to my head? OK

There’s usually a hot new horror flick premiering at the festival and this year’s choice plays on that gross-out childhood game that usually involved licking someone’s eyeball. I’m not promising that’s going to happen here (I wish) but with a sadist hosting a dinner party for people all desperate for money, some horrid, exploitative stuff is bound to go down.

This is probably going to be a hard one to stomach (think Hostel or the Saw series) but for all you sick puppies out there, I hope it’s what you were looking for. Personally, I might sit this one out and see Black Sabbath instead.

Scary on Brum!

Review: Comedy In The Dark @ The Electric Cinema

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Did they really need to play 90s boyband favourite ‘Baby when the lights go out’ before the show? Good job I was getting my buzz on…

As predicted, this event quickly sold out and luckily I got hold of some tickets. Even more luckily it was first come first served so the husband and I bagged one of the sofas (Yesssss! Get in!).

For those of you not familiar with the Electric Cinema, the back of the auditorium contains several squashy leather sofas, with shelves to put your cocktail/ beer/ mixed nuts on and space to get close and cuddly with your date. As this show was taking place in pitch black, I should think there were more than a few pairs of wondering hands (not for us though, dear readers: marriage has it’s more glamorous moments but tonight wasn’t one of them due to both of us being sick – I’ll spare you the details). The Electric Cinema though – can’t recommend it highly enough for dates.

Back to the comedy, after excitable compare David Morgan gave us the rules (no running off to the toilet, and a code-word to be uttered only in an emergency to flick the lights back on and summon the police, ambulance, SWAT teams etc), the night began in earnest.

In the dim light, David walked off and Joe Lycett crept on. I say crept because Joe Lycett would perhaps belong to Slitherin House (albeit reluctantly) if he inhabited the Harry Potter universe. About 20 seconds into his act the lights were slowly dimmed to utter darkness and we were left with just his voice. And Joe Jycett has a most interesting voice indeed. It has a creepy Vincent Price-like quality that I could keep listening to all day. In the darkness it was like listening to him on the radio, describing his life as someone who doesn’t quite fit the mould enough for a successful life (this is the premise – I have no idea if it is true). After his allotted 10 minutes the lights came back up, unseating not just the audience but Mr Lycett himself who forgot his thread and had to be prompted by hecklers with ‘what about the story?’ He dutifully obliged but I feel that he probably suits a longer set.

Unwelcome spotlight: I thought the point of this show was that we were in the dark.

Next up was Old Etonian wunderkind and winner of the 2009 So You Think Your Funny Award, Ivo Graham. Relating tales of his recent virginity loss and passing his driving test, Master Graham sounded more like Pitt The Younger (the Blackadder version) rather than a youthful Bill Hicks. My husband (who had not heard of anyone on the bill) was left commenting ‘this boy just hasn’t quite got ‘it’. Needs more practice.’ I am sorry to agree. Perhaps Ivo was having an off-day but I wouldn’t have known he’d garnered so much hype based on his performance tonight. He too was somewhat thrown by the pesky lights and didn’t quite get his mojo back.

Josh Widdicombe was the final act and the only man that did not surrender to the sudden intrusion of the lights. He just calmly kept on with his story and finished in his own sweet time. Josh is a pro and I am sure comedy super-stardom beckons shortly because he really has his act down pat. He handles the crowd beautifully with absolutely no sign of nerves and is not afraid of the pause, unlike so many newer comedians on the circuit.

I had a great time. I wasn’t in a good mood at the beginning but this night really cheered me up. Stand-up comedy is a notoriously unforgiving business, attempted by only the most foolhardy courageous of souls so I applaud all the acts and wish them well with their careers. No one died on stage or failed to give at least one good joke so the night was a success.

The only thing I would change about the format would be to avoid bringing up and dimming down the lights between acts. I guess it was for ‘elf n safety’ purposes but it would actually have added to the comedy to hear the clowns stumbling onto the stage and merely hearing their voices. The comedians often ended up precariously close to the stage’s edge in any case so if they’re going to topple over, let them go!

Drat! Foiled by fate and Nazis…

Sorry for the break in posts. My husband finally finished his Masters thesis so we took a ‘staycation’.

I had hoped to be posting on the Juniper Cinema at Jekyll & Hyde this evening but due to our urgent need to find employment, the husband is in London on business and I am all alone… Annoying too as tonight they are showing Iron Sky, a film that keeps eluding me. It always sells out when shown at The Electric – I guess it’s the classic combination of Nazis in space (genius). I think even if it is a stinker, it’s hard not to pull for a film that was financed mainly by public donations from people who fancied seeing a film about Nazis in space. I love a good underdog story.

Hogarth’s Gin Lane: Jekyll and Hyde is on Steelhouse Lane – do not confuse.

The other news is that our lease is up at the end of next month. This may mean moving to another flat in the city, or more likely, moving to a new city (sniff). This really chaps my arse (teehee) as it means I may not be able to carry on Brummed Out (full on sob). I am so disappointed as I have so much stuff planned for this blog and I have come to love Brum. The Brummies. And our flat.

But I promise to keep on blogging right up until the moment we get out of Spaghetti Juction. Maybe even beyond that. And who knows – we might even return…

Heads Up: Comedy in the Dark

I don’t know what it is about this time of year. Perhaps it’s all those Facebook status updates about university starting up again and grads taking on their first teaching jobs. Either way it feels like the death of summer and the start of a new academic year.

Why does this make me feel oddly depressed? I’ve spend 20-odd years hating the grind of school and further education but now that I’ve graduated, I’m feeling the loss of the opportunity to learn in a heavily structured environment. I guess you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Any-who, this back to school spirit floating around does mean that Brum has some great events coinciding with Freshers’ week. Best of all is the Birmingham Comedy Festival. I’ve reported from this event a few times and interviewed some of the comics so I can testify to how much fun everyone has here. Whether you prefer your comedy Shakespearian (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), mainstream (John Bishop) or trendy (The Midnight Beast), there’s enough diversity to accommodate all your subjective tastes.

Checking out this year’s line up, may I politely suggest:

  • Dave Presents: Comedy in The Dark. Thursday 11th October, 7.30pm, The Electric Cinema.                                                                     I have a feeling this is the one to go to. It sold out at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and looks to do the same in Brum. It basically involves sitting in a pitch black cinema while four comics attempt their stand up routines without the aid of gurning facial expressions. This approach has to be safer than the London restaurant where you eat in the dark. Comedy in the Dark also features up and coming local talent Joe Lycett and the poised to break Josh Widdicombe. There are only 38 tickets left (I just checked) so get in there!
  • Abandoman. Sunday 7th October, 7pm, The Glee Club.                                                                                                                                                    This act has already won some major awards so there must be something to it. The press blurb from says it’s ‘Flight of the Concords meets 8 Mile’ – intriguing… Using audience interaction this guy will come up with off the cuff raps and sketches. In the wrong hands this could be a car-crash but that’s half the fun of stand-up comedy eh?
  • Charlie Murphy, Sunday 14th October, 7 pm, New Alexandra Theatre.                                                                                                                            OMG! I used to love Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories on The Chapelle Show (showing my age here) so this could be good. Or just interesting. If Charlie can emerge from the shadow of his brother Eddie and prove it wasn’t just Dave Chapelle’s comedy genius behind those sketches this could be a highlight of this year’s festival. If he can’t then you’ve just wasted £30. Plus travel expenses. Yeah, you’ve just wasted a lot of money. Only joking Charlie. I’m sorry Charlie Murphy. I was having too much fun. Cocaine is a hell of a drug…

Image Courtesy of Hilton Teper

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