from the archives of Essex Terror: The Laughter Never Dies

[Notes: This was from one of the printed Essex Terror’s, rather than an onle Essex Terror. I can’t remember if it made more sense in context but it’s still the most frightening thing ever written. And every word of it is true.]

***

The Laughter Never Dies

THE CLACTON CLOWN has been horrifying the children of Essex for most of their lives. It is described by some as Ted Vaaak’s most disturbing creation. Yet it lives out in the open with impunity. We sent Karen Parallax to investigate.

It sits unassumingly at the entrance to the pavilion. Looking to the casual observer like any other glass box of seaside entertainments, the Clacton Clown has managed to evade the notice of adults in the town for what feels like decades. Only children appreciate the true horror of its existence, and the malevolent hold it has on their dreams.

The first, and so far only, product of Ted Vaaaak’s entertainment and leisure devices corporation, VELDC (pronounced Veldoc), the Clacton Clown has been designed to horrify and unsettle the young and the timid to the maximum possible level without ever inducing within the victim weeping, flinching, spasming, biting, fleeing, or any other overt external manifestation of terror. Ted claims it has been a complete success, and that the longer it stays unnoticed by adults, the greater its victories must be.

The clown sits in a glass box, which is to be its prison for all eternity. Faced with the horror of its fate (that of being bound to Clacton until the end of time to be glared at or ignored by the Essexmen and Essexw’men and the mutated offspring that are forced to follow them), the clown chooses not to despair but to do what clowns are designed to do — laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh, its hand pressed up against the glass, its body rolling back and forth and round and round as it is overcome with mirth, its head lolling wildly yet with eyes that never ever stop staring straight at you, until its suppressed anguish at the horror of existence is radiated out from deep within itself across the ether into the young hearts of its victims (the frequency of the laughs is such that they are mostly inaudible to the adult emotional system, sounding like nothing more than the regular chuckling of the commonfolk, aggressive and tinged with contempt but containing nothing sinister).

The clown is purged through this desperate laughter while the victim is stricken, often terminally. On a quiet day particularly susceptible children can receive these dread transmissions from as far away as nearby Frinton, and often do.

I ask Ted how he and his team managed to create such a lifelike facsimile of a living clown for imprisonment within this Amusement. He looks at me and pauses for a second, pondering whether to lie or admit to me his crimes. He opts for the latter and it all comes tumbling out of his cracked lips in a rushed jumble.

“Clowns, clowns, more than us, more than anyone, are immortal. Both metaphorically in that they live on in our minds frightening us with echoes of their cries long after we are immune to their actual vibrations, and physically, in that clowns cannot truly die. They do die, obviously, but whereas with people when we die our flesh and blood rot and crumble away while our core of bone and claw solidifies into permanence, a clown, an inversion of humanity in spirit and in flesh, rots from the inside upon death while the outer flesh solidifies in defiance of natural law. Instead of intricate bonework they leave behind a leather skin filled with ash for us to find and fetishise.

”It is common for a person, upon finding an intact clown skin, to obsess and marvel over it, hiding it from friends and family, caressing it in privacy and seclusion, eventually donning it yourself, and thereon surrendering your soul to its legacy, eventually becoming clown yourself, living as they do, unendingly, until your own eventual murder, leatherification, discovery, possession, the cycle continuing onwards throughout time, one clown making one new clown, no growth but no diminishment neither.

“I must admit on discovering this specimen that I too became obsessed for a time, but knowledge is innoculation, and I knew what I must do. Levers and tentpoles and pipes became arms, legs, spines and more, a teapot a skull, butterknife fingers, an old tobacco tin heart, a shoehorn tongue. Over this skeleton I slipped the skin, and it fitted, perfectly, just as my measurements suggested. Its memories poured into the teabags left rotting in its head while its malevolence seeped into the dried and clotted tobacco that cluttered its heart.

“Awareness came before movement fortunately and I had time to erect a glass prison for this monstrosity, this undying abomination. He sat on his nest staring out in horror at me. But then came the cries, the gyrations, the never ending laughs.

“I abandoned it in Clacton, by the sea, where the people come, where the children come. For twenty pence you can amuse yourself in this town, the flashing machines and the grasping claws and the guns, the guns, simulated and real, water and pellet and cork. Yet for free you can feel his pain. And you cannot avoid it. From this each child will be hollowed out, emotion eaten by the maggots and worms of his thoughts until nothingness is all they have, empty husks lost and vacuous and insane, our county forever changed. Yet unchanged, too, still here maintaining ourselves as a void of horrors to buttress against the sickening disgustments of the civilisations beyond.”

Ted begins to laugh and his chuckles and guffaws mingle with the desperate laughs of the clown. Up close you can see the sorrow in its eyes. The clown stops laughing for a moment as I hold my hand up against his, the cold glass seperating our palms and undoubtedly saving my skin from his frosty touch. From beneath the unit a wave of scuttling sea bugs emerge, miniature trilobites with extrajointed legs. Are these physical manifestations of the clown’s dreams? Or just mutations hurled here by the crashing waves of the sea against the sea wall? I do not know. I catch my finger on a splinter on the wooden edging of the clown box. The sudden jolt of pain shocks me and I involuntarily stamp at the creatures, my DM clad feet crushing relentlessly down upon them. They burst under the harsh soles of my boots in a spray of grey mucus and a satisfying crunch of shell and bones. A single drop of my blood falls from my finger and mingles with their remains.

“The clown will never die,” Ted jabbers at me later while I run my welling hand under a tap in the toilets. He shouldn’t be here in the Ladies with me but he is. “One day the children will be old enough to vote, to work, to join the council and decide its ways. The clown’s secret will be known and they will have it removed, buried like the rest of its kind in a skip full of rubble and old furniture, everything rusted and moldgrown in the rain.

“But someone will find it, rescue it, take it home and sit it on their settee, nurse it back to health. Knit it a new uniform, stitch its eyebrows back to its face, replace its hat, mend its bones and warm its skin until it begins to awake.”

He looks me in the eye for the first time this afternoon. “This time it will be uncaged.”

***

The Clacton Clown can be located at the entrance to the Clacton Pavilion, Marine Parade, Clacton, Essex. The Clown can be seen at any time during the day throughout the year, but it is usually taken inside at night in the winter months for reasons of safety.

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from the archives of Essex Terror: The Essex Chronicle Of Frightening Things

[Notes: The Essex Chronicle Of Frightening Things (shortened to The Essex Chronicle in 1919, to Essex Chronicle in 1968, and EsChron.com in 2015) is one of the oldest newspapers in the country, having been published discontinuously since 1792. Below is a reprint of a rare issue from 1901, published less than two weeks after the death of Queen Victoria.]

__________

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from the archives of Essex Terror: Some Film Reviews Of Some Films

[Notes: This is an incomplete collection of various film’s review on the Essex Terror! website (but not in the Essex Terror magazine). They are in no particular order, due to laziness on my part. And also a large number of images are missing. I am sorry.]

***

The Trip To The End Of Southend’s Pier

Production year: 1987
Country: UK
Language: German
Cert (UK): Unrated
Runtime: 124 mins
Directors: Sir Terald Vaakenheim
Cast: Ted Vaaak

Ted Vaak’s The Trip To The End Of Southend’s Pier, from 1987, is now getting a re-release and it’s pretty scary and entertaining stuff, though I always get the feeling that nothing in it lives up to the tremendous opening section. It begins with Ted Vaaaak (credited inexplicably as Sir Terald Vaakenheim for his role as director, but as plain Ted Vaaak for his acting and his writing) wandering muttering and confused down Southend Pier, early morning mist lending everything an unreal and apocalyptic air. Filmed in one unbroken 25-minute sequence, Ted’s stuttering, near heartbreaking, waltz along the deserted Essex landmark is a thing of genuine beauty, reminiscent of the climactic scene in Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia, and it is so affecting it often threatens to remove the very air from your lungs and constrict the muscles in your chest. From then on, things tend to slip away and get a little broad for my tastes, and the scenes featuring his tortured internal dialogues with a benevolent celestial Margaret Thatcher seem astonishingly dated, though it always remains watchable. 3/5

Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian’s film critic. This article was originally published in the Guardian, and is reproduced here without permission.

***

Anus Horribilis

Production year: 1994
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): 18
Runtime: 74 mins
Director: Krebva Trells
Cast: Michael Praed, Chelsea Charms, Angela Lansbury

This little seen British horror film has a controversial reputation that far exceeds its actual influence. The story, a loose recreation of A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, involves Professor Hardwig (Michael Praed) and his team of scientific explorers adventuring their way through Prince Charles’s monstrous anus, through which they expect to find a doorway to Hades. Along the way they battle innumerable monsters, including an horrifically deformed Queen Victoria (Chelsea Charms), the zombie Queen Mother (Angela Lansbury) and a hideous half horse/half Henry VIII abomination (this, astonishingly, is just overdubbed reused footage of Ray Harryhausen’s centaur from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). One can only assume that all of this is intended to be satirical. It is, however, impossible to tell.

Peter Bradshaw is at least not Xan Brooks

***

Brewster’s Millennials

Production year: 1999
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): 18
Runtime: 89 mins
Director: Ted Vaaak
Writer: Richard Curtis
Cast: Alan Cumming, Lenny Henry, Donna Air

8 years after the unexpected success of Bernard and the Genie, Alan Cumming, Lenny Henry and Richard Curtis teamed up once again for this BBC Christmas Special. A loose remake of Brewster’s Millions, the setting this time was relocated to London and the time to the very last month of the millennium. Given £30 million to spend before midnight on the 31st December 1999, if Monty Brewster (Cumming) fails he doesn’t just forfeit an even larger fortune but all of civilisation, as the devil himself (Ben Elton) will rise from the depths and enslave humanity for 1000 years.

Entirely formulaic in typical Richard Curtis style, Ted Vaaak’s influence on proceedings is relatively muted until the final ten minutes, when it’s revealed that the entrance to hell is through the belly button of Monty’s best friend Spike (Henry), a monstrous “inny” that goes down forever and ever to the unspeakable lands of doom. As demonic perversions begin to escape, Monty’s spending spree becomes ever more desperate and unpleasant, and the final scene would have been considered unbroadcastable in a gentler decade.

Peter Bradshaw will never knowingly leave a film unspoiled

***

Let Them Eat… Us!

Year: 2013
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): 18
Runtime: 95 mins
Director: Ted Vaaaak
Writer: Ted Vaak
Cast: David N. Guy, David N. Guy, David N. Guy, Tilda Swinton

Idiotic satire imagining a future where the solution to reducing the EU’s butter mountain is to force every citizen of Great Britain to drink 3 gallons of it every day. Of course the vile upper classes conspire to pay the poor to eat their shares of the congealed pie, leading to a stratified society where a person’s social status is inversely proportional to their weight.

The film takes a turn for the malevolent about half way through, starting with a series of attacks on the thin by the fat, escalating quickly through a series of Clockwork Orange-esque outrages, and appearing to culminate in an absolutely horrific nightmare where a group of overweight thugs (David N. Guy and David N. Guy) fight their way into Buckingham Palace and take our monarchs hostage. The gargantuan revolutionaries cut strips of their own flesh from their bodies and force feed the King (David N. Guy) and Queen (Tilda Swinton) the horrific meat of their subjects until their withered stomachs burst, and from the corpses their livers are harvested for a celebratory meal by their working class assailants.

And yet even that is not the worst of it. A final scene in which this team of obese terrorists hijack a plane, commandeering the kitchen and eating all of the food until the plane is so overladen it crashes into the Empire State Building, is, both scientifically and politically, a provocation too far.

Peter Bradshaw forgives no man nor no woman neither.

***

Multi-Storey

Production year: 2014
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): 18
Runtime: 81 mins
Director: Ted Vaaak
Writer: Paul Rose
Cast: Tom Hardy, Helen Mirren, Tom Hollander, Helen McCrory, Tom Hiddleston

A desperate attempt to cash-in on the current craze for single building actioners ( Dredd, The Raid, Attack The Block and countless others), Multi-Storey is, perhaps, Essex-based savant Ted Vaaaak’s most deeply generic work yet, which is some achievement considering his dedication to the form.

Shot in “real-time”, Multi-Storey follows unwitting everyman hero Alan Banger (Tom Hardy) in his attempt to retrieve his car from the roof of a car park run by local mob boss, Barry Shooter (Helen Mirren) and return home after a miserable night out as (an abandoned) designated driver.

The car park is, we’re told, the tallest in Essex, and Alan must fight his way across and up each of the four floors, facing off against a vast array of henchmen, henchwomen and even, inevitably, henchchildren.

The pace is largely relentless for the first hour but breaks down once he reaches the ticket machines. The twelve minutes it takes for Banger to validate his ticket kills the momentum of the movie stone dead, and is a serious error of judgement which not even the astonishing single-take multi-level car chase escape and Helen Mirren’s truly demented death scene can rectify.

Imagine Peter Bradshaw stalking across the moors

***

The Barbs

Year: 1981
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): 18
Runtime: 63 mins
Director: Ted Vaaaak
Writer: Uncredited
Cast: Julian Sands, Patricia Pearcy

Monstrous horror in which newlyweds Terrance (newcomer Julian Sands) and Barbara (Patricia Pearcy, returning here to the genre in which she so memorably made her name in the classic Squirm) inherit a farm in the abject wastelands of rural Essex. Horrified by the sinister local population, they install a huge barbed wire fence around their entire estate to keep them out. But when lightning strikes the fence in a freak storm, the barbed wire stops being the protector and begins to be the aggressor.

In lesser hands, this premise could seem absurd, but here the story is handled deftly, and the creeping barb wire snakes are truly mesmerising.

The film was shot on location across the Dengie, and as such there will be special showings at both The Ritz in Burnham and The Embassy in Maldon throughout the week, in a double-bill with Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

This review was originally published in The Maldon And Burnham Standard on 23rd January, 1982. It has been recollected here without permission of either the publication or its original, and unremembered, author.

***

The Brothers That Looked Exactly Alike

Production year: 2014
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): U
Runtime: 283 mins
Director: Ted Vaaak
Writer: Michel Houellebecq
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Jérémie Renier

An unlikely and unnecessary remake of Twins, this time presented with a modern twist. Removing the single joke of its source material, this time the long-lost brothers are physically identical, but while Julius Benedict (Nathan Fillion) is a charming and successful All-American business genius, he is to discover with a shock that his brother, Vincent, is French.

Originally commissioned by the French State Department as a propaganda piece to help repair damaged Franco-US relations in the aftermath of the Iraq war, this long-delayed project seems a strange venture for veteran director Ted Vaaaak, especially at this late stage in his career. Apart from continuing his recent interest in twins (The Twins Of Death And Disease, The Parent Trap 3), none of his usual recurrent themes of mordant body-horror, retrograde misogyny or conservative Essexism are in evidence here. Instead we have almost five hours of jokes about snails.

Peter Bradshaw will never die.

***

The English Disease

Year: 2012
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): NA
Runtime: 23 mins
Director: Ted Vaaaak
Writer: Ted Vaaak
Cast: Ted Vaaak, Danny Dyer, Paul McCartney, Richard Ayoade, Lucy Pinder

This misguided video, funded by the Kick Racism Out Of Football campaign for sensitivity and awareness training sessions, was never used by the charity, and certainly wasn’ ever intended to be made available to the public. However, its leak onto the internet this week has reignited the storm over racism in the English game, escalating bitter disputes between leading figures and bringing forth such a sustained flurry of lawsuits there is a chance that this could finally be the end of director Ted Vaaak’s career.

Set on the eve of Euro 2012, The English Disease is centred around the murder of a fictional and unnamed England player who, we are told in a wall of introductory text, is the first ever gypsy to play for the national team. From their, the story is told in a series of flashbacks instigated by the investigating detective’s interviews with the players and staff.

The player is shown being misunderstood, ignored, ridiculed, bullied and humiliated by both the manager Roy Stodgson (Paul McCartney) and the players John Scary (Danny Dyer), Ashley Cruel (Richard Ayoade) and Rio Murderhand (Noel Clarke), culminating in his eventual (never shown) murder in the changing rooms before the opening match of the tournament.

With its startling depictions of the corrosive culture at the heart of English football, and the dangers of a dresssing-room “don’t tell” code of silence in prolonging abuse and protecting abusers at the expense of the abused, this could have been an excellent tool in the fight against prejudice. Unfortunately it is undone by a number of baffling artistic decisions, not least the use of rhyming couplets for the majority of the dailogue. “Oh god, you gypsy, don’t you know that I hate you / If you think this is bad well I haven’t even begun to slate you” might well be the worst line sung this year, although the film is replete with others that run it close.

All that pales into insignificance behind the casting of Ted Vaaak himself as The Player. Although Vaaak claims Traveller heritage through an unverified grandmother, the apparent whitewashing of the character in a piece such as this is problematic – not to mention disquieting – at best, and insultingly crass at worst. Additionaly, the sight of the septuagenarian Vaaak creaking around in an England kit is absurd, sickening, and largely inappropirate for a film intended to be shown to teenage boys.

The inclusion of Tegan Gethard (Lucy Pinder) as the team’s captain was presumably meant to highlighted the other, often unmentioned, unlanced boil on English football’s bloated rump, but any genuine attempt at exposing sexism, even obliquely, is undone by the erotic moaning that overcomes her and the slow-mtion close-ups the director employs every time she is subjected to a “playful” slap by a teammate, which is surprisingly often in a video with a running time of less than half an hour.

Although the killer is never revealed, the final refrain that “Just as surely as whoever laid the final blow / It was also YOU that killed him, that I know”, accompanied with the detective pointing directly at the screen towards us, the viewers, proves to be simultaneously insulting trite and an impressive use of 3D.

Peter Bradshaw cannot be found.

***

The President’s Wife

Production year: 1993
Country: UK/Canada/Italy
Language: English
Cert (UK): 15
Runtime: 93 mins
Director: Ted Vaaak
Cast: Leonard Nimoy, Shannon Tweed

This amiable and largely forgotten comedy of confusion, now available on DVD for the first time, was to be Leonard Nimoy’s last film role for 16 years. He stars here as an aging actor mistaken by an invading alien force for the President. The aliens send an envoy (Shannon Tweed) to seduce Leonard in the equally mistaken belief that his son will become ruler of the world. Towards the end the wittiness dissipates, and an unnecessarily graphic scene where the alien’s human body is ripped apart as she lays a 4 foot egg ruins what had previously been a largely charming twist on an old genre. The epilogue, with Leonard Nimoy perched atop the egg in an apparent attempt to help it hatch, hints at a sequel that was to never be made.

Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian’s film critic. This article was rejected.

***

The School In The Night

Production year: 2001
Country: UK/Spain
Language: Spanish
Cert (UK): N/A
Runtime: 87 mins
Director: Jaume Balagueró
Script: Ted Vaaaak
Cast: Jessica Del Pozo, Federico Luppi

After the success of Los Sin Nombre, his successful adapation of English horror novelist Ramsey Campbell’s story The Nameless, Jaume Balagueró planned on following this up with another film based upon a British author’s horror works. However, La Escuela En La Noche, based upon the short story The School In The Night by Ted Vaaaaaak (who was also responsible for the film’s script), would never see release. The showing this week of an almost complete cut as part of the Barbican’s Horrific Stories season is something of a mixed blessing.

Leda (Jessica Del Pozo) is a lonely ten year old girl. Trapped in a huge and empty school, she spends her days wandering the corridors of this impressive gothic prison. At night, she retreats to her safe haven in the changing rooms, sleeping on the wooden benches and talking to her only friend, a disembodied female voice that rises out of the pipework of the radiator.

Desperate to escape, the voice from the radiator tells Leda of her one chance of escape. Every year on her birthday, all the doors in the school will open, and if she can get to the entrance she will be free. The only problem is the fearsome beast that roams the school after dark. Hunchbacked, fang-mouthed, fingers like hyperdermic needles at the end of swan-wing arms, the first we see of this horrible beast is its face pressed up against the windowpanes at the door to her room, a scene that is a perfectly judged homage to Nosferatu. But all is not lost, for the beast cannot touch her if she does not set foot on the floor. And so begins a terrifying and perilous journey to the other side of the building.

This is where the problems begin to set in. The beast (played by Federico Luppi) is absurd, its awkward lumbering more reminiscent of the beachball creature in Dark Star than of the alien in Alien. The action scenes, mostly consisting of a girl balancing on a banister, are slow, and almost incomprehensibly repetitive. When the most effective scene is of a girl running into a chemistry lab and leaping up onto a table, scattering the stools that are resting there onto the floor, you must surely know that the script has problems.

It is not all bad, though. There is, especially in the early scenes, a perfectly judged atmosphere of nostalgic horror, trading on that illicit thrill that always accompanies walking through public places at night, alone. And I must admit that I enjoyed the section where the beast messily eats an apple that the girl has dropped, hinting at a depravity that the rest of the film never shows.

The final scene, with the beast unmasked and pleading for Leda to stay with him here instead of braving the outside world, is perhaps the best. As she defies him one final time and steps out into the morning air, he sits down on the stairs and cries openly, brokenly, pushing the tips of his needle-thin claws into his tear ducts in an attempt to stem the flow. It doesn’t quite make up for the awkward tedium of the preceeding hour, but it hints at the film this could have been.

This article was written by Peter Bradshaw and first appeared in the Guardian on October 29th, 2010. It is repeated here without permission.

***

The Swollen

Production year: 1964
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): Unrated
Runtime: 397 mins
Director: Ted Vaaaak
Writer: Ted Vaak
Cast: Ted Vaaak, The Women Of Essex

The Swollen (originally titled Dreams Of The Undressed Witch) was ineminent British director and writer Ted Vaaaak’s first widely released film, finding its way somehow into cinemas across Essex in 1964, including Southend (The Ritz), Laindon (The Radion) and beyond (The ABC in Basildon, although due to heavy traffic it did not open there until 1972). Based upon forced recollections of his childhood nightmares, The Swollen (showing at the BFI this week as part of its Rejection Of Narrative: British Avant-Garde And Confusion season) is often as unwatchable as it is incoherent, and as badly edited as it is written.

And yet beyond the production failings, and the obvious budgetary constraints, glimpses of Ted’s well-hidden genius occasionally emerge, especially in his intriguing sense of metaphor. Three sections stand out amid the tedium. In an early scene, footage of children screaming dissolves into hypnotic imagery of a blood-covered new-born lamb tottering unsteadily to its feet, before cutting abruptly back to the children just as it seems about to take its first step. Viewed contemporarily, this scene takes on a further level of sadness and melancholy as all the children involved are presumably, by now, dead.

Elsewhere, a scene of several women standing in a circle, the camera on the floor looking up at them as they laugh, endlessly, for sixteen unbroken minutes, is at first amusing, secondly distressing, finally terrifying.

This contrasts expertly with the most famous sequence from the film, where the young Ted Vaaak (played by the even-by-then old Ted) watches a young girl (played by a stop-motion doll) undressing in the woods. Utterly silent, as the film itself is holding its breath in anticipation, the piece here has a claustrophobic momentum that builds and builds, from the initial flickering movements of Vaak’s gaunt cheeks as he stares blankly into the trees to the moment when the animated doll removes first her shoes, her socks, her gloves, and then her hair, and afterwards large chunks of her skull. Just as the scene appears set to climax, with the girl? doll? witch? removing the skin from her own face with one hand and the tongue from her mouth with the other, the film abruptly ends.

I alone applauded in the darkness.

Peter Bradshaw Peter Bradshaw Peter Bradshaw Peter Bradshaw Peter Bradshaw

***

THIS IS A DOCUMENTARY

Year: 2014
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): 18
Runtime: 222 mins
Director: Ted Vaak
Writer: Ted Vaaaaaaak

Billed as Ted Vaaaak’s final film, THIS IS A DOCUMENTARY is a stark and often mesmerising film, that nonetheless swerves so frighteningly at times towards antisemitism and racism that it is impossible to recommend.

The documentary – which starts with a title card that says “This was all filmed on June 16th. A Sunday.” – consists of three narrative strands (titled onscreen as THOSE ABOVE, US, and THOSE BELOW) interwoven together to show the ebb and flow of a single Essex day at all levels of the county’s complex social strata.

US centres on an unnamed and severely overweight man, following him through the various drudgeries of a typical day that is immediately recognisable to us all in the broadest sense – waking, washing, commuting, working, shopping, socialising, finally sleeping once more – even if the details themselves are sometimes disorientating (the sheer amount of whelks that can be consumed in a single day, the way the roads are populated almost exclusively by BMWs or white vans, the coarseness of the language of everyone, and the thickness of their tattoos and the coagulating slickness of their hair).

It is in THOSE ABOVE that the controversies begin to mount. Now we watch a family of Essex aristocrats in a dust-filled mansion, all faded glamour and centuries of neglect. Each member of the family is a gaunt cadaver dressed in high Victorian fashion. Their withered arms, which hang limp at their sides, are useless and unused: instead a coterie of servantslaves cater for their every whim – dressing, feeding, cleaning, stroking. This family, and those that are their equals, are functionally incapable of attending to themselves, yet the film makes clear this is through choice – indolence is and has always been one of the major signifiers of status.

And then in THOSE BELOW we pass the point of no return. We are shown the marshes, great featureless oceans of mud and grass and the abandoned vestiges of civilisation – rotting boats, rusting kitchen appliances, decomposing gulls, slowly unstitching footballs bobbing in the mire. The mud itself roils, pulses, and from the depths rise clay homunculi. These creatures fight each other, fight passersby, eventually venture into the towns and fight whoever it is they find there. And then as the sun goes down they return with the women of these villages and under the fading light make love.

The three strands are cut together in the standard way, hoping to reflect the similarities and amplify the disparities in each story, but there are also hints at an even greater integration between the strands. The body that THOSE ABOVE are fed strips of at the feast resembles the obese protagonist of US, and similarly the young woman shown rutting with THOSE BELOW at sundown resembles his aged mother. Is this in fact not a single June 16th we are viewing, but three?

Several scenes have aroused particular ire already. The staging and filming of the Acromioclavicularectomy procedure – the cutting and removal of the ligaments in the young aristocratic child’s upper arms – is redolent of antisemitic portrayals of circumcision. Not only is the inclusion of a literal underclass of aggressive “mudpeople” problematic for reasons that I’m sure do not need to be explained, the prolonged tittilation of the scenes of sexual congress between the townswomen and the mud creatures recall not just the many racist slurs of the 19th and 20th century but our long history of anti-gypsy propaganda.

Yet it is the film’s closing shot that to my mind proves the most controversial. Here the effluent from the castle drains directly into the marshes, the waste mixing with the pulsing mud. As the credits roll is the implication here that the circle of Essex life begins again, that THOSE BELOW are the literal excrement of THOSE ABOVE?

There are other questions, and precious few answers. Where exactly was it filmed, and when? Is the title a bluff or a double-bluff? Is the questionable imagery accidental or intentional, ironic or sincere? Until Ted Vaaaaaak issue’s anything even remotely resembling a statement of intent – so far the extent of the film’s publicity is a typed sheet of paper declaring THIS IS A DOCUMENTARY over and over again on both sides – it will be hard to know for sure.

Peter Bradshaw is elsewhere.

***

Ted Vaaaaaak’s FLEAS!

Production year: 1988
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): 18
Runtime: 92 mins
Director: Ted Vaaak
Cast: Brian Glover, Julian Glover, Crispin Glover, Danny Glover

Although Ted Vaaaak’s FLEAS! is largely unremembered now, this was at the time considered evidence – alongside Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Shuan Hutson’s Slugs – of a renaissance in British horror cinema. Set in a sleepy village in Yorkshire, and starring Brian Glover as a local doctor that has grown up since childhood with a crippling terror of fleas and who now has to confront his worst nightmare, FLEAS! follows almost every single cliche of the murderous flesh-eating innocuous animals genre that was a staple of the 80s horror landscape.

FLEAS! was the first and so far the last film in his indescribable career to have used Ted Vaaaak’s name as a promotional tool, and it has little of the usual confusion associated with the name. Formally one of Vaaaak’s most conventional works, the only scene here that lingers in the memory is the final confrontation between Brian Glover and his mother, who has been nurturing the fleas’ taste for human blood by allowing them to feed on her gargantuan breasts. On discovering that she has taken up residence in his wine cellar, he battles her to the death armed only with a nail gun.

FLEAS! only real lasting legacy probably lies in its successful American remake, Arachnophobia. It is also sometimes considered to be the first work in what would become known as Vaaaak’s “boringness” period, although others argue that this should not be considered a period and more of a phase.

In 2007, Ted Vaaak tried to resurrect this tired genre with his film Fox Hunt, set after the fox-hunting ban and starring David Mitchell as a missionary back from Africa who discovers his idyllic home village overcome by flesh eating foxes hungry for blood, but it was not to prove a success.

***

The Twins Of Death And Disease

Production year: 2013
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): 18
Runtime: 97 mins
Director: Ted Vaaak
Writer: Ted Vaak
Cast: Jonathan Frakes, John Barrowman, Sally Hawkins

Ted Vaak returns here with a largely pointless and fairly loose remake of David Cronenberg’s 1988 film Dead Ringers. The Twins Of Death And Disease tells the story of twin gynaecologists and their decline and descent into madness, deformity and despair, allowing the director to engage in his usual mix of hysterical misogyny and shuddering kolpophobia.

Due presumably to budget restrictions, the identical twins are here played by a freshly shaved Jonathan Frakes and the waxen smoothity of John Barrowman, which, rather than lessening the horror, instead adds a strange level of disquiet to the proceedings.

Peter Bradshaw is afraid.

***

The Alan Turing Adventures

Production year: 2011
Country: UK
Language: English
Cert (UK): 12A
Runtime: 88 mins
Director: Euros Lyn
Cast: Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch

Mark Gatiss, fresh from the success of his adaptation of HG Wells’ The First Men In The Moon, has been given a lavish (by BBC 4 standards) budget to create this pilot for a proposed series of lavish new detective stories, in which he stars as the titular hero. Based upon a never filmed script by recently deceased BBC veteran Ted Vaaak, The Alan Turing Adventures is set during an alternate history Second World War. Turing here has been re-imagined as a dashing and flamboyant secret agent careering around behind enemy lines in a desperate attempt to steal and decode Hitler’s childhood diary, en route to which he gets locked in a deadly game of cat and mouse with Nazi rocketeer Wernher von Braun (Benedict Cumberbatch).

The references to Mark Gatiss’s beloved Doctor Who are legion, with Alan Turing attired almost identically to the Peter Davison-era Doctor, although here, in a subtle nod to history, he carries not a cricket ball but an apple. The final scene, where Turing turns away from von Braun’s smoldering corpse and bites hungrily into this apple is surprisingly poignant.

__________

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from the archives of Essex Terror: Jeff Randall’s Essex Fear Factor

[Notes: This post collects a large number of columns about the state of fear and/or horror (and other related anxieties) written by The News’s Jeff Randall for Essex Terror over a period of approximatively 5 years. All his opinions are disowned. Also, there’s even a couple of abandoned never-before-published snippets of lost columns appended to the end. They are not worth the wait.]

***

Jeff Randall’s Essex Fear Factor (September 2009)

I was walking the streets of Essex again. It was good to be back. The shouts, the screams, the boarded up shops, the bronzed human skin and the stench from the bloodmarsh, all of it was a perfect bracing antidote of realness from the antiseptic and resolute unreality of the westminster lifestyle I’d been cocooned in during my days working for the BBC. And most of all , that constant pervading sense of gloom and the feeling of fear. I’d forgotten all about that, but it came rushing back to me almost immediately.

I was walking the streets of Mundon, the deformed and hunchbacked younger brother of the more famous Essex Town of Maldon, in search of the so-called Lesser Terror, a state of fear that renders the recipient trembling and silent, and often leaves them unable to explain what or why they feel that way. “I’m not scared, I’m just cold” is the typical response of the afflicted, even though its the middle of summer and they’re wearing a coat.

At first I thought I’d never find it. Two cunts came tumbling out of a pub in front of me, shouted “Watch out, Grandad” at me, stumbling down an alley and out of view. I was shaken, frightened, but this was definitely not the Lesser Terror, this was more like a general case of Bus-Stop Fear or maybe Eating-Chips-In-The-Park-And-Then-Some-Boys-Ask-You-For-Some-Of-Them-So-You-Hand-Them-To-Them-And-Then-They-Run-Off-Laughing-With-Your-Dinner Anxiety. Not an altogether unpleasant sensation, but not the subtle emotion I was look for.

A jumble of fears and horrors accosted my nervous system over the next couple of hours. Afterwards i couldn’t remember them all, everything a strange haze of shattered memories, seen quickly as if in a quickly cut slew of movie scenes. Two girls swinging back and forth on some swings in the park; a dead squid half hanging out of a bin; llamas roaming around a field by a dilapidated church; twisted dead trees in a field of cows; mud; mud; mud; a car travelling down the road quicker than was generally considered safe. But none of these produced the Lesser Terror that I so craved.

I thought maybe the evening was, if not wasted, at least disappointing. I had began to trudge back home, across the fields and along the sea wall. But then it happened. Before me in the hampered gloaming light stood a man, his eyes like holes in time, his hands held out towards me like hooks of flesh. And in his hands he held a tattered kite, some horrible 80s robot drawn on the front. “Is this yours?” he asked, and handed it to me. And as I looked down at it, read the words “Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots” printed across the bottom, I knew that it was. I remembered running around the fields of my youth, flying the kite, flying it always, until one day it had flown to high and left my grasp, and flown out into the river beyond. And now, 20 years later, here it was, in my hands, again.

The strange man began to walk away, and I began to shiver. “I’m just cold,” I told myself, as I stood there holding the useless flaps of material the man had given me, the wind flapping them back and forth around like whips against my skin.

Jeff Randall is Essex Terror’s senior correspondent. His weekly column will appear here sporadically.

***

Jeff Randall’s Essex Fear Factor (October 2009)

It’s Autumn half-term week this week, that strangely oppressive moment when the clocks go back and the leaves start to fall and the streets start crawling with the horrible children of a hundred thousand working class mums. It is a time for terror like no other.

I’ve been sent to the small town of Maylandsea, a small working class town set adrift among the marshes of the Dengie. It’s where the farmer’s send their workers to live, so that they don’t have to look at their contracted faces all evening as well as all day. For a man like me, it is one of the most incomprehensible landscapes on this Earth. A world of monstrous urges left out in the open instead of hidden safely away behind the walls of our houses.

There’s a boy on a driveway, maybe ten years old. his bike turned upside down. He’s standing astride the front wheel, his crotch placed gently on the rim, and he idly spins the wheel forward with his hands. He sees me looking at him, my face undoubtedly aghast. “Have you ever tried this, mister?” he shouts. “It feels so good.” Behind him his mother stands, her shirt pulled up, twin babies clamped to her breasts. And what breasts! Flesh flowing out in every direction, wanton and obscene. You don’t see breasts like this in London, at least not outside in the harsh light of day, and not for free. Behind her in the yard her washing line spins lazily in the breeze, sickening dried semen stains on the inside-out pants looking like the trails of slugs and snails. In a way I suppose they are.

I walk on, past the rutting dogs and the kissing teenagers, past the underwear laying forgotten in the gutter. At the edge of town, condoms caught in the branches of the bushes flap in the wind like so many flags caught in the maelstrom of lust that roars through the lives of these lascivious and lubricious
people, their passions forever requited, no matter how base. I step beyond the town’s boundaries, and try to leave my shivers of revulsion behind.

Jeff Randall is Essex Terror’s senior correspondent. His sobs can be heard even in the North.

***

The Endless Replicating Terror of Infinity (February 2010)

Colchester has long been a town associated with fear and horror. Many of these were introduced by the Romans, like the pigbeasts that live in the historic sewage system underneath the town, where they devour whatever rotting filth that seeps down to their lair. And it was here, with the tyranny of Boudicca, that that most universal of fears – woman – achieved its apotheosis.

One of the most recent horrors in the town is the university. Built in the 1960s, it is an endless series of concrete squares and brick towers thrust into the side of a desolate hill. Utilising what were at the time state-of-the-art techniques of psychological depredation, this holocaust of architecture has been breaking the spirit of revolution and free-thought in potentional student insurrectionists for generations. It is here that the greatest terror of the present-day lurks.

Amidst the brutalist facade and the modern student class, their mobile phones and foreign voices ringing out across the void as I walk amongst them, are the rabbits. An infestation that neither guns nor myxomatosis have ever managed to tame, the rabbits leak across the campus from the surrounding fields. Like with the crabs of Christmas Island, absurd sights abound. Football matches are played around them, rabbits crowding the six yard box. People sit and eat their lunch, feeding not pigeons with their crumbs but the Leporidaean hordes. And their corpses line the carpark, the spaces outlined in blood instead of paint.

“Everything about them is just wearying,” says one anonymous student. “Whenever my mother comes down to see me she points at each and every one and says ‘Look, David, a rabbit!” But once you’ve seen a million rabbits every day for three years you’ve probably seen them all.” There is something about his body language which suggests complete defeat.

There is the theory of the Mobius, too. It has been suggested that each pair of rabbits give birth to their own grandparents, creating an infinitely repeating closed loop of continuity, safe from the tarnishing aspects of evolution and the theorised decay of entropy. Professor Theobald Vaaak shows me the workings of his theory, but they are far too technical for me to understand. He helps explain it using the analogy of the surface of a balloon, trickles of paint flowing down from the top like blood, forming clotted stalactites that hang delicately from its underside. This explanation proved too oblique for me to follow, and the professor’s shouted denunciations followed me back to my car.

As I drove across the county to my next destination I tried to reflect upon my experiences of the day, but meaning proved elusive.

Jeff Randall is Essex Terror’s Senior Correspondent. All complaints shall be referred directly to the IPCC.

***

The Final Horror (April 2010)

I have experienced many different flavours of fear on my journey around this horrifying county, but there’s been one type I’ve long been avoiding. People here speak of it in hushed tones. They try to avoid it in any way possible, even if the only alternative is buying a second hand car and driving around at 120 miles per hour while screaming. I am, of course, talking about The Bus.

I have experienced similar horrors before. In London there is the underground, and even, so I’m lead to believe, another form of train that roams above ground and chases across the scorched countryside beyond the M25. I have travelled by plane, a civilised form of transport if ever there was one, but I have heard tales of a cheapened version, fat women crushed into cramped interiors by the thousand, black bin bags full of duty free and sick clasped in their clammy fists. I even went on a ferry once, when researching the cyclopses of Wight. I was still unprepared for the trauma of the bus.

The day begins at the bus stop. Located on the edge of town, marked only by a sign hidden behind a tree, a queue begins to form. The queue is shapeless and bloated, barely even a queue at all. Am I supposed to remember the order in which we arrived? Is it just a free for all? Am I expected to fight my way into the coach when it arrives? I look around me, hoping to ask advice from my fellow travellers, but all of them are of such a sullen and disgusting disposition I hesitate. My hesitation develops into a full silence, and becomes too large to be broached. Instead I wait.

And wait. Despite the timetable saying the bus will arrive at 8:47 am, that moment comes and goes unmarked. I look at the people around me. Am I to be trapped for eternity with these? I can feel a fear tugging at my intestines and I want to turn and run, but professionalism keeps me from abandoning my post. I will catch this bus, even if it kills me.

At 9:03 am the bus finally arrives. I hang back, letting the more experienced travellers fight it out for position. I am still no wiser as to the organisational principles by which position is decided, but it all appears peaceful enough. Perhaps the delay in the arrival of the bus is designed not to infuriate but to pacify. Anger can only last so long before it turns to ash.

Finally I step onto the bus. A thrill as I cross the threshold. Now I am no longer outside, I am Inside. I am on the bus. It is a dream come true. And like all good dreams, soon it will turn to nightmare. “A return to Chelmsford, please mate,” I say, handing him a pristine twenty pound note fresh from the cash machine. “Haven’t you got anything smaller?” I haven’t. “I haven’t,” I tell him. He sighs, eventually snatching it from my hand. £13.40 in five pence pieces is returned to me as change. I stare at them as they clatter endlessly out of the machine. I stare at him but he’s not looking back. If he wasn’t protected by perspex I’d throttle him until he was dead. I have to content myself with labouriously opening my wallet and putting the change into the correct hole as slowly and as awkwardly as possible.

This has no effect. The driver just pulls off without even waiting for me to finish. Flustered I try to pick up the money as quickly as possible but most of it slips through my fingers and spills all over the floor. I bend over to pick some of it up but this leads to the coins in my wallet falling out to join their comrades on the floor. I stand up, breathe deeply, attempting to steady myself and calm down, but the bus lurches its way round a corner and I am flung haplessly into the back of an unamused man. I decide then to abandon the change and make my way to the safety of a seat.

I stumble my way down the length of the bus and collapse into one of the seats near the back. There isn’t much leg room, but at least I don’t have to sit next to anyone. I sit as close to the window as possible, and rest my forehead on the glass. The condensation cools my brow and obscures my view of the outside world, making everything an indistinct blur. Whenever the bus stops, its chassis begins to rattle, and the vibrations are amplified by my skull, causing my teeth to shake and the inside of my ears to itch. I fall into a torpor, the snorted conversations of teenage boys around me receding from my awareness. Greyness begins to envelope me, and I fall into a reverie, fantasizing about gunning down everyone inside, one shot at a time, remorsely, their apathy aiding me in my pursuit of their destruction. I walk slowly up the aisle, each footstep falling on another of my scattered 5 pence pieces, and when I reach the front of the bus I shoot the driver in the face. The bus veers into a layby just outside Danbury, hitting the kebab van that sleeps there. Everything bursts into flames.

The bus pulls into central Chelmsford at 9:53 am. We all file emotionlessly off the bus, each of us robotically thanking the driver for doing his job. I realise that it isn’t fear I am feeling, it is disgust. My journey is at an end.

Jeff Randall is Essex Terror’s senior correspondent. He has moved away.

***

The Terrifying Embrace That We Can Never Escape (August 2010)

Last week I received the call all of us dread more than any other. It was Mother, and she requested my appearance at her and my father’s golden wedding anniversary. I had hoped that when my work on Essex Fear Factor had finished my time here in this despicable county would be over. I should have known better. There would be no escape.

I had grown up here, and fled as soon as nature allowed, but my forebears remained. Parents, grandparents, aunts, they spread out across the marshes like a malarial plague, easy to forget for years before finally the fever remanifests itself and debilitates you all over again.

It had been fifteen years since last I was brought so low. On that occasion, on a quick visit to wish my father a happy birthday, I had been forced into helping him with his endless DIY. I had no suitable clothing, having come in my professional suit and tie, and the only thing that my father had that fit over my exaggerated frame was an old Comic Relief t-shirt, the kind made out of that magical 1990s material that allowed colours to change when the temperature rose. It was an evening I had tried to forget, and had almost done so. But nothing is ever truly gone.

In the present day I walked up the drive, the gravel crunching under my shoes as I strode briskly to the door. Moments later I was in, Mother popping out of the door like a ghastly jack-in-the-box as my finger hovered over the button that would ring the doorbell. Kisses followed. I was seven again, and full of resentment.

Ushered into the kitchen, I blankly handed out my gifts, my parents placing them on the table with barely even a glance. I’d spent an entire lunchhour deliberating over which chocolates to buy in Thorntons, and here they were, already dismissed. I dreamt of smashing them up with my fist. I dreamt of eating them all in the car.

I dreamt of many things.

But I was dragged away from reverie. “It’s been so long since we’ve seen you, Jeff,” Mother said. “I can’t remember the last time you were here.”

“It was when dad was doing the kitchen. I helped him put those panels up on the ceiling.”

My father nodded. “You remember, surely. Jeff here, in that Comic Relief Tshirt, holding up our ceiling like Atlas.”

My father started to laugh. “And the nose on the shirt started changing colour, going redder and redder and redder!”

Now mother: “Hahaha, yes! I came in, and you were laughing, and then I saw the t-shirt, and I started laughing.” She started laughing. “It just kept getting redder and redder.”

Father: “Like his face!”

Their laughter was continuous now, like it had been back in 1995. I tried to speak but shame and embarrassment and a sheer unspeakable terror stilled my tongue. I became unstuck in time, flipping seamlessly between now and then, their laughter echoing in stereo through time, rising, always rising. Every time I thought it must subside it redoubled in strength, every time I thought they might speak it was just instead a thunderous splutter of mirth that had gained almost complete solidity. I cycled through emotions so quickly I could not even begin to name them all. All I know is that as I walked back to my car in the gloaming dusk I no longer wished to be alive. The horror of existence was laid bare, and it was complete.

***

Jeff Randall’s Essex Fear Factor (August 2011)

The barren lands of south Essex are places where I rarely venture. Here concrete streets are forever twisting themselves into ever more bland configurations, a Lovecraftian-horror in reverse. Victorian terraces overnight contort themselves into blocks of glass fronted flats, their balconies emptier than the souls that reside within. Schools are ground down and compressed into the cement blocks that build ever more labyrinthine multistory car parks. Even the supermarkets collapse in on themselves, the resulting supernova leaving ever more densely packed neutronmarkets behind.

Minds here are corrupted not by incomprehensible visions of infinity and malevolence but by a bizarre religious devotion to Margaret Thatcher’s doctrine of self sufficiency. The gibbering madnesses that result are, however, largely the same.

Hospitals, a frightening reminder of the coddled horrors of living in a socialist state, are largely shunned, and their functions are slowly being replaced by a variety of macabre houses of medical horror that cater to the twisted whims of these strange and deranged people. Shopping centres no longer contain just shops. Here you can have your teeth vibrated clean, strapped down into a chair just outside Wilkinsons, your lips pulled back, a crowd of onlookers marvelling at the lack of enamel left in your maw. There, next to that stall where they print pictures onto canvas for no readily apparent reason, you can have your eyeballs sliced open, businessmen allowed a quick glimpse of the ultraviolet dimensions before the cornea is replaced and their lunchhour is over. And everywhere you can sit with your feet in a trough and let piranhas feast on your everdying flesh.

Those that cannot pay are left to rot in their shoes.

Jeff Randall is Essex Terror’s senior.

***

Jeff Randall’s Essex Fear Factor (April 2012)

It has often been said that our children are our truest reflections. What they do, how they behave, their clothes and the deformity of their faces, it is a pure and uncorrupted record of our triumphs and our failures. Nowhere is this truer than in the playgrounds and supermarket carparks of Essex.

In my day, school playgrounds were a beautiful place, filled with concrete climbing frames and boarded up bombshelters and the hugest tractor tyres a farmer could discard. These days there is nothing but the smoothest asphalt, black and untarnished even by the painted lines of netball courts. And spread out equally across the playground, each exactly as far away as they can be from any other being, are the children.

Sullen, grey, motionless, these children are like ghouls abandoned into the sunlight. Each one stares at the phone in their hand, prodding bony fingers into the screen like crows tapping endlessly at a dazzling window. Occasionally a laugh will ripple across the playground as a new joke is accessed online, a new insult aimed at the heart of whoever today’s enemy happens to be, emailed and facebeeked across their abstracted community.

I enter the playground unnoticed. I plot a course through the children, keeping as large a gap as possible between me and each of them, hoping I can reach the building without stepping accidentally too close to one of them and alerting the mass of creatures to my presence. I am almost to the front door when I step on a discarded quavers packet and lose my footing, stumbling slight further forward than I had intended before being able to regain my balance. Instantly they are upon me.

Each one turns to face me, phones held up and out, the blinking eyes of their cameras fixed on my face. The calm is broken by the screech of a hundred EU-mandated simulated phone shutter noises scrying away in unison, attempting to capture whatever is in my soul. I freeze, my mind blank, all my years of journalistic professionalism lost in a blaze of pretend whirrs and clicks. By the time the bell goes and the children are sucked into the gloom of the school I have collapsed to the floor like Mina ravished by Count Dracula himself, bloodless and utterly alone.

***

The Bench (August 2012)

Ubiquitous and yet simultaneously overlooked by many, the mundane park bench holds a terrible power that far exceeds that which you could ever really expect for so simple a device.

Most merely attribute the unnerving disquiet they feel as they stroll purposefully past one to the inhabitants of the bench itself, be they drunkards, youths or the lazy. We look at them and think they are not like us. Here we are with our purposeful strides, our important days filled with errands that cannot be completed by sitting about in the sun, and there they are, muttering and squawking unintelligibly in their strange and degenerated language.

But they were like us once. It is not they who are responsible for their ill-fitting clothes and unbrushed beards, nor for their confused ramblings and incoherent anger. No, these people have been corrupted. And they have been corrupted by the bench itself.

It is a seductive beast, a patient predator. Who among us, no matter how powerful the stride and business-filled the day, hasn’t occasionally been caught by a sudden feeling of fatigue as they march from one building to the next, briefcase in hand, suit tight across the chest, the sun forcing your pupils down to pinpricks and the pressure inside your skull building agonisingly to a crescendo. I know I have. And it is those moments that we become vulnerable. There, we say, there. I could sit down there. Just for a moment.

A moment is enough.

You will discover then that, although the bench looks comfortable, it is instead a terrible contraption designed to exacerbate the aches and moans of your body. Curved subtly in a form not fit for human bones, once you have sat down a process of spine hunching begins. It is a slow attack, designed to creep up on you unnoticed. It is only when you go to stand up that you notice its effects. Your hand will involuntarily shoot out and hold your lower back. It will try to rub some life back into it, and, hopefully, seconds later you will stand up straight and continue on with the manful stride that you had paused seconds before.

But it is here that the unlucky falter. Perhaps their rubbing technique is inadequate, ruined by an unpleasantly cold or clammy hand. Maybe they had lingered too long, a brief rest turning into what could only be described as a genuine period of idleness. It is possible they had been transfixed by the sight of a squirrel with a bare tail that resembled a rat’s, or a pigeon with a mangled leg. Whatever the circumstance, the outcome is the same: an ache so great they think “I think I’ll sit back down again. Just for a moment.”

And sit down they do. But just for a moment? I am afraid not. They sit down again, forever. The bench has them now. As it has so many.

***

The Endless Months Of Summer (July 2013)

It is, inevitably and unavoidably, summer.

The air has congealed around me, clogged and ruined by fist sized lumps of pollen, floating in it like croutons, patiently waiting their turn to choke the unsuspecting. The bass from passing cars pulses through this filthy soup like the shock waves from detonating depth charges, pushing wave after hot wave of it into your face whichever way you turn. The stench of lighter fluid and the charring of meat mingles with the fresh rivers of sweat pulsing through my skin, seeping through my shirt, soddening my tie.

(No amount of washing will salvage these once immaculate clothes. Instead I will have to brave the labyrinthine horrors of Debenhams on my way home tonight, and the thought causes me to involuntarily shudder. Is there no aspect of life that does not instill some sort of fear within my heart.)

Through this humid swamp wade the people of Essex, naked, or as near as can be, shoeless and shirtless despite the refusals of the co-op and the job centre to serve them unless they cover their immodesty. Their flesh is plucked and shaved and waxed clean, oiled, pink, everything resembling shapeless slabs of chicken flesh festering in the sun. Mr Whippy’s melt in their hands, running down their clenched fists like jism, dripping on to the tarmac as they walk past, leaving a trail of splatters in their wake, a four dimensional map that would allow me, if I wanted to, to trace the movements of their day.

Everywhere there are babies, as if it is not only fruit that ripens in the sun but foetuses too. Paths, roads, fields, all are commanded now by battalions of prams and pushchairs, following me, harrying me, crashing into my ankles, forcing me out of the way, into the brambles and the ditches, off the kerbs and the zebra crossings, into the dead zones next between parked cars, behind lampposts, the forgotten entranceways of long dead shops.

And above everything the constant scream of lawnmowers, of saws, of drills, of phones and radios, of their laughter and shouted conversationss, of the endless, pointless fury of their existence. I place my hands over my ears and scream as silently as I can.

In hell, I realise, it is not fear that you feel, but revulsion. I close my eyes. The sun glows red through my lids. I dream of the heaven of winter, and the death of all things.

Jeff Randall has sick on his shoes and all around his mouth.

***

The Looking (May 2014)

There are many customs that, just by existing, highlight the essential hypocritical nature of human civilisation. We understand violence to be wrong yet enjoy nothing more than watching the spectacle of the pugilistic arts. The lauding of honesty and fairness, along with a sense of civic altruism and neighbourly goodwill, are integral to the myths of our national character, yet the structure of society is such that these values are actively detrimental to our careers, our relationships and our life expectancy. And although good manners dictate that it is wrong to stare, here in Essex they don’t just tolerate The Looking, they sanctify it, venerate it, and ultimately have managed to contort their reality to facilitate it.

Watching – staring, Looking – is an old pastime, older even than we could ever know, and more varied than we could ever hope to define. But while most of the most popular and enduring forms of looking tended towards the spectacle, such as sport and theatre, the act of just looking at another person has also always held a fascination. Although the exact details of everyday, participatory acts of watching in antiquity have been lost with the passing of those days, and can never be fully proven to have happened in any case, the popularity of the art of portraiture cannot be solely attributed to the desire of the narcissistic to be looked at, and surely hints that the joy of Looking has long held an equal appeal.

Theatre, in the Essex variant, merged slowly with the more prosaic portrait-style viewing experience and eventually became what was known as The Looking. In a typical Looking, someone would sit on stage and, without acknowledging the audience in any way, undertake a mundane and solitary activity for between two to five hours. The most popular subjects for a Look were those that were both repetitive but also private or the preserve of the privileged: the eating of a particularly fine dinner; the reading of a book (which, even in recent years was still considered an exotic pastime in the county); the brushing of lustrous hair before a mirror; the intimate petting of a familiar.

As with all traditional forms of entertainment, the number of people attending Lookings declined in the face of the rise of popularise technology in the 20th century, especially television. Indeed, TV is such a perfect medium for The Looking that you could imagine it had been designed solely for this purpose. With the rise of the hidden camera show genre – possibly the apotheosis of television as a medium, ushered to new and thrilling heights each week by the genius of Jeremy Beadle and his acolytes – the joys of the The Looking were brought to an audience many millions of times larger than the population of Essex.

But something was lost. Television created two problems, one borne from its limitations, the other from its strengths. One of the joys of staring at those unaware of your presence – indeed the essential illicit thrill of the entire enterprise – is the possibility they may see you staring, reversing the dynamic and forcing the shame back onto you. Television cannot provide this. (Of course, the formalised Lookings of yore could themselves never replicate this frisson, yet the electric atmosphere of a near-silent crowd and the skills of the actors playing The Looked could create a dynamic tension that formed at least a facsimile of the real thing.)

The second problem is that television also created in us the need for The Looking to be both a shared, communal experience (for The Lookers) and also a more private one (for those at which we Look). No longer would an evening spent watching some read a book on stage be enough to sate us, not when we had gorged for years on the furies of the mercilessly teased and the tears of the recently bereaved.

This contradictory desire for an ever more intimate scene upon which to Look, and ever increasing audience to Look with is a difficult one to resolve, and one which I hope stays permanently unresolved.

[Note: There was a second part of this that has unfortunately been lost to time and decay]

***

The Tick Tocking Clocks Of Death And Madness (fragment, unpublished)

Clocks. I hate them at the best of times. The way they loom over you, your eye inexorably drawn to them. The way they are always wrong. The way they enable a tyrrany

Disappointment leaks from every facet of their being. That first sensuous extra long second you get when you turn to stare at the sweep of their hands is quickly subsumed by the grinding monotonous uniformity of every subsequent one.

***

The Interview (unpublished fragment)

As I leave I can hear them whispering behind me, then laughter, a vague initial attempt at suppression giving way to open and shared glee. The fear is over. Waves of humiliation and despair roll in. Tears well up in my eyes and I have walked far beyond the bus stop before they begin to clear.

__________

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from the archives of Essex Terror: Ted Vaaak, and the English language

[Notes: This interview took place in 2013. I cannot remember where.}

***

Ted Vaaak, and the English language

Ted Vaaaak, celebrated horror writer extroadinaire, has taken his career in a wildly eccentric new direction with An Enumerated List Of The English Language, his new non-fiction book where he attempts to list every word in the English language. David N. Guy met up with him to discuss what he’s done.

Q. This book is quite a departure from your usual work. Why did you feel the need to move into the non-fiction and reference book sector?

A. Like everyone, I have often wondered how many words I knew. So I decided to count them. And then list them. After I had collected them all, I ordered them by hand.

Q. Collected them all? Do you mean you wrote them all down?

A. I cut them out of my books.

Q. So should this book really be called An Enumerated List Of The English Language That Is Used In The Works Of Ted Vaaak?

A. Dear god no. It is incredibly vulgar to use your own name in the title of one’s work.

Q. But still surely there are words you have never used in your books?

A. Name one!

Q. Yacht.

A. That’s not English. It’s dutch.

Q. Of course it’s English. Otherwise I wouldn’t know it.

A. If I remember correctly it appears as word #933653 in the book, anyway, so I don’t know what you’re complaining about. And it appears frequently in The Screams. (The protagonist is called Terry Yacht).

Q. Coxswain. That’s not in there.

A. I used the more archaic form, cockswain, both in this list (it is word #99873) and in my short story, The Cockswine.

Q. Cockswine isn’t a word!

A. No, it is a name. The protagonist is called Barry Cockswine.

Q. Mizzen?

A. Will you shut up about boats.

Q. I just refuse to believe that every English word ever has been used in one of your books.

A. Well, some of them were used in my magazine articles.

Q. But still, it’s preposterous. What about new words?

A. What about them?

Q. Like bromance? Surely you haven’t used bromance? Or staycation?

A. I have used both of those quite frequently.

Q. Bloody hell. How could you?

A. They come in very helpful when writing articles for Observer Travel Monthly (all of which are published under the pseudonym Tom Meltzer to preserve my anonymity, so please don’t print this reply).

Q. Okay. Let’s get back to the book. What is a word? Or, I should say, what differentiates a word from another word?

A. The fact that they are different.

Q. But different how? For instance, you have separate entries for right (#786734), rite (#78830), wright (#923432) and write (#923445). Yet they are all said the same. Should therefore you not also have included right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right and right?

A. Don’t be absurd.

Q. What about rite and rite?

A. I don’t really consider those any differently from the first usage.

Q. What about write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write and write?

A. That’s what I do every night! Hahaha!

Q. What about right, right, and right?

A. Didn’t you already do those ones?

Q. They were different ones.

A. Anyway, in answer to your question, I don’t know.

Q. What is your favourite word?

A. I like them all.

Q. Even the really annoying ones?

A. Especially them.

Q. Even crelm?

A. It has served me well.

Q. Are names words?

A. Yes.

Q. No they aren’t.

A. If I said they weren’t you’d just have said they were, wouldn’t you?

Q. No. As if Ted is a word.

A. It means to simultaneously love and loathe. For example, “He lived with his ted wife, Margaret.”

Q. And Vaaak?

A. It is an echoic for the sound a hen makes when throttled.

Q. What use is this book?

A. Use?

Q. Yes, use. Why would someone buy a book containing a contextless list of words? Why wouldn’t they just buy a dictionary?

A. This functions as an index to the dictionary.

Q. The dictionary is already its own index.

A. That’s a terrifying thought.

Q. I don’t understand.

A. It might become self-aware.

Q. What might?

A. The dictionary. Self-reflectivity is the basis of consciousness. Imagine a world where the dictionaries are thinking.

Q. Okay.

A. They are frightened. All these people holding them, peering at them, inspecting their innards constantly for portents and augurs.

Q. Ted, you’re frightening me.

A. And myself

Q. Ted, thank you.

Due to a scheduling change, Ted Vaaaaak’s Screeeech by Ted Vaaak is available now from all good bookshops. There are currently no plans to release An Enumerated List Of The English Language.

__________

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