Archive for mystery

Casebook: Jack the Ripper

Posted in Mystery, Victoriana with tags , , , on January 6, 2012 by mike k

The world is full of psychopaths and serial killers but no murderer has intrigued criminal historians more than the unsolved case of Jack the Ripper.

Considered to be the world’s first serial killer, “Jack the Ripper”, is a psuedonym used by journalists in 19th Century London to describe the killer of at least five prostitutes in grisly fashion. I say “at least” because no one is quite sure how many women “Jack” actually killed. The murders occurred in Whitechapel, a notoriously overcrowded, extremely poor section of London known for its poverty and its seedy nightlife,  with the first happening on August 31st (Mary Nichols) and the last on November 9, 1888 (Mary Kelley). Despite the best efforts of London’s Metropolitan Police and Scotland Yard, “Saucy Jack” was never captured. The murders shocked the ‘morally upright’ society of Victorian England and helped usher in a wave of social activism to alleviate the plight of the poor in Whitechapel and to aid ‘women of the night’ in finding a better vocation for themselves.

Whitechapel, London, 1905

There have been dozens of films and television series about the Jack the Ripper case (most recently BBC’s Whitechapel and Johnny Depp’s From Hell) and even more books and websites to be found throughout the World Wide Web.

In 2003, I was lucky enough to participate in a walking tour of Whitechapel sponsored by Premium Tours complete with a stop at the Sherlock Holmes Pub for dinner and drinks (English beer, by the way, is superior to our American brands). The tour picqued my interest in the Jack the Ripper case (okay, it became a slight infatuation for a turn) and got me searching the Internet for information.

I don’t usually provide advertisement for websites but in this case the website is well deserving of its accolades.

THE BEST website I found during my search for Jack the Ripper is Casebook which has some of the most amazing files and photographs I have ever seen concerning the murders. There is also a forum you can join but I must warm you the ‘Ripperologists’ in this forum really know there stuff so don’t go in there unprepared for they do not look upon ‘lurkers’ and ‘amatuers’ lightly. Just about anything you would like to know about Jack the Ripper can be found on this website including a nifty little “Jack the Ripper” online store.

So … if you’re willing to take a stroll down the dark, mysterious and somewhat seedy part of Victorian London, Casebook is the place for you.

The Fiendish Ghouls

Posted in horror films with tags , , , on December 18, 2011 by mike k

The Fiendish Ghouls aka The Flesh and The Ghouls and Mania

Every once in a while I come across what I call a real video nasty. By video nasty, I don’t mean that the film is extremely gory or violent but that its the kind of movie that grips my attention by the first scene and never lets me go until the very end. The Fiendish Ghouls is that kind of film.

Filmed in 1960 and starring horror legends Peter Cushing (Van Helsing in all of those Hammer Dracula films) and Donald Pleasance (Halloween) the movie tells the true tale of Dr. Knox who runs a medical school in Edinburgh, Scotland. Dr. Knox is hindered by both the law and the church in his pursuit to obtain corpses for his students to  practice on during anatomy class.  He finally resorts to hiring two nefarious grave robbers, Hare (Pleasance) and Burke (played by George Rose) to obtain the dead he needs. It is Hare and Burke who quickly become the villains of the film.

Peter Cushing is, of course, the protagonist of the story and he performs extremely well in one of his better, and lesser known, roles. In a rarity, Cushing has several comedic one-liners in the film that are terribly funny.  The viewer is torn between sympathy for Dr. Knox, whose pursuit of science and medicine are being block by narrow minded knuckleheads, and disgust as he employs two murderous grave robbers to obtain his corpses without ever asking where exactly the bodies came from.

A hairy-headed Donald Pleasance, playing his part with a Scottish (sometimes Irish) burr, seems to be taking great delight in his role as Hare. Pleasance is often comedic (he is a rat afraid of rats) in the film but is mostly a slimey character.

There is also a tragic love story in the form of Dr. Chris Jackson (played by John Cairney) and a prostitute named Mary (played arousingly by Billie Whitelaw). Torn between attraction and class driven scorn of a doctor having a love affair with a prostitute, the story of Dr. Jackson and Mary provide an excellent side drama to the horrific murders by Hare and Burke. Sadly, both  will find themselves victims of our two graverobbers which are found out and spell the end, not only of their graverobbing careers, but the career of Dr. Knox as well.

The Fiendish Ghouls has excellent acting, enthralling drama and is a surprisingly well directed and well filmed movie by John Gilling who would move onto Hammer Film Studios to do more excellent work there. There isn’t a bad scene in the entire film. I completely loved this movie. The DVD has 3 different versions of the film: the safe US and UK version and the entralling Continental version seen in Europe which left the nudity and pictures of bloody corpses intact.

The movie can also be found by its other titles: The Flesh and The Fiends and Mania

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Posted in Mystery with tags , , , , on November 13, 2011 by mike k

Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes in the 1959 Hammer Studios film version

 When I grew up, watching television was nothing like it was today. We didn’t have cable and we had to rely on locally broadcast television. For reception, my family used an arial antenna which sat on the top of our TV that we had to fumble with and place our bodies in strange and bizarre positions to make work. Unlike the 150 or so odd channels people have to choose from today, my brother and I were prisoners of the 3 network channels (ABC, NBC and CBS (which always came in kind of fuzzy)) and PBS.  That’s not a big choice to choose from and, in the immortal words of comedian Robin Williams, “if the President was on (giving a speech) you were screwed”.

I watched a lot of PBS when I was a kid. PBS relied on local donations to operate and as they could not afford the high priced cable programs that were then available, they purchased a lot of programming from across the Atlantic from the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). If you didn’t mind watching programs such as Doctor Who, Benny Hill, Monty Python or Are You Being Served coupled with servings of Upstairs, Downstairs and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, PBS wasn’t too bad to watch. Personally, I’ve a love affair with British TV. I’m a routine watcher of BBC America and the new Doctor Who. Their television dramas and mystery shows are top notch.

Through PBS, I was introduced to the cinematic Sherlock Holmes. Mostly, Holmes was played by Jeremy Brett but ocassionally, viewers would be offered the treat of watching horror legend Peter Cushing, known mostly for playing Count Dracula’s nemesis, Abraham Van Helsing, don the hat of the erstwhile master detective. Cushing played Sherlock Holmes in the very first Holmes film in color in 1959; The Hound of the Baskervilles. He repeated his role as Holmes in 1965 and 1968 in the BBC series, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Cushing again played Holmes in old age in the 1984 BBC TV film, The Mask of Death.

While Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone are more famous for playing the role, Cushing tried to play Holmes as he appeared in Doyle’s stories. While Cushing added nothing new to the character of Holmes, he played the role intelligently and with great respect. A DVD of Cushing’s role as Sherlock Holmes can be purchased online from the BBC America shop.

The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow

Posted in short films with tags , , on November 1, 2011 by mike k

I found a link to an interesting short film entitled, “The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow”. The film centers around a photograph taken circa 1930s featuring a young couple and infant child surrounded by, what appears to be, their two friends.  However, things are not quite as they appear. Newspaper clippings tell of children being abucted for pagan rituals and a closer examination of the photograph, in which the viewer is the person looking at the picture, tells of hidden dangers and secrets awaiting our young couple.

The film was written and directed by Rodrigo Gudino and stars, in image  only, Julian Richings, Alan Aderton and Lea Lawrynowicz. The film was a 2008 Genie nominee for best animated short film.

The film has some really great creepy imagery and expertly tells the story of what happens without uttering a single word.  “The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow” is definitely a short film worth viewing.