M4 Death Trip #5: Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

You can listen to our latest podcast here and now on iTunes (gosh).

But before Howard I delved in to Kim Newman’s favourite horror film we took a little time to discuss my thoughts on seeing Unburied, Hermetic Arts’ hour long folk horror performance piece, playing at Waterloo East Theatre as part of VAULT Festival.

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The audience is supposedly there to watch the recording of a podcast investigating what happened to lost children’s folk horror series Unburied (1978), but in doing so the presenter (Carrie Marx) becomes the lastest victim of the Sick Man, a supernatural figure from folklore. The audience are characters in this drama and play silent witnesses to death and tragedy.

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Can you dig it?

It’s a wonderfully fun piece made with skill and care. With under an hour’s running time there’s good energy and though Chekhov’s Guns aren’t hard to spot this is a tale where the journey seems more important than the destination. The heart of London doesn’t seem the place for the rural horrors of the past so this angle, of privileged Millennial underestimating what she’s unleashing is is both refreshing and uncomfortably familiar to the audience.

In Howard’s recent talk on the cultural context of folk horror he looked at the socio-political similarities between the 1970s and now and Unburied does similar, the take away line “no nostalgia without denial” speaks to the gaps (wilfull or otherwise) in our collective memory. The horrors of Britain’s past are being unearthed and cursing us all.

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I’m making a subtle reference to Brexit there, okay?

I’m not 100% convinced that the podcast set up is the best format to tell this story in though, too much is done ‘as live’ but as the podcast is being pre-recorded, surely it’s going to be edited so why bother with remounting the title sequence when Marx starts coughing? There are also too many visiual cues from slides for it to feel like it would work as a podcast. Perhaps doing it as a talk/lecture might work better.

Carrie Marx carries the whole thing and has to sell the audience an awful lot in a very short space of time, and though occasionally it feels a little rushed, I was left wanting more, which given the obvious limitations of a live performance of horror is infinitely better than trying for too much and failing.

Plenty of old favourites are referenced, from the Buddyboy episode of Beasts (1976) to an amusing framing of the period with the similarities between The Owl Service (1969-70) and Children of the Stones (1976). There’s a lot of Doctor Who too, possibility too much but its longevity makes it a cultural touchstone across eras.

Though I could go the rest of my life without having to see this photo again.

As Marx explains, Who’s 80s producer John Nathan-Turner answered criticisms of the perceived dip in the programme’s quality with “the memory cheats”. And as Unburied shows, the burial of the past is the price of progress and exhumation is never a good thing. As anyone with an interest in Howard’s project knows, there’s a reason we don’t go back.

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