Monday, 19 September 2016

Clean Room Book 1: Immaculate Conception (#1-6)

"I hit the shit trifecta.  I lost my fiance.  I lost my baby. I lost my will. Someone owes me. And that thought is keeping me alive" - Chloe Pierce

With the cancellation of the fantastic DCYou comic, Secret Six (again), I'd have not been surprised if Simone had stuck two fingers up at DC and vowed never to work for them again after the way she was treated by them these past few years.  And she is no longer writing superhero comics for DC after a long career doing so (although she has dropped hints on her tumblr lately that she is writing a "big two" character again, so...).  Anyway she hasn't completely cut ties with them as she has created this horror comic for DC's adult orientated Vertigo label.  This comic sees Simone really stretching her writing muscles into a new genre for her, does she carry it off?  Of course she does.  Clean Room is the story of a journalist called Chloe Pierce investigating a not-Scientology-honest style cult called "The Honest World Foundation", one that resulted in the suicide of her boyfriend who was obssessed with the book written by a second rate horror fiction writer Astrid Mueller that functions as the cult's bible.  Chloe is determined to get answers from Mueller about "The Clean Room", a top secret sanctuary for cult members where your deepest fears and worst memories are relived.  Along the way we are treated to some truly disgusting visions of creepy monsters that are somehow linked to the cult, and it allows the artist to go wild with some grotesque designs that are reminiscent of the works of Junji Ito I have covered here previously. The artist is John Davis-Hunt, and I really like his clean, crisp artwork. This is the sort of horror art I'd like to have seen in the Hellraiser books.  But I digress, so lets take a look at the first collected Clean Room trade.
Chloe attempting suicide.
The story begins with a flashback to Astrid as a young girl thirty years ago, going to church in Germany with her parents and brother who is teasing her over her toy bear Klaus.  Nearby two men get into a truck, one of them, a man called Jonas Kemf seems pretty angry about something and when he ends up hitting Astrid (who sees a monster briefly) with the truck, he reverses back over her.  Astrid wakes up in hospital where her parents are watching a news report about Jonas being badly injured when the by-standers took bloody revenge on him, gouging his eyes out we find out later.  Astrid asks to see her papa.  When told he is standing right by her hum, Astrid say:

Astrid: "Mama?  Why is papa's face made of snakes?"

Smash to black. Then we get another flashback, this time to Chloe as she attempts suicide by drowning herself after losing her fiance Philip to a self inflicted gunshot.  She wakes up in hospital, restrained to prevent her harming herself.  Her "rescuers" were the three kindly brothers who are her neighbours.

Chloe: "They pulled me out. I told them I was grateful because I didn't want to make them sad... sometimes the truth hurts the people with the best hearts the most."

She says all the right things to get her restraints taken off.  Then one day a nurse offers her a copy of Astrid's book "The Honest World" saying it changed her life.  Chloe sees blood drip on it then sees a full on hallucination of Philip with half his head gone.  "And after I started screaming, they put the restraints back on, for a while" she recounts.
Chloe has an unwelcome vision of her dead boyfriend.
After she gets out of hospital, she starts digging into Astrid's work and organisation, looking for answers as to why her fiance killed himself.  Once Astrid wrote "poorly regarded horror novels".  Now she is "the most powerful individual in that weird twilight industry between self help and religion."

Chloe goes and finds a homeless man called Mikey who used to be a friend of Phil's.  She tells him she wants to know all about "the Blue Utopians", but Mikey yells at her to leave it and that he has been inside "the Clean Room".  It looks like a room but shows you "everything". 

Mikey: "She says it's for helping.  Just a few questions, right? It's worse than hell.  Worse than emptiness.  I'm afraid of her more than Satan, Chloe".

He pleads with her to leave things well alone.  Astrid took his drugs and now he hears voices all the time.  Chloe leaves him thinking Astrid is "done playing God with people.  Let's see what fucking havoc a journalism degree can really create."

After a month of pestering, she finally sets foot in the Foundation's headquarters.  She isn't going to be speaking with Astrid, but a severe woman called Killian.  Killian greets her and says that she can offer Chloe an exclusive look at the office, but Chloe says the lack of Astrid's signature perfume tells her this isn't her office.
Killian and a very dirty demon.
Killian sits and starts talking to her, but Chloe sees a huge, grotesque monster rear up behind her and drowns out Killian's voice with some filthy sexual innuendo.  Chloe ends up backed away on the floor and it disappears, Killian seems unsuprised at Chloe's recoil.  She calmly says Chloe needs to go to a hospital, she's "unwell".

Angrily Chloe says she wants to see Astrid and the Clean Room now because they are implicated in the death of her fiance.  Killian says she needs to be careful about what she writes.  Chloe responds that journalists "have a way of being sued, broken and destroyed when they write about her."  But you see, Chloe has nothing left to lose.  And then Astrid and her minders walk in, "let's chat shall we?" Astrid says.
Astrid (centre) and minders.
The next chapter begins with a pair of cops investigating a death.  The victim is the homeless man Mikey and he's been tied in a knot. This is odd enough, but the junkie hang out he was found in has been scrubbed clean, no prints, no forensic evidence of any kind.

Back with Astrid and Chloe, Astrid asks how they can fulfil Chloe's "wants".  Killian says she should escort Chloe out of the building, she is a "pre-emotic" and not there in good faith.  Astrid agrees and starts to leave, but Chloe shouts after her:

Chloe: "Why do you have a private cemetary? Why are your disciples discouraged from outside contact?  What are the Blue Utopians Ms. Mueller?"

Astrid pauses then agrees to talk privately with Chloe.  They drink tea and Chloe tells her about her fiance's suicide after following her cult.

Astrid asks how selfish she thinks her grief is.  Does she find that people speak highly of her dead fiance?  Chloe says yes they do and she feels like she is not allowed to be angry at him. Then the questions take a weird turn, Astrid asks if she misses his erection and how long was it before she masturbated after his death. Then Chloe sees the obscene talking monster again. Astrid takes a hold of her and asks her what she sees, Chloe lies and says she didn't see anything.
Another filthy fiend vision.
Astrid then shows her the chessboard she has which has a varient of chess on it, it involves more rooks than usual and they are turned upside down.  "The inverted rook is called a Wazir and is only allowed to move one space at a time.  Barely stronger than a pawn".  Then she agrees to let Chloe into the Clean Room.  Chloe is completely decontaminated, right down to having her labial piercing removed and dressed in jumpsuits she and Astrid go inside.

Inside is a patient called Walter Fennister.  He's been having trouble sleeping.  Astrid keeps questioning him and he admits that he can't sleep because he is afraid.  He's afraid of "the White Monkeys" which his mother told him would come and eat his penis even if he just touched it to pee.  And after it grew back, they'd eat it again.

Then suddenly the white room is replaced by the image of a graveyard.  Chloe thinks she is hallucinating, while Astrid mercilessly forces Walter to admit that he wanted a pair of children to touch his penis and when they refused he killed them by slashing their eyes out.  "Why are you making me remember all this?" he says angrily.  Then the graveyard recedes and they are back in the white room.
Inside a memory in the Clean Room.
Astrid tells him to sleep well.  Chloe is outraged that she is letting a child murderer go. "I'm afraid that is not my jurisdiction.  He is clean" says Astrid.  Chloe swears she'll bring the organisation down and marches out, Astrid says to herself that she was hoping they could be friends.  Later that night, the White Monkeys come for Walter and as they attack his screaming form we cut to Astrid saying, "Sleep well Mister Fennister. Sleep well".

We then jump forwards to another session in the Clean Room.  Astrid has an assisstant called Terry this time and they are going to be treating a man Joe Wei.  Terry is unsure why, the man is a "Frell" who registered nothing on the "meter".  Astrid merely responds that "Everyone's a nobody Terry.  Until they are not."
Time for another "patient".
Joe Wei has a strange problem. He doesn't like to step on the ground and only allows himself to take one hundred and seventy one steps a day. He lost his wife over this obsession, "she couldn't take the counting". He says heaven isn't in the sky, it's on the ground and every step you take is "walking on the screaming faces of the angels."

Then we cut to Chloe's house.  Someone or something has broken in. Her three neighbours go in and confront the person as to what they think they are doing in there.  The person has it's back to them and just goes, "Booooop".  Meanwhile Chloe is angrily filling her car with petrol at a filling station, still furious over her experience in the Clean Room.

Back in the Clean Room, the room receedes and is replaced with an image of the countryside, with Mr. Wei fishing, then we see the trauma that ruined his life.  He was abducted by aliens.  At Chloe's house the creature who broke in reveals himself to have a horrible, wicked witch style face and he beats up the three brothers and throws one through the window before leaving.
The mysterious intruder.
At the petrol station, Chloe's card has been refused.  The station attendant tries to extort a sexual favour out of her to pay for her gas, but then suddenly Killian appears and breaks his arm, before tossing him some money onto his prone body.  She then invites a gob-smacked Chloe for ice cream and waffles.

In the Clean Room Joe Wei is being shown having experiments performed on him.   Astrid says she wants to see who is doing this to him. At the cafe, Killian is tucking into her ice-cream and waffles, Chloe isn't so keen.  She thinks the organisation got her credit card stopped because they are "stropping" her, which is how they deal with threats to them. Killian says the road she is on doesn't go anywhere good and she has a proposition for her:

Killian: "We grab two bottles of whatever passes for wine in this redneck rodeo.  We find the nearest hotel with the fewest bugs.  And then we fuck 'til our brains fall out."

Unsurprisingly Chloe doesn't take her up on this offer, then a news report comes onto the TV in the cafe with a story of an actor called Rand Tanner who has been found dead by his own hand.  As he was considered one of Astrid Mueller's success stories, this is bad news for the organisation and Killian takes her leave of Chloe to go do some damage control but not before telling her she finds her "obscenely attractive".
Bad news for the Foundation.
She leaves a confused Chloe mumbling "what just happened?" and Killian screams down the phone that Astrid needs to be pulled out of the Clean Room now.   But Astrid is having a breakthrough with Joe Wei, when she demands to know if there is anyone else inside him she should address, he gouges his eyes out and says "it's Jonas Kemf Astrid. How are the legs?"

Jonas Kemf takes over the luckless Joe Wei.
Fifteen years ago in Norway, Astrid visited an inventor called Doctor Hagen, who is something of an eccentric.  She asks him to build her a "Cloudbuster".  His payment will be a man and a woman stripped naked, who will stand and let him appreciate their nudity for one hour a day although he can't touch them, "do we have a deal Doctor?"

Back in the present, as Killian flies back to HQ she rages at the news coverage of Rand Tanner's death.  Another woman called Capone says she can shut the reporter up.  But Killian says she has other ideas of what Capone, a "rook" now can do. And it needs to be something drastic as people are turning in their memberships at their outreach centers in large numbers.

Killian calls Chloe, hoping to get her to agree to help them.  She'll get her interview with Astrid, her "pick of the jobs" just so they can get a fair message out.  They'll be her best friends in that case.

Chloe: "Fuck you. Fuck your favour. And fuck Astrid fucking Mueller."

"She's thinking it over" says Killian to Capone.  "Clearly" says Capone drily.  Chloe arrives back home to find her neighbours alive, though looking rather beaten up.  They tell her about the... thing they found in her house.  Chloe tries to warn them off helping her again but they say they always will because they are her neighbours.
Chloe's neighbours refuse to stop looking out for her.
Back in the Clean Room Jonas is taunting Astrid, who doesn't rise to his bait.   She asks what his real name is, he says there was a whole section in the library of Alexandria about him, but he made them burn it.  Back at Chloe's house she gets an ansaphone message from the paper she works for saying she's been let go.  This saddens Chloe.

Chloe: "I was so proud the day I got that job.  Screw Superman, I always wanted to be Lois Lane".

Suddenly she hears a voice asking her where all her knives are.  She checks the kitchen drawer and none are in there.  The voice tells her to check the bathroon and all the knives are in the bath standing point up.
Umm.. Ew.
Back in the Clean Room, Jonas grabs hold of Joe's face and pulls it until it is upside down and he is speaking through an eye socket.   He says that her making the Clean Room impregnable was a challenge and that the only way "for one of us to get in... is if you invite us in".  He threatens Astrid and Terry in a panic, shoots him in the face.  Astrid's calm demenour breaks:

Astrid: "Do you know what you've done, you imbecile?  You've doomed us all Terry.  You've killed us all."

Back at Chloe's house she asks the voice if he is with Astrid's people.  It says no it's "one of the others."   Chloe asks what it wants, and looming behind her it says, "I'm supposed to help you kill yourself."
Joe/Jonas "killed" by Terry.
At the cult's HQ, Killian is still fretting about the negative publicity around Rand Tanner's suicide. She wants Astrid pulled out of the Clean Room, but Astrid has more important things to be dealing with.   Since Terry shot and killed Joe Wei/Jonas Kemf she's been waiting, saying Jonas is "house hunting".

In LA, an actress called Chrissy settles into a relaxing jacuzzi. Much to her surprise she is joined by Capone.   Capone lays out the terms of the blackmail they are going to subject Chrissy to.  That she is pregnant with Rand Tanner's child (even though she barely knew him and it's her fiance's kid), and that this will help Astrid out of a pickle, even though Chrissy isn't a member of the organisation. But it's a two-way deal, if Chrissy plays along, she'll have her pick of film roles. Her fiance will have to go, but that appears to be a sacrifice Chrissy is willing to make as she reluctantly agrees (not that she had much choice).
Another possession as Spark inhabits one of her neighbours.
Chloe wakes up on her bed having passed out at the reveal of the monster who is supposed to help her die.  It admits it couldn't bring itself to kill her and that it's appearance is distressing her so it possesses the body of one of her kindly neighbours, Rene Haverlin.

In the Clean Room, another possession takes place.  This time Jonas Kemf finds a new home inside Terry. He asks her what time it is, then tells her:

Jonas/Terry: "It's harvest time Astrid Mueller.  Harvest time in the meat hospital. For every last fucking one of you vermin."

Astrid says she's going to walk out of the room right now, but Jonas says he can't allow it.  So Astrid calls the people monitoring the session for Terry's "lifebox".  Meanwhile more bad news over Rand Tanner's death, every Hollywood member is cancelling their "reading" that week.

Chloe wakes up having passed out again. The being inside Rene called Spark suddenly gets serious, he tells her she has to run, that "he" is coming.  But it's too late, and we see the back of a man coming up to her door.

In the Clean Room, Terry/Jonas point Terry's gun at Astrid saying he wants to enjoy this.  Astrid, unruffled says:

Astrid: "Prohibido tirarse de cabenza.  And Maddy Rivera's first two-piece".

This transforms the Clean Room into a swimming baths and we see Terry's worst nightmare play out.  When he was a teenager he was minding his younger brother at the swimming baths. Distracted by Maddy Rivera's skimpy bathing suit he didn't stop his brother diving into the too shallow pool and breaking his neck.

Terry's worst memory activated.
She tells the distressed Terry/Jonas that she doesn't choose Rooks for their invulnerability.  She needs a way to break them if needed, she leaves "a crack in the tea-cup." Confronted by an image of his dead brother, Terry falls screaming to his knees, Jonas gone from him.  Astrid calls for medical quarantine and also for a suitable replacement for his position.

There is also good news that Chrissy has gone public with her pregnancy supposedly being Rand Tanner's baby. The celebrity's are back on board and Killian sardonically notes their "flu must have cleared up. A goddamn regular miracle cure."

Terry lies curled up on the floor of the Clean Room, he mutters "It's all over Astrid.  The surgeon is coming.  Everything is falling.  Everyone is falling".   At Chloe's house,Rene/Spark tells her the surgeon is here and they have to go, "he's like a hurricane of wrong.  The things he'll do.  His tools..."  But Chloe is defiant, she needs to know what is going on, why Philip killed himself, so "Rene" touches her forehead and shows her.
Philip has the truth revealed to him.
We then get a flashback of Philip receiving a memory stick with a message from Astrid on it. It will play once, then delete.  As a level-5 "post-Emotic" he is going to be told the true history of the world.   She says that after her childhood accident she could see parasites riding people.  They are everywhere and there is more, but her voice fades out and we just see Philip's increasingly distressed reactions.  When it is over, he takes out his gun and blows half his head off saying to himself, "I'm sorry Chloe.  Turns out I didn't want to know."

Astrid asks Terry where the Surgeon is, and he says he's with Chloe. And when she answers the door it is to a pleasant and friendly looking old man, who politely tells her he's put them in a "pretty pickle" and may he come in?  He tells Chloe he was one of the doctors who first treated her when she tried to commit suicide.  He tries to convince her she is just having delusions and touches her hand saying he can get her into hospital for some aftercare.

Astrid gets annoyed with Killian who should have been keeping an eye on Chloe.  The Rand Tanner situation was "nothing".  Chloe agrees to go with the Surgeon and goes into the bathroom to get some things. But she arms herself with two knives from where they had been left in the bath.  Astrid rushes to contact Dr. Hagen, as Chloe, egged on by a monstrous vision, stabs both knives into the Surgeon's head.
An impressive No Sell there.
Astrid asks if he has finished his Cloudbuster, he has but hasn't tested it.  Astrid says can he aim it?  Hagen says yes. The knives in the Surgeon's head don't affect it, but he does drop his kindly facade and attacks Chloe. Rene/Spark then hits the Surgeon hard enough to break his neck, but this doesn't slow him down and he and Chloe start to run.

Chloe's phone goes and it is Astrid who asks to speak to the Surgeon.  He tells him to leave Chloe alone, she has a Cloudbuster and it is pointing directly at his home "somewhere directly above Barcelona, isn't it?"  She says if he doesn't leave Chloe's now she pull the trigger on his existence.  So the Surgeon retreats for now.  "What are you?" asks Chloe as he leaves.

The Surgeon: "Are we aliens or demons, is that what you mean Chloe Pierce? Overlords or Angels? We are none of those things.  We are inmates".

And with that he is gone.  We finish this volume with Chloe, her three neighbours, Astrid, Capone and Killian all at Philip's graveside.   Chloe asks why Astrid sacrificed her weapon for her.

Astrid: "Because you access the dead.  I know you do.  I can lose a Rook Chloe.  I cannot lose a Queen".

Chloe starts to tear up at the realisation all of Astrids horrible theories are true.  Astrid asks if she wants a hug and gets Killian to do it for her. And it ends with Chloe thinking with determination that "this is nowhere near over."
So many questions, can't wait for the answers!
This is a fantastic series right out of the gate.  It sets up compelling mysteries, peoples it with fascinating characters and garnishes it with the kind of assured, naturalistic dialogue Gail Simone has a gift for.  We're given several strong female characters, all crucially strong in different ways, from the icily calm Astrid, to the firey Killian to the determined, brave and vulnerable Chloe.  The concept of The Clean Room is a clever way to get some real body horror going, impeccably drawn by Jon Davis-Hunt and we've already been shown that the monsters of this series are going to come in many shapes and forms and not all of them bad guys either. There is an interesting layering to the organisation Astrid runs, while on the surface it's very much a Scientology alike cult, Astrid herself seems to have more nebulous and so far mostly unrevealed motives for why she set it up, she seems to have identified a world full of monstrous threats and is using her organisation as a cover for fighting them.  People who find out the full truth it seems either ascend to the cult's higher eschelons or like Philip, kill themselves once the repercussions of their new knowledge sinks in.  With Chloe and Astrid in an uneasy truce, the story has new impetus and places to go and I am very much looking forward to the next collection.


  1. I really like the sound of this one. I prefer original stories, not just for their originality, but also you don't need to be familiar with 25 years of convoluted backstory to understand what's going on.

    Some very interesting 'meta' (if that's the right word, probably not) references. Almost like Alan Moore. I especially like the William Reich parallels. Be interesting to see where that develops.

    Can I just put on my pedant hat for a second? 'Forensic evidence' is a bit of a tautology. All evidence is forensic by definition. It's just one of those lawyer bugbears. The correct term is 'scientific evidence'. Having said that, lots of people in the trade now use the term anyway. (*shakes fist at CSI*)

    Also, to do some pre-emptive pedantry 'immaculate conception' does not refer to virgin birth, it's the church doctrine that Mary was, uniquely, born without original sin.

    (When you stab me to death for being such a knob feel free to yell "don't forget , these aren't 'lacerations' they're incised wounds")

  2. I try and mix my blog up with originals and miniseries, between the more continuity heavy stuff. Gail Simone has always tended to write superhero comics which are aimed at a general audience. But seeing her actually writing for an adult audience is great, really feels like she's been let off the leash.

    I hadn't spotted the William Reich parallels until you pointed then out, cool.

    Actually I did know both those pedant things and found them interesting when I did, so I won't stab you to death for sharing them :D

    I think it was you on WHTM that taught me that all evidence is forensic, but I still love CSI and mourn it's death...

    And I found out that immaculate conception means Mary was born without original sin on a comics blog of all places. I'm assuming the reason for naming this collection that will come in volumes to come. Looking at Simone's tumblr the series seem popular (Vertigo titles don't need to sell as much as mainstream series) and it's up to about issue 12 now, so fingers crossed DC don't screw her over... again.

  3. that is seriously messed up, which is cool! it's not as messed up as Uzumaki was, but it's pretty close. great art i agree as well.

  4. I don't think anything could be as messed up as Uzumaki, one of the only times a horror in any medium has made me feel sick. I actually think Simone is a fan of Junji Ito, I'm 70% sure I saw it on her tumblr but don't quote me on that.

  5. Read your Uzumaki reviews. Sounds interesting but on the whole I think I'll stick with 'Spirited Away'.

    It did resonate though; I do have a thing about spirals. I won't bore you with my polemic about how the spiral links Neolithic, Islamic and Aboriginal art. There is something wonderfully sinister about spirals though.

    There's a great piece of legal writing called "The case of the spelunkian explorers". Although it's actually a legal article it reads like an adventure story. It's set 2000 years after an event referred to only as "the great spiral". It's such a throwaway reference yet it implies so much and it's really creepy. Reminds me of Mitchell & Webb and 'the event'. A perfect illustration as to why there's nothing more scary than leaving things to the imagination of the reader/viewer.

    (Also saves money on trying to replicate the designs of H R Geiger)

  6. The nice thing about Uzumaki (and Gyo) by the same author is they are single volumes so easy for me to cover. I want to do more manga on here, but apart from a month devoted to "Oldboy" I did a year ago which comes in at 8 volumes, I'm pretty much only doing Dragonball as an "at the end of the month if I have room" type deal. Only 42 volumes in that series, four down, 38 to go, ahem.

    I never thought much about spirals before, but thanks to Uzumaki they make me think of eating snail people now and I feel ill. Thanks Ito!

    I'm a huge Lovecraft fan, and he was pretty much the master of leaving things unsaid and let the slow dawning horror happen after you put the book down. "The Colour Out Of Space" is absolutely my favourite short prose story of any writer, helps it's not full of racism for once.

  7. I've never been able to get into manga, although I did enjoy seeing a manga adaptation of the Star Wars films, just for the visuals.

    Is it common though for them to be like 1000 volumes long? I mentioned to a friend about battle royale (the film). She said that she'd read the manga but it was like a gazillion episodes. Same with original oldboy I'm given to understand? That was her reciprocal recommendation. I quite enjoyed the film but, *heresy warning!!!!*, I preferred the remake what it came out.

    I'd better pop off and commit seppuku to atone.

  8. Only a few series have hit hit the hundreds of volumes, but because traditionally they are "shonen" (aimed at older pre-teen and teen boys) series which have had more popularity due to the animes being shown over here they tend to dominate peoples image of manga over here.

    Actually since the western market for manga is now skewed towards girls and women there is a wide variety of differing length mangas out now, its just I tend to prefer shonen series being a twelve year old boy trapped in a middle aged woman's body.

    As for Oldboy you can make a fascinating case for how the differences between the Japanese manga, South Korean film and US film reflect different aspects of their home culture. I'll always prefer the SK film, it's what got me interested in SK film and SK culture and history to the extent I'd like to visit it before I go to Japan!

    Anywau you shouldn't apologise for liking what you like, on some days I find myself preferring Gore Verbinski's Ring over Hideo Nakata's Ringu, now I join you in heretical suicide :D

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  10. Let's try again....

    My favourite film of all time is "The Wicker Man" (I use it as a test of character based on whether people think it has a happy ending).

    Knowing how much I love that film a friend expressed surprise that I had a copy of the remake. It is true that the film itself is terrible, but the commentary is brilliant. It's basically a two hour long apology. And it's so funny.

    "There *is* a scary bit", "Nearly at the scary bit", "Here comes the scary bit!", "Well, it was a *bit* scary"

    What's clear though is that they really had a lot of respect for the original but they were screwed over by the studio.

    There's also a funny commentary on a re-release of the original. Peter Schaeffer and Christopher Lee talk about the upcoming remake and how they've been offered cameos. It then turns out to be the first time Edward Woodward has heard anything about it and he gets quite upset "Why wasn't I asked?!", "what did I do wrong?, I can be better"

  11. Ah you have something in common with my mum, "The Wicker Man" is her favourite film as well. I think it has a happy ending, but then I was raised in a secular household and have found myself with paganistic/Eastern religious leanings.

    Actually it's funny, the remake where Nichloas Cage punches women while dressed as a bear sent her into apolplexy. I know how she feels, I have two films that are my favourite, "Jacob's Ladder" and the Japanese film "Pulse/Kairo" which got a horrible remake, so horrible that I ripped the dvd out of my 360 halfway through the smug commentary track and snapped the disc in half. GAH!

    I don't have a copy myself of "The Wicker Man" but I am a big fan of dvd commentaries, so I'll pick it up next time I see it in CEX now.

  12. What's nice is everyone gets what they want. I regard the islanders as quite genuine when they say a martyrs death is the best thing they can offer, and I like to think they're happy to think he *will* end up sitting at the right hand of God. They're grateful and lovely.

    On a side note, I've always wanted to have a story set in 1975 where someone makes a throwaway comment that the Summerisle apple crop was particularly good that year.

    I too love Jacobs Ladder. I like films that are sort of paradoxes when you think about them afterwards "so if that was real then that means, but if it wasn't real then that can't have been, so it must be that.....*continue stuck in mindscrew*

  13. The commentary for "Harry Brown" is really good. Michael Caine appears to just be there for the free drinks. He talks about everything except the film (all really interesting though). You can tell his level of interest as when it gets to the opening credits and his name pops up he says

    "Ooh, I'm in this."

    His surprise, and admiration, when the director explains the ending to him is quite touching. "I never realised that. That's brilliant."

  14. And of course let us not forget "The Wicker Man" offers some delectable 70's vintage crumpet to perve to :D

    I can never make it to the end credits of "Jacob's Ladder" without sobbing my heart out, it's beautiful. And much of it inspired the first three games in the amazing "Silent Hill" videogame series too.

    If you're of a mind to watch a complex mediation on social alienation and death, the Japanese "Pulse" comes highly recommended. Made in 2000 when the internet was just taking off in Japan it's critique of how technology will destroy the bonds of real life socialisation resulting in an internet haunted by ghosts and so on, also it's actually a stealth disaster movie as well as quite without realising it you find yourself with a front seat to the end of the world as the film closes. The US remake replaced all the philosophy with screaming bald men hiding in dryers. Not good.

    I've often found myself buying cheap dvds on the strength of a commentary or three, I actually got into the "Saw" movies via the highly entertaining ones and after being a horror snob about them for so long, now really like several of them. The sixth one especially for being a vicious attack on the US healthcare and health insurance industry being my favourite.

  15. Ah indeed; although, as you probably know, that's not actually Britt Eckland's arse. Funnily enough, in the original screenplay it was set in Cornwall. Of course, down here it would just be a documentary.

    I can empathise with screaming bald men in dryers (rescue of daft cat from tumble dryer) but I'll keep an eye out for the original. When it's finally winter I'll need to stock up on viewing material.

    I think I've mentioned that my dissertation was on the perils of the Internet (as it wasn't called then)

    "First they'll laugh at it, then they'll be scared of it, then everyone will want one"

    (That's what Ford said about early cars, but it seemed apposite at the time)

  16. Ah well that stunt arse was a very pert one. Thanks nameless body double!

    I am an oddity I think, I threw myself into the internet as soon a the web version went live and had access to it via the university I did my BA at (Manchester). But now, while I still love the old school aspects of the net, like fan communities, people sharing knowledge via wiki's and youtube and blogs (natch). I loathe social media, never look at twitter, haven't updated my FB in two years, don't even own a working mobile let alone a smart phone. Sometimes when I get on my train home to Macclesfield (the Euston service) everyone is sat in total silence, heads bowed over smartphones and tablets and it's then I realise the director of "Pulse" maybe had a point.

    I have a huge "world cinema" collection of course most of it (over 100 titles) are martial arts movies and most of the rest Japanese/South Korean/Thai horror, with a sprinkling of John Woo and Ringo Lam, if you need recommendations in those genres I got plenty!

  17. I competely understand where you're coming from. I was an 'early adopter' of net stuff. That was back in the days of dial up BBS and Usenet ( was a regular hangout). I remember when 'gopher' came out (that menu driven thing) we thought technology might as well stop then; what more can you need? Now though I'm well behind. I've only ever sent one tweet (must check up to see if Grant M has replied sometime). I do use Facebook though, but 95% of my contacts are real world friends anyway. I love Mammoth though, it's my fave diversion from work (your blog is moving up the charts though)

    Now I'm on Cornwall I have to drive everywhere, but when I was in London I used trains a lot to get to court and the like. That's when I did a lot of writing. I miss that.

    I'm looking forward to seeing Pulse. Years ago an artist friend (sharing your name coincidentally, must be a creative thing) did a great painting of everyone ignoring each other while on phones. That's been done to death now of course, but at the time it was very relevant.

    There was a great video library when I lived ('Today is boring'). They specialised in the less mainstream stuff. They also had film nights and discussions. I think you'd have liked it. Trying to set something similar up at a gallery in PZ, but I am a bit out of touch with films these days (I now have access to steam fairs and tractor pulls, so there's a lot of competition for my time) so I'd appreciate any recommendations. I do like martial arts stuff as you can probably imagine. I have a soft spot for the old chock sockey stuff but I really enjoy things like "The Raid". I do have a hot of a habit though with 'reality' films of tutting when they don't do obvious solutions to attacks. So in a way the daft Jackie Chan type fare is more appealing, if you're going to be unrealistic be ridiculously unrealistic. Anyway, I'll have my own realistic film script ready soon anyway. Then I can start hounding producers :-)

    (I have read up on how to pitch stuff. I'm hoping though it can be as easy as 'Dog Soldiers'. "It's squaddies versus werewolves"; "Who do we make the cheque out to?")

    Spelling of which, sent you some emails. No hurry as always. Was thinking of you though when someone was talking about the Hillary email palaver. Apparently both she and Colin Powell (who advised her on the set up) use AOL. You're in good company.

  18. I think I recall telling you I studied Jeet Kun Do until my back gave out on me, our Sifu was trained by Dan Inosanto and he taught JKD purely as a self defence class. We learned how to safely headbutt people, how the women of the group (and amazingly it had a pretty decent amount of female pupils) could choke out a man sitting on their chest while also breaking the mans thumb, and he was always telling us never to let our skillz make us cocky. His rules were, if you can run, run. If they have a weapon here is a way to deal with them but it's gonna suck for you if don't disarm them as fast as you can and finally never fight for the "fun" on it, the longer a fight goes on, the more likely things are to go bad for you.

    I had some advantages as well, because I fenced during most of my teen years and Bruce Lee included a lot of the centre-line stance training of fencing, I'm out of shape now but carry quite a bit of muscle for a woman, so while I can't train anymore, I still have all his lessons fresh in my head and I think it's given me the confidence and security in my life to not treat every man in my life with suspicion. I must say the lesson we had on "groin attacks" had us women grinning and the men in the glass pleading for us to be gentle with them, hah!

    Bruce Lee is something of a hero and my single most favourite fight on film is him versus Chuck Norris in "Way Of The Dragon". All through the film Bruce has been knocking people about easily. He goes in hard against the much bigger and burlier Norris and gets knocked flat on his ass. So he changes his style, using boxing footwork, evasions and the Wing Chun soft blocks and punches to wear Norris down. The sole spectator a feral kitten. I never, ever get bored of watching that fight.

    I'm sure you've seen "The Raid 2", or "the film that made me want a pair of karambits". Always nice to see other countries martial arts on display, Tony Jaa's films can be hit and miss, but his first one "Ong Bak" is incredible, even my mum enjoyed that one as I managed to sell it to her on the back of it being a fascinating look at the different aspects of Thai culture.

    I shall try accessing my emails again earlier. The promgramme is refusing to open at all right now and I have no clue what my password is so I can't access AOL Anywhere atm. I used to be able to phone someone up and get it sorted but I don't know who to contact now Talk Talk is my provider. Hrm, well phoning them could be a start I guess...

  19. I do indeed remember, it's one of the many things that makes you so cool. I can see how fencing helps with JKD, it's pretty similar footwork and stance. And I'm sure you're aware that the original Wing Chung is named after the nun who invented it (Chinese nuns are so much cooler than our ones. I'm still scared of them though. That's Catholic school for you).

    JKD and Krav share a very similar philosophy 'Adopt what is useful, discard what isn't' Plus all the emphasis on efficacy over style.

    I do like knife stuff. Although I'm more military combat style than say Kali/Escrima. Did try a karambit once. Nearly broke my thumb off so I think I'll stick with the k-bar.

    But be interested in hearing about your experiences though . And I'm blood group A+ in case (for when?) you end up needing any.

  20. I do indeed remember, it's one of the many things that makes you so cool. I can see how fencing helps with JKD, it's pretty similar footwork and stance. And I'm sure you're aware that the original Wing Chung is named after the nun who invented it (Chinese nuns are so much cooler than our ones. I'm still scared of them though. That's Catholic school for you).

    JKD and Krav share a very similar philosophy 'Adopt what is useful, discard what isn't' Plus all the emphasis on efficacy over style.

    I do like knife stuff. Although I'm more military combat style than say Kali/Escrima. Did try a karambit once. Nearly broke my thumb off so I think I'll stick with the k-bar.

    But be interested in hearing about your experiences though . And I'm blood group A+ in case (for when?) you end up needing any.

  21. Yeah from what I've seen of Krav it does seem to be as close to JKD as one of the most pratical martials arts that works as well for women and men. I am aware of Wing Chun, they made a film about her called "Wing Chun", starring one of my other hereos, Michelle Yeoh (swoon). But sadly the film is pretty standard wirework Jet Li style fighting, no real wing chun used. The "Ip Man" movies are better in that regard as he's the man who popularised the style and taught Bruce Lee it.

    I did want to learn weaponry, but the classes taught at the martial arts centre I did JKD at would only take on pupils in pairs who knew each other well. None of my mates funnily enough wanted to spend their saturday morning being hit with sticks. Hmmph.

    I'm blood type O-, luckily all my family are too, so I have back ups if their out of mine if I managed to hack my leg off trying to master the kukri.

  22. Ah cool, if necessary I can nick your blood. Can't reciprocate, sorry, not my fault. Science.

    The only training with mates thing is a bit weird. I know there's all sorts of etiquette, and it's nice to build up trust, but we have a deliberate mix people up policy. Otherwise there's a danger it just becomes choreography.

    Loved the first Ip Man film. They did tweak the history a bit though. It was actually the Chinese he was avoiding. He was seen as a bit of a collaborator with the Japanese as he'd worked for them as a policeman. Wasn't as keen on the sequels. I also share your Michelle Yeoh admiration. One of the few decent Bond girls.

    I've got a great picture of me doing some stickwork. I'll have to email it to you. Genuinely took a real solid one off someone swinging full tilt at my head. Though I say it myself I look pretty cool stood over my vanquished and disarmed opponent.

    2 seconds later I rammed myself in the eye with it. Probably won't be sending you the pics of that.

  23. Nice photo! Sorry about the delayed response, my back was hating me more than usual. Next year I think it's time to invest in a laptop or tablet so I can still internet when stuck in bed.

    I watched the Ip Man films for the fighting really. Donnie Yen is an odd guy. He's a tremendously talented screen fighter, but a total charisma vacuum. Probably why he's never hit the international poplarity of Lee, Chan or Li.

    I can't recall why the place I did JKD had a couples only policy. It was and maybe still is a very hardcore place so maybe they wanted deep bonds of trust already in place so they could get straight to the hitting.

  24. No worries, although have you ever tried just sitting down and talking to your back? Now I'm not casting any blame here, but oftentimes there are two sides to these sorts of things....

    Of course in my head I assume you just pretend to be incapacitated. Then you're out the window and fighting crime.

    *"Yawn* "Hi guys, just woken up, what's going on?"

    "Wow Varalys, you've just missed Macc-Lass. She was amazing! She's just saved the town again. Pity you missed her, you could have said thank you"

    "Oh don't worry, I think she might know" *winks at viewer*

    Anyway, you've got a new post up, so that's my Friday morning sorted (sorry Mr Client, tied up in a meeting).

    I'll pontificate at a later date about the intricacies of sparring etiquette, it's quite an interesting topic, especially in mixed classes.

    "Eek sorry, I wasn't aiming to grab there!"

  25. lol, if only. I'm no Daredevil alas, although I like the idea of Macc-lass. Not enough heroes live in towns rather than cities. Yes, very taken with that idea :D


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