- Created: 19 May 2017 19 May 2017
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It’s a sultry summer night, 23 July 1977. After much pleading, the thirteen year old me is allowed to stay up for the first half of BBC2’s double bill of horror. The film is Son of Frankenstein and I am sucked in by the heavy gothic atmosphere, the weird, expressionistic sets and lighting, the haunting music played by Bela Lugosi’s Ygor and finally, Boris Karloff’s monster.
Now it’s 19 May 2017 and I’ve just had a portion of chips in curry sauce, from Fish Master at 36 Forest Hill Road in East Dulwich. That just happens to be the house in which Karloff was born on 23 November 1887. Inside is a large photo of Karloff and his daughter Sara, signed by Sara. For the record, the chips were chunky and the sauce sufficiently curryish and they would have been particularly good after a couple of pints.
Today was a mini-pilgrimage that I’ve been meaning to make for years. Back in the 70s, the Christmas before my first late night horror, I was given a copy of Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, which I still have. I had actually read most of the book before Christmas Day, having discovered where my mum had hidden it but it was still a thrill to receive it. The cover is a montage of pictures of Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Peter Cushing, Fredric March and Christopher Lee but at the centre was Karloff.
He started out in life as William Henry Pratt and didn’t stay long in Dulwich, the family moving to Enfield. In 1909 he went to Canada where he mixed acting with any other jobs he could get. Ten hard years later he was in Hollywood, where he gradually started to establish himself as a character actor. He struggled on for years until in he was in his mid forties. As Karloff told it, “I was sitting in the commissary at Universal, having lunch and looking rather well turned out, I thought, when a man sent a note over to my table, asking if I’d like to audition for the part of a monster.” The movie was Frankenstein and the flat headed, stiff limbed, bolt-necked monster that became an icon was Karloff, with help from Jack Pierce, the make up artist.
This was the start of Karloff the Uncanny’s purple patch and in quick succession he appeared in The Old Dark House, The Mask of Fu Manchu, The Mummy, The Black Cat, Bride of Frankenstein and The Raven. In the late 30s and early forties, he became the archetypal mad scientist in a string of interchangeable movies. His doctors were kindly, had a daughter and meant well until their experiments led them astray. Later that decade, Val Lewton’s unit at RKO gave him some deep and complex roles in Isle of the Dead, Bedlam and The Body Snatcher. After that, the films trailed off into mediocrity apart from a few late flourishes. There are some terrific films among the above but these are my top three.
The Mummy (1932) plays as much as a romance as a horror. Karloff is only glimpsed in bandages, spending most of the film as the wizened and mysterious Ardath Bey, whose ancient love has been reincarnated at the film’s heroine. The film is pretty much a rerun of the previous year’s Dracula but less stagey and Karloff is more sympathetic than Lugosi’s Count.
The Black Cat (1934) was first and best pairing of Karloff and Bela. In a key scene, Karloff’s suave and decidedly nasty architect Hjalmar Poelzig plays chess with Lugosi’s traumatised former comrade, Vitus Werdegast. The setting is Poelzig’s superb house, built on the ruins of a fort where thousands had died. It mixes various modernist styles. Here Le Corbusier meets Constructivism meets Art Deco. Karloff looks fantastic too.
Targets (1968) saw an old, tired Karloff play an old, tired, horror movie star called Byron Orlok. This was Peter Bogdanovich’s first film and he is full of promise, never to quite be fulfilled. Karloff’s very personal story makes up one strand of the film. The second follows a murderous sniper and gradually the strands coverge converge. This wasn’t Boris Karloff’s last film but makes a fitting epitaph.
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- Created: 12 May 2017 12 May 2017
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The Cultural Revolution was a particularly brutal period in Chinese history. In 1966, Chairman Mao unleashed a torrent of violence and ignorance that aimed to purge the country of revisionists, the bourgeois, the traditional and the capitalist. Add a comment
- Created: 09 May 2017 09 May 2017
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Having lived in West Dulwich for the last 3 years, I have become aware that is a bit of a desert when it comes to dining out locally. While other places like Herne Hill seem to have an ever growing choice of eateries and drinkeries, West Dulwich has Cafe Rouge and the god awful pub-come-wedding venue, the Rosendale. Add a comment
- Created: 05 May 2017 05 May 2017
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Yesterday would have been Margo Durrell's birthday. There was always a little bit of confusion about her age because she used to chisel off a year here and there. She died in 2007 at an agreed age of 87. So to commemorate her 97th birthday I have written this short piece. Add a comment
- Created: 02 May 2017 02 May 2017
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Ever since art school I have found the most famous works of Hockney, such as the Hollywood portraits and interiors, very sterile, soulless, lacking any vital life element. He has an architects knack for precision, producing works that are void of spirit. Add a comment
- Created: 26 April 2017 26 April 2017
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After we published the first part of my South Circular ramble, from West Dulwich to Woolwich, we received a message from a reader in China (we have a reader in China!). He said he’d forwarded the link to a friend who had lived in Dulwich for forty years and the friend’s response was “should have turned left out of the station”.Add a comment
- Created: 20 April 2017 20 April 2017
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I have recently received several links to press relating to the forthcoming series of ‘The Durrells’, the ITV adaptation of the books of Gerald Durrell. The success of the first series has guaranteed a second and, I am told, a third. Add a comment
- Created: 31 March 2017 31 March 2017
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You’re on a plane, heading off on holiday. You stand in line, holding a pair of two litre milk cartons, filled with aviation fuel. As the queue moves forward, you ready yourself, and when you get to the front you have one second to empty them and then race to the back of the line to refill. That’s the rate at which a 747 or Airbus gets through fuel. “I was amazed to hear that” nine year old Katla told me afterwards. Add a comment
- Created: 26 March 2017 26 March 2017
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There’s a cheerful patch of daffodils to provide a little relief from the dirty spray thrown up by cars and lorries. A cold, wet Wednesday morning, the fag end of rush hour; the perfect time to walk the South Circular, or at least a chunk of it. My starting point is West Dulwich station. I head east. At a bus stop, three bags of dog poo and a tennis ball prepare for a square dance or maybe a four-way stand off. There’s traffic noise rather than Ennio Morricone. Yards later, the beautiful Dulwich College hoves into site, wooded hill behind.Add a comment
- Created: 24 March 2017 24 March 2017
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Many Brits can last a winter up until about mid January before they start falling apart. The jet stream delivers warm currents to our south western shores that deceives us into believing that we are further south than we really are. Unfortunately, come February, the jet stream itself seems to have abandoned us, so like migratory birds many people flee the UK for sunnier climbs. Add a comment
- Created: 10 March 2017 10 March 2017
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Over elegant glasses of Paolozzi lager, John Dunsmore admits to having come over from the dark side. Edinburgh Beer Factory (EBF) may be a friendly, family-owned craft brewer but John has previous as Chief Executive of Scottish & Newcastle (which made Foster's & Kronenbourg 1664) and C&C Group (Magners & Tennent’s). Add a comment
- Created: 03 March 2017 03 March 2017
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Months after writing about the loss of my beloved Oishii, I had lunch in its successor, Saigon Bistro. I like to support independent businesses but was sadly disappointed. The stock of my pho bo tai lacked flavour as did my fellow InDulwicher, Nick’s com suon nuong. I didn’t appreciate having to go to the counter to order after having sat down with the menu, especially in a nearly empty place. I wish Saigon Bistro well but it won’t become one of my regulars.Add a comment
- Created: 26 February 2017 26 February 2017
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Market Row in Brixton is a little hive of quality food outlets. If it is wine you are after then do make the effort to checkout Market Row Wines. It's a dinky little shop in the arcade that has a strong emphasis on organic wines. Keep in mind the distinction between organic and natural wines. Add a comment