27 April 2010

Brian Yuzna

Brian Yuzna's career is a jack-of-all-trades affair. His work as a producer, actor, screenwriter, film editor, perhaps as a result of this, has been a strange mixture of hit and miss. A clear fan of hardcore horror, much of his output is focused on HP Lovecraft's work: the classic film Re-Animator was a memorable success for Yuzna, though its spawning of a myriad forgettable sequels is less notable. Other-Lovecraft related projects include From Beyond, Dagon and Necronomicon; while never truly unsuccessful, such films never truly achieved widespread success.

Yuzna was born in the Philippines in 1951, though he was educated in Central America and the United States. His love of horror fiction was obvious from an early age, and his family's involvement in cinema is equally obvious: Brian's four children have all gone on to become actors and actresses, with varying levels of success.

Intriguingly, amongst Yuzna's filmography is the rather bizarre inclusion of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, which he worked on in 1989 with director Joe Johnston. This family comedy was, however, a mere blip in Yuzna's career - it was swiftly followed up with Bride Of Re-Animator, the first of those dreadful sequels. The Honey, I Shrunk The Kids Disney project did mark the beginning of a collaboration with Stuart Gordon, however, who would work with Yuzna on Dagon.

Those wishing to investigate Yuzna's work for themselves would be wise to begin with Society, a subtle, psychological horror that only spills over into out-and-out gore at the very end of the film. Re-Animator, too, is well worth the time.

22 April 2010

Fairy Liquid

Quite simply, it's for washing dishes. In fact for around forty-five years in the United Kingdom the words 'Fairy Liquid' and 'washing-up liquid' have been nigh-on synonymous. A series of adverts starring Nanette Newman firmly established the brand, so much so that the original advertising slogan is well-remembered: 'Now hands that do dishes can be as soft as your face, with mild green Fairy Liquid'. Blue Peter, too, did its part - almost every week an empty washing up liquid bottle would be required during the construction part of the show. They never mentioned Fairy Liquid by name, of course, but if you wanted quality, that's what you'd use. (This was back when the bottles were simple cylinders, of course, and it seemed to take weeks and weeks of waiting to procure an empty bottle.)

Fairy Liquid is now produced by Procter and Gamble and remains a highly-recognised brand of washing up detergent in the UK. It's also available across Europe, although the names inevitably vary slightly in different countries. The fairy brand also extends to dishwashing detergent and a gentle, non-biological laundry detergent.

You can even get differently fragranced versions now, and there's the usual 2010 options of antibacterial, lemon, orange and other bizarre hybrids that make choosing washing up liquid like a visit to a cut-price gourmet restaurant. Do you really believe the lavender-and-octopus or the anti-bacterial-twine-and-magic-sausage varieties are really making any difference? In my day we had lemon or original and liked it... eucalyptus and garden mint extracts... tsk!

20 April 2010


I'm a little teapot, short and stout.
Here's my handle, here's my spout.
When I get all steamed up, hear me shout:
Tip me up and pour me out!

The teapot, a hollow vessel in which tea is brewed and from which it is ultimately poured is now well-known around the world. Seemingly a boring, unremarkable and utilitarian item of pottery, one might feel it is difficult to get excited about the teapot. Well, even if becoming excited is out of the question, becoming educated certainly isn't...

The Origins Of Tea Drinking
(Or 'Who discovered that cows give milk, and what did he think he was doing at the time?')

There are two legends concerning the origins of tea. Shen Nong, a Chinese Emperor from the third century BC was sitting beneath a tree, boiling his drinking water when the leaves of the tree fell into his bowl. The taste, not unpleasant to the Emperor, quickly increased in popularity. A plausible tale, if you can get past the idea that the Emperor's mother obviously never warned him about eating berries, mud or, indeed, the liquid formed from brewing mysterious leaves.

Either way, the second legend is probably less believable, though it may possess a little more romantic appeal. It is the fifth century, and a Dharuma Buddhist monk has travelled fromChina to India, pursuing his faith. During the fifth year of a seven-year meditation he finds sleep is beginning to overcome him. Offended by his own eyelids, he cuts them off and hurls them to the ground. At this very spot, a tea plant springs, from which the monk cuts the leaves and brews them. The drink produced, he finds, keeps him awake, allowing him to pursue his spiritual studies.

Regardless of how, Camellia sinensis, the common tea plant, is now consumed all over the world. It was first cultivated in the 4th century when wild plants were taken from China toIndia. This evergreen tree is kept at a manageable five foot height, the leaves picked by hand, one worker picking enough tea per day to produce around 2800 cups.

Brewing Up: The Rising In The East
('If you have enjoyed this drink, why not share it with your friends?' - Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser)

Teapots were not immediately used upon the discovery of tea. Even in the 8th century tea leaves were hand rolled, dried and ground into powder. This powder, mixed with salt, was dried into cakes which were added to hot water, forming a thick liquid, prized for its supposed medicinal value. These cakes eventually gave way, in 9th century Japan, to the powder remaining in loose form, which was simply added to hot water and whisked vigorously. Indeed, it was not until the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, 1368 to 1644, that leaf infusion became commonplace.

It is from this era that the earliest examples of teapots originate. Made from the characteristic clay of the YiXing region of China, these strong yet delicate pots were used as both brewing and drinking vessel, each tea-drinker being provided with an individual-sized pot. Tea was sipped directly from the spout, making the transition from brewing bowl to teapot a smooth one.

Demand for teapots spread from China to Japan, and by the 15th century tea-drinking had evolved a complex set of ceremonies, drunk for social reasons rather than simply for medicinal beliefs. The teapot was no longer merely a brewing vessel, but had the added dimension of artistic merit. Teapots with themes were introduced; red clay or shudei teapots became prized as creative pieces, as did the well-seasoned YiXing pots. The Japanese province of Bizen became renowned for its earthenware, and new techniques were developed to produce these delicate and highly-prized vessels.

Brewing Up: Go West!
('Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors.' - Alice Walker)

Tea, at this point, began to spread into the West. Mirroring the evolution of tea-drinking in the East, tea was first used in herbal infusions and tisanes. By the seventeenth century Europe had adopted the drink with enthusiasm, labelling it 'cha' after the Cantonese name, and a little later British inhabitants were showing increasing interest in the beverage, adopting theAmoy term 'tay'.

Teapots arrived in Europe with the first shipments of tea, however, and by 1883 the East India Tea Company, formed in 1669, was importing YiXing teapots. Portuguese traders also began importing teapots, naming the pottery buccaro or boccaro ware after the delicate red earthenware seen in South and Central America. These imports had an influence, of course, on European versions of teapots, which were quick to follow.

Initially, the European teapot, often constructed from silver or ceramic would also be used for coffee or hot chocolate, and the earliest known British vessel designed specifically for brewing tea is the silver ewer now featured at the Victoria And Albert Museum in London. It is inscribed '1670 - tea-Pott'. This dates it within ten years of a ceramic European teapot, made between 1670 and 1680 by Arij de Milde in the Dutch town of Delft. The European version, unlike the tall, silver British pot, retains the YiXing design with a short spout and loop handle.

Present Day: The Place Of The Teapot In Everyday Society
('Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company.' - Author Unknown)

With the advent of bagged tea, the teapot is in something of a decline at present. While, not so many years ago, the teapot was a revered item, occupying its own space in the kitchen and often equipped with its own set of clothing, there is something convenient about slipping a single bag into a cup, brewing the beverage and discarding the teabag before drinking.

Nevertheless, for those who prefer the ritual of making tea, or simply feel that a better flavour is produced from loose tea, the pot is still available in both traditional and more modern varieties. Bodum, popular for their coffee brewing equipment, make a clear glass teapot with a central reservoir for the leaves which can be sealed off once the optimum brew strength has been achieved. The more traditional earthenware pot does become seasoned over time, however, and many will swear by a decades-old pot despite the internal build-up of tannin. A glance inside a well-aged teapot can often be more scary than enthralling, though I recall my own grandmother complaining bitterly that the new pot didn't taste the same. Either way, radically different varieties of teas should be kept to their own pots - a green tea would easily be spoiled by brewing in a teapot that has been well-seasoned with black tea.

The teapot has, regardless, entered popular culture. The Utah Teapot is well known to anyone involved in 3D computer graphics work, and more recently a Malaysian cult, The Sky Kingdom erected a 35 foot tall pink teapot on its property. This 2004 addition was, apparently, symbolic of the life-giving properties of water, though it has caused much controversy with nearby residents.

Making The Perfect Cup Of Tea
('The perfect temperature for tea is two degrees hotter than just right.' - Terri Guillemets)

It must be said that I ignore the following advice completely when making my mug of Earl Grey, preferring instead to force a teabag to the bottom of a mug, pour on hot water and then, in a display of total ignorance and sacrilege, add a splash of milk before it's even had time to brew properly. For the perfect cup of tea, one has to be a little more pedantic:

A cup of tea is approximately 98% water, so for the best cup of tea one requires the best quality water. Bottled or filtered water produces the best flavour. Bear in mind that dissolvedoxygen content will affect the quality of the tea, as well; never draw water from the hot tap or use water which has been boiled for an excessive period of time.

Pre-heating the teapot is vitally important, too. If poured into a cold vessel the water will immediately drop a couple of degrees, hampering the brewing process. To pre-heat the pot simply rinse it out with boiling water and discard.

The recommendation is that three grams of dry tea leaves are used for every six fluid ounces of water. In practice, one rounded teaspoon per cup will do. Bear in mind, tea enthusiasts, that oolong teas may vary greatly in density, due to their large and wiry leaves. On the other hand, gunpowder tea is much denser than ordinary tea, and only two thirds of a teaspoon is necessary to achieve an ideal strength.

When brewing black tea, the water should reach a rolling boil and immediately be poured onto the leaves, the pot lid being placed firmly on for the five minute steep time. Green tea, which also benefits from slightly less brewing time, is better with water at around 70 degrees celcius (160 degrees Farenheit) - a good rule of thumb is to wait for the first few bubbles to rise from the base of the kettle and pounce, or even to leave the kettle for a few minutes after boiling before beginning to steep the tea...


Batty Man

"How I see it, Empress, is that all the people who are talking about faggots and making battyman music, it's like they are bigging up battyman! You understand? Battyman deserves no space on my album! When I say, "Babylon" or "corruption", a dem that, mother of all that! A dem that, you understand?"
Battyman or, indeed, chi-chi man, is a derogatory term for a homosexual or gay man, originating in Jamaica. The word occurs alarmingly often in Jamaican popular culture, in music related areas and amongst other popular celebrities, including those barely-linked to Jamaican culture, such as Ali G.

Whilst it would be foolish to take much offence from Ali G's clearly tongue-in-cheek use of the term, it is nevertheless a fact that in many cases the word is used with deadly seriousness in such songs as Buju Banton's 1990 hit Boom Boom Bye Bye, which encourages the killing of homosexuals or, more recently, Chi-Chi Man from TOK, which features the lines: From dem a par in a chi chi man car, blaze a fire mek we burn dem. From dem a eat in a battyman bar, blaze a fire mek we done dem.

It might not be what we'd laughingly call 'the Queen's English', but it's pretty clear. It's hatred, not even thinly disguised. It's a plain and straightforward declaration of irrational and crudely-directed hate, involving fire and derogatory name-calling. But the question is, can this hatred be explained by culture?

It's true that being gay or lesbian is the ultimate sin under Jamaica's widely-held religious beliefs. According to the Guinness Book Of Records, Jamaica has the most churches per square mile, and let's not forget that there is also a strong Rastafarian component to Jamaican society. Complicate this further with laws that support intolerance - in Jamaica it is still legal to arrest two men caught having sex in private - and you are provided with a culture that seems to have by-passed any semblance of understanding and is hell-bent on making sure every Jamaican teenager, gay or otherwise, grows up with the the inculcated certainty that you're better off dead than queer. Or, to put it another way, if you're queer then you're dead.

Can this be true - an embedded culture of hate? Many proponents of Jamaican culture, citing such examples, insist that the implied hatred is simply not there, it is merely a natural reaction founded in culture and religion. The argument here essentially being that these 'battymen' break both legal and moral boundaries and thus deserve pretty much all they get. Others, such as Swedish band Army Of Lovers claw back the word in a more aggressive manner, releasing the song Mr Battyman with its deliberately provocative lines, all delivered in a sarcastic Buju Banton-esque intonation: He meet dem hunky sailor... He dress in fruit and flowers... Dem say that him obscene...

Obscene... right. Then there's the mOBSCENE, who really put the boot in with their homophobic mob:
"The gay man who died after being attacked in Trafalgar Square last autumn was called a "batty man" before he was kicked and stamped on, the Old Bailey heard. Ian Baynham, 62, died in hospital on October 13th 2009, several weeks after he suffered head injuries while on a night out."
Quote 1 taken from interview with Luciano and Mikey, available on jahworks.org
Quote 2 taken from PinkNews.co.uk, April 20th, 2010

18 April 2010

Revolutions - Jean Michel Jarre

Revolutions is Jean Michel Jarre's eighth studio album, released in 1988. As with many of Jarre's albums, it is themed, and in this case the varying revolutions taking place around the world inspire the album. Not simply the obvious theme of violent political turmoil, but also the industrial or computer revolution; at the time this album was produced, computers were becoming an increasing part of everyday life, and such change came with the usual bundle of nameless terror and apprehension with which humanity greets most change.

The album uses a variety of genres to reflect the themes. The first four tracks - Industrial Revolution overture and parts one to three - feature a kind of orchestral-industrial sound, a mixture of stylised factory sounds, heavy synthetic strings and choir. Two tracks, London Kid and Tokyo Kid are heavy-handed tone poems representing the differences between two different lives. Hank Marvin features strongly on London Kid, and Jun Miyake plays trumpet extremely bizarrely on Tokyo Kid, over the top of an equally peculiar, distorted jazz beat.

Dulcie September is paid tribute to in the song September. Dulcie, if you're unaware, was assassinated in 1988, a member of the South African ANC. Choirs of children and a synthesized steel drum sound form a backdrop for strong female vocalisations.

A word about the Roland D-50. Rather new at the time, Jarre took a liking to the preset sounds and basically used them as is. If you can get your hands on a D-50, you'll find even the distinctive rhythm track on Industrial Revolutions Overture is a preset. Hunt around for 'Machine Run', 'Griitarrr 2', 'Motor Orchestra' and 'Kokubo Strings' and hold your own little Jarre concert. Michael Jackson also seemed taken with the D-50, as showcased on 'Bad', and the pizzicato strings from the D-50 are very prominent on Enya's 'Orinoco Flow' - 'Pizzagogo' is the preset to go-go for, I believe.


01 Industrial Revolution Overture (5:11)
02 Industrial Revolution Part 1 (5:10)
03 Industrial Revolution Part 2 (2:17)
04 Industrial Revolution Part 3 (4:13)
05 London Kid (4:28)
06 Revolutions (4:56)
07 Tokyo Kid (5:23)
08 Computer Weekend (4:43)
09 September (4:06)
10 The Emigrant (3:57)

14 April 2010

Scissor Sisters

"Are you a Scissor Sister?" - Electrobix, Hungry Wives Passive Depressive Mix

Scissor Sisters. A peculiar mixture of glam rock, disco and electroclash, all mixed up in a rather camp, extremely risqué, but definitely, absolutely not exclusively gay manner. "The fact that some of us are gay affects our music the same amount as it does that some of the members of Blondie are straight," we discover on the DVD We Are Scissor Sisters And So Are You, a comment which thoroughly explains how early tracks like Someone To Touch, Bicycling With The Devil and Step Aside For The Man shifted attention from out-and-out outness to a more pop chart friendly UK debut album tracklist. With that attitude shift came a shift in sound, as well - from their early beginnings to their imminent launch of their third album, Scissor Sisters have changed. Altered. Maybe even evolved.

Early Days:
('Dead Lesbian And The Fibrillating Scissor Sisters')
So, it's 2001. Who wouldn't want to form an electro band and name themselves after a lesbian sex position? Well, if you happen to be go-go dancer, stripper and all-out attention seeker Jason Sellards and multi-instrumentalist Scott Hoffman you'll not only do that, but you'll immediately rename yourselves Jake Shears and Babydaddy. Add one Ana Lynch, wittily re-titled Ana Matronic, and we're all set, particularly since Ms Matronic hosts her own cabaret show at a Lower East Side New York club. It's not just who you know, it's where you work: The Slipper Room was the band's first gig. History doesn't seem to record how well Dead Lesbian et al went down, but tracks from the Dead Lesbian era are undeniably weird, and far more electronic than their current output. Take Bicycling With The Devil, an almost electroclash mish-mash with truly bizarre lyrics. "I see you dancing, damn you look good. I wish I could dance like you but I ain't got no legs.' is the more sensible part of the song, rapidly giving way to 'I see you defecating, damn you look good. I wish I could take a shit too, but I ain't got no anus.' Quite how riding the bicycle of the devil into hell helps with this isn't really made clear, alas.

A Touch Of Class:
('We gotta lose the dead lesbian...')
With the addition of Derek Gruen, now guitarist Del Marquis, and Patrick Secore, destined to become drummer Paddy Boom, the name was, probably wisely, shortened to Scissor Sisters and the band were signed to independent label A Touch Of Class. Electrobix, an early single, later to be re-released on the Scissor Sisters: Remixed! album, was recorded along with a b-side. Adored and reviled in equal parts, Pink Floyd's classic expression of inner misery, Comfortably Numb, was re-worked with a bizarre Bee Gees disco feel, complete with the ah-ha-has from Staying Alive somehow wedged into the chorus. In fact it was all high-falsetto vocals, which were coupled with a bass-line ripped straight from Stevie Nicks' The Edge Of Seventeen to produce a version of the song completely unlike Roger and Dave's original vision, guaranteed to either delight or enrage Pink Floyd fans the world over. (David Gilmour and Nick Mason have apparently expressed a liking for the group, though Wikipedia is a little shaky on details here.)

With unsurprising irony, Electrobix attracted virtually no attention at all, while Comfortably Numb was immediately picked up by the DJs of a range of electro clubs. The song rapidly spread to the UK, where The Cock in London booked the band for its first British gig. From there, Polydor sniffed out the single and signed a contract. Laura, the groups first UK single, enjoyed a limited release in 2003, and managed to make almost no impression on the UK singles chart. Its disappointing peak of 54 garnered a little attention from New Musical Express, and the song enjoyed a surprising amount of radio play in Australia. A further song, It Can't Come Quickly Enough featured on the soundtrack of the 2003 film Party Monster, accompanying cinema-goers as they left before watching all the credits. It didn't make much impact, but at least the band were getting somewhere.

('Remix, re-use it, when you wanna suck to it...')
Scissor Sisters' breakthrough was in 2004, once again featuring the song Comfortably Numb. Reaching a more respectable number 10 in the UK and a well-deserved number 1 in the US, it was quickly followed by Take Your Mama, reaching 17, and a re-release of Laura, which managed number 12. Determined to squeeze as many singles as possible out of their first album, the self-titled Scissor Sisters, the band continued to release. Mary reached number 14, while Filthy/Gorgeous managed their highest chart position yet: number five. The album, meanwhile, reached the coveted number one spot and went on to become the best-selling album of 2004. Scissor Sisters, even without their dead lesbian, had finally achieved that elusive success.

Awards and accolades followed. The music industry is good at this kind of thing. Best international group, best international breakthrough and best international album at the 2005 Brit Awards, as well as the coveted opening-spot at which they performed Take Your Mama. Then there's the GLAAD Media Award for outstanding musical artist, opportunities to perform at Live 8, V Festival and so on. A range of collaborations with other artists also began to appear. I Believe In You with Kylie Minogue, a cover of Sufragette City with Franz Ferdinand, a bit of Jake on Andy Bell's new album or Ana Matronic joining New Order on their latest album. There's also the remixes: the delightfully-named 'sticky tits' remix of Bucci Bag's More Lemonade, their pulsing disco version of Blondie's Good Boys and even a slightly strange 70s disco remix of the Pet Shop Boys' Flamboyant.

The Present:
Scissor Sisters second full album, Ta-Dah, was released in 2006. Closer in style to the self-titled Scissor Sisters album than the early electronic work, the album nevertheless made a sudden lunge in a very different musical direction while retaining the curious pop appeal. I Don't Feel Like Dancin' and She's My Man feel like familiar territory, while Paul McCartney and Kiss You Off go for a more synthetic feel. Worth a listen, but not the chart-pleasing frenzy-producers we saw on the debut album, and while the critical acclaim rolled in, the success seems to have rolled out. I still love 'em, and so should you, despite us both being abandoned for the big'n'popular fan stakes. But look...

The Future:
(Invisible Light?)
There's high hopes that some time in the future, we'll be able to review Night Work. Altogether: scissor those fingers together and get them firmly crossed... one, two, scissorscissorscissorscissor...


Scissor Sisters (Self-titled)
Release Date: 20 July, 2004
1: Laura
2: Take Your Mama
3: Comfortably Numb
4: Mary
5: Lovers In The Backseat
6: Tits On The Radio
7: Filthy/Gorgeous
8: Music Is The Victim
9: Better Luck
10: It Can't Come Quickly Enough
11: Return To Oz

Note: The UK edition features a number of bonus tracks, following an only slightly scary message from Ana Matronic herself. The two extra tracks are The Skins and Get It Get It. Both are available on other formats.

Release Date: 23 November, 2004

1: Filthy/Gorgeous (ATOC vs. Superbuddha Remix)
2: Comfortably Numb (ATOC Dub Remix)
3: The Skins
4: Comfortably Numb (Tiga Remix)
5: Electrobix (12" Mix)
6: Filthy/Gorgeous (Extended Mix)
7: Comfortably Numb (ATOC Extended Edit)
8: Comfortably Numb (Tiga Dub)
9: Electrobix (Hungry Wives Remix)

Release Date: 18th September, 2006

A limited-edition 2 CD version is also available with bonus tracks, some of them suspiciously like early Scissor Sisters.

1. I Don't Feel Like Dancin'
2. She's My Man
3. I Can't Decide
4. Lights
5. Land of a Thousand Words
6. Intermission
7. Kiss You Off
8. Ooh
9. Paul McCartney
10. The Other Side
11. Might Tell You Tonight
12. Everybody Wants the Same Thing

Other early tracks, while never officially released, are relatively easy to find on the internet. These include Someone to Touch, Bicycling With The Devil and Monkey Baby, as well as demo versions of one or two later songs. 'Making Ladies' is a standout.

Jet Propulsion

A method of propulsion by which, in accordance with Isaac Newton's third law of motion 'to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction', an object is propelled forwards by a stream of gas or liquid (the jet) expelled in the opposite direction.

Within the animal kingdom, creatures such as squid or octopuses make use of short bursts of jet propulsion to move quickly. In general, water is taken into a muscular sac and is expelled rapidly through a small opening to provide a rapid acceleration in the opposite direction. The simplest example of jet propulsion in the underwater world is jellyfish. Although not all species of jellyfish use jet propulsion to travel, many species fill the umbrella section with water and then push the water out in a stream of short duration. However, the jellyfish has little control over direction. Squid, on the other hand, are able to control the direction of the jet, allowing them to move in a definite direction. Some squid are able to reach speeds high enough to shoot them out of the water and onto the deck of a ship.

Several shelled animals such as clams or scallops can use a more primitive form of jet propulsion to rapidly escape from enemies. They achieve this by bringing the two halves of their shells together rapidly, although like the jellyfish they have little control over the direction of the expelled liquid, and therefore little control over the direction of their movement.

Outside of the animal kingdom, the most common use of jet propulsion is the widely-known jet engine or turbojet. The turbojet is a kind of gas turbine, in which air passes through a forward-facing intake, is compressed and fed into a combustion chamber. Fuel is sprayed in and ignited, producing a rapidly expanding ball of hot gas which proceeds rearwards, spinning a turbine in the process, which drives the compressor. The hot gas is finally ejected from the rear of the unit, usually a nozzle or some form of tail-pipe, at very high speed. This is the simplest form of gas turbine, used in supersonic aircraft.

The turboprop, used for moderate speeds and altitudes, adds extra stages that absorb most of the energy from the gas stream to drive a propellor shaft. The turbofan is best suited to high subsonic speeds, and features an extra compressor in front. Some of the airflow bypasses the core engine and mixes with the jet exhaust stream, providing a lower temperature and velocity. Compared to the turbojet this modification results in improvements in economy, efficiency and quietness, yet provides a higher speed compared to the turboprop.
The turboshaft is a form of jet engine used to drive the rotors of helicopters, as well as providing propulsion to hovercraft, ships and trains. Essentially a turboprop without a propellor, power from the extra turbine instead being delivered to an output shaft or a reduction gearbox.

The ramjet is used for a variety of missiles. When running at twice the speed of sound (Mach 2), the pressure in the front intake of the ramjet engine is such that no compressor or turbine is required. It is cheap and light, but consumes a high amount of fuel, which is burnt in the widest section of what is essentially an open-ended barrel-shaped tube. The lack of a turbine, however, means that the rocket must be boosted to operational speed before the ramjet engine will function.

Variants of the jet engine include vectored thrust engines, allowing vertical takeoff, reverse thrust, used to slow down a jet plane on landing, and reheat or afterburning, used in military aircraft to provide short-duration increases in thrust.

11 April 2010

The Forbidden - Clive Barker

The Forbidden is a Clive Barker story which was adapted in 1992 as the film Candyman.

Clive Barker began to make his name in the field of horror in 1984 with the Books Of Blood, six volumes of short horror fiction. The Forbidden appeared in volume four, and was a lengthy tale of rumour and urban legend. It's a powerful piece of writing, and it's easy to see how it could inspire the film Candyman, directed by Bernard Rose.

It's also interesting, when reading the story, to note how the theme of the narrative focuses much more on Helen, the protagonist, than the Candyman mythos. The film is quite different in this respect, making much of the urban legend and adding the mysterious summoning ritual - the saying of Candyman's name into the mirror five times. The overall idea is the same, however, that Candyman is a force summoned by the needs of the people as a focus for their despair and misery, the character of Helen providing a conduit through which this takes place. The Forbidden also takes place in the United Kingdom, more specifically in a Liverpool housing estate, Liverpool being Clive Barker's home town. The film, of course, is moved to the projects - the Cabrini Green area of Chicago.

If you intend to track down and read the story, be aware that although the initial publication of the Books Of Blood was a series of six volumes, but now the books are generally to be found as two-volume omnibus editions. 'The Forbidden' originally appeared in Book Five, and should now, therefore, be in either a slim book marked 'Volume 5', an omnibus marked 'Volume 2', or one marked 'Volumes 4 - 6'. Best to check the contents page...

09 April 2010

Toad In The Hole

The British seem to have a penchant for naming foods in the most bizarre manner possible, leading to such delights as spotted dick, black pudding, faggots, and bubble and squeak - all of which are familiar to your everyday inhabitant of Little Britain but cause the rest of the world to scratch their heads and, in extreme cases, point.

Toad in the hole fits neatly in amongst these stalwarts of British cuisine, turning out to be nothing more than delicious pork sausages, browned nicely under the grill or on the stove top before being popped into a miniature lake of fat and subjected to a nice hot oven. A very hot oven, if truth be told; it needs to be hot enough to make that oil smoke.

Eventually the oil will be smoking away merrily, with or without appropriate help from the impatient chef who may well get sick of hanging about and just stick the tin onto the stove for a while. However, at this point a more thoughtful chef will have used the ten minutes wait by beating together flour, milk and eggs to produce a smooth batter - you're wondering how much of each, and I have a fail-safe recipe that stipulates equal quantities of each, including the eggs. For six sausages, I've always gone with four eggs and worked from there. This resulting yorkshire pudding batter, which some may say is a little thick, is poured around the sausages and the whole thing is returned to the oven for around twenty-five minutes. Perhaps a little longer, perhaps a little less - you can check to see if it's golden brown and crisp when it gets close to the magic twenty-five minute mark, but don't be tempted to peek too early: a disturbed yorkshire pudding is a flat yorkshire pudding, and nobody wants that.

Remove from the oven, plate it up and add onion gravy and mashed potato. Before digging in, however, note how the little sausages look very, very vaguely like tiny toads poking their inquisitive heads out of a crisp and battery landscape. You know, I have no idea who first called it that. I wish I could shake their hand. Feel free to muse on how odd we English folk are as you chew...

06 April 2010

Brett Leonard

Brett Leonard is a film director and producer from America. A number of his films feature computer animation effects which, at the time the films were made, were considered cutting-edge and groundbreaking. The Lawnmower Man, his 1992 film, used computer animation extensively, and a second virtual reality based film, Virtuosity, continued this trend. Hideaway and The Dead Pit, on the other hand, are fairly straightforward horror films, the first an adaptation of the Dean Koontz novel of the same name, and the second featuring a zombie-infested mental health facility.

Leonard is also known for his music videos - two for Peter Gabriel, two for Billy Idol and one for MC Twist. Gabriel's Kiss That Frog video is notable for being entirely computer generated; the first of its kind in 1993.

In 1998 and 1999, Leonard worked with the IMAX 3D format, producing T-Rex: Back To The Cretaceous and Siegfried And Roy: The Magic Box. T-Rex became the first 3D movie to gross over a hundred million dollars, quite an achievement when you bear in mind it can only be viewed on the special IMAX screens.

Recent films include Man-Thing, a comic adaptation, Feed and the 2007 Highlander movie, The Source. Feed slipped under the radar somewhat, but is a surprisingly complicated film which is reminiscent of Se7en, Cell and The Silence Of The Lambs, dealing with the topic of 'feederism', and once again reflecting Leonard's fascination with the virtual world and its effect on real life. Now, of course, virtual reality is passé and the new fear is the internet; Feed reflects this change well.

Selected Filmography

The Dead Pit, 1989
The Lawnmower Man, 1992
Hideaway, 1995
Virtuosity, 1995
T-Rex: Back To The Cretaceous, 1998
Siegfried And Roy: The Magic Box, 1999
Texas, 2002
Man-Thing, 2005
Feed, 2005
Highlander: The Source, 2007

03 April 2010


1978 was a good year for horror films. Dawn Of The Dead, Halloween and The Amityville Horror all terrified entire audiences at a time. Jaws 2 was threatening to be nearly as good as the original, and The Swarm was bravely unsuccessful attempt to continue the mutated-animals-gone-mad theme. In amongst all this was Piranha.

Later, its director, Joe Dante would move on to The Howling, Gremlins, Innerspace and Small Soldiers. For now, then, it would be charitable to put Piranha down to inexperience. Piranha must, one feels, be the woeful evidence of a sharp learning curve. It's entertaining, in a way, but mainly because of its inedequacies.

A distinct lack of originality mars the film from the very beginning. Clearly taking a leaf from Jaws' script, a couple of teenagers ignore all common sense and gleefully strip off before plunging into the dark and ominous stretches of a mysterious, fenced-off pool. An entire troop of cellists immediately begin to play an appropriately dirgeful score, whilst the young chap complains bitterly about being a bit bitten. However, ignoring both the unusual nibbling and the sudden orchestral interest, the two bravely plunge on for the centre of the pool whereupon they are unceremoniously devoured. None of the cellists help, incidentally, choosing instead to perform a rousing chorus of appropriately spooky music.

This dodgy beginning quickly leads on to a dodgy middle and, eventually, a rather dodgy end which carefully leaves the way open for James Cameron's tacky sequel - yes, he's another director who has benefited from the sharp learning curve of early mutant animal horror. Within the dodgy middle portion we discover the usual stuff - secret government experiment, accidental release into large river, that kind of thing. Oh, and the large river just happens to be full of kids. And people on boats. Stupid people on boats, come to think of it, who can't seem to withdraw a limb from the water once they've realised that something's not quite right. It's the foaming and the bright red 'blood' that tips them off, albeit a little slowly.

There is only one conclusion. It's parody. It has to be. Writer John Sayles, sitting down to his first screenplay ever, must have decided to take a piranha-sized bite at Jaws and produce the perfect parody. But if it is parody, then deadpan simply doesn't describe it. There is no hint of intentional humour, no tiny glimpse of sarcasm at work. The whole film, from beginning to end is a non-stop rollercoaster of really bad horror, littered with cliche and stock characters, however entertaining it turns out to be. And it is entertaining, in its own way. Desperate for 94 minutes of fun? Then rent it, but don't buy...

Piranha was originally released in 1978, starring Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies and Kevin McCarthy. The most notable of these is McCarthy, who starred in the original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Originally, Eric Braeden was cast in Dillman's part, and though he pulled out to pursue an alternate project, some of the swimming footage still shows Braeden.