A bonkers horror confection set in a weird ersatz present / recent past which looks like something produced by aliens whose only references to British popular culture were Are You Being Served, the Witches, Eastenders and some very niche erotica. Based on the premise of a dress with murderous designs on whoever is unfortunate enough to end up wearing it, it is set largely in the very fictional department store Dentley and Soper. The shop floor is presided over by oddly goth garbed and bouffanted head assistant Miss Luckmoore (played with a sort of crazed professionalism by Fatma Mohammed) whose delightfully baroque sales patter borders on the incomprehensible. She persuades Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptise) a put upon single parent and harassed bank teller to buy a flamboyant, silky red dress for a blind date, which oddly seems to accommodate any wearer regardless of size. Thus begins its reign of destruction, though you feel it’s just a continuation of the havoc it has wreaked before and will go on wreaking long after the film credits are finished. The film has a very unusual structure, being pretty much constructed in two distinctive acts, the second, once (predictable spoiler alert) Sheila has come a cropper, focussing on washing machine repair man Reg (Leo Bill), whose woes begin when he is forced to wear the dress at his stag do. The fabric the dress is woven from only becomes entirely clear in the closing scenes of this extraordinary black comedy, though there’s a bit of a massive hint in the shade printed in the catalogue (Artery). The squelchy electronica of the soundtrack by Cavern of Anti Matter perfectly complements the claustrophobic, cloying, hypnotism of the film and I couldn’t take my eyes (or ears) off it. I was sort of on a hiding to nothing even attempting this one, as the film itself and all attendant publicity materials are so beautifully designed, and I’m no graphic designer. I also couldn’t work out how to make it horrible enough for a long time and I don’t really think it’s horrible enough now. The film is currently on BBC iPlayer for about another week, and I would highly recommend a viewing. But don’t actually expect it to be anything like Eastenders.
Published in 1928 in his Spook Stories anthology, this is the only E F Benson ghost story with a female protagonist, a fact pointed out to me by artist and bookseller Eli John who suggested this to me as a subject for illustration. A woman with a seemingly perfect life (including two apparently invisible and trouble free children) living the life of Riley in suburban 1920s London is troubled by a ‘warning dream’ she has not had for many years. The dream, of a fairly uneventful walk along a cliff path towards a ruinous churchyard, is only the precursor to the nightmare which Esther knows will come the following night: the materialisation of a ghastly face and its promise that its owner will come for her. Benson is very fond of dreams and portents, and he absolutely nails the dread Esther feels but tries to dismiss as nothing more than a bad dream of her childhood returned. But in the dream time has progressed and the words uttered by the owner of the ghoulish face have been updated too, Esther realises with horror. Attempting to dismiss her fear with the bustle and business of her privileged Metropolitan life only goes so far, especially after coming face to face with the portrait of her nocturnal tormentor at an art gallery, and eventually she is dispatched to the coast by her doctor for absolute rest, with predictably unhilarious consequences. (Ten bob if you can guess which precise bit of the coast she ends up on).
I decided to make this into a micro animation, partly as I just couldn’t get the face itself to look quite ghoulish enough on its own, even though it is pretty much how I envisaged it. I left out his ears and hair basically because I forgot about them, but frankly, I think the sticky out ears would have made it look ridiculous. He looks gormless enough as it is. I’ve recently invested in a gert big Cintiq drawing screen thingy and using this drew most of the artwork with Photoshop, as I’m intending to do most of my digital stuff on that in the future (and it is lovely to work on such a big screen) but it is going to take some getting used to, and I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to animate it there, so exported it onto lovely old simple(r) Procreate on my iPad Pro. But it was fiddly enough there - I think it probably works better if you do it from scratch, as I ended up having to do a lot of duplication of layers/frames and confusing swapping about. Also because the image was so big in the first place I was limited to 50 frames which was good and bad - it’s a bit short and jerky but it stopped me from going entirely over the top and spending three days adding extra layers of detail. These are supposed to be speedy little drawings after all.
Updated: Jan 7
Another one of my absolute favourite films I had COMPLETELY forgotten about until about a week ago. Watching Armando Iannucci’s the Death of Stalin on iPlayer, with my eyes a-popping at Jason Isaacs’ characterisation of the psychopathic Field Marshall Zhukov as a gruff bluff no-nonsense Northerner (I could happily watch him chucking off his coat on a loop all day) I suddenly remembered the other military gruff bluff no-nonsense Northerner I first knew him as - namely the Colonel in Whitfield’s fairly unique supernatural comedy drama Skeletons. Based largely upon the activities of the troubled Davis and the more personable Bennett, a pair of sort of psychic investigators (the skeletons of the title are the figurative ones they find in their clients' wardrobes), the Colonel is their boss, dishing out assignments and intervening when an important case appears to be going off the rails due to the inconvenient positioning of a corpse road. It’s the kind of film where it helps to just go along with the supernatural goings on, but for me it’s a complete success down to the excellent and wholly convincing cast, particularly Andrew Buckley as the mild mannered Bennett, who kind of brings the whole thing together for me. It’s definitely a flight of fancy but never whimsical, and having watched it recently it’s funnier than I remember (I never thought of it as a comedy, though it is billed as such) and perhaps warmer though it has a kind of desperate longing borne of the tragedy of never really knowing what’s going on in someone else’s head. It seems to have been woefully largely forgotten, even by its biggest fans it turns out (ie me) and is quite hard to track down to stream, though the DVD is available on Amazon and you can buy the movie on YouTube. I finished the bulk of this illustration at midnight last night and I’ve been tweaking it ever since. I’m not hugely delighted with it (it’s too crowded, it looks too much like the film poster, the perspective’s a bit off etc etc) but keeping in the spirit of the #100ghosts project, I am going to post it anyway despite my reservations.