Pamela Voorhees, The Pregnant Man and The Deep Fried Rat: The Pre-Video Years of a Cult Movie Loving Crackpot

Pamela Voorhees, The Pregnant Man and The Deep Fried Rat: The Pre-Video Years of a Cult Movie Loving Crackpot

I often think about my love of cinema, where it began and the influences on it, both film-based and what was going on around me.

I was born in February 1975. My arrival into the world coincides with the day on which Stephen Murphy the BBFC’s secretary first saw a new independent film called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with a view to providing a certificate for it. It feels apt that my birth coincided with an event connected to such a sordid masterpiece which remains one of my favourite films to this day.

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On hearing of a new arrival into the world most people want to hear information that I’ve always thought was a bit random and really boring. Who gives a flying fuck about a baby’s weight? I want to know what was showing at the local cinema.

Thankfully the information I was looking for regarding my own arrival onto this planet was awaiting me in the Central Library in York amongst the archived local newspapers on microfilm.

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Film listings for a new future cineaste/exploitation film fan

I’m thrilled to report that when I was born the films being shown were veryyy me! And before you ask, one of them wasn’t The Omen.

There was either the Safari suited, high camp antics of eye-brow raising Roger Moore as 1970’s James Bond in The Man With The Golden Gun or a sex comedy double-bill consisting of Line Up and Lay Down (!) and Nurses on the Job (!!) Both choices I’m more than happy with.

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Safari-suit Bond- the pinnacle of camp
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A sex comedy double-bill. Another pinnacle of camp. Perfect cinematic choices for my birth.

The cinema these masterpieces were being shown was the Odeon Cinema in Blossom Street in York which remains my favourite cinema of all of the movie houses I’ve been to.

The Odeon was opened on 1st February, 1937. You can see how much of an exquisite building it was by it’s very architecture. A gorgeous building by any standards with it’s distinctive Art Deco form and shape, this was seen on it’s construction as an outstanding addition to the Odeon family.

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The Odeon in the late 80’s

The Odeon is situated on one of the main streets in and out of the city and more importantly, it’s on the route that my father would use when driving us home after going to the city centre. I remember driving past this cinema even before I was old enough to start frequenting the place with my family. Driving by I’d see the garish, alluring and beguiling posters outside. Just the posters alone had the power to scare the fuck out of me as a child with the colourful and nightmarish artwork for horror films leaving the deepest imprints in my young and very furtile psyche. It was just one glance of the poster for the double bill of The Incredible Melting Man and U.S. TV movie The Savage Bees that prevented me from sleeping for several nights in a row.

I also distinctly remember seeing the poster for The Fog in 1980 (I must have been five years old) and that really freaking me out. Again, sleepless nights followed.

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One of the other things I loved about cinemas in those days was that they didn’t just have amazing posters for the films they were showing but also lobby cards which showed key scenes of the films being shown within. Lobby cards seem to have died a death these days but I always loved them especially when they were for the horror fare of the day. If a poster could invoke fear in me then going up close and peering at some of the horrific and disturbing scenes that took place within these cinematic shockers was also an amazing experience for an over imaginative small child.

One of my earliest memories is of my 5 year old self running to where the posters and lobby cards were outside The Odeon to gaze for the longest time at the artwork for a new film that had just started to play there. That film was called Friday the 13th and it was again, 1980. The lobby cards prompted many questions. Who was the kindly old woman enveloped in the misty woodland? Was the killer a dab hand at archery? Hadn’t the girl in the canoe seen Joe Dante’s Piranha?! I’d never dip my hand so casually in a lake like that…So many thoughts ran through my fevered little brain.

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Friday the 13th Lobby Cards. I pored over these for the longest time trying to figure out what they portrayed in the actual film

There was actually a Kentucky Fried Chicken opposite The Odeon and so because of this proximity a unique urban legend came into being. Even though it’s a slight variation on an already well known yarn, the people of York insist that this actually happened. Some say they even know the people involved. It goes like this-

A young couple decide to go to collect KFC and then dash into The Odeon opposite with their greasy meal. The film they are going to see has already started and so they order their food, pay and rush into the cinema to buy their tickets and find their seats. They do this and find that the house lights have already gone down and the place is packed. They somehow manage to find two seats together in the rammed auditorium and start to chow down on their KFC. Because the film has already started the couple can’t see what they are eating and just tuck in regardless. The young woman notices that what she thinks should be a piece of chicken tastes funny. It also doesn’t feel like a leg or breast. Sure, it’s coated in the Colonel’s secret coating but chicken it must definitely aint. With her eyes now started to get used to the darkness of the cinema she sees that in fact what shes been tucking into looks very strange indeed. She decides to take some of the coating off with her fingers and is horrified to see what is concealed underneath- and of which she still has a piece of in her mouth. She has been eating a deep fried rat! She screams, her male companion screams, the audience screams.

The ‘deep friend rat’ is an urban legend that is well-told the world over and can be applied to any fast-food joint but seems to be specific to KFC (much to their chigrin). There was even a case recently whereby someone posted the same story as fact, even with pictures as evidence. But when asked by KFC’s management for further evidence or closer investigation, the story’s perpetrator seemed backwards in coming forward with further details. Social media, the internet and emails are perfect for the further advancement of urban legends in the cyber age.

But I digress. Most of my trips to the cinema during my childhood and teen years were to The Odeon. I loved seeing films in such a venue that was steeped in history and gorgeous to boot. I could almost feel the history of the place as people who had been lucky enough to see some of my favourite films (and that I would have been too young to see at the time of their release) would have delighted in the magic of seeing such cinematic masterpieces as Taxi Driver, Jaws and The Exorcist (fast forward and this would change with The Exorcist as there was a one-off screening and on my 18th birthday (of all days!) It was almost like it was scheduled especially for me! And so in February 1993, even though it had snowed, my friends and I went out on the town and then went to see the film with a packed house (the film was still banned on video in the UK at that time). Whilst the print was in appalling condition and most probably one of the same prints used on the film’s original release in 1974, it had lost none of it’s power. I’ll never forget leaving the cinema, bidding my friends farewell and precariously going to find a taxi whilst wading through snow and trying not to break my neck whilst walking like Bambi over the ice underfoot. Oh, and I remember being really fucking scared because of the film!

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In these innocent days of my early childhood a couple of Odeon visits really stick out in my mind for some reason. I think it’s because these films were perfect for kids- even kids who would have no chance of getting into screenings of the horror and exploitation films he’d preferred to have been watching even at a very early age.

One screening I went to when I was 5 years old was for Robert Altman’s Popeye and I absolutely loved it! The perfect casting, the set designs, the songs- the cartoon series I loved so much was effortlessly and almost eerily brought to life.

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Another cinematic excursion to the Odeon that I look back on with real fondness was a double bill of a pre-Terminator Arnie and Kirk Douglas in the zany Cactus Jack and the live action kitsch fest Spiderman and the Dragon’s Challenge. This was originally a two-part television special made for American T.V. but was spliced together to make a feature film to be shown theatrically outside the U.S. Hence, how I had the good fortune to be watching it. Spidey was played by Nicholas Hammond, one of the Von Trapp brats from The Sound of Music. The film was so bright and colourful that it was akin to a Pop-Art Warhol print come to life. I seem to remember that Spidey’s webs looked like white rope. Myself and all lovers of cinematic cult fare need this film and the films that preceded it (Spiderman and Spiderman Strikes Back) to be released on Blu ray tout suite.

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It was at The Odeon that not only did I fall in love with film as a medium but also the sense of occasion involved in going to see a film. There was the excitement of the snacks on offer, the stench of popcorn meaning only one thing. It was also the trailers for the upcoming films and then the Pearl and Dean advertising for products such as Fry’s Turkish Delight, Westlers hotdogs and Red Mountain coffee. Then it was the wonderfully kitsch and camp ads for local businesses in York such as Indian restaurants and local pubs/nightclubs. The glittering world of York’s nightlife! It seemed so sophisticated. Theres a great sample of similar cinema advertising here. And here is a cinema advert shown locally in the 60’s in Plymouth advertising the local nightspots. It has to be seen to be believed! It’s all about the camp bleach blonde bartender. Something tells me he might be a Friend of Dorothy.

But there was also another cinema in York in those days that I also went to. The ABC cinema was right in the city centre on a street called Piccadilly and whilst it didn’t have the history, grandeur or sense of occasion that The Odeon had, I also went there and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

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One of my earliest cinema going experiences here involved my father taking me and my two older brothers to go and see the newly released Superman 2 (which I didn’t like as to my 6 year old eyes the film was too violent- how things would change when it came to my tastes in cinema!) and way too loud. But other than those reservations, I had a great time. My Dad then took us to see executed highwayman Dick Turpin’s grave which is nearby. All in all, a great day.

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For more on the curious case of the burial of Dick Turpin, click here. It’s just one more story from the blood-soaked history of York.

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Another major source for my burgeoning passion in film was, of course, the television. Whilst I couldn’t get in to see the X certificate films at my local cinemas, there were no restrictions to me seeing any of the films shown on TV, whether they were intended for children or not. Hooray for lax parenting!

I remember vividly the first ever screening of Jaws on UK TV. According to the internet this took place on 8th of October 1981 which means that I was 6 years old when I saw it (it was actually certificated A when it was originally released in 1975 meaning that it wasn’t suitable for children under 11. This was changed to a PG years later, but recently was controversially upgraded to 12A as it was felt that PG was too lenient. Which, I suppose, is a testament to the brilliance of the film). This was a HUGE event and garnered mammoth ratings with 23.25 million viewers tuning in, one of the biggest ratings ever for a film shown on TV.

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I also remember similarly huge ratings for the first time Superman: The Movie was shown on UK TV. This was also a pivotal event for not just myself but for most of the population.

Thankfully when I was growing up my father didn’t believe the theory that children watching late night movies that might be violent or disturbing in some way could negatively affect a child and so I was allowed to stay up late and watch the likes of Carrie, The Omen and Dirty Harry when they were shown. I realised that most of my school friends didn’t have parents who were this liberal or maybe just didn’t give a shit as I’d say to them ‘Did you see (insert name of some film usually with an X certificate) last night?!’ to be met with blank stares or a slow, jealous shake of the head.

Not everything that influenced me in those days was film based but still fed into my love of cult cinema and all things fucked up. I was and still am an avid reader. Sometimes I sped through books so fast that my father used to take me to the library more than once a day (really!). It was here that I came across a book that was perfect for a young freak with a taste for the macabre.

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Usborne’s Guide to the Supernatural World was a compendium made up of three earlier titles (Vampires, Werewolves and Demons, Haunted Houses, Ghosts and Spectres and Mysterious Powers and Strange Forces) and was pretty much a bible for me from that moment on. It’s one of my favourite books and I still dip into it for pleasure and for life-affirmation purposes.

My knowledge of everything supernatural was expanded immeasurably with this tome as my eyes pored over the gaudy illustrations whilst taking in every detail of the text.

Usborne have just reissued another of their titles, The World of the Unknown: Ghosts which was just as influential in the late 70’s (see- there were other young weirdos just like me!). Let’s hope they see fit to reissue Supernatural World too. Copies are selling for a fortune on the internet. We need a reprint and pronto. It would sell just as well as Ghosts.

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But there was something a lot closer to home and all too real that provided a macabre backdrop to my earliest years. The county that I grew up in had it’s own serial killer that was at large with his earliest noted murder (but it’s rumoured that he killed earlier and more than has been publicly recorded) being in the year of my birth and not ending until his capture in 1981. Peter William Sutcliffe aka The Yorkshire Ripper murdered women who were out alone at night. One of my earliest memories was of watching the local news programme Calendar which was presented by Richard Whiteley (later the presenter of student and old person favourite Countdown) who was normally a jolly and happy kind of fellow. I knew something was wrong as on this occasion he wasn’t smiling or jolly but had a grave expression on his face as he stood in front of a board that had numerous women’s faces on it. He explained that yet another women had been added to the list of those poor women who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. This victim was Jacqueline Hill, a Leeds student who was walking from where her bus had dropped her to her student lodgings (a matter of a few yards) but instead met her ghoulish fate.

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Because of the Ripper life had to be changed massively. There was an unofficial curfew for women and a feeling of omnipresent dread in the air until his capture. When I grew older and started going out as a teenager I’d always accompany female friends home and make sure they were inside and safe until I left. I never thought why I did this until much later- it had been because I has grown up in the era of the Ripper. It’s strange how life comes full circle. I’m now writing this in Chapeltown in my flat. This area of Leeds was a major hunting ground for Sutcliffe. The murder scenes for at least 4 of his victims are within walking distance of here.

This sense of dread was also all around us in other ways in the late 70’s/early 80’s. This was in the form of Public Information Films which were short adverts made by the government which warned the general population of the dangers of any number of potentially lethal activities as varied as mixing different types of tyre on your car, letting your child talk to strangers, putting down a rug on a freshly polished wooden floor…you name it. My favourite was The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water which was voiced by Donald Pleasance and warned of the dangers of children playing near rivers and lakes and what could happen.

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This PIF scared the shit out of me and reminded me of another childhood source of sleepless nights, a paperback of The Lord of the Rings that was knocking around our house resplendent with becloaked soldiers riding nightmarish horses each with glowing red eyes.

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I loved the Public Information Films that were specific to Bonfire Night with the dangers of playing with fireworks being another source of trauma for children up and down the country.

Missives from on high of how to prevent catastrophe in your life weren’t just made for the TV screen either. There were plenty of leaflets, posters and literature around at this time that could educate the populace of how to avoid potential disaster.

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There was plenty of imagery that I found so attractive as it would appeal to any fan of cult cinema and particularly the horror/slasher genre. The threat of some crime being committed to either you or your property was very real with an unspecified shadowy figure (the best example being depicted in the ‘Watch out! There’s a thief about’ campaign) seen approaching (a great example of this was the two black boots walking on breaking ice in the excellent ‘Neighbourly Nell’ Public Information Film) or running away.

One poster that I used to see on the wall in doctor’s surgeries, chemists and libraries was the design classic of The Pregnant Man.

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Another moral panic that I remember vividly from my early childhood concerned the dangers of rabies entering the UK. Cue distressing images of rabid animals attacking children and humans frothing at the mouth due to the disease. And this wasn’t just in print.

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And then there was Protect and Survive. This was a campaign regarding what to do if there was a nuclear holocaust. This booklet would be sent to every household if the button had been pushed and certain psychopathic world leaders wanted the ultimate in narcissistic supply. Details on how we were all to hole up in our self-made bomb shelters with only our loved ones and tinned food for company were outlined. There were even details on what to do if someone in your enclosure had passed away and how their body could be disposed of.

And here, for your perverse pleasure, is the full booklet. I’m sure in these times of lockdowns and Coronavirus we can pick up some worthwhile and strangely relevant tips.

The threat of nuclear war was everywhere in the late 70’s and 80’s. To quote those purveyors of style and hair dye Duran Duran from their number 1 single Is There Something I Should Know, ‘You’re about as easy as a nuclear war.’ Just one push of a button and we would be pushed into a dystopic netherworld.

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There was even a drama, Threads made about what that post-nuclear holocaust would look like. It wasn’t pretty and remains a powerful, brilliant and extremely difficult to watch masterpiece. I recommend you to find it but proceed with caution.

But back to film. Another rich source of cult film goodness was to be found in our local newspaper, of all places. Film adverts were placed in here by the local cinemas that showed artwork (sometimes different from the posters) that was, in the case of horror and cult films, lurid in nature and again, utterly alluring to me.

As it would happen, other cult movie fans were indulging in the same pleasures with the excellent book Ad Nauseam being released not so long ago- a compendium of newspaper ads advertising the kind of movies I relished seeking out the ads for.

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Just as there were newspaper print ads, there were also TV adverts for upcoming and films that were currently playing. Some of these were just as disturbing as the films themselves. I remember seeing a TV spot for The Shining that was possibly the scariest thing I had ever experienced up until that point. On seeing it again, I still feel the same. It’s a terrifying experience.

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Whilst all of this quenched my growing passion for cinema and particularly cult cinema, there was an upcoming innovation that would change everything! That was, of course, VIDEO! And such a momentous event deserves a blog entry all of it’s own…

Review- Doctor Sleep (2019)

Review- Doctor Sleep (2019)

I read Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining and thoroughly enjoyed it when it was first published. I was eager to see the film adaptation and if it was as satisfying as the book.

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It’s always a brave move to write a sequel to a well known book that is now considered to be a classic within it’s field. The film is seen as a true classic in the horror genre and is regularly in the Top 10 Horror Movies of All Time polls if not occupying the top spot in a number of instances. So, making a sequel to a film with such a lofty reputation was a brave move.

The film starts in Florida in 1980 after the events of the first film and Danny is still haunted and having his life affected negatively by the spectres he saw from The Overlook Hotel which are now haunting and harming him wherever he is. Dick Halloran reappears to Danny to teach him a valuable life less on how to mentally deal with this. I noticed that some of the darker details Dick talked about in the book aren’t here. Maybe the film wouldn’t have been a 15 certificate if they had been.

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Taking the plot up again in 1980 is a brave move. It works wonderfully as the plot points that are raised are crucial to the plot. All actors who are filling the shoes of people who have become iconic since the first film’s release do a great job. But it’s Carl Lumbly (yes, Petrie from Cagney and Lacey!) who is a true revelation here. He is Scatman Crothers reincarnated! It’s a performance that is eerily accurate and absolutely amazing to watch. Thankfully, Dick appears throughout the film to give Danny advice in the way as if he were Danny’s conscience or inner voice.

The film then comes forward to 2011. Danny is an alcoholic. An episode of how chaotic his life is is shown through an incident in bar were he gets drunk, gets into a fight with a fellow bar patron, beats him up and then hooks up with a woman. How chaotic his life is at this point is shown the morning after. We see him waking up next to a woman who has vomited in the bed they slept in, the memories of them doing coke the night before come flooding back and Danny running out on her (after maybe taking money from her to pay her back for her using his money to buy the coke with). Danny is then shown sleeping rough.

Danny then makes his way to New Hampshire. Its here that he meets Billy who he instantly feels a bond with. Billy in return sees Danny as having problems and sets out to help Danny address some of his demons- namely, his alcoholism as this is something that Billy has had to face also. Danny starts to go to the Alcoholic Anonymous group with Billy.

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Whilst this is going on we get introduced to a new group of characters known as The True Knot, a cult led by Rose The Hat. They are a cult whose immortality depends on them feeding off and capturing the ‘steam’ given off by children who also possess the shining when they are tortured and killed. Yes, Doctor Sleep is extremely dark. The sequence when the baseball player who is only 10 is murdered made for difficult viewing. But I’m glad that the film dealt with issues that were this dark rather than feeling like a lightweight and whimsical quick cash-in.

Danny starts working at an old people’s home. The resident cat there will instinctively spend time with the resident who is next to die. Danny sees this and so uses his shining to make the resident’s departure as painless as possible. He is using his shining again and as a force of good after years of forcing himself to repress and not use his gift.

Eight years pass. Danny is shown to have been regularly attending the AA meetings and appears to be conquering his addiction.

A young girl starts to communicate with Danny using her shining which is shown to be the most powerful example of the power that Danny (and later Rose) has ever experienced. She’s only a child but is shown to have shining stronger and more potent than any adult. Abra tells Danny about the 10 year old baseball player who she has visions of being killed. Unfortunately, Rose psychically ‘feels’ that Abra is watching this murder through her own powers of shining/second sight and this alerts her to Abra’s existence. Members of the cult haven’t been exposed to any really strong ‘steam’ for quite some time and cult members have shown to be starting to suffer because of this (we see what happens to members of the cult when this happens during the film as the oldest True Knot member expires into a cloud of steam himself). This makes Abra a target for the group.

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And that’s where I’m going to leave the synopsis. To give any more details away is to ruin the film for everyone!

This is a great sequel. References to the past film are subtly placed here and there (one prime example- the overhead shots of cars driving along in the same style as those used by Kubrick in the opening scenes of the original) but they feel relevant and not tacky. If some fans feel that the references are too sparse they should rest assured. The references start to become more frequent as the film progresses. The final act of the movie then takes part at the Overlook Hotel! It would be impossible not to have past references come in thick and fast at this point. And they do and it feels like old friends coming out to play again rather than a desperate attempt to milk some more bucks from a trusted horror classic. Everything that happens at the hotel feels like it’s being used in a plot that rightly calls for their use in progressing the story towards it’s conclusion.

Danny walking through The Overlook and seeing all of the old sites again sent shivers down my spine. There was even a scene that firstly made my jaw drop wide open and then almost reduced me to tears. I’m certainly not going to give it away but it’s astounding in it’s potency and power.

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There is plenty going on in the film as you can tell from the plotline. On top of all of this there’s even an implied bromance between Danny and Billy which is as intriguing as it’s subtle. Intelligent filmmaking is at play here. I predict that the kind of film analysis that was applied to the original film will also be generated from the material that lies within this film.

Doctor Sleep is also visually stunning and feels genuinely innovative in some scenes. In fact at some points I thought of the hypnosis scenes from Get Out.

Doctor Sleep is a film about addressing the past and confronting demons so that they can be laid to rest and people can progress forward. It’s also a film about closure and making peace with your past, the relationships therein and the wounds that until then never seemed to heal.

Doctor Sleep is a brilliant film and throughly deserves to be the sequel to such a revered and loved horror classic. And if Ewan McGregor doesn’t get a tip of the hat from The Academy then theres something VERY wrong happening.

Which makes me think. This years could have nominations for Joaquin Phoenix for The Joker, Zac Efron as Ted Bundy and Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrence. This years Oscars might be good for a change. Carl Lumbly definitely deserves to win plaudits for his extraordinary performance.

4 out of 5 stars