Category Archives: Horror

‘Hated’ comic Alexander Bennett has an interest in serial killers’ lives & the link between comedy and horror punches

Alexander Bennett yesterday in London’s Chinatown

Alexander yesterday in London’s Chinatown

By paragraph 11 of this blog, I stare in open-eyed amazement at comedian Alexander Bennett and say WHAAAAAAAATTT????

Alexander first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011.

Next Monday in London, he will be performing a version of Alexander Bennett’s Afraid of The Dark, his 2013 Edinburgh Fringe show about a girl called Amy who started to hear voices in her head and then went missing. Alexander found her diary and the show involves him enacting her diary. Except neither Amy nor the diary is real. Alexander made them up.

“You’d be surprised what people think,” Alexander told me at Bar Italia in Soho yesterday.

“What do they think?” I asked.

“That it’s real, despite the fact there are obviously constructed jokes in the diary. At the end of the Edinburgh show, I had people come up to me saying Do you know what happened to her? – Yes I do, I told them. Happily ever after. She’s fictional. She got hit by a truck. There you go. I can change what happened to her.

“Why did you think of doing that show?” I asked.

“Because I’ve been doing comedy for a while and…”

“How long a while?” I asked.

“Well,” replied Alexander, “I’m 21 now and I…”

WHAAAAAAAATTT????” I said, shocked.

Alexander faces up to old age as a young man

Alexander really doesn’t look this young in the flesh

“Yes, I know,” said Alexander. “I look much, much older. When I was 18 and gigging in Manchester, an audience member guessed I was 35 and I was so depressed the gig went downhill from there on. A lot of my life has been women telling me they hate me.

“They come up to me and go Your hair’s great; do you mind if I touch it? – No, go ahead – And you don’t do anything to it? – No, I just wash it – It’s really good quality. I HATE you. That’s one reaction.

“The other one is 30-year-old women who are flirting with me who ask How old are you? When I say 21, they are initially annoyed and then they say You’re going to look like that for the rest of your life and then they are even more annoyed with me.”

“You are annoyingly young,” I said. “So you started performing comedy when you were 18?”

“No,” said Alexander. “When I was 15.”

“So,” I said, “you decided when you were 15 that you wanted to be a comedian?”

“No,” said Alexander. “I was younger than that. I loved cartoons – The Simpsons and Wallace & Gromit and all the Aardman Studios stuff. At first, I thought it was because they were cartoons. But then my dad showed me some Ronnie Barker shows and I realised Ah! The reason I like these shows is because they are funny! Then, from the age of 8 or so, I wanted to be Ronnie Barker. And I was watching John Cleese at around the same time.

Tall, aloof but older-looking John Cleese

Tall, aloof but older-looking John Cleese

“I can identify with John Cleese because I’m not a kind of smiley-happy comedian. I come across more authoritarian than loose. I can identify with Cleese because there’s a similar sort of aloofness. The first thing I ever wrote as a kid of 13 was about trying to bury someone who’s not dead.”

“You were writing at 13?” I asked. “I think I may be starting to hate you.”

“Yes,” said Alexander. “That always happens. When I was 16, I made a feature film that cost about £250 and had a crew of three people. It was a comedy horror called Love: A Mental Illness and it is about a stalker. The girl he’s stalking becomes very upset and he realises the reason she is upset is because all of her friends are horrible. So he goes through the process of getting rid of all these friends who are making her life a misery.”

“You did this aged 16?” I asked.

“Yes, that is why I don’t usually tell people my age,” said Alexander. “Because they will hate me. I am young in a way that irritates people.”

“I think I hate you,” I said. “Also, if you are 21, why aren’t you at university?”

“I am,” said Alexander.

“I think research before you meet people for a chat” I said, “is much over-rated.”

“I’m finishing a degree in film & television production.” explained Alexander, “which is a 90% practical course.”

“And you are particularly interested in….?” I prompted.

“My dissertation was on The British Identity in The Horror Film,” he replied.

“Not a lot of laughs in that,” I said.

“One of the greatest comedy films ever made”?

Rape, ultra-violence and “one of the greatest comedy films ever made”?

Clockwork Orange is one of the greatest comedy films ever made,” said Alexander. “That is 100% true. When I first watched it, I didn’t realise it was a comedy. The second time I watched it, I did. Clockwork Orange is hilarious; there are loads and loads of jokes all the way through it.”

“Well,” I said. “There is some vague connection between comedy and horror and I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if maybe laughter and fear release some of the same chemicals into to the body or something like that.”

“I think a lot of comedy has a horrific element to it,” said Alexander. “They say there’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy. Well, if you push that a little bit further…”

“I do think,” I said, that a lot of the great comedies which have lasted have been set in tragic situations. Hancock…”

“I completely agree,” said Alexander. “Steptoe and Son, Porridge. The idea of being trapped, which is central to all good sitcoms is essential to a lot of horror as well. Steptoe and Son are trapped in a relationship.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “And in One Foot in The Grave they’re trapped. A lot of their situations, if they actually happened, would be horrendous. Good comedy is when things go slightly wrong with reality and..”

“Comedy is a break in reality,” said Alexander, “and horror is kind of the same thing, really. The kind of punch in the stomach that can come with something that’s very tragic is very similar to the punch in the stomach that comes with that Ooohhh! of comedy. The ending of Planes, Trains and Automobiles… It’s a very tragic twist to the end of a comedy film.

“Another thing that horror does which comedy also does is it puts people in pressured spaces. All good horror films have a small group of characters who the film puts pressure on until all the relationships break down. And that is a very good description of any sitcom that works.”

“You like dark comedy…” I suggested.

The Mighty Boosh showing their textures

BBC TV’s Mighty Boosh showing some of their many textures

The League of Gentlemen, I think, is the best sketch show I’ve ever seen. The Mighty Boosh, as a television programme, is fantastic because there are so many textures. And Spaced had a very distinct visual grammar that serves what they’re doing very well.”

“You told me off-microphone,” I said, “that you are interested in serial killers.”

“I run a first-Tuesday-of-the-month comedy club called This Is Not a Cult and the basic structure of the show is I give people new rules to live their lives by. At my January night, I said to the audience: Name any serial killer and I will tell you when they lived and how many people they killed, because I have enough of a working knowledge of that sort of thing to be able to respond. Later on during the same show, I tried to flirt with a girl, having forgotten I’d revealed this aspect of myself. It’s not a great chat-up technique, is it?”

“Any comedy heroes?” I asked.

“My real heroes,” said Alexander, “are Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and early Woody Allen. They all directed, performed and wrote. Stan Laurel ended up virtually directing all the Laurel & Hardy stuff.”

“So you like auteurs,” I said. “And you’ll have a new show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August?”

“Yes. Alexander Bennett: Follow Me. It’s about the people who are looked-up-to in society and I will prove why I’m better than all of them and convert the audience to my cause.”

“Which is?”

“That I’m brilliant. My stand-up persona is a man who thinks he knows how to run the world. I think my act is more a persona than a character. My life feeds into it and it’s presented in a way that is not necessarily me but is born of me. So it’s a persona not a character. I just take the worst aspects of my personality.”

“Which are?” I asked.

“Ego. I do think I’m brilliant, but I know that’s ridiculous. I do kind of think the world would run so much smoother if everybody would shut up and listen to me. But the guy on stage says things I don’t agree with. It’s a persona.”

There is a clip on YouTube of Alexander performing at the 2013 Chortle Student Comedy Awards.

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David McGillivray: from cheap sex films to horror movies, art and panto scripts

David McGillivray accosted yesterday by Halloween ghoul

David McGillivray (left) yesterday with a Halloween ghoul

David McGillivray is only a few years old than me, but I first became aware of him when I was in my late teens or early twenties and he was writing excellent film reviews for the British Film Institute’s Monthly Film Bulletin.

He quickly got involved in the 1970s British sex film industry, writing such epics as I’m Not Feeling Myself Tonight and The Hot Girls, then shifting into horror scripts for quickie film directors Norman J.Warren and Pete Walker and, later still, writing and producing his own films.

“I used to love being scared when I was a child,” he told me yesterday – Halloween – in Soho, “and I greatly enjoy frightening other people. I’ve only really ever been interested in sensation.”

“What was your best film?”

“Shorts or long?”

“Both.”

“Of the shorts, I’m very fond of one called Mrs Davenport’s Throat, which I made in Lisbon in 2005. It’s got a surprise ending that I don’t think anyone’s ever guessed.”

“You wrote and produced that?”

“Yes. It was inspired by those people at airports who stand holding cards with people’s names on. In my film, the eponymous Mrs Davenport goes up to a chauffeur who is holding a sign saying MRS DAVENPORT and goes off with him and we find out what happens to her. It’s not a pretty sight.”

“You said that with a smile.”

“It’s good fun.”

“And your favourite feature film?”

Exactly the sort of film young David wanted to write

Exactly the sort of film young David McGillivray had always wanted to write

“I never watch any of my films apart from House of Whipcord. That was my first big one for Pete Walker. I saw it again at a horror festival in Edinburgh about two years ago and thought it stood up quite well.

“I was a very young writer – I was 25. I read an outline of the story and it was exactly the sort of film I had always wanted to write and Pete Walker got together a marvellous cast. It was terrifically exciting for me. Suddenly here I was part of the film business that I’d always been so fond of.

“I think House of Whipcord is Pete Walker’s best film, though some people prefer Frightmare.”

“He seemed to suddenly disappear off the radar,” I said.

“He just decided to stop working,” explained David, “and nobody really knows why. He had the money to continue and he could have gone on making films. He didn’t completely disappear: he ran a chain of provincial cinemas called Picturedrome for a while but now, as far as I know, he really is completely retired. I haven’t seen him since 1992.”

“Is he worthy of rediscovery?” I asked. “Or are his films just tacky?”

“I have said,” David told me, “that he was Britain’s most talented exploitation director. As soon as a Pete Walker film starts, you know instantly it’s his. He had a very distinct style. He was a talented storyteller. He knew how to include the exploitation elements. I think it’s a great shame he isn’t still working. He just decided he didn’t want to do it any more. He didn’t need to make money; he was very rich.”

“Rich from the films?” I asked,. “Or rich independently?”

“Rich from property,” said David. “He made a lot of money from his early films: little 8mm ‘glamour’ loops sold either by mail order or in newsagents, often under-the-counter.”

“Soft-core?” I asked.

Not as successful as the sex films

Not as successful as Pete Walker’s sex films?

“Oh yes, all very soft core. They were basically striptease films. He made a lot of money from those and then his early full-length sex films made money. There were several people in the same market – Harrison Marks and Stanley Long were two rivals. Pete’s early sex films were very successful. Then he started making his so-called ‘terror’ films, which were less popular. All of those people made a fair amount of money out of nudie and sex films.”

“When you were young,” I asked, “did you want to make art films?”

“No,” said David firmly. “I never wanted to do anything arty and I never have done. I’ve got no ability, I’ve got no taste, no style. I’m a hack.”

David’s current film production company is called Pathetique Films. It uses the slogan Curiouser and Curiouser.

“But you appreciate arty movies, so you have taste,” I told him.

“I’ve got no ability. I really haven’t,” he replied.

“But,” I said, “you can write and you’ve seen enough movies to know what images need to be edited together to have an effect, so you can work backwards and know what material has to be shot to create the end result you want.”

“This is like a conversation I was having yesterday, about the difference between art and design,” David said, holding up a teaspoon. “What is this? It has been designed to look good, but is it art or is it just design?… It is design.

“My films are not art. They’re just product designed to give people a bit of a thrill in whatever way is possible.”

“But what you’re describing,” I argued, “is a Shakespeare play – a commercial product that’s aimed at a specific audience – almost lowest-common-denominator. Shakespeare was creating something to give the plebs in the pit a laugh. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are there to give people a laugh in Hamlet; there’s blood all over the place in Macbeth; there are things flying around and thunderstorms and a shipwreck (or is it two?) in The Tempest. I’m sure if I went in a time machine and watched Shakespeare plays as seen by the original audience, it would be like watching a down-market farce or an exploitation movie.”

“Well, yes,” David agreed. “Shakespeare’s plays were aimed at ‘the ordinary folk’ and wouldn’t have been considered Art in their day. Maybe one day, long after we’re dead and gone, the public will decide that my films are Art.”

“But the public didn’t decide Shakespeare is art,” I said, “It was people who wrote books about him. Critics decide. Critics would say The Tempest is art and the movie Forbidden Planet is a commercial Hollywood science fiction product, but the film is based on the play.”

“Well,” said David, “I would call Forbidden Planet art, because it’s a wonderful creation and it works and it scared the living daylights out of me when I was 7 or 8. When the footprints appear in the sand, made by the invisible monster, I was so frightened I remember distinctly I couldn’t look at the screen and I hid my face in my school cap. That film had an enormous effect on me and it’s a very artistic endeavour indeed.”

“But looked at objectively,” I said, “Shakespeare  is basically lowest common denominator sex, violence and comedy – much like The Bible in that respect. Reviewers thought Hitchcock’s Psycho was unforgivably down-market, repulsive and sadistic when it was released, yet people would probably think Psycho was a work of art now.”

“Definitely,” agreed David, “Well, any film by Hitchcock.”

“Or Michael Powell’s film Peeping Tom,” I said. “It was said at the time to be obscenely sadistic and it destroyed his entire career. But now it’s Art. I avoided seeing it for years because Time Out said it was a simile for the voyeurism of the cinema-going experience – It sounded unbearably arty and a load of wank. But, when I saw it, it IS a great film and, arguably, Time Out was right.”

“It’s not bad, is it…” said David.

“You must want to write Art,” I told him, “You want to create things and you want to create the best possible thing you can and that is Art and, if it has a big effect on a big audience like Harry Potter, then all the better, surely?”

“This is a very vexed issue,” replied David, “and goes back to what is and isn’t Art. I’ve really only ever wanted to create something that is going to have some sort of an effect on people. I don’t want to create something that’s going to be ignored, that’s going to sit on a shelf and not be seen. I don’t particularly mind what the critics say. I don’t care if they hate my stuff – and a lot of them do. All I want in years to come is for people to watch my films and enjoy them in the same way I enjoy the most rubbishy, churned-out second features. If I can create anything like Night of the Demon or, indeed, Night of the Eagle, I’d be very, very happy.”

“Well,” I said, “everyone’s making B films now – the Star Wars movies, the Indiana Jones movies, Quentin Tarantino’s movies. They’re all basically making crappy low-budget B films on a big budget – Crap becoming Art.”

“Yes,” agreed David, “they’re making wheat out of chaff.”

“They’ve making wheat out of chaff for chavs,” I suggested. “What are you making next?”

David McGillivray yesterday, by a rubbish bin in London - He suggested the bin

David McGillivray yesterday, by a rubbish bin in London’s West End  – He suggested the bin

“It’s panto time,” said David. “It’s a very busy time. This year I’ve contributed to four. I don’t write them, I only re-write them depending on who’s in them. My regular employer is Julian Clary – I’ve re-written his pantos for several years and, through him, I’ve met other people like Nigel Havers. I’m just finishing re-writing Robin Hood, which is in Plymouth this year. And I’ve re-written part of Snow White for Gok Wan in Birmingham. I love panto. I think that’s my true forte.”

“You knew Julian Clary before the pantos?”

“Yes, I’ve worked with him for 31 years. I’ve never written an entire show. He’s known for his improvisation. He Julianises what I put together as, indeed, do other comedians I’ve worked for.”

“Such as?”

“Paul O’Grady, Greg Proops, Angus Deayton…”

At this point, a man dressed in a white Halloween costume and wearing a Scream movie mask came into the restaurant where we were sitting.

“That is an example of the opposite of what we were talking about,” said David. “That is Art turned into crap… Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream now turned into one of the worst franchises in horror movie history…”

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How a US comedian and Jewish blogger ended up in a Japanese designer suit being stalked by a cannibalistic baby

One of Larry Cohen’s quirky masterpieces

One of Larry Cohen’s quirky masterpieces

I recently mentioned on Facebook my admiration for the talents of movie writer-director Larry Cohen who, among many other things, was ‘murder consultant’ on the TV series Columbo. I am particularly keen on the quirky God Told Me To (a very odd film about random killings in which the title actually IS the story) and Q – The Winged Serpent (about a South American flying lizard god which lives atop the Chrysler Building in New York).

It turned out that my Facebook Friend comedian Steven Alan Green had – among his many other careers as writer, producer, performer and currently radio show host and comedy blogger for the Jewish Journal… actually appeared in a Larry Cohen movie – as a stand-up comic in the horror film sequel It’s Alive III: Island of The Alive.

Radio host and podcaster SAG

Radio host, podcaster, comic, producer, actor SAG (Photograph by Dan Dion)

How did that happen?

“I was working at The Comedy Store in Hollywood as a comedian, but also answering the phones,” says Steven Alan Green, “and Larry Cohen calls on a Sunday and asks for ‘the talent department’ to get a comedian to come down that night and play a comedian in his film.

“I told him there was only me on the phone and he asked me. So I called the talent coordinator at home and he told me to take the job.

They met at Santa Monica pier...

After they met at Santa Monica pier…

“So, I got down to the Santa Monica pier and was hired as ‘an extra’. But, since I had lines (improvising a stand-up act) I asked Larry about ‘Taft Hartley-ing’ me – meaning, since I was speaking in a Screen Actors’ Guild union production, he could do the paperwork to get me into the union.

“He agreed to do this if I would come in and ‘loop’ – recording my dialogue in a studio another day – which I did.”

“How long did the filming take?” I asked Steven Alan Green.

“Just one afternoon and into the night,” he told me. “They didn’t mic me during the film shoot, except when I talked with the stand-up comedy mic on set.

“So, I end up in this recording studio in Hollywood, looping my stand-up set, just saying whatever comes to mind. Larry just said to wing it, then to get him a coffee. One of the things I said was So, here’s my impression of Steven Alan Green…. and Larry left that line in the final film.

“So, if you go to this clip on YouTube and get to the scene that starts about the 4min 11sec mark and turn up the volume, there are two comedians on stage… I’m the one closest to the camera who says to Michael Moriarty: You got an act to go with that suit, sir?”

“How would you describe the movie?” I asked.

“Ah,” replied Steven Alan Green. “A horror film with Apocalyptic implications predicated on the notion that Youth are always dangerous.”

“Was Larry normal?” I asked.

“What’s normal?” said Steven Alan Green. “He was a little too normal for the type of films he makes. Friendly, hands-on. I mean, he was the one who called the Comedy Store looking for a stand-up comedian for his film. What director does that?”

“Did you,” I asked Steven Alan Green, “make any good contacts during the filming or was there any follow-up from appearing in the movie?”

“One of the cannibalistic babies started stalking me,” replied Steven Alan Green.

“Anything you want to plug?” I asked.

Jerry Lewis is considered a comic genius in France

Jerry Lewis considered comic genius in France

“My new radio show and live podcast Stage Time with Steven Alan Green… and The Laughter Foundation, which has a big benefit planned for the Spring in San Francisco… and my blog for the Jewish Journal… and I Eat People For You Like Breakfast! my famed and infamous one-man show about my bringing Jerry Lewis to the London Palladium. I’m doing that show at The Marsh in San Francisco next Wednesday and on December 4th…”

“What does being blog writer for the Jewish Journal involve?” I asked.

“I write what I want and they publish it,” said Steven Alan Green. “My blog is called Enjoy the Veal and I review live stand-up as an art form and write open letters to Jerry Lewis. I try to review comedians’ shows in the ideal – somewhere between what they were trying to achieve and why they didn’t.”

“In the Larry Cohen movie,” I ventured, “did you choose your own costume?”

“What are you saying?” Steven Alan Green shot back. “That was my comedy outfit! A 3-piece Japanese designer with trainers. I mean, Doh!”

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