The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts,
Scottsdale, AZ
April 20, 2016

I don’t go to see plays. Which is kinda odd, given both my interest in other dramatic arts, such as film, and that back in my school days, I was a devoted member of the drama club, both writing and acting (the former was, truth be told, rather too informed by a devotion to the works of Douglas Adams, but since hardly anyone else was, I largely got away with it). However, that ended when I went to college, my storytelling and performing skills were used for D&D instead. In the 30-plus years since then, the number of plays (rather than musicals) I’ve attended can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. But Chris got us tickets to see this for my birthday, not least because it was a touring production by the National Theatre of Scotland which was coming through Phoenix. Certainly, it was an intriguing premise, and had a nice gimmick – but would that translate into actual entertainment, or would I be reduced to surreptitiously checking my phone every 10 minutes?

Well, the latter turned out not to be an option, because inside the Virginia Piper Theater is a complete dead-zone: I’m filing that one away for a future horror script. But I needn’t have worried, as the evening turned out to be thoroughly entertaining. The plot concerned a lifelong devotee of folk music, specifically the Border ballads from the South of Scotland. After attending a conference in Kelso, she’s trapped there by a blizzard, and the B&B where she ends up spending the night, turns out to be run by a very special proprietor: the Devil himself. How she gets there, and her subsequent struggle to escape from the very specific hell in which she finds herself trapped, is the core of the story.

That’s the premise. As for the gimmick? The audience was on the stage, alongside the performers, with the set being the pub in which Prudencia’s adventures begin. the aim being to recreate a ceilidh night. So, rather than sitting in rows of chairs facing the state, we were all sitting at tables, with (be still, my British heart) complete strangers, the actors making their way in and around the spectators. I can’t say it was a faultless depiction of a Scottish pub, not least because the gastronomic choices included Brie with grapes, as well as strawberries & chocolate sauce. Most Celtic venues I’ve been too, the selection goes no further than whether your crisps should be salt & vinegar or cheese ‘n’ onion. But since this was Scottsdale – the most affluent part of Phoenix – some accommodations clearly had to be made for the natives. Would have been nice if the cast had come back out after the show to hang with the audience in the “pub” – I guess lines of demarcation must still be drawn.


This unusual approach wasn’t without its downside. Our seats were facing away from the great bulk of the action, which led to a great deal of twisting and neck-turning, especially when coupled with the actors’ movements through the “pub”. At the interval, they did re-arrange the seating into the round, for the shift of location to the B&B, and that was considerably more comfortable. Also, it took a while before I realized the vacuum-cleaner like wheezing coming from one direction was actually an audience member with a very loud respiratory ailment, not a sardonic comment from another player. [Is it wrong of me to think some people are unsuited for live art?] One unexpected bonus: free whisky, for the tour was sponsored by Benromach distillery, which is particularly cool, since that was the distillery on the outskirts of Forres at which my father worked in the eighties. They now apparently make something called “organic whisky”, which one imagines would have to be preferable to the inorganic kind. Sorry, chemistry joke slipped in there somehow. Won’t let it happen again.

It was certainly very interactive: we were instructed to spend the time before the show began by tearing up paper napkins, which provided the “snow” for the blizzard, and were chided mildly when the request for “desultory applause” was met somewhat too enthusiastically. The cast were often, literally, right in your face – or at one point, right in one poor spectator’s lap – and there can’t be many plays where the audience is ordered to chant, football style, “Wan Colin Syme! Thair’s only wan Colin Syme!” The relevance of this may have gone over the heads of the locals, since chants don’t typically play much part at sporting events here. I did notice that, in this script, hell overlooks a CostCo carpark, and suspect this was changed for the American audience – but from what? Somerfield? Waitrose? On the other hand, I was likely the only person present, who would have understood the “1977 Tartan Army” reference, likely untranslatable [“1980 Miracle on Ice” might be close]

The small cast was a bit of a mixed blessing. They certainly were a multi-talented bunch, all capable not only of acting, but singing and playing musical instruments too, with no small degree of competence (don’t you just hate the multi-talented?). While mostly folk music, it was made clear early on that this wasn’t the “finger in the ear” brand of folk, and was all the better for it – there was also a cover of I Kissed a Girl, and Kylie Minogue played a significant part in proceedings too. On the other hand, the many parts required were occasionally a step too much. For example, there was one point where what was supposed to be four drunken lassies, were actually being played by three men and one woman. I didn’t quite realize the intent at the time, figuring instead that in the 15 years since I left Scotland, Kelso had perhaps become some kind of hotbed of transvestite culture.

However, when it worked, it was remarkably effective and the lack of Hollywood-style special effects [our paper napkin “snow” being about the pinnacle] mattered not one iota. The concept of the Devil owning a B&B is a glorious one, and the two actors used to portray Lucifer both nailed their aspects of the character. Even as the play moves from philosophical musings and debate over the nature and purpose of border ballads, to slapstick comedy, and a grandstanding finale (shown in the picture above) where Satan and the hero struggle for Prudencia, it still managed to retain a consistent tone, treading the thin line between taking itself too seriously and not seriously enough, with great agility. I could perhaps have done without the interpretive dance, but there’s a raw intensity to “live” theatre that you don’t get in other media, and being up close and personal to the action here, intensified that aspect.

The Scot in me feels obliged to say that the tickets weren’t cheap in comparison to other forms of entertainment, and that is likely to limit future attendance. I’ll risk $10 on a movie, book or band that may or may not be good, but for $39 a head, I generally want a bit more certainty. In this case, however, I didn’t feel in the least short-changed: it was a genuine “experience,” not just a gimmick, and one which will be remembered for a long time.


Revolting Cocks: Someone, somewhere, wake me up

London Astoria, taken by C Ford March 04. CC-BY-SA license

London Astoria,
January 24th, 1991

The Internet never forgets. Or it might forget, but it has a tendency to remember again later, coughing up hair-balls of long-forgotten events that you’d be prepared to swear had been consigned to the trash-can of history. Or, in this case, the TC archives, for tucked away in the corner of And This Is What The Devil Does, was a grainy, obviously ripped from VHS (complete with rolling tracking lines) recording of the Revolting Cocks live performance at the Astoria in London from January 24, 1991.

This was an event which I had attended, and written about all the way back in TC 9. It remained one of my all-time most memorable live experiences: all gigs, even the Rammstein one written about a month or two back, were measured up against it, I had, at one point, a copy of the same bootleg vid, but this had gone among the missing in the two decades and 5,500 miles of relocation since.

The Astoria, meanwhile, had bit the bullet as well, having been demolished in 2009 as part of the London Crossrail project. My other leading memory from there is a show with Front Line Assembly + Sheep on Drugs, which seems have taken place in October 1995. The basement formed another venue, known as the Astoria 2, and it was in there that I saw VNV Nation in 2000, less than a month before moving permanently out to Arizona…and seeing the band again on the night I arrived in Phoenix! But to get back to the RevCo gig…

The concert footage  is, of course, seriously crap quality. Even at the best of times, you’d get better quality shooting from a modern-day cellphone, and that’s when the lights from the stage are not completely blinding, reducing the screen to a white blotch accompanied by a badly-distorted soundtrack of industrial metal. Our son wandered in during the early stages, glanced at the screen, then left without comment. While it might have been different had there been breasts on view at that point (we’ll get to that later), it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the experience. However, this kind of bootleg is less about convincing the neutral as to capturing the essence of a live event for those who were there. As such, this does the job impeccably.

As the band takes the stage, we see Luc Van Acker, clad only a lucha libre mask [which, amusingly, I described as a “neon ski-mask” at the time of the original review, having clearly no clue about Mexican wrestling!] and Speedos. Al Jorgensen is beside him, dressed like a villain from a Sergio Leone movie, in a duster and Stetson. They open with the anthemic Beers, Steers and Queers, and it’s not long before the audience is getting into the spirit, adding their own spin to the first part of the title, by hurling cans at the stage. Fortunately, tins of minced beef did not follow. In absolutely the right approach, Van Acker basically ignored them – I remember another show where a disliked support band’s lead singer issued the immortal line, “If you don’t stop throwing things, we’re going off.” Cue an absolute hailstorm

After that, and a brisk remixed version of BS&Q, it was on to their cover of Physical, with the relatively well-dressed Chris Connelly – in that he was wearing a suit jacket, as well as his boxers – taking over on lead vocals. Oh, and did mention the pair of go-go dancers who were now vamping things up around the stage? TV Mind saw a third vocalist (Phildo Owen? Trent Reznor? The personnel of the band in this era was fluid, shall we say) join the cacophony, and one of the rubber dolls placed on stage was thrown into the crowd, to be torn apart by the crowd. The camera was up on the balcony looking down, and I can’t believe I was in that scrum of humanity, though probably not quite in the pit, having learned my lesson at a Cramps concert the previous year, where I ended up in hospital, getting my lip stitched.

Van Acker, apparently feeling upstaged by Connelly’s sartorial elegance, or perhaps suffering an inferiority complex, had wrapped a towel around himself. Or it may have been just so he could simulate masturbation with a bottle of beer, spraying soap-suds onto the front row. Not to be outdone, Connelly spent much of the next song, Union Carbide, simulating sex with one of the dancers, in a variety of positions. Ok, on further review of the tape, let’s go with probably simulating sex. Meanwhile, Jourgensen carried out possibly the most transgressive act of the entire evening, from a 2012 perspective. He lit a cigarette on stage. I was shocked by this blatant disregard for the lungs of those attending this event.

There was a steady stream of crowd surfers – undeterred by the risks of passive smoking – who had to be ushered off-stage by security. During No Devotion: one of the youngest – barely a kid, who looked vaguely like Neil Morrissey – can be seen politely asking a big, dreadlocked surfer who’d ended up on the stage if he’d mind very much rejoining the audience. The surfer just stared at him and wandered off towards the back of the stage. [The stagecrasher who made a grab for one of the dancers was treated a good deal less kindly. Mind you, their tops had now come off. ] During Chickenshit, it was Neal Morrissey vs. the Dreadlocked Surfer, Round 2, and this time it took the combined efforts of several security guards to force the latter off-stage. Only, when he went, he took Morrisey with him, tumbling into the moshpit together, like the end of some previously-unseen entry in the Predator series.

Luc Van Acker was now wearing a Queen Elizabeth rubber mask and fake breasts, but still simulating sexual acts with one go-go dancer – ah, to hell with this, let’s call her what she was and be proud of it – stripper during Stainless Steel Providers, while the other stomped the remaining rubber doll to death. The encore, an extended version of Get Down, complete with Bruce Campbell sample, unfolded against a barrage of strobe lights, smoke and cacophonous guitars which leaves the viewer struggling to make out a fraction of what was going on. If you can imagine being trapped in a tank during a heavy artillery barrage, you’re thinking along the right lines.

YouTube video

But it was during Attack Ships on Fire (above), that I realized why this was still the yardstick by which all live performances should be judged: an absolute wall of sensory experience, summed up by Owen shrieking, “Someone, somewhere, wake me up!” while a topless vixen emerged from a cloud of dry ice behind him, and a faux Queen wearing a plastic policeman’s helmet shags another stripper off to one side.

That, folks, is entertainment. And it was, and remains, fucking awesome.

For more fun, read and enjoy Jason Pettigrew’s awesome diary of the US leg of thst RevCo tour. It includes such joys as “some pink-haired trollop gave Michael Balch a hand-job under his Fairlight (“She has a good reach. I suggested that she play basketball,” says Balch later.)”

Rammstein Live: Mein Herz Brennt Arena,
Phoenix AZ,
May 18th 2012

My first encounter with Rammstein was on the soundtrack of David Lynch’s Lost Highway in 1997, where I initially mistook them for Laibach – and wasn’t the first to do so. Somewhat snarkily, Laibach said, “They have proven once again that a good ‘copy’ can make more money on the market than the ‘original’. Anyhow, today we share the territory: Rammstein seem to be a kind of Laibach for adolescents and Laibach are Rammstein for grown-ups.” I’ve particularly wanted to see Rammstein live since hearing Rob Dyer’s tales of spectacles such as keyboard player Christian “Flake” Lorenz sailing out onto the audience in an inflatable boat. But I moved out to Arizona before they came back, and missed their 2001 tour so had to wait. And wait. Finally, I heard that they’d be playing here, and I’d get to see Rammstein live, 15 years after first hearing them – I think that’s a record, pipping the 14 years before I saw The Human League. At least until I ever see John Foxx (21 years and counting!).

We warmed up by rewatching their Live Aus Berlin DVD, which gave us an idea of what to expect: spectacle of the highest order, and a shit ton of pyrotechnics, in this case capped by lead singer Till Lindemann setting himself on fire to sing one song. But that, in itself, was some time ago, with the band now a decade older and wiser. Or not, since they still prove capable of creating controversy, even as Lindenann approaches his fiftieth birthday. There’s something both weird and strangely energizing about that face: rock stars are not supposed to be older than I am, especially the ones at the more “energetically corrupt” end of the spectrum: Al Jourgensen would be another such case of growing old disgracefully.

Chris and I made a day out of it, warming up by going to see The Avengers, having dinner, and then spending some time hanging out on a balcony at Westgate Center, playing “Spot the Rammstein attendee”. It really wasn’t hard, because just about no-one wears black in Arizona, particularly, between May and September: less a fashion choice than a survival requirement, in a land where you need oven-gloves to open your car-door in summer. It was, however, still interesting to note the broad spectrum of ages represented, from those who, like us, were around the band’s age, all the way down to high-school kids. On entrance, it was clear from the massive queues that merchandise was a large income generator – especially at $30 for a T-shirt. We opted not to bother with that, though did get a Rammstein flag, which will confuse the hell out of our neighbourhood come Memorial Day next Monday…

The group didn’t bother with a traditional support act. Instead, they had Joe Letz, drummer with another industrial act, Combichrist, come out and play harshly-remixed versions of their own songs. Reaction was “mixed,” I think it’s fair to say: I quite liked the remixes, but also heard shouts of “Fuck off!” I can understand the latter, not being a fan of DJs trying to act like they are actual musicians, as Letz seemed to think. The most amusing thing was the spotlights shining onto the stage were set so low that crowd members in front of them could use them to do shadowpuppetry. Needless to say, this opportunity resulted in rabbits, birds and not a few middle fingers being projected onto the screen. Like I said: mixed.

Then the actual show started, in typically unique fashion. In front of the sound booth in the middle of the arena floor, a pedestal rose up out of the floor, and down from the ceiling, a gantry descended, to form a walkway between that and the stage. Down from the side, the band members entered in a torch-lit procession, via the pedestal and gantry to reach the stage. before getting things under way with Sonne. That set the tone for the next two hours, an amazing mix of thunderous rock and visual awesomeness. which was just about everything a concert should be. One big plus: no new album, just a greatest hits’ collection, so there were no obligatory new songs which no-one knew.  Mutter was the most-played album – six of the 20 songs played came off it – but all six studio albums were represented from 1995’s Herzeleid, through 2009’s Liebe ist für alle da.

About the only mark deducted would be for Lindemann’s almost complete lack of crowd interaction. The master is VNV Nation’s lead singer Ronan Harris, with The Aquabats’ MC Bat Commander close behind, both turning between song banter into an art-form, which makes the audience part of the show and creates a sense of “belonging” which is also part of the live experience. Here, Lindemann barely acknowledged the crowd, with a couple of “Danke schons” being about the extent of it. Lorenz did, however, repeat the sailing trick mentioned earlier, voyaging out into the crowd on a rubber dinghy – and looked a good deal steadier than the presumably early attempt at the stunt on the DVD, though his trip was considerably shorter.

YouTube video

That said, the one word that sums this up would be “spectacle”. The group’s love of fire is clearly completely undiminished by the passage of time.  Lindemann is a licensed pyrotechnician, and the event featured fire shooting up from the floor, down from the ceiling and out over the crowd, to the extent that there were times when the band clearly had to be rather precise with their stage positioning, to avoid become bassist flambe. Fireworks were wielded, worn and strapped to instruments, but the most impressive early display was for Mein Teil, a song inspired by the Armin Meiwes internet cannibal case. That had Lindeman dressed as a chef, wheeling a huge cooking pot onto the stage, into which the keyboard player ducked and dived, while Lindemann unleashed what can only be described as a flamethrower at it. Repeatedly.

However, my personal favorite was likely Du Hast. Above is a clip of another song from the show, but it’s a perfect reproduction of what we got to see at our show, and captures perfectly the delirious sense that anything could happen at any time. The more the show went on, the further the level of excess seemed to escalate. Band heading back, via the gantry, on their hands and knees, as the drummer’s “dogs”, and playing three songs while crammed on the tiny middle podium? Check. An absolute torrent of sparkly chaff being unleashed in Amerika? Check. Lindemann riding a giant penis on wheels, and drenching the front ten or so rows in white foam during the last song, Pussy? That’d be a check, too. And this is in addition to the images shown on top of the article, which accompanied Engel. Any one of these would have been a climactic moment at any other show. Here, they were just another memory.

I’ve seen some amazing live events; the ones that stand out aren’t necessarily the “best,” they just stick in the mind for one reason or another. Maybe something good, such as the apocalyptic Revolting Cocks show at the Astoria in January 1991. Maybe something bad, like The Cramps gig where I ended up in casualty after going under in the mosh pit. But this one hit the absolute sweet spot between epic and incredible. I’ve not paid sixty bucks for a ticket to attend any band previously, but there is absolutely no denying that Rammstein provided value for money, an experience that was worth the fifteen years’ wait, and which will stay in my mind for at least that long.

Wrestlemania 26: An eye-witness review

If, as previously argued, wrestling has the potential to be art, then Wrestlemania is its Hermitage, Louvre and Guggenheim all rolled into one, except far more popular. The 26th incarnation of this wrestling extravaganza, with eleven matches in total, was held in Phoenix over the weekend. To give you some idea of the scale, it drew more people to the University of Phoenix stadium (confusingly, located in Glendale, not Phoenix), than when the Superbowl was held there in 2008, and setting a gate receipt record of $5.8m.

Along with 72,217 other people, Chris and I were in attendance, and after the jump, you’ll find our eye-witness review of the sports entertainment spectacle. But if you want to save time, we agreed that next year we’ll watch it on pay-per-view…

It was my first time inside UoP Stadium. From the outside it’s not exactly spectacular – it looks like someone dumped a white spare-tyre right in the middle of the desert. But when you go inside, you appreciate you just how large a venue it actually is. I’ve been in bigger venues – the Rose Bowl in Pasadena holds over 90,000, the Berlin Olympic Stadium capacity was 110,000 when I visited it in the 1980’s – but those are both outdoor venue. Seeing 70,000 people with a roof over their head is quite something else [the roof is retractable, and they opened and closed it several times during the course of the event, for no readily apparent reason. Not so impressive: having to pay $20 to park at the stadium. Glendale has little public transport to speak of, so there was basically no alternative. When you are paying an average of eighty bucks for a seat, that should include a parking spot.

Now, there are large-screen TVs...
There are large-screen TVs, and there are LARGE-SCREEN TVs…

The main issue – and why we won’t be back – was the seats. “Did you bring the binoculars?” said Chris when we saw where we were sitting. We had actually paid more than average, but were still amazingly-far from the action. The pic headlining the article was taken from our seats – it may take you quite some time to find the ring. The screens around it did show the matches in progress, but if you’re just going to watch the event on television, that does somewhat dilute the point, no? Having been attending local wrestling shows for more than a decade, both here and in London, there’s an inverse-square law in effect, with regard to the impact the matches have – it drops off sharply with increasing distance. Pro-wrestling, like striptease, needs to be experienced close-up for the best results.

That said, the rest of the spectacle on view was undeniably impressive, with the arena turned into a massive cathedral of wrestling, filled with pyrotechnics, lights and really, really big video screens. The seats were also more comfortable than we expected – no bad thing, as we were in them for nearer five hours than four – and there was plenty of space just outside the section, if you wanted to chill, and get a drink or a souvenir. Though you had to be pretty quick with the latter: WWE seemed to have underestimated the demand for merchandise, and the T-shirts for the event were gone before about half-time. Though, I suppose, better to sell out than be left with 10,000 unused, and of limited appeal, after the show.

However, the main purpose is, was and always will be, the matches. Wrestlemania is where all the storylines which have been set up in the preceding months come to a conclusion – it’s like the series finale of all your most-loved shows, rolled into one night. At least, that’s the theory: particularly in a dull first half, there was very little to generate significant excitement in the crowd, either with the quality of the matches, or their emotional impact. Our major interest was seeing people we’ve worked with at the local events, like Mike Knox and ring-announcer Justin Roberts. Otherwise… Well, the opening match screened saw the tag title defended in less than four minutes: one wonders what the point of that contest was.

There was a brief uptick in the middle, when fan-adored Rey Mysterio beat straight-edge heel CM Punk. That had actually had a decent back-story, Punk having reduced Mysterio’s daughter to (disturbingly genuine-looking) tears during her birthday celebration some weeks previously, understandably incurring the wrath of her father. Both men are among the most gifted technical wrestlers in the business, and the heat they generated in the crowd reaction certainly surpassed anything we had seen previously. However, once more, the actual match was over in six and a half minutes: it deserved far more, and felt more like a warm-up contest than anything putting a full-stop on the feud between the two men.


And then there was Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon, chairman of the WWE. This one had its origins in 1997: Hart told McMahon he would leave the WWE for another company, but they agreed Hart would go out as champion. However, McMahon changed the script, unknown to Hart, and Hart lost the title in what became known as the “Montreal screw-job”. After the match, Hart spat in McMahon’s face, and the two were enemies – genuinely- for more than a decade. However, this year, Hart was brought back as a guest host, and from there developed the storyline which led to him facing McMahon at Wrestlemania.

The chairman brought out Hart’s family, announcing he’d bought their loyalty, but Hart said he knew that – his family had taken the cash with no intention of selling out. The entire family then proceeded to beat up McMahon. For eleven minutes.  Now, Hart had a stroke in 2002, and has hardly wrestled since (there were apparently insurance issues, with Lloyds having paid out ‘permanent disability’ to him), but this was just an embarrassment. McMahon has been the bad guy forever, but by the end, the crowd were just sitting in uncomfortable silence: I actually felt sympathy for Vince, which was hardly the intended outcome. The only thing worse was the tag-team women’s match: even as a fan of women’s wrestling, this was an abomination which should have been struck from the record. The widow of Eddie Guerrero – middle-aged and having never “fought” until her husband died – got the winning pinfall.

At this point, the show had been undeniably disappointing. Fortunately, the final two matches basically saved the event. John Cena has been WWE’s most popular wrestler for what seems like ever – an eight-time world champion, coming in – but the crowd appears to have grown increasingly-tired of him. The monstrous Batista, whose neck has to be about the size of my waist, was the adversary, and was the reigning champion, the heat helped by having herniated a disc in Cena’s neck in 2008. What really helped this match was the crowd being into it on both sides, trading chants for both men, etc. In the previous contests, it had either been obvious who they supported, or they just didn’t care. Not so here, and that amped up the intensity significantly. Cena finally won: make that a nine-time world champion.

Finally, it was Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, a sequel to last year’s contest, almost universally acknowledged as the best match of the year. It was set up that the defeat led Michaels to become obsessed with beating the Undertaker, who was 17-0 in Wrestlemania events [yeah, when the results are predetermined, that’s not as impressive, but simply being capable of taking part in that many Wrestlemanias is a feat in itself], which destroyed his partnership with Triple-H, costing them the tag titles. Michaels eventually got his rematch, after making the Undertaker lose his heavyweight crown – but the stipulation was, if he lost, it would end his career, so it was that against the most-fabled streak in professional wrestling history.


At last. The gap between bad art and good art has probably never been more starkly-demonstrated in my experience, as the final match lived up to all expectations and hype. Again, the crowd were a huge part of the experience, with dueling rhythms of “Un-der-ta-ker!” and “H-B-K!” [Michaels being known as the Heartbreak Kid] filling the cavernous space, as the two legends battled, back and forth. Even knowing the final result was predetermined didn’t matter: we avoid “spoilers”, preferring to be surprised, and genuinely had no idea of how this would turn out. The two men, both born before I was, threw everything they had at each other, up to and including a back-flip by Michaels off the top rope onto Undertaker as he lay prone outside the ring on the announcer’s table (left).

Right until the end, it seemed one man would prevail; then the other. Michaels just wouldn’t stay down, and the Undertaker seemed at a loss of what he could do to defeat his opponent. He seemed on the verge of showing mercy, but Michaels pulled himself up and slapped his opponent across the face, bringing him back. Undertaker delivered another Tombstone Piledriver – if you don’t know what that is, it’s what it sounds like – and that was it. The streak survived. Michaels’ career was over. However, the winner left the ring first, leaving it to Michaels, with both sets of fans now united in their vocal appreciation for what they had witnessed.

Of course, wrestlers have a habit of never “retiring”, and even if would devalue what happened in Phoenix on Sunday night, I’d not be surprised to see Michaels back in the ring eventually – as he said afterward, he’ll probably drive his kids nuts, after three weeks of him hanging around the house. But for now, it was an epic moment, one which almost redeemed the mediocre nature of what had gone before. We’re glad we went, and wouldn’t exchange the experience of that final match for anything. But next year… Even if it was in Arizona again (and it isn’t), we’d just buy the pay-per-view and stay at home with  some friends and a few beers.

Phoenix Fear Film Festival 3 – the ‘close, but no cigar’ movies

If you’ve been wondering where we’ve been of late, and why there’s been no reviews posted for three weeks, we’re heading towards the 3rd Phoenix Fear Film Festival on January 23rd. So, our spare time has been spent filtering through the various shorts an features sent in for the consideration of the viewing panel. Submissions came from a variety of sources: we had films directly from the makers, got others passed on to us for consideration by our friends at Brain Damage, and we also reached out to some creators whose work looked like it might be interesting. [You can spend, literally, days trawling round Youtube, watching trailers of all shapes, sizes and qualities of horror!]

This year, I think the quality of the submissions was the highest it’s ever been. I know it sounds like a patronizing cliche, but the decision of what to show was genuinely a difficult one, and we could easily have run the event over two days rather than one. Writing the rejections is not the funnest part of the endeavor, though much credit due to Devi Snively, whose email in reply was surprisingly upbeat and quite made our day [her film, Trippin’, is currently first alternate, in the event that a movie Brain Damage have promised us does not complete post-production in time. Update: and as that proved the case, Trippin’ made it in!].

We have now just about finalized the list of features to be screened there – details of those can be found on the festival site. But I’d like to pay deserved tribute to some of those that didn’t quite make the final cut [as it were], and give them a bit of publicity for their efforts. Hence, the reviews below, which cover some of the contenders in the feature category – please note, these are my opinions alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the entire festival panel, blah, blah. You know how it works. We’ll be covering the shorts separately, since we’re trying to squeeze as many of those into the festival as possible.

It’s somewhat amusing how some film-makers subtly (or not-so subtly) hint that if we pick their movie, all their friends will show up at the festival. We treat such assurances with skepticism, after years of promoting bands and other shows. Now, we pretty much knock a zero off any predicted claims of attendance – and deduct a further 50%, for those who do show up, and claim they should be ‘on the list.’ From a pragmatic viewpoint, it’d be only a short-term gain, even if their friends did turn up, and pay to get in. Showing crappy films might get a few more arses on seats this year,  but the rest of the crowd will not come back next year.

For some reason, we got an awful lot of late entries this year too – in September, we were wondering if we’d have enough features submitted to fill up the event, hence our decision to see if Brain Damage had any suggestions. However, the last couple of weeks saw a tidal-wave of features and shorts arrive, on almost a daily basis. Which, of course, means that the viewing panel has had to convene on almost a daily basis to watch them. While this has been more of a pleasure than a chore, now we have got the line-up finalized, I think we will likely be taking a break from watching inde horror by choice for a while. So, look forward to our review of The Ugly Truth in next week’s update.

We’re joking. Of course.

Meanwhile, other preparations continue for the event: we did look at the possibilities of bringing in a “big name” star to headline the event, but the finances didn’t quite work themselves out there. I have to say, some do seem to have a rather inflated idea of their own worth, demanding more money for their appearance than we’d take in, if the entire event sold out. And we’re not even talking icons like Bruce Campbell, but fairly minor stars. Perhaps they’re under the impression the PFFF is some kind of commercial event such as Fango’s Weekend of Horrors, when it’s really just Chris and I, doing the work entirely because we love the genre – if we break even, we’ll be happy. However, we are delighted to have inked scream queen Tiffany Shepis, one of the leading horror movie actresses of recent years: she’s been a pleasure to work with.

Stay tuned for a full report on the event, with reviews of the five chosen features, towards the end of January – after we’ve recovered from the event itself!