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: 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: 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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from the archive of Essex Terror: Ted Vaaaak’s The Bloody Loft

[Notes: This article was originally published in 2013.]

***

Ted Vaaaak’s The Bloody Loft

This meander into interactive fiction is one of the true curiousities in Ted Vaaak’s career. The fallout from his acrimonious contractual warfare with Dragon Data was also to ensure that he would never set foot in Wales again.

Unfortunately, I have never been able to get beyond the first room before the blood drowns me, so I am unable to tell if it is a notable addition to Ted’s canon.

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from the archives of Essex Terror: Ted Vaaak’s “The Whore Who…”s

[Notes: This article is from October 2013. I apologise for the language contained within]

***

Ted Vaaak’s “The Whore Who…”s

During the mid to late ’70s, Ted Vaaaak, seemingly at the time lost in the midst of a decade long breakdown, blundered his way into the nascent Violent Women subgenre with his surprisingly successful novel The Whore Who Shot Her Way Out (published in December 1974 by Virago). The story followed a weary prostitute, Eddington ‘Edds’ McHair, through a typical day on the job, as she meets clients, chats to friends, and describes repeatedly her clothes. The climax of the book, a frightful attempt to escape an overcrowded chip shop on Southend seafront, is said to have left many readers in tears.

Later that year, when it was revealed that Ted Vaaaaak was not technically a woman, the series transferred to Fontana Publishing, and The Whore Who Exploded burst onto the bestsellers charts with unabashed fury. Over the next 26 months, his breakdown now suppressed, Ted capitalised on his new found success with 44 different Whores books, which was astonishing even by Ted’s battering ram standards.

The series was received not without some controversy. A debate around violence and pornography is never far away from seeping out of the British media’s lips at the best of times, and the 1970s were, in many ways, dreadful. In the Anglia News vaults there is (never broadcast) footage of a disastrous doorstepped interview at Vaak’s house, where Ted, 100% nude, is asked whether he finds the filth he writes erotic. Ted’s subsequent claim that “all fiction is erotic” is probably, all things considered, the most terrifying thing he ever uttered.

In late ’77 a Radio 4 dramatisation was made of The Whore Who Killed Absolutely Everybody, the final novel in the series, where Edds comes out of retirement for one last night of sex, violence and extensive descriptions of clothing. Renamed The Woman Who Killed Absolutely Everybody, it aired to general disgust and mild disquiet, and soon afterwards Ted’s and the public’s interest in the series and indeed the genre as a whole gradually waned away.

Editor’s Note: This article’s title was changed from Ted Vaaak’s “The Whores Who” to Ted Vaak’s “The Whore Whose” to finally the current title within thirteen seconds of publication.

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