Richard's Reviews

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Richard's Reviews
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle
Warner Brothers 2018 Director Andy Serkis

Something that has always angered me, is that in the mind of the general public 'The Jungle Book' will, forever, be thought of as a silly cartoon with singing animals. Rudyard Kipling's two books, The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895) are just about as far from Walt Disney's saccharine tripe as they could be. Dark, haunting and deeply beautiful, the two jungle books rank among the finest writing in British literature. Yet to the man in the street the titles merely summon up garish animation and infantile fripperies thanks to Disney's 1967 animated film.
The film's most egregious crimes included turning Kaa the python into a villain (apparently due to the American public not excepting a snake in a heroic roll due to infantile religious bigotry).. In Kipling's work he was the oldest and wisest creature in the jungle and a teacher to Mowgli. He rescues the man-cub from the Bandar Log or monkey tribe when they kidnap him and take him to the Dark Lairs. Baloo the bear is too, poorly served by Disney. In the books he, like Kaa is a wise mentor rather than the lazy oaf that his is portrayed as in the film.

Disney has returned to spit on the grave of Kipling several more times with poor live action films and an animated sequel in 2003. More recently a big budget live action film hit cinema screens in 2016. Despite breath taking CGI the film itself is nothing more than a re-run of the 67 cartoon complete with poorly realized characters and silly songs.

But now we have an antidote. Directed by Andy Serkis Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is a far more nuanced take on the story and far more faithful to the source material. The show is stolen by Rohan Chand as Mowgli himself. For the first time we see the man-cub as a truly feral beast with wild eyes and wild hair. His performance is clearly inspired by the stories of wolf children from India and other places. This Mowgli is not cute or cartoonish but is a genuine wild animal.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives us blood lusting Shere Khan, lame, as in the books and and relentless in the pursuit of the man-cub. Serkis himself takes on the roll of Baloo, playing him like a working class drill Sargent trying to instil the laws of the jungle into Mowgli and his wolf brothers. Christian Bale voices the panther Bagheera who turns from loving protector to savage hunter to test Mowgli when her runs with his wolf brothers. In the books the mighty Kaa is male but in this version the character is voiced by Cate Blanchett. Kaa is perhaps the most interesting of the animals. Visually portrayed as something between an African rock python and a giant anaconda (rather than an Indian python or a reticulate python) Kaa is a snake of cryptozoological proportions. Kaa's coils seem never-ending and it is said that Kaa can see both the past and the future like some mythical beast. Kaa is also show as heroic with a roll much the same as Kipling interned, so formidable that even Shere Khan flees in fear.

There are two main themes running through the film. One is man's incursions on the jungle. As time passes these go greater. Shere Khan, being lame hunts both humans and their cattle bringing men into the jungle with guns, pit traps and the red flower, fire. This causes chaos and in vengeance the tiger kills more humans breaking the law of the jungle “But kill not for pleasure of killing, and seven times never kill man!” The vicious circle is made worse by the arrival of a white big game hunter in the man-village who promises to kill the rogue tiger but kills all kinds of animals for sport Interestingly the white hunter is named John Lockwood. Kipling's father was called John Lockwood Kipling, an art teacher and museum curator who illustrated his son's books.

The second is of otherness. Mowgli, found as a baby by Bagheera and brought to the Seeonee wolf pack for adoption, is clearly not a wolf. Some of his siblings and other pack members except him, others do not. His closest friend in the back is an albino cub, also ostracised for his strangeness. Under Shere Khan's influence some of the pact turn against the the leader Akela. When Mowgli steal fire from the man village to drive the tiger away he is banished to the man village. The humans see him as a feral beast and he ends up in a cage. As the weeks pass he becomes tamer and is excepted into the human society However when he learns of the Lockwood's murder of his albino wolf brother Mowgli flees to the forest again to return with Hathi the elephant and his herd. In a scene that resembles the chapter Letting in The Jungle from The Second Jungle Book. The final battle with Lockwood and Shere Khan is spectacular,leaving any Disney efforts in the shade.

There are a few errors. Mowgli's name is, as in every other version, pronounced wrongly. Kipling himself pronounced it with the first syllable to rhyme with 'cow' rather than rhyming with 'hoe'. Also the character Tabaqui, Shere Khan's spy, who is a golden jackal in the books is for some reason turned into a striped hyena in the film. These are minor niggles however.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is the finest adaptation of Kipling's classics since Zoltan Korda's 1942 film Jungle Book staring Sabu Dastagir and it goes some way to counter the dreadful damage the Disney Corporation has inflicted on the books.


https://www.netflix.com/search?q=mowgli&jbv=80993105&jbp=0&jbr=0

9/10
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Richard's Reviews





BEAST: WEREWOLVES, SERIAL KILLERS AND MAN EATERS. THE MYSTERY MONSTERS OF THE GEVAUDAN.


GUSTAVE SANCHEZ ROMERO & S.R SHWALB


SKYHORSE PUBLISHING ISBN 978-1-63220-2





THE GEVAUDAN TRAGEDY: THE DISATEROUS CAMPAIGN OF A DEPORTED 'BEAST' , A ZOOLOGICAL SEARCH FOR TRACES.


KARL HANS-TAAKE KINDLE





In the April of 1764 a girl herding cattle in eastern Gevaudan, a historical area of south eastern France, was attacked by a 'monster'. Luckily for her the bulls charged the creature and drove it back into the forest from where it had come. On June 30th of the same year a fourteen year old shepherdess call Jeanne Boulet was not so luck. Whilst she tended her flock in the hills near Les Hubacs Jeanne was killed, torn apart and devoured by a predator of phenomenal power. Thus started a three year nightmare for the Gevaudan. Between 1764 and 1767 the 'beast' as it became known, killed 113 men, women and children. Many more were mauled and countless livestock eaten. The scenario played out like the script to a horror movie but it was only too real and unlike a film it had no neat conclusion.





In the intervening 254 years investigator and writers have tried to figure out just what killed those people. Suggested identities for the Beast of Gevaudan have included an out-sized wolf, a wolf / dog hybrid, human serial killers, a werewolf, a hyena and some sort of pre-historic beast surviving in the remote wilderness. Now two excellent books are available for the first time in English. The authors have had access to original source material for the first time. Both approach the mystery from different angles but both make very similar conclusions.





Romero and Shwalb take a very human look at the case. The start of most chapters are written in prose form much like a novel. This works very well in setting the scene. James Herbert himself would have been proud of the writing in chapter one where the beast stalks and kills the hapless Jeanne.





The historic background is examined. France had just lost a costly conflict, the Seven Years War and the Gevaudan had suffered a series of cripplingly harsh winters. Disease had ravished the livestock in the area. In the already beleaguered peasant communities news of the beast spread as it claimed more and more victims. The corpses of it's prey were hideously mauled, some decapitated and most eaten or partly eaten. The populace were used to wolves and man eating wolves but to them, this was clearly something different, something more formidable. Gabriel Florent de Choiseul Beaupre, Bishop of Mende, declared that the beast was a scourge sent by God as a punishment for their sins.





With the body count rising the depredations reached the ears of King Louis XV. The king sent two of his foremost huntsmen, Jean Charles Marc Antoine Vaumesle d'Enneval and his son Jean-Francois to deal with the beast. The pair led soldiers including dragoons and mounted infantry as well as peasants who had been given temporary permission to carry weapons, in hunts, all to no avail. The monster evaded them and the killing continued unabated. Due to their failure they were replaced the following year by Francis Antoine the King's gun bearer. On September 20th 1765 Antoine shot a 130lb wolf that he declared was the beast. The carcass was brought back to court with much fan fair and put on display. Antoine was hailed as a national hero and revived money and titles but this was no deliverance, he had not slain the beast. The survivors of the attacks who saw the body declared that it was not the creature that had attacked them. Soon after the monster struck again.





The creature avoided organised hunts and shunned poisoned bait. The beat killed with impunity and it's reputation was now spreading outside of France and around the world. On June 19th 1767 peasant hunter Jean Chastel claimed to have shot the beast. He had killed a large, russet coloured wolf / dog hybrid. Once more survivors and witnesses were adamant that the creature was not the beast that had attacked them.





By the end of 1767 the story peters out. There was no final confrontation with the monster. It just vanished, quietly slipping into legend.





Sanchez and Shwalb examine the possible candidates including extinct species like bear-dogs and hyenadon as well as living species such as wolves, hyenas, bears, wolverines, leopards and lions. The authors fall sort of giving a definitive answer to the identity of the beast but in private conversation Sanchez has told me he thinks it was a big cat, probably a lion.





Hans-Taake's book is currently only available on Kindle, much to the disappointment of an old fashioned bibliophile like me. His book is much shorter than the former and focused in on the nature of the beast itself. As a mammologist the author looks at the descriptions of the beast, its mode of killing and its behaviour.





Hans-Taake urges us to 'listen without prejudice to the witnesses at the time'. Digging into the archives of two French Abbots he uncovered letters, newspaper articles and parish registers contemporary with the beast's reign of terror. Then he brings to bear considerable scientific scrutiny on the case.





Wolves very rarely attack humans in modern times. Before the 20th century there were more attacks but these focused mainly on children. Analysing the beast's prey selection Hans-Taake finds that it targeted adult humans far more than wolves do, in fact six times more. The beast seemed to be targeting larger bodied prey to feed a predator bigger than a wolf. Adult victims had most of their flesh eaten, beyond the stomach capacity of a wolf.





Looking at the attack mode of the beast, it seems that a wolf was again an unlikely candidate. Sometimes the victim would be decapitated, something wolves rarely do. Victims were also killed by throttling. The beast would pit pressure on the trachea with its jaws but without puncturing in. One youth who survived such an attach was rendered mentally retarded due to lack of oxygen to the brain. His chest and scalp were racked by the monster's claws. The beast employed this mode of killing with livestock too. It was reported to leap upon the backs of cows, drag them down and throttle them with it's mouth. No wolf is capable of this. The claws of a wolf are blunt and not employed in killing. The beast however ripped open both humans and animals with razor sharp claws.





The size of the animal was variously said to be anywhere from that of a calf to a cow but all agreed it was significantly bigger than a wolf. Cows in rural France at the time were mainly the Limousin breed and were no more than a meter at the withers and 600-700lbs. The beast was shot many times but never killed. On one occasion on October 9th 1764 it took four musket shorts but rose again to hobble away and lick it's wounds. An animal bigger than a wolf with a more robust muscle and bone structure would be harder to kill. Etienne Lafont, a local official who co-ordinated many hunts was sure the beast was not a wolf and tried to identify it from books on animals.





The strength of the beast’s bite was in evidence in the case of Catherine Valley, a 60 year old widow who had her head bitten in two like a cracked nut. The skull had been cleaned of flesh both inside and out as if “polished with a tool”, another clue as to the nature of the beast. The author also notes the the beast seemed to tear off the heads of its victims only in the coldest months of the year. Beheadings were unknown in summer. He postulates the the creature was drinking the warm blood for it's water content.





On 13th March 1765, at the hamlet of La Bessiere 35 year old mother of four Jeanne Valet was brave enough to leap on the back of the beast when it seized her six year old son. Apparently the brave woman mounted it as it f were a horse and succeeded in making it let go of her by by grabbing at it's testicles. She was badly clawed for her efforts. When her older son, arrived he attacked the beast with a long stick ending in a blade. His large dog tackled the monster as well, biting at it's head before being thrown ten feet by the angry beast. The beast finally retreated. Jeanne Valet survived despite her wounds but her younger son died six days later. No wolf is big enough to be ridden like a horse (despite what you may have read in 'The Hobbit').





In another occurrence the beast was attacked by six huge hounds trained in wolf hunting. The monster fought back with both teeth and huge claws killing two hounds and escaping. On several occasions the creature attacked people on horses, seemingly just as interested in killing the mount as the rider. Some of these horses suffered long slashes from the attackers claws.





The last victim of the beast was nine year old Catherine Chautard on June 9th 1767 near Coffours. Hans-Taake thinks it may have outcome to the extensive campaign of leaving out poisoned bait or possibly simply stopped preying on humans and subsisted for the rest of it's days on the wild game that had made part of it's diet the whole time.





The descriptions of the beast give an identikit. Most said it was as big as a yearling calf. The fur was russet or reddish brown with a white patch on the broad chest. It had powerful front quarters and a broad, flat head with erect ears. The muzzle was broad like a calf's and had large teeth. The beast was armed with claws and had a long tail, thick as a human arm that ended in a bushy tastle. It's call was described as a moaning roar. Taken together with the mode of killing and feeding there can be little doubt that the Beast of Gevaudan was a sub-adult male lion.





One may ask that if the beast was a lion then why was it not described as such? Most people in rural France in the 18th century would only be familiar with lions from illustrations in books which mostly depicted them with full manes. Male lions don't generally develop full manes until they are around four years old. The beast was sometimes described as having a tuft of hair on the head like a mohawk haircut. Sub-adult lions have these tufts. Some adult male lions lack manes altogether such as the infamous man-eating lions of Tsavo that terrorized workers on the Kenya-Uganda railway in 1898.





Where did the beast come from? Trade in wild animals for menageries had been going on for many years. Lions, tigers, bears and even crocodiles had been displayed at the Tower of London. The Royal Menagerie began as as far back as 1204. In France the Royal Menagerie at Versailles was established in 1661. It held lions, leopards and hyenas. Interestingly there had been other cases of man-eating beasts in France. For example from 1698 to 1700 another beast with a description that matches the more famous later case, killed many men women and children and sprang at horses. This the Limousin region of France close to the Gevaudan. Another region neighbouring Gevaudan, the Dauphine saw similar attacks from 1752-1756 and from 1762-173, these included beheading of victims. The author notes that these attacks rose with the popularity of the French aristocracy keeping private zoos on their lands. The creature that killed 113 people almost certainly escaped from a captive collection or escaped during transport to a collection, The Beast of Gauvaudan was a man made monster.





Both books 10 / 10
 

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Richard's Reviews



IMAGES OF THE WILDMAN IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA

Gregory Forth

Routledge 2008



ISBN-10:9780710313546




Every so often a cryptozoological book comes along that is destined to become a classic of the field. It's a rare event but worth waiting for. Images of the Wildman in Southeast Asia is a case in point. The book concentrates mainly on Indonesia and is unquestionably the most detailed and comprehensive work of its kind ever writer.
Gregory Forth has really put an impressive amount of work into this book not only in visiting most of the areas in question repeatedly for over twenty years but in delving into old records, foreign journals and books and even unpublished papers and works.
The main subject is the Ebu-gogo of Flores and the detailed account of their destruction at the hands of local tribes men who were supposed to have trapped them with burning plant material in a cave. This same legend is found in other areas of the island and also in other parts of Indonesia and beyond.
Forth examines these cases and looks at possible links with real events like volcanic eruptions. The destruction of the Ebu-gogo, if based on a real event may have happened less than 200 years ago! He also looks at alleged modern day sightings and the possibility that Ebu-gogo may have been one in the same as the tiny hominid Homo floresiensis.
There is a chapter on the orang-pendek of Sumatra, a creature that I have search for several times. Forth concludes that it is probably a real animal but not the same as the Ebu-gogo. I heartily agree with him on this point as the orang-pendek seems much larger and more primitive. It is probably a great ape rather than a hominid. There is much unseen material in this chapter. Allot of it is from Dutch colonial times. There are also unpublished accounts from the researches of Debbie Martyr, he person who, perhaps, knows more about this creature than anyone else alive.
Other chapters look at wildmen on other island chains, on mainland Asia, Australasia, Europe and North America. Sadly South America, a continent rich in Wildman lore is excluded for reasons of space. None of these other chapters go into as much detail as the ones on Indonesian wldmen.
One of the few marks against the book is Forth's general dismissal of larger wildmen. This seems very illogical. He tries to write off the yeti for example as best explained by a bear. Anyone familiar with accounts of the yeti will know that this theory just will not hold water. The bear confusion may arise from the term dzu-teh which is used to describe large or hulking creatures and is applied to both the yeti and the brown bear. In a similar vane he says that most early Sasquatch reports were of creatures smaller than men, which is quite untrue, and gives credence to the `Jacko' story of 1884 were a small Bigfoot like creature was supposedly captured in by railway workers. The story was almost certainly a newspaper hoax.
These minor quibbles aside, Forth's work is a really quite staggering piece of research and an invaluable tool for reference on this little studied subject. 10 /10





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lordmongrove

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BIGFOOT IN EVOLUTIARY PERSPECTVE T.A WILSON


CREATESPACE INDEPENDENT ISBN: 1518692400





Unlike many other books on the subject T. A .Wilson's work focuses not on recounting masses of eyewitness testimony but rather on what the sum of data-bases show us and what we can bring to bear on the problem with evolutionary, biological and ecological sciences. The result puts Bigfoot in Evolutionary Perspective into the best ten books ever written on the subject.





Outdoors man Wilson has had his own sasquatch encounter after spending seventy two days in the Californian wilderness and was in two minds about including it in the book but finally chose to recount it. I find that a very honest choice.





One of the most interesting chapters involves the reliability of eyewitness accounts. Sceptics love to recount the mantra of how unreliable human memory is, citing lab studies that it is only 36 % accurate. However these were taken from experiments in recall made in la conditions by showing participants short films. However these statistics have been challenged by papers in publications like American Psychologist and Journal of Applied Psychology. Psychologists J.C Yullie and J.L. Cutshall have found that in real life incidents that were traumatic or unique the accuracy of witness memory and recall of detail leaps to 79- 82 % correct. An encounter with a giant hominin science says cannot exist would certainly fall into this category. As the author points out, nine of us would be here if our ancestor's brains were prone to breakdown during environmental stress or duress.





Another interesting point is zoologist Dr W. Henner Fahrenbach's analysis of the 4000 case data base collected by John Green. Fahrenbach found that measured footprint lengths form a bell curve."Bell curve" refers to the bell shape that is created when a line is plotted using the data points for an item that meets the criteria of normal distribution. In a bell curve, the centre contains the greatest number of a value and, therefore, it is the highest point on the arc of the line. A made up set of data would show many peaks rather than the natural, single peak of a bell curve.





The bell curve is apparent in height, arm length and bulk as well. Painting a picture of a long armed, bulky creature averaging 7-8 feet tall.





Wilson rejects the favoured hypothetical bigfoot ancestor, Gigantopithecus blacki due to it's dentition pointing to a diet of tough, fibrous plants. Sasquatch appears to be an omnivore with deer featuring prominently on it's menu. The author favours a relic hominin identity leaning towards a huge, early offshoot of Homo erectus. He cites the none divergent big toe and precision grip of the hand as further evidence against a pongid identity for bigfoot. The creatures also seem to lack the pot belly associated with apes digestive systems that process rough plant material on bulk.





Sasquatch as been seen hurling large rocks with great force and swinging tree branches as clubs but it seems not to fashion stone axes or other tools as many early hominins did. Wilson explains this buy the creatures huge size and massive strength. It is able to smash apart bones and rip apart flesh with it's bare hands and hence has little use for stone axes. However they seem to have a proto-language utilizing both sound and gestures.





Other areas covered include possible cranial capacity, population density, social structure, preference for a nocturnal lifestyle, sensory perception, strength and speed and its extreme avoidance of modern man.





Some may find the book a little dry with its many tables and graphs but I found these to be highly enlightening. The great tragedy of this book is that most academics will simply ignore it a-priori on account of it's subject matter. More fool them. 10/10
 

stu neville

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All good stuff, thank you Mr F.

One or two points about the Disney Jungle Book remake - they did use Scarlett Johannsen as the voice of Kaa, and (my favourite aspect) made King Louie into a Gigantopithecus. A very very big one, so maybe a true giant, but I'll let you and Mr Coleman slog that one out. On its own terms though I do like it.
 

lordmongrove

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All good stuff, thank you Mr F.

One or two points about the Disney Jungle Book remake - they did use Scarlett Johannsen as the voice of Kaa, and (my favourite aspect) made King Louie into a Gigantopithecus. A very very big one, so maybe a true giant, but I'll let you and Mr Coleman slog that one out. On its own terms though I do like it.
King Louie was an invention of Disney. He's not in either of Kipling's books. The monkeys are called the Bandar-log.
 

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SEA FEVER 2019
Dir: Neasa Hardiman
Bright Moving Pictures
I love a good monster movie (what cryptozoologists doesn't?) but the horror genre has been getting a tad stale in recent years. Every new film seems to be yet another zombie or vampire movie. The world's folklore is rich in weird and scary monsters that are seldom used in film. I personally prefer less human monsters, ones that are not derived from humans hand have little or no human features.

Sea Fever fulfils this very nicely. It follows the story of a marine biology student, who despite terminal shyness, is encouraged by her professor to join a fishing crew trawling off the west coast of Ireland. Her roll is to examine any unusual marine life in the by-catch. Her red hair stirs superstition in the crew who think redheads bring bad luck on fishing trips.

Once out at sea the trawler is attacked by some vast bio-luminescent marine beast that seems to combine characteristics of a squid, a jellyfish and a sea anemone. The crew manage to pull free but not before the creature has deposited slime on several areas of the ship. It turns out these contain microscopic eggs that infect other organisms and hatch into tadpole-like larvae. One by one the larvae infect the crew in a kind of water echo of John Carpenter's The Thing.

The creature itself seems to be some colossal undiscovered animal rather than an extra-terrestrial species and the film benefits from this.

Overall the movie has a cocktail of influences. Sea Fever is the closest the cinema has come to John Wyndham's novel The Kraken Wakes. It is also reminiscent of the maritime horror stories of William Hope Hodgson in particular The Derelict and The Tropical Horror. It also has a feel like a Doctor Who story (the classic era not the woke modern trash). The 'base under siege by an utterly inhuman foe' is a trope well used by the show and is echoed well in Sea Fever with it's dark, claustrophobic, nature and unknowable, tentacled antagonist. These are all elements this reviewer likes and they form a very pleasing whole.

The film is well acted by a cast of relative unknowns. This works well as they come over as real people. The only fault is that both the crew and the biology student touch the slime multiple times with their bare hands, something no field scientist would do. It's low budget and independent as many of the best films of late are. Free of studio interference they can flourish.

Not since Grabbers (funnily enough another Irish horror featuring tentacled monsters) have I enjoy a horror so much.

10 /10
 

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All good stuff, thank you Mr F.

One or two points about the Disney Jungle Book remake - they did use Scarlett Johannsen as the voice of Kaa, and (my favourite aspect) made King Louie into a Gigantopithecus. A very very big one, so maybe a true giant, but I'll let you and Mr Coleman slog that one out. On its own terms though I do like it.
Was he "officially" a gigantopithecus? Or just an enormous orang utan? I've only seen brief clips.
 

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View attachment 25605

SEA FEVER 2019
Dir: Neasa Hardiman
Bright Moving Pictures
I love a good monster movie (what cryptozoologists doesn't?) but the horror genre has been getting a tad stale in recent years. Every new film seems to be yet another zombie or vampire movie. The world's folklore is rich in weird and scary monsters that are seldom used in film. I personally prefer less human monsters, ones that are not derived from humans hand have little or no human features.

Sea Fever fulfils this very nicely. It follows the story of a marine biology student, who despite terminal shyness, is encouraged by her professor to join a fishing crew trawling off the west coast of Ireland. Her roll is to examine any unusual marine life in the by-catch. Her red hair stirs superstition in the crew who think redheads bring bad luck on fishing trips.

Once out at sea the trawler is attacked by some vast bio-luminescent marine beast that seems to combine characteristics of a squid, a jellyfish and a sea anemone. The crew manage to pull free but not before the creature has deposited slime on several areas of the ship. It turns out these contain microscopic eggs that infect other organisms and hatch into tadpole-like larvae. One by one the larvae infect the crew in a kind of water echo of John Carpenter's The Thing.

The creature itself seems to be some colossal undiscovered animal rather than an extra-terrestrial species and the film benefits from this.

Overall the movie has a cocktail of influences. Sea Fever is the closest the cinema has come to John Wyndham's novel The Kraken Wakes. It is also reminiscent of the maritime horror stories of William Hope Hodgson in particular The Derelict and The Tropical Horror. It also has a feel like a Doctor Who story (the classic era not the woke modern trash). The 'base under siege by an utterly inhuman foe' is a trope well used by the show and is echoed well in Sea Fever with it's dark, claustrophobic, nature and unknowable, tentacled antagonist. These are all elements this reviewer likes and they form a very pleasing whole.

The film is well acted by a cast of relative unknowns. This works well as they come over as real people. The only fault is that both the crew and the biology student touch the slime multiple times with their bare hands, something no field scientist would do. It's low budget and independent as many of the best films of late are. Free of studio interference they can flourish.

Not since Grabbers (funnily enough another Irish horror featuring tentacled monsters) have I enjoy a horror so much.

10 /10
Sounds like my kind of thing, have you seen Underwater?
 

lordmongrove

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Richard's Reviews

THE APPARITION PHASE : WILL MACLEAN


WILLIAM HEINMANN: LONDON, 2020


ISBN 9781785152375

In his debut novel Will Maclean transports us back to the early 1970's and the insular world of two teenagers. Abi and Tim Smith are twins, precocious, aloof and intellectually superior to their peers, they have little in common with their peers and no real friends apart from each other. This may make them sound unpleasant but they are not. The eccentric twins have an attic room as their own space. Here they have created a library of fortean book and a collection of weird objects. Abi and Tim are obsessed by ghosts, hauntings, monsters, folklore, Doctor Who, man-eating animals, Vikings and other off-beat subjects. Reading this as a fortean, classic Doctor Who fan and child of the 70s , I saw myself looking back at me in the form of Abi and Tim. The twins are thirteen when the story begins around 1971 so they have a good few years on me but still I felt a link to them as I read the book.

The Apparition Phase is redolent of forteana and the early 1970s with many references to both in a meticulously re-created period piece. As a member of Generation X, I can vouch that Will Maclean has done his homework, the first part of the book in particular is like stepping into a tine machine. The twins are 13 when we first meet them so they have a good few years on me but the world they inhabit is one i recognize and recall well. Nationwide, The Stone Tape, Doctor Who (Autons and Metebelis Spiders mentioned) and the wonderful BBC adaptations of the works of M R James are all alluded to. Their world is chock full of fortean references such as Gef the talking mongoose, the Borley Rectory haunting and the 'Philip' experiment to name but a few.

Abi and Tim feel stifled in their home in suburban London and plan to liven things up a bit. As soon as they get their hands on a camera they decide to fake a ghost photograph to scare their schoolmates. The pair look at the three best know ghost photographs, the hooded figure on the Tulip Staircase at the Queen's House in Greenwich, the Chinnery photograph they supposedly showed a dead mother in law, complete with blank glowing eyes in the back seat of a car and most scary of all the towering,faceless phantom monk snapped at The Church of Christ the Consoler, Skelton -cum-Newby in Yorkshire. The latter seemed to have influenced them the most as they create a seven foot, monk like figure in chalk on the wall of their attic, blurring the edges to give it a more etheric feel. Experimenting with various lighting and angles they take a series of photographs then select the most convincing.

A seemingly dull schoolmate, another loner called Janice Tupp is selected as the victim for their prank. Janice's reaction is a violent one. She is badly scared and ends up collapsing and cutting her head on a desk as she falls. Abi and Tim, in a fit of remorse decide to tell her the whole thing was a fake and invite her over to their house for tea. In the attic, despite their protests otherwise, Janice insists that they have photographed a ghost, or something that will become one. They have set something free and given it shape. She then seems to go into a trance making eerie predictions about a broken house full of broken people and a man with eyes but no face.

The Apparition Phase is very much a book of two haves. Both complement each other and both make a pleasing whole. The second half of the book focuses on Tim as he grows older. Tim becomes embroiled in an ongoing investigation into a haunted house in a rural Suffolk village. The experiments are led by the hippyish Graham Shaw (whom I visualized as looking somewhat like Graham Garden of The Goodies) and his voluptuous new age assistant Sally. A number of other young people are taking part, Sebastian and Juliet a seemingly perfect couple, Polly, a shy cardigan wearing girl and Neil, a sardonic ad acerbic character. As it turns out all of them are emotionally damaged in some way.

The house itself, Yarlings, is a hybrid place Jacobian in origin but with a wildly clashing Victorian wing. The building was once home to an infamous witch finder Tobias Salt who was himself secretly a witch and the head a satanic coven. He supposedly murdered both his wife and daughter.

Tim's joining the group seems to trigger something. Before there was no hint of anything strange now at seances tables are rapped and moved, strange rashes are hear upstairs along with heavy foot falls. Things grow steadily more insistent and more creepy. An entity apparently begins to communicate to the group vice a pencil mounted on a planchette. The messages seem to be mis-spelled nonsense at first but soon grow in legibility and impact as it the thing is learning how to use the planchette.

A chance encounter with a second hand book seller and armature historian in the village sows seeds of doubt in Tim's mind and it seems that the experiments may not be all they seem.

Back at Yarlings the entity the group have contacted seems to be growing in power and it seems to know the darkest secrets of all involved and uses them to turn the group against each other. The book comes to a shattering crescendo when a thing of utter malevolence breaks free. The book here feels like the hybrid offspring of M.R James' most disturbing stories and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.

In short The Apparition Phase is a truly tremendous book, nostalgic, scary, moving, horrific, tragic and thrilling.

There is an epilogue when Tim, in the modern day returns to Yarlings, now an old people's home with his elderly father. The final line of the novel is one of the most unsettling ever committed to paper.

10 /10
 
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