Now while I've been working on We Don't Go Back I've bumped into the occasional film that I want to write about, but had to discount because it just wasn't in the theme. I mean, it felt right, but it was in the city or it was about something other than folk. I'll be honest, there's two movies I've reviewed in We Don't Go Back that are very much edge cases: Symptoms, which doesn't really have the pagan thing so much, and Psychomania which has all the satanism and stone circles and stuff, but is somehow, indefinably not really there (it's still terrific though). But there's all these films that have that subtext I love and they're not folk horror and I still want to write about them and... you know, I reckon Adam had that experience too. Hence, urban wyrd.
In the spirit of being the second person to have a good idea, welcome to On a Thousand Walls, where I attempt to develop an idea of what a list of "urban wyrd" films looks like.
Adam talked in his post about Quatermass and the Pit and Death Line. I'll add to them Philip Ridley's Heartless. Dead Man's Shoes will get a write-up. I don't think there's a more quintessential urban wyrd movie than Candyman. I'm going to make a strong case for the inclusion of Christine Lawlor and Joe Molloy's Helen (a film that you either think is a work of stunning, mesmerising beauty, or an experience slightly less interesting than watching paint dry, and I'm in the former camp, but I respect and understand the latter). Similarly, I'm going to make arguments for Dennis Potter's controversial play Brimstone and Treacle, and for Andrzej Żuławski's almost as controversial collapsing-marriage horror Possession.
I'm going to start, though, with something more obscure and awkward than any of these, Ben Hopkins' 1999 oddity The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz.
|The Happy Eater.|
Katz tells the driver that he sees into dreams, and he narrates a recurring nightmare the cabbie has had about the corporate mascot of the Happy Eater having murdered his children. And then he and the driver swap places.
|From the ground.|
|London is built on a mystic network, Cuthbert.|
London is encircled by the M25, an endless road that travels in an infinite ring; a literal road to nowhere.
The Chief Inspector:Provincial detectives laugh at me behind my back because I rely on the spirit world to bring criminals to justice. they call me Mystic Meg. Little do they know that London, Cuthbert, is a city built on a mystic network. London is full of forces we know nothing about. Even the bollards, even the bollards can have powers.
|This is not some namby pamby, wishy washy blue helmet sort of war. This is the full testosterone.|
Schlauch (voiceover): Here in the Underground control room, I see myself as Emperor of London, and I dream of the day when London will cover the entire world's surface. And the United States of America will become London's 57th postal district. And the Central Line will run from Alaska to Vladivostok. And I will control all of it from this control room. But for the moment, the lack of investment is really getting me down.
|Our struggle is over.|
Yvonne: The next trains arriving on all platforms are carrying the souls of the dead on their final journey from all the gathering rooms of the afterworld.
|To placate the fax devils press hash hash 6 star star 6 hash star 6 and garnish your fax machine with dogwood rose.|
Obvious, that is, to a Londoner.
OK, look. I've been to London a lot, and I have a lot of friends in London and I do sort of adore Great Britain's capitol. But you get this weird impression sometimes that to Londoners, London is the whole world. If you're not British, it can be hard to imagine the weird gravity London has on Britain; the only other capitol city I can think of that so holds the rest of the nation in its orbit is probably Tokyo.
Outside of London, we in the provinces look at the Island of Britain thus:
But when we talk to people in London, they give us this impression:
So when the film The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz presents us with an apocalypse, the end of all existence, that happens because of London, it's an apocalypse that begins in the suburbs of London and reaches its climax in central London. The world of the film is enclosed by the M25, because the M25 encloses the world.
That's psychogeography, right there: London is a place where directions and distances themselves vary depending on your vehicle. London is a place surrounded by a road that goes on literally forever. London's very own bollards and windows have their powers (and receive a cast credit).
The war Katz starts is with Gwupigrubynudnyland, a nonsense name, because if you're from London, pretty much everywhere that isn't London is Gwupigrubynudnyland, garbled syllables, empty of meaning. It could be Wales just as easily as the "Far Middle East".
|Is that the Astral Child?|
The Chief Inspector, through astral projection and seances, contacts him. Katz calls himself "No."
That's his real name. If anything "Tomas Katz" is a placeholder name for a travelling entertainer from Poland, just another identity that "No" stole. "No" has stolen the Astral Child and is keeping her in the sewer. The Chief Inspector must stop him. He can't.
It was always too late.
|What monitor am I thinking of?|
|The next trains arriving on all platforms are carrying the souls of the dead |
on their final journey from all the gathering rooms of the afterworld.