Mark Sykes’s Sixth Sense of Humour

From Issue 20 (Apr 2012)

CERTAIN BRANCHES OF the media, particularly magazines (both paper and online), have the unenviable job of making us believe that we’re always missing something amazing, and to make us feel like losers if we don’t have this gadget, or aren’t going to that party, or haven’t seen the other band live in concert.

So, in their bid to inform you of how terminally uncool you really are, they helpfully compile a list of things that they want you to achieve (or more often than not, buy) in order to redeem yourself. But you can’t just take your own sweet time in getting to the bottom of the list, oh no. You have to do it before you pass from this, the best of all possible worlds, into the next. I’m talking about lists headed: ‘Ten Things (books, movies, albums, cities, women, ad infinitum) you have to (insert appropriate verb here) Before You Die.’ They are countless in number, they’re pointless, and I fucking hate them, so fasten your seatbelts and allow me my last Sixth Sense of Humour rant.

Firstly, it simply isn’t possible to read, watch, hear, visit or fuck everything on every list, so why try? Also, I’m pretty confident that no-one, upon reading one of these lists in whichever tawdry magazine it’s in (and it’s a pretty safe bet that every magazine, past and present, has done at least one), has ever said, “Jesus Christ, there are two cities in this list that I haven’t visited! Quick, Martha – book us two tickets to Grenoble immediately! Now woman! We have to go there before we die! And then on to Ashkabad!”
And if you don’t achieve what’s on the list before you die, then what? Will your soul wander the earth, tormented by the fact you had a fatal heart attack while waiting in line to buy a ticket for number seven on ‘Ten Movies You Must See Before You Die?’ It’s a pretty sad fucking ghost that floats around saying, “Oh fuck! I’m dead and I didn’t see Shrooms! I died too soon, I died too soon!”
Conversely, would someone diligently complete a list of, say, ‘Ten Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’ and then, after they’ve played the last track of Nirvana’s Nevermind, say: “Well, now that’s done, there’s nothing else to live for!” and happily jump in the bath with a live hairdryer? I’m guessing ‘no’.

The following is not a list of movies you must see before you die. If you were to accidentally electrocute yourself having not seen the full list, I really wouldn’t give a tinker’s cuss (nothing personal, you understand – although I might laugh a bit); neither would I come to your funeral and rave over your coffin as it was being lowered into the cold earth, brandishing the list and pointing to the ones you didn’t see. Anyway, since you’d actually be dead, you’d probably have bigger, not to mention otherworldly, fish to fry.

Let’s simply call this a list of great movies and shorts that I’ve enjoyed in the past, and would like to share; some I only saw once but never forgot, some I’ve seen over and over again without getting tired of them. So, in no particular order of preference:

Bump in the Night (1998) / The Wolfman (1999) / The Cat with Hands (2001). I caught these shorts as part of an ‘Animation Week’ that Channel 4 (UK) ran in 2001; I just recorded the whole lot, sifted thoroughly, and managed to net these three beauties. I‘ve never been able to find Bump in the Night online; the only place I know it exists is on the old video that I used to tape it, and it’s locked away in storage. The Cat with Hands and The Wolfman are, thankfully, on YouTube. Just watch them.

Attack the Block (2011) The most recent film on the list, and it should be high priority viewing for all sci-fi fans. It’s written and directed by Joe Cornish (who co-wrote the 2011 Tintin screenplay), who grew up watching all the best sci-fi stuff of the late seventies and beyond. There are several clever homages to some great films in there, and the director’s commentary, along with executive producer Edgar Wright (Paul, Shaun of the Dead) is full of great inside info. Apart from all that, it’s a blow-you-away debut film, and a real inspiration. Oh, and if you’re not used to the South London dialect, watch it with subtitles. I had to.

Curse of the Demon (1957, aka Night of the Demon) It’s in the trees! It’s coming! Simply dripping with atmosphere and relentless menace, this is best watched at about 3am, and strictly with no lights on (a single viewing companion is allowed). It’s a great story of a man trying to shake a curse that’ll have him taken by a demon in three days, and I’m willing to bet money that Sam Raimi’s recent Drag Me to Hell was inspired by it (I’ve just checked on Wiki – I was right). By the way, trivia fans, this is the Dana Andrews film referenced in Rocky Horror’s opening number, ‘Science Fiction’.

The Asphyx (1973) Two scientists play God (which is ironic, since one of them actually went on, quite literally, to play Jesus) when they discover how to cheat death and attain immortality. There was talk of a remake a couple of years ago, but so far nothing’s surfaced. Considering that it was going to star Martin Kemp out of Spandau Ballet, maybe that’s a good thing.

La Cabina (1972) I was so chuffed to see several postings of this one-off Spanish short (around 40 mins) on YouTube. I watched it late at night on BBC2 in about 1978, and never forgot it; once you’ve watched the ending, you’ll know why. How bad can it be, when the door to a telephone box gets stuck?

Turkey Shoot (1982) Ozploitation! As a 13-year-old, I watched this over and over again, mainly to see the many uses of a machete on the human body. No wonder I can’t find a girlfriend. Nothing more bloody and gratuitous has ever come out of Australia, apart from Kylie.

Chrono-Perambulator (1999) Some of the best sci-fi and horror is shown from 2-5am on Channel 4 in the UK, which is where I found this. Charles Dance plays a Wellsian time explorer who pops back a few million years to unravel the mysteries of prehistory.

Hardware (1990) When I watched this on video in 1990, it didn’t take long before I realised it bore more than a passing resemblance to a 2000AD short story called ‘SHOK!’, and yet, in the film’s credits, there was no mention of it. Last year (yeah, it only took me twenty-one years to look it up) I found that the writers of ‘SHOK!’ were eventually credited as the film’s co-writers, after legal sabres had been rattled. It’s a weird, claustrophobic little number (dare I say ‘cult’?), and has in its cast Iggy Pop, Lemmy out of Motorhead, and one of the midgets from Willow. What’s not to like?

Of Unknown Origin (1983) Men Hunting Things, or Things Hunting Men? Before Peter Weller got famous for being Robocop, he starred in this little-known film that I saw at the drive-in, back in 1984. I haven’t been able to find it since, but I’m willing to bet that it’s still a fucking cool film about a man chasing down a giant rat.

Naked Lunch. This is probably the most well known film in the list, and you’ve probably seen it, but I had to throw it in anyways. It’s quite literally unforgettable; whether it’s Roy Scheider emerging from a woman suit, a living typewriter humping Judy Davis like a demented Chihuahua, or a teenage boy being butt-fucked and eaten alive by an eight-foot centipede, there’s bound to be at least one image you won’t be able to get out of your head. Fucking genius.

Right, that’s me. Thanks for reading all my crap over the last ten issues, and we hope to catch you again sometime! Bye!

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Mark Sykes

What can be said about Mark Sykes?

Film actor, world traveller, model, novel writer, piano and violin player, ballroom dancer, deep-sea diver – he is none of these things.

Actual achievements include the odd play or musical, avoiding death by starvation through singing to people around London, and completing all three Halo games on ‘legendary’ level.

Literary influences include Philip Pullman, Carl Hiaasen and Iain M. Banks. Favourite activities include vacuuming, buying stationery, applying sun lotion to total strangers, catoptromancy, going to Paris to see his brother, getting lost in Derbyshire, and trying hard to tell the truth at all.

After being Something Wicked’s “Man In London” he now lives in Cape Town and is enjoying the sun.

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