The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat O’ Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet: A brief look at Dario Argento’s ‘Animal Trilogy’

The wild and weird output of the landmark Italian horror/thriller director Dario Argento can neatly be split up into three chapters.

The middle and most famous chapter, from 1975’s Deep Red to 1987’s Opera, is heralded by those who love him as one of the all-time great runs of genre cinema, films of such verve, idiosyncratic extremes and horrific beauty that it’s no wonder they’ve inspired the kind of intense devotion that true cults are made of.

The third chapter, which covers everything from 1989’s Romero team-up Two Evil Eyes right up until now, is where Argento’s mojo starts to slip away and we get a much spottier output, some of it good, some of it bad.

Then there was the first chapter, when Argento was just starting out. In this period he delivered three fine thrillers that you could (and I try not to, but I ultimately do) regard as mere build-ups for what was to come, but they also mostly work very well as films in their own right. They’re often referred to as ‘The Animal Trilogy’ for no other reason than their titles. Those titles by the way are just so much fancy window-dressing – they sound cool, mysterious and unique, but they barely relate to the actual bloody films, bar a shoe-horned reference here and there. Compared to Argento’s golden period, these films are far more modest in their ambitions and impact, but something like 1969’s debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is actually a pretty neat entry-point for those who aren’t at all sure about how to approach this most extreme of filmmakers. What’s interesting about Bird is not only how relatively normal it is for an Argento film but also how many of his motifs and themes were right there from the start. Scary paintings, unreliable memories, helpless murder witnesses, obsessed protagonists, unique cinematic tricks, cats – it’s all here. The seeds were being sown.

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The plot involves blocked writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) witnessing the stabbing of a woman in a museum by a mysterious black-clad assailant. He’s unable to help because he’s trapped in-between two sets of glass doors (Argento would take this motif of helpless watching to one hell of an extreme in 1987’s Opera), but nevertheless develops his own obsession with the mystery as the film proceeds, becoming amateur detective (another Argento regularity) and dancing perilously close to death as a result. Argento’s been criticised for his unbelievable characters, and some might balk at the scene when Sam and his girlfriend (Suzy Kendall) are in bed going over the clues (and various grisly crime scene photos) with an enthusiastic glee that surely no sane person would adopt if any of this were real. But if you consider that Argento could be letting his characters approach the case in the same way a viewer would approach a mystery film, then it almost makes some kind of perverse sense. Sam and his girlfriend’s reactions are almost like if you and I were going over the plot of say, a TV crime series the day after it had been screened. This might put some viewers off though for being too remote, and not how people in real life would react, but Argento and ‘real life’ have always been a tricky combination. There’s also a bit earlier Sam is walking home (down a beautifully eerie, foggy street) and is almost hacked by the killer – he pretty much shrugs it off and later relays the previous night and day’s events with a wry dismissal. Blimey.  With stuff like that, you’re either happy to go along for the ride or you aren’t. Besides, this is nothing compared to the infamously odd scene in Opera where the heroine, having just been forced to watch her boyfriend get a knife up through his jaw, behaves if she’s only mildly inconvenienced. That really did annoy me.

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The violent extremes that Argento would become famous haven’t been reached yet – the first murder takes place entirely off-screen (!!!!), but there are still some unsettlingly nasty moments here – I imagine they were pretty damned strong for 1969, and to think that this director would only get more and more cruel, elaborate and gory from here on in! Also, one thing that differentiates this from Argento’s other gialli is that this has a reasonably happy ending – think of all the others from 1970’s Cat O’ Nine Tails onwards, they have a sting in the tail, are uncertain or are pretty damned bleak.

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Speaking of Cat, this is an Argento film that has always been relatively easy to find in the UK – on video it was distributed by Warner Bros. It got a rental release in 1987 to presumably cash in on Argento’s cult popularity (the cover refers to Suspiria and more recent films like Creepers – aka Phenomena – and the Argento-produced Demons) and was also re-released as part of Warners’ very cool Terror Vision collection of horror movies. However, while Bird was a hit in the US, Cat was not. Oddly enough, for a director who has featured kitties in many of his films, Cat O’ Nine Tails doesn’t star any felines at all. This is very disappointing. The plot is a twisty-turny tale of murder, theft, kind-of incest, genetics etc. and while it is no Argento classic, I love it for its tension between giallo grotesquerie and Stateside potboiler. Even though it’s not set in the US, it nevertheless feels like an episode of a crime series like Columbo and The Streets of San Franscisco at times, understandable given that the latter’s star Karl Malden is one of the two leads here.

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The plot – something about the criminality of the XXY chromosome and the killer’s desperate attempt to cover up that they have it – is even more convoluted and silly than the one for Bird, and hinges on implausibilities: the one that’s currently bothering me is the second murder: why would the killer bump off the photographer to conceal the fact that a murder took place originally? All you could see in the original photo was a hand! Talk about compounding the situation! To be honest, I’ve watched Cat three times now and the last two times I had forgotten who the murderer was, so this isn’t really a film that revolves around a particularly important revelation. Maitland McDonagh, author of the brilliant Argento book Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds, suggests that the film is a lot more fun if you already know who the killer is. I kind of agree with that – as a whodunnit, Cat is hardly a classic, but as an exercise in style and flair, it’s very enjoyable indeed. One thing that Argento has already upped his game with substantially is his handling of murder scenes. The first, a gruesome killing at a train station, is spectacularly nasty. We also get some pretty vicious first-person kills that are protracted, garish and pretty damned ugly. It’s also a cynical movie – note the way the photographers are distracted from the murder of Calabresi (the first victim) with the arrival of the celebrity arriving on the train for whom they were originally there for, and ‘Smile bitch, your train just killed a guy’ is one of the cruellest asides in any Argento film. In addition, it’s the little extra sadistic touches that stand out – after strangling the photographer, the killer slashes each of his cheeks. The vomit in Bianca’s mouth as she’s getting garotted. When the killer falls down the lift shaft, he/she attempt to hold onto the lift cables but that ends up causing so much friction that their hands begin to smoke – ouch!

And of course, this shot.

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Argento, more than in Bird, is clearly interested in set-pieces and individual stand-out moments. Aside from the murders, we also get a car chase, an excursion to a cemetery, a suspense-scene involving poisoned milk and a funny scene at the barber’s that’s half amusing, half squirm-inducing. These are the stand out moments, but Argento joins the dots nicely thanks to charismatic performances from James Franciscus (soon to venture Beneath the Planet of the Apes) and Karl Malden, whose character in turn has a cute double-act with his niece. Catherine Spaak represents that rare thing in an Argento film – a love interest – and even though the dynamic between her and Franciscus isn’t as sharp or fascinating as the one between David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi in Deep Red, it’ll do well enough, despite a love scene that’s so drained of heat it’s almost alien. Some neat uses of editing (like jumping back and forth in-between scenes as an arresting form of transition, the cutaways that suggest that Malden’s blind character has some kind of second sight), the memorably nasty (and oblique, if you go along with McDonagh’s theory that the killer wasn’t lying about his final victim) ending and great shot composition makes this is a relatively modest but still above-average slice of genre fare.

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Accidental murder, phoney murder and out-and-out intentional murder, as well as self-loathing gender identity, filial hatred, infidelity and yes, feline abuse form the bulk of 1971’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, which is the darkest and weirdest of the Animal Trilogy. It was given some kind of Holy Grail status over the decades due to how rare it was to track down but don’t get excited, this flawed film is most definitely not a ‘lost masterpiece’ as the cover of the eventual Blu-Ray excitedly release claimed it to be. Still, I like it for the most part – it sees Argento venture even further out there in regards to technique and idiosyncrasy. There are some tremendous moments to savour. The opening sequence blends music and visuals brilliantly as we get a prog-rock band in rehearsal whilst the camera explores a guitar by perching on the top of its neck or even occupying a space INSIDE it – we see the hand strumming the strings! There’s a great protracted suspense scene as a doomed maid finds the zoo she’s in becomes deserted and, as she’s pursued by the killer, seems to turn into some kind of cobwebbed catacomb! The final scene proves you can make anything beautiful as long as you add slow-motion and Morricone. Fans of Argento’s later work will notice little touches here and there that he’s repeated later on. Puppets, slow-motion bullets, that sort of thing. As for the absolutely insane method of detection that involves taking the last image seen by the victim before they died? Well, it comes out of nowhere so late in the narrative and is frankly complete twaddle, but it’s so mad that I can’t help but admire its nerve.

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However, any resemblance to conventional thriller fare that his first two films might have had are slipping away, and to be honest, we’re occasionally in an awkward middleground between the immediately satisfying if relatively unambitious likes of Bird and Cat and the more successful craziness of Deep Red. Sometimes the film feels flat, and this isn’t helped by Michael Brandon in the lead character of Roberto, a drummer who thinks he’s killed someone (in a spectacularly abandoned concert hall) but hasn’t, yet is still guilty of being a dickhead. He certainly looks the part (and his resemblance to Argento himself has been noted) but he’s one of the director’s more charmless leads. His performance is most odd – at times he seems to be barely reacting to anything. His scenes with girlfriend Mimsy Farmer as she’s practically breaking down in front of him are some of the coldest you’ll ever see. Is it because Roberto is so remote he’s barely there, or is the actor not really trying? Incidentally, Brandon was some way down the list of preferred actors for the role – if you can believe it, the likes of James Taylor (yes, that one) and Tom Courtenay (yes, that one) were considered!

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There’s also a would-be humorous element that doesn’t quite work – the bit when Roberto first encounters ‘God’ and this out-of-the-blue musical snippet of ‘Hallelujah’ appears out of nowhere is really bloody weird. Other broadly jokey bits, including a put-upon postman, don’t really work, though the digs at hipster arty-banter are quite amusing – I wish more of these prats had been killed off to be honest. The only light element that truly succeeds is the character of the gay private detective who is hedging his bets on a successful result after eighty-plus unsuccessful cases. It’s an affectionate performance and too sweet to be offensive or patronising, though some viewers might object to it. Nevertheless, he’s the most engaging character in the film. Incidentally, the fact that one of the reasons that a character in Cat O Nine Tails is suspicious because he’s he’s gay  is the kind of dated stuff you have to take as a given in a film that’s almost fifty years old, I suppose.

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In regards to subtext and themes, Four Flies is definitely the most complex of Argento’s first three films – the killer’s motivations are fascinating for example – but it’s difficult to get swept up in the whole affair mainly because the director has not found the confidence to go full-pelt with his vision. It’s simply not Argento enough. After an anomolous diversion into comedy for his fourth film (The Five Days of Milan), Argento would truly find his thriller-horror mojo from 1975 onwards.

One point of interest regarding these three films is the hiring of Ennio Morricone as composer – Argento’s collaborations with Goblin and its various members are his most celebrated, but the Morricone stuff has a magical appeal all of its own. Sometimes it’s generic, but othertimes it’s very nicely complementary, memorable and effective. Compared to the Goblin and Emerson stuff though, it’s just too damned normal!

These three films, had they been the only ones that Argento had ever made, would I’m sure still be as warmly remembered by cultists now as they are in real life. Those who object to the director’s more out-there and excessive later work might even find that the likes of Bird and Cat are their own personal favourites of the work. For hardcore Argento fans though, it’s unlikely any of these three will occupy the top spot, but they are still essential viewing for anyone who want to delve further into the man’s work, and also pleasing (if er, unpleasant) viewing for anyone who wants a bit of vintage late sixties/early seventies thrills.

The Real Ghostbusters Episode 35: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Ghost?

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This is not one of my favourite episodes – despite an apparently important emotional revelation at the end, the whole thing doesn’t really amount to an awful amount – the second act in particular drags out what little material it has to patience-breaking point.

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We start off with New York’s poshest wining and dining in one of the city’s finest restaurant (flies still get into the soup, mind). They’re doing their own thing, living their own priviliged lives, whilst outside ghosts are terrorising the regular folk, and the Ghostbusters are on the case. Inside, there is a very, very bored posh couple, both of whom have annoying voices, who are discussing the problem of their haunted house. Hubby suggests the Ghost Smashers (he read about them in the National Inquisitor – oh wait, that’s the National Intruder). Wifey, with her voice that sounds like she’s trying to talk and eat chewy candy at the same time, is not interested, and doesn’t seem to think much of her other half. The Real Ghostsmashers (sorry) end up following their spectral pursuit inside the restaurant. The guests are shocked and horrified (one of them screams just like Peter) and a food fight almost gets going (I hate food fights) but luckily for the restaurant and for us the impatient viewers, it doesn’t go anywhere.

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Hubby asks Winston for the Ghostbusters’ details but Wifey doesn’t want to associate with ‘ruffians’. They head back home to their very fancy place, but unbeknownst to them, one of the restaurant ghosts hitches a ride in their exhaust pipe (just like that bit in the film!). This ghost has a head that looks like a pine cone. It turns out that the haunted mansion’s supernatural ‘threat’ is none other than Wifey’s own Uncle Horace, who has one of the most annoying voices ever, even more annoying than either of the couple. He’s a really pathetic spectre too – scared of everything. The thing is, he doesn’t realise he’s a ghost. He’s also looking for something, but he doesn’t know what it is. He keeps referring to it as his ‘whatever it is’.

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Wifey and Hubby dress up in sheets and chains to try and scare Horace – now you may wonder if dressing up as a ghost could scare a ghost, but in the case of wimpy Horace, it works. Far from a ‘depressing’ result, as Wifey feared. Oddly enough, at no point does Horace look down and notice that he has no feet. In fact, he has nothing below the knees. That might have helped him suss things out a lot sooner. Saying that, he even sees himself (or lack of) in the mirror early on and still doesn’t figure things out. He even flees moments of peril by moving through walls, but no, he never realises why he’s able to do such things. He’s stupid. Ugly too, according to Hubby. However, I do get an unrelated minor chill regarding Horace because he looks a little bit like the head prankster ghost in ‘The Old College Spirit’, who, if you remember, at one point transmogrified into one of the scariest monsters in the entire series. Maybe they were brothers? After the malarkey involving Wifey, Hubby and Horace dies down, it is hinted that there be that there could be some unresolved emotional issues between Wifey and Uncle Horace, with talk of her being ‘let down’ by him. Meanwhile, the restaurant ghost is now in the mansion, and he’s just a little pain in the arse, drawing moustaches on paintings, that sort of thing.

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Horace finds the Ghostbusters business card that Hubby left behind in his fright (the text of which has a cute throwback to ‘Troll Bridge’) and calls HQ – the poor guys have been working two days straight and want to go to bed, but promise of working for ‘old money’ act as a veritable Pro-Plus and off they go to the ‘pretentious but not ostentatious’ abode, where they try to lure the ghost out from its hiding place by pretending to leave (that’s one way of doing it, I suppose), after which Horace emerges from the fireplace only to blasted by proton beams. He doesn’t like it one bit. Oddly, we get an act break with no musical cue at all. Just the sound of screaming. If Horace was less of a nuisance, this would probably play out a lot more disturbingly than it does.

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We fade into act two, and somewhat sadistically the guys are still blasting the hell out of Horace. A reference to ghosts sets Horace’s radar off and he tries to protest, saying that he’s not dead, and that he’s going to sue them, and this is when he realises that he really is dead. The guys go off to find the real cause of the house’s destruction. Cue some ‘antics’ regarding gramophones (playing Dixieland jazz -see ‘Play Them Ragtime Boos’), Wifey and Hubby still pretending to be ghosts, and Horace still banging on about finding whatever it is he’s looking for too. Maybe all he’s looking for his feet and lower legs. He needs to find out what that thing he is looking for is though, otherwise he won’t be able to cross over into the afterlife and spare us from watching him being stubbornly rude to Ray and Egon. He gets in a cute reference to The Shadow at one point though as he tries to look scary, so he’s not completely without merit. After this, we cut to the restaurant ghost, who’s dancing in the air to the gramophone, but yelling with the same voice Horace was screaming with when he was getting blasted earlier. There’s some bloody odd soundtrack choices in this episode.

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There’s some silliness involving the restaurant ghost sweeping Wifey off her feet and dancing with her in the air, which leaves the guys in a quandary about how to blast it without his dance partner falling to the ground, but some rope swinging trickery from Egon saves the day. This is when Horace realises that he was looking for his niece all this time – and all he wanted to do was tell her he loved her. And it turns out she was upset with him all this time because he ‘left’ without saying goodbye. Bloody hell, had Horace known he was going to shuffle off in advance, maybe he would have sorted out his farewells more efficiently, but we can’t all arrange when we go, do we? ‘Let down’. Blimey. Oh well, at least everything’s resolved, everyone’s happy, and the final line of dialogue is the none-more 1980’s send-off ‘let’s blow this pop stand’, which I swear I heard a million or so times during my addiction to animation as a child.

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It’s an okay episode – a lot of goofing about, silly voices and no real threat. It’s also definitely the weakest episode I’ve reviewed so far. We need a pick-up.

The Real Ghostbusters Episode 34: Banshee Bake a Cherry Pie?

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Blimey, that’s some absolutely dreadful punnery there with that title, and I’ll admit I was a bit worried revisiting this episode as it’s written by the same two people who delivered the underwhelming ‘Don’t Forget the Motor City’. However, this one turns out to be a proper chuckle! No mirth is in store for poor Peter Venkman though, for this is the second episode in a row where he has spent a lot of money on something fancy (last time it was a car, this time it’s a nice-smelling stereo) and within minutes, it has EXPLODED!

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Let’s backtrack a second – Peter has set up his stereo (on his bed?!!) and decides to test drive his new gear by playing an advance copy of the new album from Irish rock star Shanna O’ Callaghan, or just ‘Shanna’ as the sleeve indicates. You know you’re huge when you can get away with being referred to by just your first name. Egon, despite what appeared to be a brief flirtation with 20th century music in the last episode (he was looking for the ‘Queen of Soul’, remember?), is back to his snobbery towards the popular song form, hoping that Peter will be only listening to this rockin’ rock experience through headphones.

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The song starts, and to be honest, it’s just a relief that it’s not Tahiti. However, it’s not long before all hell breaks loose. Peter starts contorting wildly, Egon demands to know who this is, and Peter complies, unnecessarily adding that ‘she’s Irish’. Like that instantly explains everything. I’m suddenly thinking of that old Itchy and Scratchy cartoon where ‘Itchy falls foul of an Irishman’ and Milhouse exclaims ‘look out, he’s Irish!, the difference being that The Simpsons were taking the piss out of xenophobia, whereas Peter is just flat-out racist. Suddenly, he starts to levitate, the bed explodes, and so does the record player, right in the middle of the song! There’s something about funny about the way the song explodes just as Shanna is giving a sultry delivery of the line ‘with love/with love…’ Perfect timing.

And in case you needed to know, that song was called ‘Love Makes Me Live’.

A small supernatural presence makes itself present for a brief moment before disappearing, and suspicions are raised. Ray wears Ghostbusters undies, by the way. All of this commotion has left Peter’s recently acquired stereo destroyed, and Egon, working on the basis that Shanna is Irish, surmises that she’s a banshee. Banshees, as you know, bring chaos and mayhem through the medium of song, and Shanna may very well be the first of her kind to get a record deal. Normally banshees would bring about disaster towards a few indviduals – you know, whoever she was directly singing to, but in this era of mass-produced records and concerts, her impact could be far more devastating. Coincidentally, she’s playing a gig at Carnegie Hall in the city this very evening, and it’s going to be broadcast coast to coast over the radio! Thankfully her actual album isn’t out yet – Peter was ‘lucky’ enough to get an advance copy of the LP through a friend. Despite being exposed to Shanna’s powers already, he thinks they need some more evidence, and after the return of some New Jersey bashing (this show does not like that place), the guys head over to the talent agency to speak to the man responsible for taking care of Shanna. The agency is a right old dive – you think Shanna would be able to do better than associate herself with flame-twirlers, hippy singer-songwriters, ventriloquists and the sort, but they’ve come to the right place.

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They make a somewhat unnecessarily dramatic entrance, resulting in the destruction of the head of the ventriloquists dummy (making him very, very upset) and try to convince her agent Vince that she’s a monster. This doesn’t go down too well and he has them chucked out. Egon reckons that the reason this ‘mutant’ (Peter’s words) didn’t believe their story is because he is under Shanna’s spell. Winston reckons it’s because he’s pond scum. Or could be that their story sounds utterly ridiculous? Saying that, if the Ghostbusters came to me telling me such and such was supernatural, I’d be inclined to believe them on past evidence. However, as we already know, the Ghostbusters don’t seem to be popular with businesses or authorities, despite having saved the city (and sometimes the world) on a regular basis. Oh well, they’d better get directly to the source, and this means following a trail of destruction, which leads to a rehearsal hall guarded by an insane cleaner who’s had enough of Shanna-inspired destruction and clutter and wants to kill the Ghostbusters right there and then with his deadly weapon (a broom). This episode is bloody mad, I have to say. A lot of filler involving weeping ventriloquists and psychotic cleaners, and we’re not even at the halfway mark. We get huge spiders and bats later, and no one in the episode seems to mind, but more on that later.

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Kicking down the door to her room, the guys encounter Shanna, and she’s pretty wild looking – she’s a proper pop star, the real deal, and Peter’s instantly bewitched. She coos at him, and then walks out with her agent Vince (how did he get there so quickly?), after which the floor collapses beneath Peter and the ceiling starts to fall apart above them. That was an instant cliffhanger!

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An easily overcome cliffhanger too, as the guys pull Peter out to safety and drive off within seconds, but he’s still bewitched – stealing a poster of his beloved and having extended flights of fancy. This involves a dream sequence where he imagines he’s starring in the video to ‘Love Makes Me Live’ and that he’s Shanna’s wildly bequiffed, chest-exposing boyfriend (according to the VJ for Gasp TV, obviously), and they dance around in circles and run through lots of mirrored corridors. A good imagination is a joy forever, indeed. Oddly, Slimer makes an unwelcome appearing playing the sax. Peter can’t be too control of this fantasy if that little green spud has been able to inflitrate it. Egon then steps into Peter’s mind (beat that, Inception) and informs him that ‘he can’t have this fantasy’. Shanna seems a little annoyed by this, and this is the first time we actually get to hear her speak in a non-singing voice. The Irish accent is there, but I don’t think whoever was voicing her was actually Irish. We’re talking Oir-rish here, kids. I must add that there is not a trace of Irish in her singing voice either, but she wasn’t the first singer to Americanise her vocals and she wouldn’t be the last. Peter does his best to make Egon look bad by telling Shanna that this is the guy who gave his computer a girl’s name. Egon’s cool with it – he understands that Peter’s not in control of his emotions. Then there’s a really odd bit where Egon explains through the TV screen that whoever’s watching this video at home isn’t really watching it. This is all madness stemming from the mind of his good colleague, and by this stage of the episode there are so many walls of reality are crashing down that you could probably write a dissertation on the doors of perception using just this scene as your primary source.

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Back in the ‘real world’ the guys arrive at Carnegie Hall to speak to the building manager in the hope of stopping the concert, but he’s bewitched too. He’s poring over a magazine that reveals Shanna’s ten most secret secrets. I wouldn’t take too much stock in that periodical though – it misspells Shanna’s name as ‘Shana’ at one point. Still, Peter doesn’t care about typos – he’s too impressed with the manager’s tacky Shanna cap and Shanna jumper. Bloody hell, she’s not that great. By the way, secret #3 reveals that Shanna likes petite men with gentle voices and good grooming habits. It’s never explained why Egon, Ray and Winston are the only ones not under her spell, and it’s not explained how the guys acquire 80’s glam metal costumes and can blag their way around backstage so effectively, but Shanna’s too busy with Armageddon in mind to care. I love her ambition, by the way. She’s essentially slagging off all the banshees that came before her for their limited scope when she says that she’s ‘too talented’ to waste her time with small-scale destruction. She’s taking her sound to the end of the Earth…

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The guys burst into her dressing room, having promised Peter that he will get to meet Shanna in person, never mind that a) he already has and b) he almost died last time. Peter tries to protect her from the other three, and Shanna’s curious line of attack is to trap the only one of the four Ghostbusters who was actually on her side. She could have exploited his suceptibility and told him to attack his friends. She’s stupid. She’s also proper ugly too, as everybody discovers when they see her reflection for the first time. She’s got a blue face and a mouth like a vacuum-cleaner extension. This appears to break the spell that Peter and Vince are under, but she’s already made a run for it and is on stage, where her adoring public await her. Their adoration remains so constant that the animators use the exact same impressed shot of them screaming for more over and over again, despite the fact that at one point she conjures enormous spiders and bats to come down from the ceiling. The crowd don’t care. They’re lapping it up. Reminds me of when Bart Simpson imagines he’s a rock star and plays his latest chart-topper ‘Me Fans are Stupid Pigs’ to an overjoyed audience.

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Shanna’s audience are even more gullible than Bart’s – her first ‘song’ is absolute crap (it’s the same jazzy intstrumental the show knocks out whenever they want a party atmosphere going) and her wordless vocals are more off-key than Yoko Ono’s. That was just a warm-up, mind you. She’s about to play a song off her album, which is also called Love Makes Me Live ( a song that good just had to be a title track), but Egon has gone backstage and messed with the electrics (looking very evil as he does so) redirecting her vocals as feedback, which is a very clever way of ‘reflecting’ herself as a mirror would, but in vocal form. She changes back into a Blue Meanie and floats around the stage wailing, and the audience are still loving it! Sick bastards. They are essentially witnessing a mental and physical breakdown on stage, and the crowd want more, more, more. The kids had killed the man (in this case, woman) – it’s Ziggy Stardust all over again.

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In a last ditch effort, Shanna goes for the guys, but they trap her and the gig’s over. I would say the audience should have gotten a refund for their gig, but they really don’t deserve it. After all, they don’t seem to mind that Shanna has essentially been destroyed on stage. Aren’t they her fans? She’s dead! Now it’s all about Peter (despite him not having displayed any musical or vocal talent), the fickle fools. Egon escorts him off stage but the crowd want more. Vince tries to lure him back in with the promise of fame and fortune, and Peter even comes up with a name for himself – Dr. V (though he clearly is already fond of this title, check his number plate in the previous episode) – but life as a Ghostbuster is already too much of a thrill. The guys chant his rock star name as they drive off. What an odd episode.

By the way, here’s that shot of the crowd we keep getting.

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Rose Elinor Dougall: Stellular review (2017)

Bigger, better, more beautiful – it’s the perfect second album, and well worth the wait.

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Rose Elinor Dougall’s new, appropriately titled album Stellular is spectacularly great. Honestly, it’s the best extended pop rush I have heard in absolutely ages. You know when you’re worried that you might actually be playing a particular album (or song) too much and end up not liking it (it’s happened before, I just don’t know when to quit!), so you actually consider refraining from putting it on? Right now that’s how I feel about this album. I’m not going to stop listening to it though – I’ve had the bloomin’ thing on rotation these last few weeks and I bloody love it! Frankly, Stellular is an embarrassment of riches – there are so many joyous, sad, exciting and dazzling moments, with far too many to list here, but I’ll do my best.

Ever since departing The Pipettes around a decade ago, Dougall has slowly but steadily been delivering all kinds of musical and vocal treasures, such as on her debut Without Why (I mean, ‘Start/Stop/Synchro’ and ‘Fallen Over’? Wow!!) and the dazzling Future Vanishes EP, but this is a whole new level of special. The seaside town melancholia and melodic loveliness from before is still here, but there’s an even greater vivacity and confidence that is knock-you-off-your-feet stunning. I was partly reminded of David Holmes’ sorely underrated, oceanic pearl The Holy Pictures from 2008, as well as some early Felt (the Maurice Deebank years), a bit of motorik, but most importantly, this 1980’s essence that I can’t quite pin down. I’m not talking 80’s in the obvious sense, but something more spectral, difficult to grasp.

‘Colour of Water’ is a great primer for what’s to follow – dreamy vocals (Dougall’s thoroughly engaging and expressive voice is better than ever), sharp, hypnotic guitar hooks, gorgeous electronics, captivating lyrics and intoxicating production from Oli Bayston (aka Boxed In, who also duets with Dougall on ‘Dive’) that aims for the senses and gets ‘em tingling. First single ‘Stellular’ is magnificent – a delectable riff, icy/warm synths and an insistent groove all make for a serious adrenaline rush. ‘Constellations burn brighter’ indeed. ‘Closer’ is a sultry, tightly-coiled slice of pop that blends quotidian references to ‘shady pool halls’ with otherworldly, atmospheric musical touches. The album’s first out-and-out heartbreaker arrives in the form of the beautiful ‘Take Yourself With You’ (first released via Soundcloud back in late 2014 – how time has flown!), an impossibly moving and almost unbearably pretty lullaby of a tune, arguably Dougall’s sweetest confection to date. There are melodic changes in this song that are so stupidly wonderful that I’m likely to end up spluttering nonsense trying to put in words my precise admiration for it, so I’ll shut up.

So, we’re at that stage where the album’s going for a perfect run. Will it succeed?

Spoiler alertyes it will.

The dance-infused, instant satisfaction surprise of ‘All at Once’ is quite a swerve, delivering a stomping, funky treat with a seductive chorus, whip-crack beats and monster bassline (there’s some really fine bass on this record) – there’s a great extended remix of this on the Rough Trade exclusive bonus CD that plays out like a wonderful 80’s-era twelve-inch. Seek it out if you can. ‘Answer Me’ is an aching, towering ballad that swirls its way towards a truly ghostly, shivering conclusion. Some glorious piano and a terrific chorus on this one too. ‘Dive’ picks up the pace – serene but with a beat, it brilliantly conveys that feeling of being bowled over by a sheer panoramic scale of emotions.

What’s possibly the best song follows. Well, it’s my fave song at the moment. There’s a few others on this LP that are closing in. For the mo though, my #1 is the jolting ‘Hell and Back’ – it’s truly wrenching and intensely melancholic, yet head-dizzying and cathartic. The glorious ascension that is ‘Space to Be’ is tremulous but never overwrought, ascending melodic heights in its chorus and especially during its guitar-fuelled finale. The concluding ‘Wanderer’ is an exquisite love-letter that sees the album out in a lovely glimmer, and almost unfairly, the album’s over – gone in a moment, a deliriously fleeting, motion-blur experience, nicely encapsulated by the album’s artwork, a portrait of Dougall that catches her image twice.

Stellular hits the heart, pulse and feet in the way the best albums that first overwhelmed you as a teenager do. You may wonder where Dougall will go after this but don’t think about any of that at the mo. Right now, this is all you need. It’s a promise fulfilled and it’s right here, right now.