Tag Archives: peter sallis

The Clifton House Mystery 1.5 and 1.6

Well, I think that was pretty good. The serial has a very, very weird structure. Episode five is mostly built around Peter Sallis’s ghost-hunting character getting all the facts about the house and the incident in 1831 where the soldier that’s haunting the house was killed. The episode ends with him beginning an exorcism, and, in the way of these things, the spirits respond with lights and noise and manifestations.

It’s a triumphantly good cliffhanger that scared the absolute daylights out of our son. He hid under pillows on the other sofa and didn’t watch what happened in episode six until the noise had stopped and it was safe to peek out. He says that the only thing he’s ever seen that’s any scarier than this sequence was the Twilight Zone story “Gramma,” which really was horrifying.

But this story’s pretty much over five minutes into part six. Inevitably, there’s one more twist at the end, but wrapping up the loose ends – and finally calling in the police – means there’s about fifteen minutes of padding in the final part. We learn that one of the boys reads the old soccer magazine Shoot!, anyway.

I didn’t dislike it, and I admired what they accomplished with the limitations of the studio, and it scared the pants off the kid, so while I wasn’t thrilled by it, I’m glad I checked this out. You should get a seven year-old and show ’em this in the evening, just as the sun’s going down.

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The Clifton House Mystery 1.3 and 1.4

This is pretty good, but we’d all like it a lot better if the family had brains.

It’s a trope of haunted house stories – of horror generally – that nobody in the family can act sensibly. But this must set a record. They get into the hidden room and find a corpse. And they don’t call the police. The dad spots the skeleton and throws the bedclothes over it and rushes his sons out. He and his wife talk about it and they don’t know what to do. Call the coroner, they suppose. But that can wait until the morning, because the wife just can’t bear having the house swarming with police. After all, her nerves are shot from the important dinner party they’re throwing the next night.

No, they don’t reschedule the party or decamp to a restaurant. The coroner never gets phoned and they have a dinner party with a skeleton in an upstairs bed. You’ve seen haunted house movies. How do you reckon this party goes?

The following day – yes, we’re now almost 48 hours from the discovery of the body – they delay calling anyone again because the mom speaks to the home’s previous owner about the body. She asks them to wait until she speaks to her clergyman as it may be a member of her family. But by this time, everybody’s talking about the house being haunted and possibly having to scrape together the money to move again, so the boys rush off to attend a convenient lecture being held by the local psychical society with a renowned ghost hunter – Peter Sallis! – to tell him their fantastic story.

Hours later, nobody can find the boys because they didn’t tell anybody where they were going. “Perhaps I should phone the police,” says Dad.

“WHILE YOU’RE HERE, OFFICER…”

I’m not sure which TV detectives operated out of Bristol in 1978, but I’m pretty sure they’d frown on the ghost hunter camping out in a possible crime scene and contaminating it with tape and string and candles.

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Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

So we watched The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and, during the climax, my wife got off the sofa and sat elsewhere. “When you write this one,” she instructed, “make sure that you note that our son loved it so much that he kicked his mother in the head.” This I now do.

Thank heaven we didn’t see this one in a theater. The kid laughed and exploded so much over it that he thrashed and danced and punched the air and, indeed, kicked furiously. We don’t get in his way when he needs to hide from anything scary, and nor do we discourage his animated happiness, but we do chide him when he gets restless and can’t keep still. It’s never occurred to us before that we might want to tell him to calm down the happy dancing and laughing. It’s just so infectious that it’s never been an issue before! Then again, he’s getting bigger every day.

I did, however, see this one in a theater and I know all about happy dancing there. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was Aardman’s second feature film, following 2000’s Chicken Run. It seemed to be a big success, but studios, with their strange way of accounting, sometimes see these things differently and Aardman’s partner, Dreamworks, said that it wasn’t. But it made tons of money and won an Oscar and had me unable to breathe from laughing with a quiet throwaway gag right in the middle that pays tribute to Watership Down, another movie about rabbits. I don’t remember much of anything after that.

The film was directed by Nick Park and Steve Box, with a script by Park, Box, Bob Baker and Have I Got News For You‘s Mark Burton. Joining Peter Sallis in the studio this time out are Helena Bonham Carter as Lady Tottington, Ralph Fiennes as a big game hunter, and a great ensemble including Geraldine McEwen, Mark Gatiss, and Peter Kay as villagers who thought their rabbit problem had been solved by our heroes before the movie opens… and then a giant were-rabbit stalks the night.

The movie is just packed with fun allusions to old movies while also referencing the previous three shorts, for the benefit of audiences (principally American, I’d imagine) who’d never seen them. Wallace’s morning routine with the trap door floor and clothes-putter-onner gets another outing, there’s a new Thunderbirds-style launch sequence for their pest control van, and the climax is another unlikely madcap chase that pretends like it’s obeying the laws of physics. The story is Frankenstein by way of that sort of only-in-movies folk horror which features a vicar who has seen the beast with his own eyes and has a forbidden book that tells how to destroy it. It’s a great and hilarious movie, and it’s not possible to watch it without smiling and laughing, but hopefully you can restrain yourself from kicking your mother in the head.

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A Close Shave (1995)

I saw A Close Shave not too long after it was released and I never looked at it again until tonight. See, there’s this one bit that’s really, really funny. You know how nothing’s funny anymore when you watch it to death? I didn’t want that to happen here. I’d be fine forgetting absolutely everything about this story, which I did, just to preserve that laugh.

I’m not exaggerating. There’s not one thing about this movie that I remembered at all, beyond that there is a parody of the various Thunderbirds launch sequences and that there are some sheep in it.

When I first saw Wallace getting loaded into his motorcycle as the music swelled in a beautiful pastiche of Barry Gray’s orchestra, I almost passed out from laughing. So for almost two decades, I could say with honesty that was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. Sadly, it was finally eclipsed in late 2015, when – and I’m not kidding – I genuinely did black out watching Patton Oswalt do a bit about Lean Cuisine frozen dinners. Brain shut down from lack of oxygen I guess and I just went flumpf. Scared the heck out of my wife, that did.

Anyway, our son certainly enjoyed the launch sequence as well. He thought the whole film was terrific and was on his feet hooting and guffawing during the climax. He did not, however, connect the launch sequence as a Thunderbirds parody! I don’t quite understand how the six year-old mind works. He has seen Scott and Virgil Tracy launch Thunderbirds 1 and 2, across two series, conservatively, 200 times apiece over the last three years. He rewatched the most recent six episodes of Thunderbirds are Go just three days ago. He didn’t see the connection. He just thought it was the funniest motorcycle launch sequence ever.

I haven’t shown him Superthunderstingcar yet. Now there’s something I’ve watched to death and isn’t funny anymore.

I guess A Close Shave is a pretty good movie to stand on its own like that. He says it’s his favorite of the three. I’m still a Wrong Trousers man myself. I’ll check back in 2038 and see what I think.

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The Wrong Trousers (1993)

With no disrespect at all to Nick Park’s undeniable talent and skill as a director, I believe that the Wallace & Gromit franchise owes everything to the co-writer who began working with Aardman on this 1993 film. It’s Bob Baker, who had worked on nine Doctor Who serials in the seventies, along with credits on everything from cop shows to children’s serials. With Baker on board, there’s more structure and more happening around our heroes. They’re not in a vacuum like in the first film, and while it’s a perfectly charming vacuum for half an hour, the sense of scale and the larger environment in The Wrong Trousers makes for a far, far better movie.

I first saw this on WGTV one Friday evening in 1994 or 1995 and immediately made a pest out of myself to anybody who would listen. I must have shown the tape I made of this to three dozen people, and every single person burst a lung laughing over the model train climax. That happened again tonight. When Gromit grabbed that box of spare track, I thought my son was going to pop.

This might be my favorite overall Wallace and Gromit adventure. I’m not entirely sure, because I can’t honestly compare it to the next one. As I’ll explain one day next month, I’ve deliberately only watched A Close Shave just once and don’t remember much of anything about it. But Trousers rewards rewatching, particularly with a kid who’s old enough to read what’s on screen, and especially with a kid who absolutely loves building things. Wallace’s inventions and contraptions have him captivated even before the mayhem begins, and once that happens, he’s in heaven.

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A Grand Day Out (1989)

Six is a very good age for a kid to meet Wallace and Gromit. A Grand Day Out is certainly the least of their adventures, but it still brings a smile to anybody’s face, and the little bit of slapstick that we see when our intrepid duo build their rocket had our son laughing out loud.

I saw the second film before this one, and have always been curious about Nick Park’s direction for the characters. The later productions feel more fully formed and confident, but that doesn’t mean that this one is lacking, or that it feels like he’s flexing his muscles. A Grand Day Out would have been a memorable and satisfying bit of whimsy, absolutely deserving of its accolades, if he’d never followed it up with more. It just suffers in comparison with how ridiculous and madcap their other adventures would be.

I like how the central silliness of the odd robot on the moon is never addressed. Who built this policeman – slash – janitor, and why does it require 10p coins to do anything? I love how it communicates with its arms, just as Gromit communicates with his eyebrow. It’s such genius to express all that character through body language when the bodies are so restricted. And of course, all the mice in Wallace’s cellar have sunglasses, which is lovely.

It’s a huge pleasure to reacquaint ourselves with these two. We’ll be watching a few more of their adventures over the next few months.

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Catweazle 1.4 – The Witching Hour

I’m afraid that while our son enjoyed some of the gags in this episode, he really didn’t understand the plot at all, and didn’t ask for our help. This time out, Carrot asks for Catweazle’s help in coming up with a spell to help his father lose interest in a Jaguar-driving posh lady played by an Australian actress named June Jago. The price of the spell? One box of matches. Wizards work cheap when they don’t understand the value of things.

Catweazle comes up with a spell that requires a little hair from the target, which is handy as she has an appointment in a beauty salon. The series appears to have been filmed in the summer of 1969, and this salon is the most 1969 thing ever. But while the wizard’s antics had him giggling, our son had absolutely no idea what he was up to. It turns out that he didn’t understand what a voodoo doll was, and so Catweazle’s magic had him stumped. How odd. Children’s television used to be full of voodoo dolls. I wonder where they all went?

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Catweazle 1.3 – The Curse of Rapkyn

Hey, it’s Peter Sallis! I wasn’t expecting to run into many guest stars that I recognize in this show. It’s always nice to see Peter Sallis. He was such a great talent. He plays a museum curator in this one.

In this one, Carrot wonders whether the farm’s ongoing financial problems might be a real, honest-to-badness curse on the land. If he can find out that there is one, then Catweazle might be able to lift it, right? And indeed it turns out that a witch named Rapkyn did curse the land and then hid away two cursed stones on the property to keep the bad luck going. But how can they find the stones?

We thought this one was just hilarious. On the down side, the sound quality on these episodes is pretty fair at best; I guess they didn’t have a good sound recordist to place the microphones on location. But the concentration pays off, because Catweazle’s yelping and fumbling is really amusing, and the physical comedy is just great. Our son and I really enjoyed what happens when Catweazle finds the head of a stag mounted on a wall. The old wizard’s never seen anything like that before!

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