Haze is a short (40 minute) horror film from Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto, who also perpetrated that most harrowing of Asian horrors, Tetsuo (1989) about a man whose flesh sprouts metallic tentacles.


Haze has a similarly nightmarish quality. A man wakes up to find himself incarcerated in a subterranean concrete maze in almost complete darkness. The maze he works his way through is made up of a series of tortuous (and torturous) crawlspaces, which force him to contort himself claustrophobically, often at danger of injury. In one sequence, for instance, he has to shuffle sideways through an extremely narrow corridor. Barbed wire has been laid where his heels would naturally fall, so he has to do his shuffling on tiptoes. And, as if this weren’t enough, a thick metal pipe runs along the corridor, and the only way he can fit into the space is by opening his mouth as wide as possible and grinding his teeth along the pipe as he moves.

This last detail seems a bit forced, as surely all he’d have to do is turn his head? But the best way to watch a film like Haze is discard logic and accept it, just as you’re forced to accept one of your own nightmares till you wake up. At various points the man catches glimpses, through small apertures, of a room where people are being chopped up. He finally meets a woman who’s also trying to get out and the two are forced to make their way down a corridor almost fully submerged in water and floating body parts.

As a brief nightmare, the film works, but is let down by its attempt at an ending. The man speculates on why he’s in this horrific situation, wondering if he’s being punished after some terrible war, or if a millionaire has constructed this underground dungeon for his own perverse amusement. This speculation just serves to get the viewer expecting some sort of satisfying explanation, but in the end (if I’m interpreting the very brief & tacked-on ending right) it turns out to be a sort of pain-induced semi-conscious dream as the man struggles his way back to consciousness having been injured. So it was all “just a dream”, which is hardly satisfying. But I think the best way to enjoy (if enjoy is the right word) a film like this is to forget the ending and just accept it for the Pit & Pendulum-style nightmare that it is.


Joe Meek: I Hear A New World

joemeek_anewworldI can’t remember how I first came across this album now. Mojo listed it as number one in their “Top 50 Eccentric Albums” feature a couple of years back, and its opening track was sampled to eerie effect on Alan Moore & Tim Perkins’ The Highbury Working, in the Ignis: No. 1 With A Bullet segment, repeatedly playing the line “What’s in store for me” after Moore recounts how Joe Meek shot his landlady then ended his own life with a single-barrelled shotgun. But I think it was while doing a Google search for weird science fiction soundtracks (something I’m into — see my Spacewreck project for my own attempt) that I came across it on Amazon and ordered it.

This has to be one of the strangest albums ever released. Not necessarily strangest-sounding, just strangest. Entirely Joe Meek‘s concept (though arranged by Rod Freeman and performed by The Blue Men), it manages to mix late-50s guitar pop with mid-60s trippiness as Meek invites us on an audio journey to the moon — well, his version of the moon anyway — to “Hear A New World”. “Without it,” he says in his liner notes, “you have discovered only one third of outer space” — politely assuming his listeners have gone even that far. (His success with that anthem of space-age optimism,Telstar, was two years in the future.)

The result feels like a glimpse into some childhood fantasy world, so long-cherished it has passed into objective reality. Rather like the Demons, Witches, Imps and so on of E R Eddison’s The Worm Ourobouros, Joe Meek’s moon is inhabited by Dribcots, Sarooes and Globbots. The Globbots are “happy, jolly little beings and as they parade before us you can almost see their cheeky blue-coloured faces.” (Meek tried to get his band, The Blue Men, to wear space-suits and paint their faces blue while playing live, but they were none too keen. If only he’d waited ten years, he’d have had trouble trying to stop them from doing it.) The Dribcots, meanwhile, have a “Space Boat” that “looks rather like an egg, and it floats about 100 yards from the surface of the ground. It glides about 20 m.p.h… It is driven by huge inductance coils…” The liner notes are peppered with this sort of specific detail, giving the whole thing the air of something Meek actually witnessed rather than made up. (Elsewhere, in the notes to “The Bub Light”, he says, with the searching-for-words air of an alien-abductee’s account, “This is a wonderful sight — a great patch of the sky becomes filled with different coloured lights, almost I should imagine like the end of a rainbow, except that each light takes on a different shape… This lasts in our time about ten hours…”) Unfortunately, the Globbots and Dribcots are represented in their respective tracks by Pinky and Perky-style sped-up voices which, along with a military marching drum, gives some sections of the album the feel of a cartoon soundtrack. The Sarooes, however, are a “rather sad people” whose life is “a hard struggle”; “they have a form of rationing which is a strain and they seem always to be sad”. Rather like the postwar Brits of Meek’s childhood, perhaps. The sad Sarooes get two tracks, the first of which, “Love Dance of the Sarooes”, describes the way these green people “dance for almost four hours non-stop, and then fast for three days”, and their music is certainly at the moodier, weirder end of this album’s spectrum.

It’s when the music breaks free of the constraints of 50s teen pop to move into the genuinely weird, with wooshy sound effects, Hawaiian guitar and detuned pianos, that it really gets going. “Glob Waterfall” is a moody mix of atmospherics and cymbal crescendos that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Doctor Who soundtrack (as in the sort of library music released on Doctor Who: Music From The Tenth Planet — a CD that’s a bit over-priced for 19 minutes of music, though). “Valley of No Return” sounds like some 60s western movie’s exit music, though oddly is not one of the handful of tracks Meek recycled for The Outlaws’ western-themed instrumental album Dream of the West.

This CD, from RPM records, comes packaged with a half-hour Joe Meek monologue on his life and work, and a clip from a 1964 World In Action episode about the record industry. A real oddity, a real — dare I say it? — space oddity.