Guts Reaction: League of Gentlemen Christmas Special

Here are my off the cuff thoughts on The League of Gentlemen Christmas Special.

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On the down side, the structure of the series - a hybrid between a sketch show and a sitcom - wasn’t quite as dreamlike as in the original show. It felt bitty, rather than unsettling.

This was the only downside, however.

Royston Vasey, as others have observed, is more relevant than ever. What is Brexit if not a resolution of Britain’s identity as a local country for local people?

I’m coming at League of Gentlemen as a horror fan. On a more personal note, I feel that for horror fans , the energy of characters like Edward and Tubbs and Papa Lazarou is always there under the surface of everyday life. To me, you can’t make sense of life without that crazy dimension. You can’t live your life without it. A show like the League of Gentlemen provides an exhilarating validation for this feeling, and it was good to be back.

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton were so ferociously good in all their roles they made me tingle. I got the feeling they were having the time of their lives and they absolutely took me with them.

Shearsmith excels himself when, as Benjamin Denton, he’s possessed by Harvey Denton. I never knew a top lip could be so funny.

Mark Gatiss, as usual, was smooth and brilliant.

All in all, watch it if you haven’t already!

 

 

 

 

 

The Core S1 E2: Butchery of the blenders

Episode 2 of Shudder's talkshow The Core focused on gore and violence.

First up Simon Barrett - who wrote You're Next, V/H/S, Contracted and Blair Witch - talked to host Mickey Keating about how to build tension. To illustrate the point, they stuck their hands in blenders and played Russian Roulette with the plugs. Barrett showed great acting chops as the pressure mounted.

Blair Witch , a sequel to 1999's Blair Witch Project, is Simon Barrett's latest film.

Blair Witch, a sequel to 1999's Blair Witch Project, is Simon Barrett's latest film.

Then came a brief but trenchant interview with criminologist Dr Bill Sanders. He dropped the bomb that horror films make murder too neat and tidy - in real life it's much messier. There was a lot more to explore here - I'd have liked to see a panel discussion with a few more guests.

The whole concept of The Core opens up new worlds of possibility for pastiche. In this episode the humour was occasionally less than sophisticated, but maybe that's unavoidable with gore. And who am I kidding? I was laughing.

An actual failing of the episode was that it featured not a single woman. I look forwards to seeing the Soska Sisters in a later episode but I hope they're not the final word on women in horror.

 

The Core episode 1 - FlyLo and Freaks

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The Core, Shudder's new talkshow, feels a bit like a warm hug. If loving horror is an orientation, then here is a place to identify and relate.

The first episode features Steve Ellison aka Flying Lotus, the director of brilliant arty body-horror Kuso. He was more relaxed than in other interviews I've seen perhaps because of Core presenter Mickey Keating's obvious sympathy.

Vanilla interviewers will say things to Steve Ellison like:

"As balls to the wall bad taste as you could possible get,"

and:

"You've made one of the craziest movies I've ever seen."

Whereas Keating says:

"It's a gross-out movie, people were offended by it, but when you watch it it's got a lot of heart, it's got a lot of comedy."

He asks insider questions, like "How did you fall in with David Firth?" and "What's the reason film school fucked you up?"

The result is a hilarious and inspiring interview.

A regular feature on special effects is great. (FlyLo: "I like even doing funky textures on the walls, I was all throwin' some beans you saw on the walls back there, and that just has a nice look.")

The next interview, with Venice Beach Freakshow proprietor Todd Ray and two of his 'wonders', was unexpectedly touching. I found it uncomfortable at first, because Ray sat in front of Bubble Boy Bob Heslip and Bearded Lady Jessa Olmstead and did most of the talking. But once they did speak it was obvious the Venice Beach outfit is a million miles away from the exploitative freak shows of old and is forging a progressive discourse on difference and the body.

The Core, or at least this first episode, me feel really good about being a horror fan. The genre delves into the stuff society likes to ignore and yes, it's radical and shocking. But it's got heart.

Mindhunter

SPOILER-FREE!

I don't generally like serial killer dramas, but I love Mindhunter. Watching it is like drinking fine wine - it doesn't stun you with sadistic murders, it lets the subtle undertones of the psychopathic rise up slowly on your palette. It's a mature piece of storytelling.

Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper opposite Jonathan Groff's Holden Ford. His performance made my living room feel colder.

Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper opposite Jonathan Groff's Holden Ford. His performance made my living room feel colder.

Directed (mostly) by David Fincher and streamed on Netflix, Mindhunter is based on the real life development of criminal profiling by the FBI in the 1970s.

The story centres on a young FBI agent, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), who sees the potential for psychology to help catch "sequence killers", as he quaintly calls them. He starts working with a gruff agent from the FBI behavioural science unit, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). Together they interview convicted killers about their motives, and apply what they've learned to solve difficult and disturbing murders around the US.

Many have pointed out how little violence there is in Mindhunter. It contains graphic crime scene photographs - I had to look away from some - but that's it.

Instead, the focus is on the bit of violent psychopathy that's really interesting - the inner world of the killer. Fincher repeats that extraordinary moment in Zodiac when we first meet suspect Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch). Allen has a strange otherworldly climate around him that sends chills out beyond the screen, and so do the convicts interviewed by Ford and Tench. These people don't even have to do anything to be dangerous - damage leaches out of their minds.

Next, the series examines the effect of these encounters on Ford and Tench. And that's when it gets really fascinating.

I gather serial killers are less frequent nowadays. But Mindhunter's sense of historical context is precisely what makes it relevant. This is driven home when Dr Wendy Carr, an academic exploring narcissism in the public sphere, joins the team. She mentions that Richard Nixon, Andy Warhol and Jim Morrison are among her subjects, and suddenly the neat edges of Mindhunter's ostensible topic blow down, revealing a much bigger picture.

The series knows that deviance is a spectrum, one healthy people share with serial killers. Serial killing may be in abeyance, but the inner world of the psychopath is something we all need to understand. It's in our environment - our workplaces, our communities, even our families. It's also, from time to time, quite possibly inside us.

Fine wine indeed.

Why is Stranger Things so good?

I mean, just why? We’ve seen all the elements before – it’s saturated with cultural references – and there’s a lot of other good stuff out there. Why has it taken Breaking Bad’s crown as king of our small screens?

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I started off by asking google and found two direct answers. This, from the UK’s esteemed Radio Times, doesn’t tell us much and contains a huge spoiler for anyone who’s not yet seen series one.

This article by Erik Kain for Forbes contains no spoilers and is much more on point. Kain says Stranger Things is so good because it's short, with an addictive yet satisfying mystery, and great acting.

I agree about the brevity. A lot of series are full of padding. Whole scenes come across as a copy of another show you saw before. At worst, you feel the show is copying itself, rehashing scenes from earlier episodes. Stranger Things never does this. It references other stuff, sure, but that other stuff is film.

I agree about the mystery – it’s gripping but not maddening. Questions are already being answered by episode five of series one, whilst leaving plenty open. It’s like a cultural pendulum is swinging back after the torment of Lost.

I would, however, add something else – attention to detail.

Every scene contains some subtle but rich observation that get you in the gut. When Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is called upstairs by his impatient mum he doesn’t just reply ‘coming!’ in a loud voice. That’s what would happen in a show that’s copying other shows. He screeches “COMING!” like a banshee. That’s clearly based on real observation (possibly of my very own house on a school morning).

Nancy's love interest, Steve (Joe Keery), isn't merely shallow. His shallowness is finely observed. You get the feeling his character arc is going to be defined by this in a really interesting way (NB I'm only on episode five - maybe he has some kind of epiphany in the next episode).

When Will’s mum (Winona Ryder) gets a new phone to replace the one that was torched by a weird electrical surge, she doesn’t just plug it in and sigh. That’s what she would do in a show that’s copying other shows. In this show, she sits down in an armchair with the phone on her lap. And you know she’s going to sit there for hours. It’s what I would do if it was my son.

This is, I think, why Stranger Things is so good. Great performances, beautiful camera-work and luxuriant period detail are all part of it as well. But I think it's the fullness of the storytelling and the complexity of the characters that lifts it above the herd.

For now, that’s my tuppence-worth. But as I say I’m only on episode five, series one. I’m sure I’ll have more to say.