Trouble in the Glen


I had this distant memory of a film, and I never knew what it was. I suspect everybody has something like that. I actually have fewer than most, having tracked so many down and worked out what they were. But one that stuck in my brain involved a knight fighting a spectral figure who kept vanishing in a cloud of stoor, and then he somehow was underwater, and the whole thing was very spooky.

This was a short film screened as support for a feature, but (a) my family arrived halfway through the film so we never knew what it was called and (b) over the years I forgot which film was the main feature, so it became impossible to research. I asked on the odd message board, describing the short as best I could, but nobody could help.

Well, now the film has turned up, and I was able to see it with Fiona at Edinburgh Filmhouse in the presence of the director, Roger Christian. It’s called BLACK ANGEL.


Christian had been an art director, working on THE FINAL PROGRAMME and ALIEN and MAHLER — good stuff. He would later direct cult film THE SENDER and despised Scientological sci-fi BATTLEFIELD EARTH.

What was exciting was (1) to discover that BLACK ANGEL was shot in Scotland and (2) that it has all the creepy atmosphere I remembered seeing it with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Christian had been influenced by Kurosawa and Tarkovsky and myth, and the resulting film is elusive in plot — well, downright messy at times — but extremely stylish and beautifully photographed by newcomer Roger Pratt (BRAZIL) and scored by Trevor Jones with electronic additions by Paddy Kingsland. The acting is mainly adequate, but its the mood that counts. Christian’s lack of experience shows in the writing, but what he writes with the lens is often beautiful. It’s actually really nice to see the zoom lens used subtly but insistently. The slight lack of clarity in the storytelling actually means that the experience of seeing in as a fortysomething was remarkably similar to seeing half of it as a teenager — you can’t quite work out what it’s all about, but it lodges in the mind’s less rational back room.


According to Christian, the film was funded by the old Eady Levy, which took a portion of cinema earnings to support new talent, and got the support of George Lucas, who liked it so much he borrowed the step-printed action sequence technique for a moment in EMPIRE. I always hated step-printing, actually — when not part of the plan, as in Wong Kar-Wei’s FALLEN ANGELS, it tends to come across as a cheap alternative to proper slomo. RC freely admitted that the fight scene wasn’t impactful enough and his film was running a couple of minutes too short, so it was kind of an act of desperation. The epic soundtrack sells it.

I’m interested in hearing about your half-remembered, nameless films. Maybe we can ID them.

18 Responses to “Trouble in the Glen”

  1. Vanwall Green Says:

    I heard about Black Angel. Very rare that you caught it. There were a few from childhood that I eventually tracked down, but I watched one humorous short at the old Valley Art in Tempe, AZ, about a hippie that’s woken up by his alarm clock and he knocks it on his own head trying to shut it off. He than has a feverish dream about diner in the fifties, with a girl and local gang hoodlums over which he triumphs and gets the girl – the cool thing was it had musical numbers, and was very well done. Never have found anything about it.

  2. I missed the era of shorts at the cinema. Channel 4 used to be a goldmine, back in the day. Strange eccentric half glimpses of dark things. I sometimes wonder if I’m still chasing that dragon. I love that feeling of turning on the TV and going “What AM I watching?” that I find you sometimes lose as you learn more

    There was one British short where these people were trapped in some kind of surreal overgrown wilderness, being picked off by…something. They lived on chocolate digestives. An old lady tried to escape by building wings for herself and little wings for her dog. But it failed, and I think they ate the dog. In the end the last couple were alone in a car, chewing on the fat belt, surrounded by cold winds, and they started slowly singing “If you were the only girl in the world”

    I may have merged films there, but I hope I haven’t

  3. I’m looking forward to catching Black Angel…

    Something that I’ve been searching for was a short film (?) I saw on 80s ITV as a child. It seemed to be set in suburban England and had a young boy with a plant that started to grow out of control. Lots of stop motion animation and seemingly high production values, to my young eyes.

    It could be a Jan Svankmajer. One scene that stuck in my mind – a root finds it’s way into a goldfish bowl resulting in the fish dying through either suffocation or the water draining. Upset my little mind.

    Any ideas?

  4. I saw a film in my childhood, about a castaway who was very happy in an island, then the weather got foul and he was desperate to be rescued but didn’t look happy when help actually came, guy had done something fishy, apparently.

    I was deeply struck by the guy’s expressive eyes and eyebrows, and I kept wondering for years what film and what actor it was.

    It took me nearly four decades to find out it was A Touch Of Larceny and James Mason: I was kind of happy to find Mason as one of my earliest film memories.


  6. I’d hate to say the two I am looking for. Since my father was something of a cheapskate, I saw them on TV so they easily could have been television shows. Both were just individual scenes from the film/TV show and I don’t remember anything else. Also I was at a very impressionable age (5-7) and thus may have seen more than was really there. I did figure out another several years back which was Ishiro Honda’s The H-Man, and there’s a maddening Hammer film that impressed me then but I can’t remember enough of the plot to know which.

  7. When I was 11 or 12 I was in a hotel room alone for reasons that are no longer clear, and came across this arresting film about an apparently troubled boy, just a few years older than me. I was absolutely absorbed in his life, though I probably saw less than half the film, and it wasn’t until a decade later I realized it was Les 400 Coups.

    Earlier, I saw a film or TV piece, British, which made a huge impression but which I’ve never managed to identify, about the death of a young boy and his parents’ attempts to get their lives back on track. I remember one scene in particular, where the boy’s mother has to deal with his belongings, and a cub scout hat is the focus of the camera’s attention. It probably dates from the very early 1980s.

  8. When I was very young I half-remember my dad watching a film in which a number of british children are abortively held hostage by someone. Scenes later the criminal watches one of his intended victims on television while he shaves his head. Later there is a foot chase. The rest is all a blur as I was wandering in and out of the room as it played. Help me Obi-Wan Cinairnsbe, you’re my only hope!

  9. Mutantgraveyard Says:

    Sorry about the double post!

  10. These are great! Only I one I can help with — maybe — is the carnivorous plant:

    Effects are by Svankmajer.

  11. Scout — colour or b&w?

  12. My two (which I have mentioned before but maybe not here), both seen on TV were shock scenes. The first was where a man saw a woman off on a plane flight and immediately walked into the propeller of said plane. The other (which smells more of TV or B movie), had a group of three protagonists who were on a planet with searing heat where they had to stay in the shade. One of the men was carrying a bag of precious jewels(?) he would not let go of. He unfortunately stepped out into the sunlight (after a struggle?) and promptly turned into a cloud of smoke and (in my child’s mind) nothing but a skeleton remained of him.

    That’s what impressed me when I was a child.

  13. Mndean’s mystery film about the spaceman burned to a skeleton while trying to hold onto a bag of jewels is the sci fi groaner MISSILE TO THE MOON. He’s chased into the scorching sunlight by a monster called a … “Rock Man”.

  14. Thanks, Glenn!

    James S, I have vague, possible memories of your thing, and wonder if it was a Channel 4 TV play?

    Scout, can you describe the hostage scenario? Was he armed, were they in a house, etc?

  15. It was definitely Channel 4. some time in the 90s, it could’ve easily been a TV play. Wish I knew which strand.

    If you do have vague possible memories, that’s more than anyone else I’ve ever met has in 20 years

  16. ‘The Christmas Martian’ 1971 , a French Canadian film for kids that is so weird that I thought it was a dream.

    ‘Chico the Rainmaker’ From the childrens film foundation . “Chris and Jill discover a South American shrunken head with magical powers.” talks!

    Also ‘The Singing Ringing Tree’ ( Das singende klingende Baeumchen 1957 ) which isn’t really obscure, but it left a clear mental scar.

  17. Never saw The Christmas Martian, but The Singing Ringing Tree, yes. It was all about the big daft fish as far as I was concerned.

    I think i only saw a clip of Chico but it scarred me. Must seek it out now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: