New Meat on Old Bones – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

This weekend I went along to see Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom, the sequel to Jurassic World (Trevorrow, 2015) and the fifth in the franchise that began with Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993) and continued with The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (Johnston, 2001). Although the film has Derek Connolly and Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow both returning as screenwriters, with Trevorrow and Steven Spielberg acting as executive producers, the introduction of Spanish film-maker J.A. Bayona as director gives this movie a welcome dash of Gothic horror that anyone who has seen his darkly atmospheric The Orphanage (2007) will appreciate. While in many ways the film retreads the familiar, audience-pleasing scenarios of the previous films, Bayona’s background brings some enjoyable Gothic frissons to the franchise and some elements that will please fans of classic British horror films of old. He directed a couple of episodes of Penny Dreadful too, including the frightening and surprisingly poignant ‘Séance’ episode, which surely should have earned Eva Green an Emmy.

There will be no spoilers here, or at least nothing that isn’t apparent from the trailers

The events of this film take place a few years after the first Jurassic World movie, as dino-trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and the former park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to Isla Nubar, a deserted ruin since the rampaging chaos of the first film. Claire’s career has changed tack somewhat, in that she is now leading a dinosaur-rights activist group, and the duo’s goal in returning to the island is to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from an imminent volcanic eruption and transfer them to safety. Their expedition is funded by the wealthy Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who – it is explained – was involved in the original dinosaur DNA experiments with John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough.) His granddaughter Maisie Lockwood (engagingly-played by newcomer Isabella Sermon) spends most of her time bounding around the huge mansion learning about palaentology, but despite her youth, there are hints of mysterious connections between her past and that of the dinosaurs amongst whose skeletons she plays.

Supervising Lockwood’s rescue project is Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), an old friend of Claire’s. Now Spall will always be for me the frighteningly unstable Jay Wratten from the 2011 BBC series The Shadow Line and it’s no surprise to find him a villain here, following in the footsteps of Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) from the first film. He is just one of a great supporting cast of British actors, including Geraldine Chaplin and the ubiquitous but always-watchable Toby Jones.

While previous films have been pretty-much island-bound (part of the terror trap), Fallen Kingdom sees the dinosaurs moved off the island to their new home at the Lockwood Estate, a vast Gothic mansion with the inevitable basement in which unspeakable things go on. Much of Jurassic World was filmed in Pinewood Studios, but the exterior of Lockwood Manor is actually just a façade, constructed on Hawley Common, an army training ground near the Hampshire village of Minley. Bayona draws on his experience filming The Orphanage, as well as much older films and visual representations to explore the terror potential of dinosaurs loose in an old dark house.

The moral message of the film is not subtle – contrasting Blue Planet’s ethos of preserving natural environments and endangered species with the unregulated self-seeking excesses of capitalist greed, private militias and the mad science that has been condemned from Frankenstein through Westworld to the previous Jurassic movies. Genetic engineering has rarely been portrayed in a positive light on the big screen, and neither the Indominus Rex of the last movie nor the Indoraptor of this one do anything to change the impressions made by watching Deep Blue Sea (Harlin, 1999) Black Sheep (King, 2006) Splice (2009) or any other Promethean fable. While there are a number of deliberate and rather obvious references to scenes from earlier films in the Jurassic franchise, viewers might also enjoy spotting gentle nods towards much older dinosaur films such as One Million Years BC (1966) and Valley of Gwangi (1969), about which I’ve written previously [see here] While watching, I was also reminded of the comic-strip story ‘Flesh’ which appeared in 2000 AD during the late 1970s.

Despite healthy box office returns the film has received mixed reviews from critics, some of whom appear oddly confused about the aims of the creators of the Jurassic franchise; while one party carps about Fallen Kingdom sticking too closely to the storyline of earlier movies, another group grouches about the folly of taking the franchise in a different direction. I think it’s fair to say that the film aims at – and achieves – a balance between nostalgia and novelty. Feverishly debating how silly it may or may not be is as pointless as the endless controversy about the correct walking speed of zombies. As some of the pics above illustrate, the film has some superb visual effects with Bayona knowing how to play with panoramic sweeps as well as atmospheric shadows and reflections. Audiences can feast their eyes while the dinosaurs feast on the baddies. Isn’t that what the franchise is all about?

Mad Dogs and Englishmen….

On 7 May the BBC finally released a DVD of The Mad Death, some 25 years after the miniseries was originally broadcast in the summer of 1983. The programme imagined what might happen if rabies was introduced into Scotland, and over the course of three episodes follows the spread of the disease, its effect on victims, and the authorities’ attempts to control the outbreak. Filmed on location around central Scotland – including a memorable chase sequence in which a landrover pursues a rabid dog through the old Plaza shopping centre at East Kilbride – and containing some horrific scenes of rabies symptoms, including nightmarish hallucinations – the programme attracted a great deal of attention at the time, especially as the threat of rabies reaching the UK was a real fear then, and the subject of widespread media campaigns.

In retrospect, one wonders if we worried too much, and over the years my memories of watching the original broadcast have been tempered by further reflection about the other fears and anxieties that perhaps lay beneath all the lurid imagery and ‘protect our borders’ propaganda.

The BBC’s timing of their DVD release was rather serendipitous as it coincided with the publication of my illustrated article, ‘”Mad Dogs and Englishmen”: Hydrophobia, Europhobia and National Identity in “The Mad Death” (BBC Scotland, 1983)’ in the online periodical, The International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen. This was written for a special issue on ‘TV in Scotland: Past, Present and Future’, and some idea of the contents can be gleaned from the abstract:

BBC Scotland’s three-part series The Mad Death (1983) presented a fictional account of a rabies outbreak on Scottish soil. Although the story was based on a lurid unpublished novel and made use of classic horror tropes, including animal attacks, imprisonment in a baronial manor and terrifying hallucinations, it also reflected the sober tone of public information films and contemporary rabies safety campaigns. Filmed in Scotland and making effective use of Highland locations and actors such as Jimmy Logan, the ‘Scottishness’ of the production was nonetheless undermined by the vague presentation of the physical landscape, uncertainty over the parameters of the Scottish and English authorities, and an uneven depiction of social classes and dialects. A more detailed study of this content reveals the cultural anxieties that underpinned the narrative and characterisation, which remain acutely relevant as the 35thanniversary of the original broadcast approaches. Drawing on original production materials and personal discussions with screenwriter Sean Hignett, this article places The Mad Death in its social, cultural and political context, exploring how the series engaged with questions of national heritage and social identity while at the same time repackaging familiar tropes from the traditions of the horror genre. Particular attention is applied to the ways in which the spread of rabies is used to reflect anxieties about the dangers of European integration, employing language and attitudes that are all too familiar from the ongoing ‘Brexit’ debate in Britain. Through a close analysis of these issues it is possible to provide detailed insights into the production of The Mad Death, the adaptation process and the workings of the Scottish television industry during a time of social and political upheaval. The essay aims at providing a case study from which lessons can be learned that could help guide policy for future Scottish programming.

and also from a little ‘word cloud’ image that I generated:

For those who wish to read my article, it can be accessed (free-of-charge) here

Revisiting The Lost World (Hoyt,1925)

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to attend a screening of a beautifully-presented new print of The Lost World (Harry Hoyt, 1925) at Curzon Clevedon. This new (2016) restoration by Serge Bromberg’s Lobster Films runs for about 104 minutes and will almost certainly be the definitive version of the movie, restoring several fragments that haven’t been viewed for decades. (There is a rumour that existing prints of The Lost World were sought out and destroyed prior to the release of King Kong in 1933, to clear the field of any possible competition.) For many years the only version of The Lost World available was a much-mutilated 50 minute Kodascope print, but over the years successive restorations (e.g. by George Eastman House in 1998 and David Shepard two years later) introduced marked improvements in both the quality and the content, which was basically the same but with digital improvements to sound and image. It was accompanied by a new orchestral score composed by Robert Israel, which fitted  the film perfectly.

Adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel of the same name, The Lost World tells the story of an expedition led by Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery) in order to prove to his critics that dinosaurs are still living in a remote area of the Amazon jungle. Accompanying him are journalist Edward Malone (Lloyd Hughes) – whose newspaper is funding the expedition- Paula White (Bessie Love), who has a journal belonging to her missing father Maple White that contains sketches of the dinosaurs, sceptical Professor Summerlee (played by the director’s brother Arthur Hoyt) and sportsman and hunter Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone), who has romantic feelings for Paula.  The film follows their exploits in the jungle, encountering dinosaurs, learning what happened to Maple White, escaping from volcanoes and ape-men, transporting a brontosaurus back to London – and of course dealing with its inevitable escape and rampage through the city streets….

Thus particular screening was introduced by Peter Lord, cofounder of Aardman Animation. He also brought along some of the original models used in making their latest stop-motion film Early Man.

Stop-motion models for ‘Early Man’ (2017)

The growth of Aardman – from a domestic tabletop to a world-leading Oscar-winning studio – echoes the remarkable career paths of early animators such as The Lost World’s Willis O’Brien, who went on to work on King Kong, a film that inspired a young Ray Harryhausen to become O’Brien’s assistant. Aardman are perhaps best known now for Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit films but those of a certain generation will remember the animated character ‘Morph’ who first appeared on BBC’s Take Hart in the late 1970s.

The setting for Paradise Falls in Pixar’s animated movie ‘Up’ (Docter, 2009) was clearly inspired by the cliffs in ‘The Lost World.’ The American company Pixar was associated with Lucasfilm and Apple before being bought by Disney. Unlike Aardman, stop-motion techniques have played little part in Pixar’s computer-generated animation.

The influence of The Lost World and King Kong on 20th century cinema has been enormous, and can be traced through numerous films including Hammer’s prehistoric movie cycle, the Jurassic Park franchise and other fantasy adventures. Ray Harryhausen’s work has inspired generations of animators and film-makers, yet the name of the man who inspired him is often forgotten now. Before the main feature we were treated to one of O’Brien’s earlier films, a short five-minute film R.F.D. 10,000 B.C. made for Thomas Edison’s company in 1916. This was accompanied by live music played on the Curzon’s organ by Colin Godfrey. The plot, for what it was, followed two cavemen competing for the love of a cavewoman, one a postman who used a dinosaur to carry his mail (R.F.D. stands for ‘Rural Free Delivery’, the American postal service for farms and rural settlements.)

For those who have not yet seen the restored version of The Lost World – and it’s far superior to the truncated versions shown previously on television – it is being screened as part of the Ilfracombe Film Festival on Saturday 21st April at 4 pm in the Landmark Theatre, on Ilfracombe’s Promenade. You won’t be disappointed!

’I Wouldn’t Leave My Little Wooden Box for You’ – Premature Burial, Postcards & Poe


Premature burial is no laughing matter. In fact many people found the idea of being buried alive so terrifying that they went to great lengths to ensure it couldn’t happen to them. Before his death in 1912 Archdeacon Thomas Colley specified in his will that his body was to be sent to a hospital for dissection in the aid of medical science, ensuring that any signs of life would be noticed by doctors in the event that he was still alive. A few years earlier, the  Third Marquess of Bute requested that doctors wait for unmistakable signs of decay before removing his heart, which was then sent for burial in Jerusalem. (See Rosemary Hannah, The Grand Designer: Third Marquess of Bute (Birlinn, 2012) p. 354. ) Aware of these and many other instances, I was intrigued to find the concept treated with great lightheartedness in the postcard below, which I purchased last week from an antique shop.
My hopes that a closer look at the card would make more sense have since been dashed. Is there any significance in the name on the gravestone? While pondering the images on the card, I was reminded of Harry Clarke’s chilling illustration for Edgar Allan Poe’s tale The Premature Burial (below.)


“The Premature Burial” (1919) by Harry Clarke (1889-1931)
Dublin-born Clarke was a leading light of the Irish arts & crafts movement and provided the illustrations for a posthumous edition of Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (London: George Harrap & Co. 1919.) This was later adapted for the cinema as the third in Roger Corman’s ‘Poe Cycle.’


Poster for ‘The Premature Burial’ (Roger Corman, 1962)


Poster for ‘The Oblong Box’ (Gordon Hessler, 1969), based very loosely on Poe’s tale of the same name.


This poster for the first of Corman’s Poe adaptations – ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1960) echoes of Clarke’s drawing, with the vertical orientation and the sinister tree.


Although this poster shifts the layout, the premature burial is still placed in the foreground. The screenplay for the movie was written by Richard Matheson.
I’ve just been teaching Poe’s Corman cycle to film adaptation students which is why these images were so much in my mind, and why the comic postcard seemed so incongruous. It took on a slightly different hue when I realised that the words ‘I would’nt leave my little wooden hut for you-oo’ are actually the refrain from a popular song, written in 1905 by Londoners Tom Mellor (1880-1926) and Charles Collins (1874–1923.)
Although Mellor and Collins are almost totally forgotten now, they were both prolific songwriters whose comic ditties were hugely popular in Edwardian music halls.  Their work received recognition in the film I’ll be Your Sweetheart (Val Guest, 1945), starring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Rennie – who appeared together the same year in The Wicked Lady. The film opens with the words ‘This film is dedicated to those grand old song writers of yesterday whose melodies are the folk songs of today. Their battle against the music pirates who robbed them of their just rewards, is the inspiration for this story.’ This is a reference to the absence of proper copyright protection for songwriters at the time ‘I Wouldn’t Leave My Little Wooden Hut for You’ was written.
As you can see from the lyrics, the song is about an unsuccessful courtship on a desert island and has absolutely nothing to do with premature burial. However, the association of ‘wooden box’ with ‘coffin’ was clearly suggestive, and my postcard was not the only one to use the phrase with in a macabre context:


Although this was clearly the work of a different artist, the idea is similar.


This early 1900s postcard comments upon current fears about badly-preserved foods, due to an ongoing scandal about malpractice in the American meatpacking industry.
If anyone knows of other examples of old postcards using this song title, or can cast further light on the graveyard humour of the first image, I’d be very pleased to hear of it.

Early Birds: Du Maurier’s Precursors

The terrifying concept of wild birds turning upon humans was presented to cinema audiences in 1963 with the release of Alfred Hitchcock’s screen adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story, The Birds, first published in 1952. The idea was not entirely new, however, and in today’s post I’m going to focus on two earlier novels: Melville Davisson Post’s The Revolt of the Birds (1927)  and Frank Baker’s The Birds (1936.)


Dust jacket of the first edition


The binding, blind-stamped with gilt images of birds in flight

West Virginian lawyer and author Melville Davisson Post (1871-1930) is perhaps best remembered now as a crime writer, and the creator of such brilliant detectives as Uncle Abner, Randolph Mason, Colonel Braxton and Sir Henry Marquis of Scotland Yard. A qualified lawyer, he had travelled in Europe and beyond, and his prolific output reflects both his wide experiences and love of the great outdoors. The Revolt of the Birds was published in New York by Appleton in 1927, three years before Post died following a fall from his horse. 

The Revolt of the Birds is set in the China Sea, and – rather like an M.R. James ghost story – is relayed through an anonymous narrator as he listens to Bennett, a seaman with the notorious Wu Fan Shipping Company. The two men are seated in a warehouse bar in Hong Kong. Bennett, an Englishman, has a copy of The Times and The Passing of Arthur which shows ‘quaint pictures of the three queens, who came in the legend, in a mystic barge to take Arthur to Avalon.’ When they start discussing whether or not such a thing could ever happen, the conversation shifts to strange happenings in the Orient and Bennett begins to tell his tale – about Arthur Hudson, his unhappy affair with an English girl, his dreams of a mysterious ‘slender, dark-haired girl’ who always appears with a flock of birds around her or beside her, and his quest to find this girl in the islands of the China Sea….  The Revolt of the Birds differs from Du Maurier’s story in one very significant point – the intention of the birds towards the humans – but it introduced the idea of a large number of birds acting together in concert against the laws of nature.

There had been some precedents for this idea – Arthur Machen’s The Terror (1917), for example, features sustained attacks on Cornish folk from an array of wild animals, including birds and moths. The disturbing suggestion that individual birds might work together in order to carry out an organised mass attack also appeared in Philip Macdonald’s short-story ‘Our Feathered Friends’ which was published in Lady Cynthia Asquith’s anthology When Churchyards Yawn (London: Hutchinson, 1931.) Macdonald actually worked as a screenwriter on Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) – also an adaptation of a Du Maurier story – and ‘Our Feathered Friends’ was reprinted in the anthology
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories for Late at Night (New York: Random House, 1961.)Five years after Macdonald’s story, author Frank Baker (1908-82) published his full-length novel The Birds, exploring the possibility of birds carrying out a sustained war of terror against mankind.


The Birds (London: Peter Davies, 1936) dust jacket
There is no reason to doubt the claim of Daphne du Maurier that she was completely unaware of the existence of Baker’s novel when she came to write her own story with the same title. Apart from the basic concept, the two texts have little in common, and she actually drew her inspiration from something she witnessed near her Cornish home at Menabilly House. near Fowey. She was able to rent Menabilly from 1943 until 1969 because of the success of the book and film Rebecca, but she had known the area since the late 1920s when the family began taking holidays there, and was friendly with many of the locals. One day, while walking across to Menabilly Barton farm from her house, she saw a farmer named Tommy Dunn out ploughing in his field above Polridmouth Beach. Above his head, seagulls were swooping and diving, and she began to wonder what might happen if they suddenly began to attack….
She went home and began to develop this idea, turning Tommy Dunn into Nat Hocken, and suggesting that the birds become aggressive after a harsh winter with little food. Seagulls are the first to start attacking, but they are soon joined by birds of prey and finally even small birds. The setting is clearly rural, the characters are limited to Nat’s family and neighbours, and the atmosphere is reminiscent of wartime Britain with its fears about coastal invasion and German air raids.The story was first published in Good Housekeeping magazine in October 1952, with the text broken up into fragments and printed between pages 54 and 132, interspersed with sections of other short stories and juxtaposed with dozens of housekeeping tips and adverts: “Bread stays good longer when protected with ‘Mycoban,'” “Childcraft: America’s Famous (14-volume) Child Guidance Plan” or “Jell-O Salads: Like to add a touch of glamour to dinner tonight?” This homely material seems incongruous with the grim subject matter of Du Maurier’s story, which the editors clearly regarded as potentially unpalatable – the tagline proclaimed: ‘The Editors present this, not as the most popular, but perhaps as the Most Distinguished Short Story of the Year.’
Reading the story within the context of ‘good housekeeping’ tips does, however, draw attention to the prominence of domestic and familial concerns.  Nat is a former soldier who was injured during the war and receives a disability pension, but works part time on local farms doing light work in order to provide for his wife and two young children, Jill and Johnny. When the bird attacks begin, he uses his handyman skills to protect his family, boarding up windows and setting up barbed wire barriers, while his (unnamed) wife deals with the housekeeping matters: ‘It’s shopping day tomorrow, you know that. I don’t keep uncooked food about. Butcher doesn’t call till the day after.’ (Fridges were still a rarity in Britain in the early 1960s.) To distract the children from the horror, she makes them an early supper: ‘Something for a treat – toasted cheese, eh? Something we all like?’ Little details such as the need to stock up on candles, or heating up left-overs for the children, would resonate with the magazine’s readers, perhaps prompting them to think about how well they would cope in such circumstances.


1952 artwork by Seymour Mednick
The story was reprinted in Du Maurier’s collection, The Apple Tree: a short novel and several long stories (London: Victor Gollancz, 1952.) Editions of the anthology published after the movie were issued under the title of The Birds to capitalize on the publicity.


Comparison of the 1952 and 1963 covers
Hitchcock – who had made film adaptations of Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn (1939) and Rebecca (1940) – spotted the story and included it in his anthology Alfred Hitchcock Presents: my Favorites in Suspense (New York: Random House, 1959) as well as securing the film rights. He was reminded of the story after reading newspaper reports of bird attacks in the Californian press in April 1960 and August 1961 and within a few weeks had commissioned Evan Hunter to write a screenplay – but one that retained only the title and basic concept of Du Maurier’s story.  Apart from the obvious switch from Cornwall to California, the changes are too numerous to mention; it is only really in the siege scenes in the house where Du Maurier’s story can be recognised, although here and there little echoes of phrases and events recur. Other elements – such as the attack on a woman in a telephone booth, and the intrusion of an unusual female into the relationship between the male hero and his widowed mother – can be traced back to Baker’s novel.
In 1962, when Baker heard that a film was being made of The Birds without any apparent reference to his story, he wrote to both Hitchcock and Du Maurier to protest.  The director never replied, but Du Maurier responded with great sympathy; anyone who has read her letters will be aware of the tender solicitude she often showed towards her correspondents, answering questions in detail and almost acting as an ”agony aunt’ towards many of the lonely souls who contacted her. 


In the wake of the film, Frank Baker’s novel was reissued in 1964 as a Panther paperback

Baker heavily revised the text of his novel for the 1964 edition but only a fraction of these changes were implemented by Panther.

A new edition was published by Valancourt Press in 2013 which incorporates all of Baker’s original revisions, and comes with a nine page introduction by Ken Mogg, who runs ‘The MacGuffin’ webpage devoted to Hitchcock scholarship. Those wishing to know more about Baker’s life should read Paul Newman’s biography, The Man Who Unleashed The Birds: Frank Baker and his Circle (Abraxas Editions, 2010.)