Monday 31 August 2015

Wes Craven (1939 - 2015)

I cannot just take back everything I've ever said about Wes Craven, so I'm not going to, but his passing made me take a moment to think about his body of work. And, DAYUM, he certainly cast one hell of a huge shadow over the horror genre. Over the years I have joined in conversations about Craven to offset some praise that I may have seen as overly enthusiastic. I referred to the man as a great craftsman, as opposed to a great artist, and I would often mention my annoyance with his obsession over booby traps and how they were so often used in his work to hammer home the point about how thin the veil can be between civility and savagery. And then there was the fact that his name was used, rightly or wrongly, to sell a lot of inferior movies to us horror fans in the past couple of decades. Hey, he's not the first and he won't be the last. It just took the shine off his reputation, and made it even easier to forget about his fantastic legacy.

Let's start at the beginning, and look at a number of his better-known works.

The Last House On The Left (1972) may well be a sleazy reworking of The Virgin Spring but it led to numerous horror/exploitation movies that would either wear their influence in the title (The Last House On Dead End Street) or in their obviously similar plotting (Night Train Murders AKA Late Night Trains). And that infamous tagline has also been riffed on by numerous, inferior films. Not only was Craven a startling, daring director, but he also seemed to align himself with great marketing.

And then, after a little-remembered movie entitled The Fireworks Woman (1975), came The Hills Have Eyes (1977).

Craven once again seemed to single-handedly create a new horror genre touchstone with his intense, nasty tale of inbred killers pushing a family well beyond breaking point. And he created, arguably, his second major horror icon with the help of Michael Berryman.

The next few years brought some interesting additions to Craven's filmography, including some TV work, a comic book movie (the enjoyable Swamp Thing - which benefits from a great cast and a scene in which Adrienne Barbeau bathes in jungle waters that would have made the teenage me spontaneously combust if I'd been fortunate enough to see it nearer the time of its initial release), and a much-maligned sequel to The Hills Have Eyes that features one of the most amusingly unfathomable flashback sequences ever, with the notable exception of Freaked.

Thankfully, in the very same year, Craven also served us up a very dark dream. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984).

"If Nancy doesn't wake up screaming she won't wake up at all." ANOTHER great tagline. I think it would be redundant of me to try digging deeper into this horror classic. Most people know by now that Craven got the idea from a bizarre news story, and New Line Cinema developed in the '80s into "The House That Freddy Built." What I will tell you, that you may not know already, is that I first saw this movie when I was about 10-11 years old. And I loved it. It was the most intense horror I had ever seen at that point in my life (Halloween was already a comfortable old friend by then, and I had yet to really delve further into the genre). It had some fleeting nudity, a cute leading lady, torrents of bloodshed, and unforgettable visual flourishes. And it also had Freddy Krueger. Yes, the first movie may have kept the slasher icon (ANOTHER icon) as a darker, less talkative, character but he was still the main draw. Just waiting to see what he would do next was equally exciting and terrifying. He broke all the rules. As did I, that very night, when I ended up switching on my bedroom lamp for the duration of the night, to ward off the boogeyman (a situation that seriously displeased my mother when she came in the next morning to find that I'd been letting a bulb burn all through the night).

That would have been enough for most directors, but Craven used his success to keep delivering more interesting slices of entertainment for us horror fans. They weren't all good, but how can you not love Deadly Friend (1986) when it gave us all THIS moment? And The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988) became, for many, the only non-Romero "zombie" movie to provide scares without repeating the gore and shocks that we'd already seen so many times before. Shocker (1989) and The People Under The Stairs (1991) may remain more products of their time than actual enduring classics but I can't deny having a lot of fun with them when I first saw them. I don't think many would say the same about Vampire In Brooklyn (1995) - although, in fairness, I haven't even seen this one for myself yet; it's reputation precedes it.

A low point? Perhaps. But not for long. Because along came Scream (1996).

Scream took the horror genre conventions and played with them in a perfect way to blend real scares/thrills with major entertainment value in a way that had eluded Craven when he tried to explore thematically similar material (a la meta-layering) in the unjustifiably dismissed New Nightmare (1994), a film which has at least grown in stature in the years since it was first served up to unwitting, and perhaps unprepared, audiences.

Scream has divided horror fans in recent years. While it's hard to deny that it gave the horror genre a much needed shot in the arm it's equally hard to deny that it also led to some major bad habits that don't look likely to be broken any time soon (the floating head poster design being just one minus, with the pop culture riffing also sitting uneasily within scripts that aren't clever or witty enough to carry it off successfully). I've even been sucked in to the recent MTV TV show. Don't judge me.

Some of those bad habits came to the fore when Craven teamed up with screenwriter Kevin Williamson once again to refresh the werewolf movie with Cursed (2005). I am one of the few people who find Cursed to be a lot of fun. It's majorly flawed, with two of the biggest problems being poor CGI and a distinct lack of decent bloodshed (leaving the film, ironically, feeling quite toothless), but the script is fun, the central performances from Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Judy Greer and Milo Ventimiglia are great, and it has a clear love from the cinematic history of lycanthropy that it is springboarding from.

Didn't like Cursed? No problem. Craven showed that he could leave the CGI aside to craft some masterful suspense when he released Red Eye (2005).

Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams helped make Red Eye so enjoyable, but it's clear that the direction from Craven is what enables this particular piece of hokum to flat-out entertain, despite a central premise that is absolutely ludicrous when you give it even a few seconds of actual thought. Thankfully, Craven doesn't let you have any time to figure that out. He's busy letting his cast have fun in a game of cat and mouse that involves wince-inducing use of a pen, bluffery, and the constant threat of escalating violence.

My Soul To Take (2010) may not have been a great swansong for the horror master, which is why we're lucky to have Scream 4 (2011). Some may disagree, but I think it took the franchise to the next logical step, and showed that Craven could easily create new and imaginative ways for teenagers to perceive horror. Which, in a way, is what he did all the way back in that Last House On The Left.

RIP Wes Craven - check out his entire filmography at IMDb here, as I deliberately kept this piece focused on his horrors, and more specifically the horrors that I had seen, and you'll probably be tempted to watch at least one of his movies this week.

Saturday 29 August 2015

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015: Post The Second (And . . . . . Last)

It's all winding down now. As we reach the very end of the month, people start to realise that you can't escape hangovers for an infinite amount of time. Worst of all, a lot of people are about to be hit by a LOT of delayed hangovers all at once. But as long as they saw some shows, and perhaps even enjoyed some of them, then it's all been worthwhile. Maybe.

For my own part, following on from the first post here, I was also able to see the following:

Stewart Francis - Pun Gent - I've been a fan of Francis, and his magnificent puns, for a number of years now. He's as hilarious live as he is exhausting (any more than an hour and I think I would have needed pain relief for the constant laughing). He did, however, also come out with a few jokes that were in very poor taste. Oh, I still laughed, even while cringing slightly, but it's worth bearing in mind that seeing him live means hearing a few gags that certainly wouldn't make it on to any of his TV appearances. ****

360 All Stars - A drummer who can also play keyboard, at the same time. A beatboxer/DJ. A couple of breakdancers. A BMX stunt rider. A guy who goes around in a giant hoop. And Mr. Basketball. This motley crew really live up to their team name in a show that's loud, energetic, and hugely entertaining for all the family. There's some repetition here and there that may annoy some, but this was a show that seemed to go down a storm with everyone in the audience. ****

Breakfast At Piffany's - Another person I have been a fan of for some time is Piff The Magic Dragon, and Mr. Piffles. Focusing on comedy more than magic, this was a fun time with a late-night crowd. I have to kick myself for not remembering the name of the female assistant to Piff, because she often stole the show by putting on a big showbiz grin while being saddled with the tidying up, moving heavy objects, and generally unglamorous jobs required to keep the show moving. Very funny, and with a surprisingly glitzy, funky finale. *****

Morgan & West's Utterly Spiffing Magic Show For Kids (And Childish Grown-ups!) - I have now seen Morgan & West a couple of times, and they tend to both entertain and slightly irritate me. Their patter on stage is great, and that goes doubly so for this show aimed at kids in which West plays up the fact that he is not a fan of kids at all, but many of their tricks are based on very simple techniques/cheats. Of course, you could say that about all magic shows, which is why the presentation goes a long way, and the presentation here (for both kids and us childish grown-ups) was wonderful. The duo seemed to be a firm favourite as I chatted about the act with my 11-year-old daughter once we'd left the venue. ****

The Room: The Musical - Oh boy. Nothing in recent memory has made me laugh as much as this did. All of the cast were great, the actor playing Tommy Wiseau was uncannily perfect. The songs were funny. If you've endured/experienced The Room then you owe it to yourself to see this. Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to be shown again after this festival. Unless I was lied to. Do whatever it takes to see this tonight. Seriously (ummmmmm . . . . . . within all standard legal boundaries, of course). *****

Photo taken from the Facebook page of The Room: The Musical, and is credited to Tim Kelly. See more of his photography here - - or here -

Friday 28 August 2015

Scalarama 2015

Did you know that September is the unofficial month of cinema? Scalarama 2015 is the fifth year of a fine tradition that encourages people to broaden their cinematic horizons, revisit some sorely neglected classics, and generally have as much fun as it's possible to have in a cinema without trying to re-enact that Diner trick.

The website, with plenty of further details, is here. Check it out.

Highlights include a John Waters retrospective, screenings of Eyes Without A Face, The Dance Of Reality, Roar, and a 16mm print of The Begotten, as well as a look at some interesting films from female directors, including The Watermelon Woman and Girlfriends (1978). There's a Shirley Clarke retrospective, and much more.

I'll be hoping to check out a few of these films myself in the coming weeks, so a few reviews will certainly end up here on the blog. I hope that other folks out there will check their local cinema listings and perhaps buy a ticket for a cinema experience a little different from the usual blockbuster fare.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Madman (1982)

Let me start this review by quoting the opening text from Student Bodies (1981):

"This motion picture is based on an actual incident.
Last year 26 horror films were released . . .
None of them lost money."

Madman was released in 1982, not so much riding a wave of slasher horrors, but perhaps more trying to be drowned by the stab-happy deluge. To stand out, it would have to feature some great kills, memorable chaacters, top notch FX work, and more great kills. Alternatively, it just had to be viewed on videotape by some of the kids who were fast discovering the many pleasures now available to them through the magical portal of video cassettes. While I can't speak for everyone, I found the movie, and found that it lodged itself in my mind, thanks to the second scenario. I even saw Madman way before I ever saw The Burning, making it probably the first Friday The 13th derivative that I was exposed to (although it certainly wouldn't be the last, by a long shot).

Despite the slasher titles I have just namechecked, Madman actually starts off in a scene that aligns it most closely with The Fog. A campfire tale sets up the scary atmosphere, and reveals the backstory/legend of Madman Marz, and it always surprises me that more horror movies haven't made use of the campfire tale tradition, a simple precursor to most forms of modern storytelling. But once everyone leaves the campfire we end up treading much more common ground, as individuals wander far enough away from the group to be picked off by the vicious killer. And that pretty much covers the entire plot.

While I can't say that the acting is all that great, or that the characters are even all that memorable, Madman benefits from the memorable turn from Paul Ehlers in the title role, and is also of interest to any horror fans who want to see Gaylen Ross in horror genre fare other than her most well-known film (Dawn Of The Dead). Tony Fish, Harriet Bass, Seth Jones, Jan Claire and all of the other main players cover a pretty wide range of talent levels, from good to bad.

Although they are sparse throughout the film, the special effects and gore gags are fairly well done. A couple of heads are removed from necks, sharp things are stabbed into bodies, and there's also a highly effective hanging that makes a great impact thanks mainly to the physical performance of the actor involved (kudos to him for such a convincing moment). And the hideous visage of Madman Marz himself is actually a solid piece of work, displayed to best effect during one particularly enjoyable jump scare.

Strangely enough, I guess Madman falls down for fans of slasher movies when it fails to adhere to the rules that had already been well established by this point. Yet, somewhat perversely, it's this lack of adherence to those rules that also help it to stand out, even after all these years. Yes, you get the kills and you get a finale that reveals where some of the corpses have been placed, but the film also consistently surprises, whether by focusing on some genuinely good atmosphere and scares ahead of the bodycount or just in the victim choice/order.

If you ask anyone about Madman, and are lucky enough to stumble across someone else who has seen it (it's a title often forgotten or simply overlooked by even many members of the horror community), then the chances are that they will remember it for one of two reasons. The first is a particularly impressive kill scene/grisly aftermath. The second is the catchy theme song. Let it invade your ears here . . .

James Oliver, writing in the booklet that accompanies the Arrow Video release, lists a number of flaws that the film has, and says: "the (regrettably plentiful) songs are awful". With respect, James, I have to disagree. I used to think that the main theme song was a memorable one, and also recall the score being pretty solid throughout. Revisiting it today, I still think exactly the same. Oh, it may well be a case of love or hate it when it comes to the soundtrack, but I am firmly on the side of love.

Actually, never mind my sudden focus on the soundtrack for this last paragraph, the film itself may well be a love or hate it affair. Until this Bluray was released I always thought that nostalgia was tinting my view of the film. That wasn't the case. It's an undervalued diamond in the rough that deserves to be discovered by horror fans who think they have already seen every slasher movie worth seeing. And this package is the best way to give it a go.


Madman is goes on general releases on Bluray tomorrow here in the UK, thanks to those lovely, lovely people at Arrow Films. The bumper selection includes some bonus content from previous releases, plus a few goodies that may be seeing the light of day on shiny disc for the very first time. I haven't had time to go through everything yet, but I am keen to explore further. And the film itself is the best I have seen it. Here are the specs, as listed on thier site:

  • Brand new 4K transfer from the original camera negative

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations

  • Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)

  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing 

  • Audio commentary with director Joe Giannone, Madman stars Paul Ehlers and Tony Fish and producer Gary Sales

  • Audio Commentary by The Hysteria Continues

  • The Legend Still Lives! Thirty Years of Madman – a feature-length retrospective documentary on the slasher classic including interviews with various cast and crew

  • Madman: Alive at 35 – Sales, Ehlers and star Tom Candela look back at the making of Madman, 35 years after it was filmed

  • The Early Career of Gary Sales – the Madman producer discusses his career in the film industry

  • Convention interviews with Sales and Ehlers

  • Music Inspired by Madman – a selection of songs inspired by themovie, including the track ‘Escape From Hellview’ from former CKY frontman Deron Miller

  • In Memoriam – producer Sales pays tribute to the some of the film’s late cast and crew, including director Giannone and actor Tony Fish

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

  • TV Spots

  • Stills & Artwork Gallery with commentary by Sales

  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic James Oliver, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

  • Order your copy here -

    And then feel free to shop on Amazon to boost my income -

    Thursday 20 August 2015

    Angels One Five (1952)

    I'll admit that when Angels One Five started I was all ready to tolerate the film with a smirk on my face throughout. The first act, showing a newcomer at a RAF fighter station making a bad impression when he has to hop his aircraft over another that is crossing his path, just felt a bit too jolly spiffing and quick to paint every character as a shining example of the stiff upper-lipped Brits who won the war for us. But, despite the 21st century seeming to increase our sense of cynicism on a daily basis, that's sort of, well, based in truth. Showing fantastic mettle in the face of a fearsome enemy, Great Britain really WAS great when it was needed most.

    But let me get back to the actual film.

    Pilot Officer T. B. 'Septic' Baird (John Gregson) is the poor sod who has to face his fellow airmen after that embarrassing near-miss. He's a rigid follower of the rules, and keen to get back in the cockpit. Unfortunately, he's forced to stay grounded for a while, to allow a minor neck injury to fully heal. While working on the ground, in the operations center, Baird begins to see why the chain of command needs every link to be in strong, working order. But that doesn't stop him from running to the planes when the opportunity arises. While Baird tries to do right by the men alongside him, Group Captain 'Tiger' Small (Jack Hawkins) empathises, Michael Denison, Andrew Osborn and Cyril Raymond portray various Squadron Leaders, and Dulcie Gray and Veronica Hurst ensure that the proceedings aren't completely male-dominated. Hawkins and Gray, in particular, stand out as two determined individuals who somehow manage to lead and motivate others even when admitting to their own failings.

    Here's an interesting point that someone has placed on the IMDb Trivia page for this movie: "The film was used as part of the RAF Initial Officer Training at RAF Cranwell (at least until the 1990s), as it deals with the conflict of man-management of others versus having to perform the task as well, whilst put in a setting that would be relevant to future officers." I'm not sure if that's true, but if it is then a) it helps to explain what the movie provides to viewers much better than my jumbled plot precis above and b) many thanks to the user who submitted that information.

    With major input from writers Pelham Groom, Derek N. Twist and director George More O'Ferrall, Angels One Five feels steeped in an authenticity that all of the cliched bantering and "by jove, skipper" statements can't destroy.The performances may not be the best, in terms of great acting, but they're absolutely in line with how the characters need to be, and what the storyline demands. As is the script, and the pacing (which starts to ratchet up the tension in the final third).

    And that is, ironically, how to best view the movie. Everyone, and every thing, is there to best service a story that celebrates the men and women who helped defeat Germany in a battlefield surrounded by clouds. As the end credits roll, you will remember just how much they all deserve celebrating. Which makes Angels One Five a success.


    Angels One Five has been given a top notch re-release to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The disc itself may not be packed full of extras, but a restoration featurette shows how much work has gone in to sprucing the film up, and "Max Arthur on the Battle Of Britain" allows viewers to receive an interesting, and highly informative, summary of the war up to that point, in approximately 11 minutes.

    Friday 14 August 2015

    Precinct Seven Five: An Interview With Michael Dowd

    Anyone who managed to make their way through my full coverage of EIFF 2015 should already know that I was seriously impressed, and blown away, by Precinct Seven Five, a documentary that tells the incredible true story of a New York police officer named Michael Dowd. Dowd managed to lead an exhausting double life, as both cop and valuable asset to a major drug dealer, for the better part of a decade until the house of cards came tumbling down around his ears.

    I was thrilled, therefore, and also a little bit nervous to grab an interview spot with Dowd (and please read up a little on the situation, or see the documentary, before reading the following interview). I had so many questions racing through my mind, but I wondered just how I would phrase them. How did he survive when things turned sour? How did he keep a clear conscience when his actions surely kept him from making the maximum possible impact as a policeman? Considering his losses, was it all worthwhile?

    But everything changed when I walked into the room to meet this smiling, chatty New Yorker. I was at ease within minutes. By the end of the interview, hell, I was hoping we could go out for a few beers. That’s not to say that my questions were forgotten. I just didn’t know how to ask them politely, and I had no need once Michael Dowd got into the full flow of the conversation. Also, it’s worth noting that some of my questions were answered without being asked. Dowd gives his own view of events, of course, and it soon becomes clear just how he feels about things, and how he continues to justify his actions to himself.

    Kevin Matthews (AKA me): When did you first see the finished film?

    Michael Dowd: Oh, I saw it, it’s actually changed a few times since I saw the original release, which I guess you would call the premiere release, which was October past. It was stunning, but I’ve heard they’ve changed a few things. I don’t know if they’ve just shortened it or adjusted a few things.

    KM: So you’ll be looking at it again to see what’s changed?

    MD: Yeah, I think I noticed a few things but, you know, I’ve seen it seven times. So I’m good. I’ve lived it and now I’ve seen it seven times. It might not be exactly my life but it certainly is a persuasion of it.

    KM: You think it’s an overall fair representation, they’ve had to squeeze in a lot from those ten years.

    MD: Yeah, in an hour and forty two minutes they’ve done what they could. It’s a fair representation overall, yes.

    KM: The starting point, for me, from the point of view of a film fan, made me immediately think of Serpico. That was my reference point. This started a decade after the events depicted in that movie. In that time, had nothing really changed? Or had the corruption just become so different?

    MD: It changed, it changed. The way it was handled. And I’m gonna tell you why, this is a learning process. For me, as well as other people. And the police department, as well. What happened was, and this is deep shit, Serpico showed that they had a chain. There was a chain in Serpico that actually went up the ladder. And then we were taught in a secret society, let’s say, not to let it go up the chain. Keep it amongst you. Don’t ask me who taught me that. I’m just telling you, that was how it was taught. Because then what you were doing was insulating the police department brass. Because they never really did anything anyway. They were just collecting over the years from the people in the street who were bringing the corrupt gains. Back then they had what you call bag men. In Serpico’s day there were bag men. In fact, one of my uncles was a bag man. He became a detective. Go figure. So the corruption changed though, it became more street level corruption, and co-ordination amongst co-workers rather than the superiors and the underlings. Does that make sense?

    KM: Yeah. Totally. Like any workplace, you get told that this is the rulebook but HERE are the rules.

    MD: EXACTLY. You got the book over here and the street over here. We don’t live in the book, okay, the other people do. We live in the street. We respond to what the street tells us. I like that analogy. That’s accurate, that’s accurate.

    KM: The other burning question in my mind, as things began to escalate. How did you have enough hours in the day? Days in the week? Were you operating on two hours sleep a night? And the cycle goes on and on. Trips to Vegas to clean money, trips accompanying drug deliveries.

    MD: Yeah, yeah, how do you do it all? How do you do it all? Fun times. You lie a lot. You lie a LOT. You lie to your family, to your friends. When you go home you say “I won a trip”. You don’t tell them that you’re paying for it. You say that you won a trip. Or you say “hon, look what I found”. You don’t tell her that you just shook down a drug dealer for a hundred grand large. You just say “oh, I found this” or “this was left there and I had a choice”. You make excuses for every act. You tell your mother you got a big tax return. She says: “son, what are you doing with this and that? Your brothers ain’t got it, how the hell are you managing? What’s going on?”
    “Oh Ma, I went to Atlantic City and I won $26,000”
    You lie. And then you try to work, and you get this burning sensation from your head to your toe, and you pull into the side of the road wondering if it’s a heart attack or just stress. Then you pull an ambulance over when you’re at work, and you ask them to lay you down and put an EKG machine on you. Because if you go to the doctor, at only 27 or 29 years old, with a heart problem then they know it’s not your heart. It’s your lifestyle. I was keen not to do that. So the ambulance driver looks at me and she goes: “listen Mike, I don’t know what you’re doing but, whatever it is, you’d better stop. Burning both ends?” And then I’m just thinking that she knows. She knows. So it’s not an easy game to chase. The chase goes on and you don’t really live in comfort as you think you are, and you burn yourself out, and you end up in rehabs, and things of that nature, at a young age. And the cycle begins, and then you come back out and you think that you’ll try to walk a straight line, but when you try to walk the straight line you realise that no one wants to work with you, so you have to go back on the other side of the straight line. So now you can get a partner, and it just takes off from there. If you’re straight then they don’t wanna work with you. It’s a self-fuilfilling prophecy. I’m trying to do good. I wanna be a good cop, and then retire, and all of a sudden it’s like no one will work with me. And I’m a very social, gregarious person. I want people around me, whether they’re doing good or bad, or right or indifferent, I want a social environment. I’m one of seven, I’m an Irish kid, we got seven kids in the family and I wanted to be part of the party. Have a good time wherever I went.

    KM: And it sounds like you did.

    MD: I did, I did. But twelve and a half years is what it cost me. That party wasn’t so much fun.

    KM: When it DID all come to an end, what was your main motivation for going to the Mollen Commission?

    MD: They came to me two or three times and I told them that I was not interested in working with them, because I didn’t want to hurt anybody else. I didn’t want any cops to be unfairly, or maybe rightfully so, arrested. I thought that the arrest of Michael Dowd, hitting the newspapers the way it did and blasting for almost two years every day over 400 newspaper articles, I thought that the cops would say to themselves “we’d better stop what we’re doing – cos they’re coming”. It was huge. And it was every day. Pounding and pounding on these cops. And then they came to me and said “how do we catch people like you?” and I said “fuck you, go away” and they came back, and came back again, and finally my lawyer told me that I needed a friend in that courtroom. “They’re looking to hammer your balls off you,” he said, “for basically shaking down drug dealers, essentially”. And I said “alright, let’s see what we can do for them”. And I sat down with the Mollen Commission, I taught them how to catch me, and I told them initially no because they were gonna kill off cops and people and individuals, and ruin families, and they said “fuck them, we don’t care”. And that’s why I was against them. And then after sitting in the courtroom and listening to the newspapers talk about how I murdered people, and this and that, and I knew it was ridiculous and untrue, and my lawyer advised me that I needed a friend. The only friend we could find was the Mollen Commission. So then I taught them how to catch me, which then let them take down the whole 30th Precinct. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the case, I don’t know if you followed it through, the whole 30th Precinct was arrested almost right after. As I testified, the next day they took the whole 30th Precinct midnight shift and put them in prison. The whole shift. How that played out was very interesting. They had me testify, and I don’t know about anything else going on, I’m just doing what I do. I go back to my prison cell. I see the newspaper the next day – 30th Precinct: 30 People Arrested. The whole midnight shift. And I don’t know what that has to do with me. And then the next day they go back to the commission hearings, and the commission tells them how they did it, why they did it, how they were ABLE to do it. So they were justifying their existence by portraying me a certain way, taking down a whole other precinct that was doing what I was doing, based on how I taught them how to catch me. So, the whole point for the purpose of this discussion, is that I wasn’t the only one doing this. There was a large organisation of police officers doing this at the level of patrolman. The ironic thing is that I met a woman who hailed from Brooklyn, at a screening in New Jersey, and people can get up and speak after the screening, and she said: “I just want you to know that we knew what you were doing. We knew what you all were doing. We didn’t give a shit. All we cared about was that you guys were there to protect us. We didn’t care that you were taking their money and stealing their drugs. I’m from Hell’s Kitchen [30th or 34th Precinct in Manhattan] and we knew what you were doing. But, dammit, you kept us as safe as you could.” This woman, I wanted to hug her. She got it. We were wrong. We knew we were wrong. But they knew what we faced out there on a daily basis. I was clearing $310 a week. You see a paycheck onscreen, one of mine, for $615 – that’s for TWO weeks. That’s a bi-weekly check. I never got $615 a week. I still don’t. The layers of the onion can unpeel even further in the book that is coming out, there are so many layers and that goes even deeper. What Kenny did to me, the betrayal, was beyond what you see. He was retired with a disability pension. We was collecting a pension. I had no influence over him, over his life. You would think that he was in the patrol car with me, from the way the film portrays things, and that he just decided to turn on his partner. No, he was retired and living at home with his wife and kids, on the couch. He dealt drugs for six months and went down like a fucking . . . . . buffoon. I just stuck my hand in it for a minute to help him out and, bingo, they wrap me up in it. That’s what you don’t get from the film. I hope they can fill it in elsewhere, I think Sony is going to do a little version of some of the things that the documentary couldn’t get into, because there’s a lot of life there to cover.

    KM: Yeah, as soon as it finished I thought that someone would surely snap it up to develop a movie.

    MD: Yeah, Sony grabbed it, and I’m doing the book that will hopefully lay it all out in detail. Because it’s really an in-depth story. You know, he was retired with a disability pension that I got him. I got him this pension. I lied for him, and got him a pension. So he’s home, retired, and I end up paying to keep his pension. I pay.

    KM: Last question. Do you think with the tech in everyone’s pockets today, if you were a young officer nowadays, is this kind of thing even possible now? To this degree?

    MD: Oh no, this couldn’t happen. No. For many reasons, besides cell phones and such. Because of my case, the police department has turned into a place where you can actually almost feel safe giving a guy like me up again. I tried to turn in a guy like me, and that’s what turned everybody against me. When Kenny says “I wouldn’t work with Mike, I was afraid to work with Mike” he wasn’t saying that because I was corrupt. He was saying it because I turned somebody in. I turned somebody in who was doing what I was doing. Because I was trying to turn over a new leaf. I found out that this guy threatens to kill me. There’s a lot of shit that goes down that people don’t even know about, and a 15 minute interview is not going to do us any justice. Even the documentary has to be ding ding ding ding ding. There’s a guy I turn in who threatens to kill me. Internal Affairs tells him who I am. He tells me on the phone that he’s going to put a bullet in my head. I hit the ground. I’m on the phone, and on the gound. My wife wonders what’s going on, I tell her to shut the fuck up. You don’t even know, this thing is crazy. It was fun though. It’s fun, exciting, exhilarating, at the same time it’s scary. But you don’t have that fear while you’re living it. You have no choice but to trudge through it. Accept it.

    And there you have it. Michael Dowd. Unrepentant, entertaining, larger than life, fascinating. Accept it.

    Precinct Seven Five goes on general release on 14th August, and is reviewed here. DO see it.

    The man himself - Michael Dowd (and me - perhaps looking a little nervous)

    Monday 10 August 2015

    Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015: Post The First

    Yes, it's that time of year once again. Prices double, population seems to quadruple, so many uncommon sights pile up that nothing becomes uncommon, and asking for a booking in any restaurant during the standard weekend peak times will have you sneered and laughed at as if you were Patrick Bateman trying to get a last-minute reservation at The Dorsia.

    The usual highlights are in place. If you haven't been to see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo then I advise you to do so at your earliest convenience (I get the hesitation, especially when actually living in Edinburgh all year round, but trust me - it's a fantastic spectacle). The Ladyboys Of Bangkok have, in a way, become the flipside of the Tattoo. They have been coming here for many years now, and I'd be surprised if any of their shows weren't sold out. While I can't whole-heartedly recommend the show to all, I do think it's one of those experiences that you have to try once.

    And, for those worried about money, the Free Fringe continues to grow and provide a wide selection of acts in an equally wide selection of venues (okay, most of them are pubs, but you have to make do with what ya got). Check out some acts, take a chance, and if you like someone then throw in a few quid. Even a fiver, if you really liked the show, will average out to be less than half the cost of a standard ticketed show. But be prepared to queue for quite a while if you want to see the good stuff. Word travels fast. If you're being offered free tickets for a show here in its second or third week - the sensible advice is to avoid it. Sorry, but it's a jungle out there.

    I'm not sure what I'll be able to see this year, but I have already managed to get two shows under my belt. That may be it for me in 2015 - work is busy, money isn't limitless - but if I check out any more then I will once again bore folks with my opinion.

    The first show I managed to see this year was a freebie. Edward Hilsum: Genie. This is a magic show designed, apparently, to remind people of how they felt when they really believed in magic, and wishes coming true, and maybe even happy ever afters. I think it would be good for children, but Hilsum just doesn't do enough to help the adults revert to the wide-eyed, childish state he wants everyone to get to. As nice as he appears to be, and I'm sure he's lovely, Hilsum just doesn't have any real stage presence. He also hasn't adapted a number of the more intimate moments to show off the tricks better to a wider audience (a cynic would almost think he was hiding too much). Worst of all, a number of his tricks work thanks to some very basic magic elements, which wouldn't be so problematic if Hilsum worked on the presentation to distract audience members a bit more. But he doesn't. There are a number of times during the show in which Hilsum implores the audience to not reveal any secrets of the show. I won't spoil things for anyone else, but I do suspect that anyone returning to the show will easily pick up on a few repeated "stumbles" amongst the smoother moves. It's clear that Hilsum fairly skilled when it comes to prestidigitation.. It's also clear that he has a long way to go before he creates a truly satisfying stage show for all.

    Edward Hilsum: Genie is on at 1315 in The Voodoo Rooms most days during the festival - ***

    Thankfully, the second show I saw this year was the astounding. Siro-A, who are, as far as I am concerned, unmissable, and unlike anything else you will see this year (well . . . . . . . . . . unless there's something similar here this year - which must be a 1 in 100 chance). Imagine if Daft Punk were Japanese and starred in an audio-visual stage show directed by Michel Gondry. I can't actually describe their act with words so either a) get your tickets for them NOW or b) at least watch this video.

    Yeah. If that blew your mind then you're not alone. I was pretty gobsmacked by the time I left their show.

    Siro-A is on at 1545, again most days, at the Assembly Theatre in George Square - *****