Archive for Williams Syndrome

Things Roddy said during Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by dcairns

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A specific example of the limits of conceptual knowledge in WMS is from a reported instance of a 21-year-old woman with WMS (Verbal IQ of 69) who was literate and read several books on her favorite topic: Vampires. When this subject was asked what a vampire is, she responded reasonably and clearly that a vampire is ‘‘a man who climbs into ladies’ bedrooms at night and sinks his teeth into their necks.’’ When asked why vampires do that, she thought for a bit, and then said, ‘‘Vampires must have an inordinate fondness for necks’’ (Johnson & Carey, 1998).

Fiona’s brother Roddy is Christmassing with us again, which means we’re watching lots of his favourite horror movies. Roddy has Williams Syndrome, like the woman quoted above, and oddly enough he likes vampires too. (Williams people are often musical, and often seem to have passionate interests, bordering on obsession: Roddy’s love of cranes and digging machinery is very typical of the condition.)

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“I wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night. Wonder what would happen if I did?”

Roddy says this once during every screening of a Christopher Lee DRACULA film. Lee is his favourite vampire, and we’re pretty sure the attraction is the sexual fascination Lee’s Count is able to exert over every blonde he encounters. Roddy does not exert this fascination, but would probably like to. Wouldn’t we all?

“What’s that he’s doing? Is that a coffin or something? Another victim? Oh my God.”

Roddy himself watches quite hypnotized, becoming antsy and talkative only when the suspense builds. But the boring scenes with Barry Andrews keep him hooked too, since it’s always possible that something more vampiric may happen at any moment.

This movie has a fair bit of tedium, but director Freddie Francis contrives some lurid and Bavaesque colour effects, which seep in whenever Lee is around. Unfortunately, nothing but verbiage seeps in when Barry Andrews and Rupert Davies are around.

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“Is it her he’s looking for? Look! He’s rubbing his face on her face. Oh! He’s a vampire and he bit her.”

“Uh-oh, there he is. What’s happening? Uh oh. Here you go.”

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People with Williams consistently interpret faces as being friendlier than the rest of us.

“He’s smiling, look.”

“Ah-oh, here we go. He got caught – run!”

Here, Roddy seems to be unsure who he’s rooting for, shouting helpful advice to Dracula as well as to the heroes. But he knows pretty well who the goodies and baddies are. The character of the unnamed priest (Ewan Hooper) who gets enslaved by Drac is a puzzle, though. Characters who behave inconsistently are troubling.

“Uh-oh. This is the best bit.” Hooper smashes Rupert Davies on the head. “Hit the wrong man!”

I try to explain to Roddy that no, he hit the man he was aiming at, but he doesn’t understand Hooper’s two-faced Renfield persona. People with Williams Syndrome are extremely sociable and tend to think the world is their friend, until proven otherwise.

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Also, since the spread of cognitive abilities in people with this condition is quite varied, I suspect Roddy has a rather uncertain “theory of mind.” I can explain the concept of theory of mind with a test ~

If you say to a child under three, “A little boy has some sweeties, and he hides them under a bowl, but when he’s away his mummy moves them and puts them under a cup. When the boy comes back, where will he look for his sweeties.” Younger children always say “Under the cup,” because that’s where the sweeties ARE, and they can’t grasp the fact that the boy has different knowledge from them. That’s theory of mind.

When we watched ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, Roddy became frustrated by the character of the policeman, who didn’t know that Lon Chaney was the Wolfman. I tried to explain that the policeman didn’t know that fact, but no matter how I tried to express it, Roddy thought I was claiming that Lon Chaney wasn’t the Wolfman. “I’m sure Lon Chaney is the Wolfman,” he muttered, repeatedly.

“What’s going to happen now? Uh-oh, here comes guess who. Uh oh, he’s got a hold of him now.”

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“He’s not very pleased, is he?”

Tests have shown that Williams people are very attentive to faces, when watching TV or otherwise. This close concentration seems to be connected to a difficulty in interpreting the meaning behind facial expressions. Because the condition involves high levels of sociability, Williams people concentrate very hard on the faces, trying their best to make out what the expressions mean. Concordantly, Williams people aren’t much interested in cartoons. Roddy loves slapstick stuff where people without learning difficulties fall down or bump their heads, thus losing their supposed sense of superiority, but cartoons aren’t interesting, presumably because the faces don’t have enough detail of expression.

Roddy’s generally very good at recognizing people’s faces — that seems to involve a different part of the brain. He did think the CGI Jim Carrey in A CHRISTMAS CAROL was “that man from that programme with the horse” — Wilfred Brambell in Steptoe and Son (but what other real human being ever looked like that?), and he did think Veronica Carlson in this films was a presenter from 70s children’s show How, but that’s not so unreasonable: Jenny Hanley’s appearances in SCARS OF DRACULA did not prevent her co-presenting Magpie on Children’s telly in the seventies.

“For example, adolescents and adults with WMS have difficulty differentiating not alive into the conceptual categories of dead, inanimate, unreal, or nonexistent.” The Neurocognitive Profile of Williams Syndrome: A Complex Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses, Ursula Bellugi, Liz Lichtenberger, Wendy Jones, and Zona Lai, Marie St. George

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“I ken what he’s going to do — I ken what happens!”

Roddy sort of believes in Dracula, and sort of believes in Santa Claus. It’s quite hard to work out how much he believes, though. I think it might be similar to the belief in God a lot of people must have — they would be astonished at any example of divine intervention (of course there are no doubt many people who would accept a miracle as wholly appropriate to their understanding of the world — I suppose…) Roddy doesn’t expect to meet Dracula on a dark night, and he knows that Christopher Lee is an actor. Or at least he accepts that these things are widely acknowledged to be the case. He believes Castle Dracula is a real place and won’t take in any information about special effects that contradicts the evidence of his own eyes. (To be fair, Yvette Mimieux believed the iron sphinx in THE TIME MACHINE was a real structure, and hoped to visit it one day, and she’s in the film.)

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“Watch out! There he goes! Eyes start watering.”

Things Roddy said during “Dracula AD 1972”

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2010 by dcairns

“Here he comes… the most exciting, scariest vampire you’ve ever seen!”

Fiona’s brother Roddy likes horror movies — I have to qualify that by saying he likes specific ones, like Universal FRANKENSTEIN movies or Hammer DRACULA ones. Christopher Lee is without question his favourite actor. So during Roddy’s Christmas visit there was no question what we were watching. Fiona screened the original Hammer/Lee DRAC while I was wrapped the parcels, and on Boxing Day I ran AD 1972, the penultimate film in Hammer’s loose series (not counting the later LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, which maybe I should, even though it’s pretty poor, even by the dubious standards of vampire kung fu crossover flicks).

I like the two modern-day DRACS, although I shouldn’t. The period sequels got dull pretty fast, and even a transfusion of fresh ideas in TASTE THE BLOOD OF D didn’t entirely dispel the air of deja vu. Not that this bothers Roddy, who likes to repeat pleasurable experiences: like a lot of people with learning difficulties, and a lot of children too (Roddy just turned 50) he’s comforted by repetition and predictability.

I’ve never asked him if he prefers historical Hammers to funky modern ones, but I doubt it makes too much difference. I certainly know Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are big parts of the pleasure: although the title BRIDES OF DRACULA always raises his interest, once he discovers Lee isn’t in it, he goes off the idea; a shame, as it may be Terence Fisher’s best film in the “series”.

Hyde Park — a Victorian Hansom approaches. “I think this is the one where they’re fighting — him and Dracula!” declares Roddy as  Cushing and Lee appear, wrestling on the roof.

Lee is dispatched with a spoke through the heart — curiously, Roddy, a traditionalist in matters of vampire slaying, doesn’t object to this. Cushing dies, we get an attractively-shot funeral, and unknown hands rescue a sample of Dracula’s ashes, along with his ring. I’m not sure the identity of this Draculite is ever dealt with, but it’s a nice mystery — he’s obviously an ancestor of the disciple we meet later, since he’s played by the same actor, but it’s not clear why he leaves it so long before attempting a resurrection.

Alan Hume’s Dick Bush’s cinematography makes attractive use of both long lens and wide angle lens effects.

Pan up from grave, past now-ruined church, to catch jet plane flying overhead, a shot which makes me think of the falcon turning into a fighter plane in Powell & Pressburger’s A CANTERBURY TALE. Funky music, shots of cranes forming cruciform shapes against the skyline, a steak house, a red London bus, and on to the wild party.

Cushing appears again, this time as his own grandson, and Stephanie Beacham is his buxom granddaughter, Jessica (inexplicably replaced by the more streamlined Joanna Lumley in the sequel the following year). Jessica is hanging with a wild crowd, including Johnny Alucard (prettyboy Christopher Neame).

“They’re dancing too fast!” complains Roddy during the party-crashing scene. People with Williams syndrome are usually quite musical, and Roddy is a good drummer. With his sense of rhythm, he spots that the partygoers are dancing to the wrong music.

“Would you smile at a policeman?”

“Uh, there he is. Why’s he got a bow tie on?”

“Carpathia? Where’s that?” Roddy must ask this question every time he watches the film. One never knows if he forgets the answer or if he just likes asking the question. People with Williams’ syndrome are notoriously chatty, and Roddy asks questions not just to obtain answers, not even primarily, but rather to keep the conversation going.

Alucard and his gang (including babes Caroline Munro and Marsha Hunt) attempt a black mass, accompanied by the music of The White Noise (featuring David Vorhaus, son of film director Bernard, and Delia Derbyshire, electronic genius behind the Dr Who theme) and raise Christopher Lee, who eschews dialogue as much as possible (Lee hated the scripts’ departures from Stoker, and particularly disliked the modern ambience).

Neame should have been a bigger star, it seems to me. He’s perfectly attuned to the movie’s camp sensibilities, and he looks great. If you’re going to have a character called Johnny Alucard, and I’m not for a minute suggesting you should, this is what he should look like.

“Here comes the smoke — or is it steam?”

This may be the movie where the makeup team pranked Lee by fitting him with Union Jack contact lenses…

Cushing prepares to strike back as Jessica’s pals go missing, and a montage shows him collecting holy water and melting a crucifix to make a silver bullet. This scene is why I’m never watching this movie with Roddy again, because he ALWAYS objects to the idea of silver bullets as a vampire-killing measure. “That’s for werewolves!” And he won’t be told otherwise, even if I quote the entry from my copy of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts (Carey Miller, Piccolo, 1974, my childhood source on all things monstrous) ~

1) A wooden stake made from aspen or hawthorn wood must be driven into the vampire’s heart or navel;

2) Small stones or rains of incense must be placed in the coffin so that the vampire has something to nibble if he awoke, to delay him leaving the coffin;

3) Garlic must be stuffed in his mouth;

4) Millet seed must be scattered over the vampire’s body for he could not leave the tomb until every grain had been counted;

5) The vampire’s body must be buried face downwards;

6) Wild, thorny roses must be strung outside the coffin in order to hinder the vampire’s progress from the grave.

There are other legendary ways of killing a vampire, like shooting him with a silver bullet or burning his coffin so he cannot return to it.

By the way, that millet seed thing only works if the vampire is the Count from Sesame Street.

Cushing tracks Alucard to his lair pad, and after an exciting confrontation where Johnny calls Van “man” about fifteen times, the creature of the night perishes under the clear running water of his shower. He also offends Roddy by calling Cushing “bastard!”

“Language, Dracula!” That’s not Dracula, I remind him. “Language, vampire!”

Alucard, being a recent vamp, doesn’t disintegrate when slain, he just turns a bit soapy.

Ouch! Stephanie has really hot tits!

Cushing corners Lee in his desanctified church and there’s a stirring battle. I like it when Hammer came up with complicated deaths for Lee (while I hate it when he gets struck by lightning), and this is a doozy, with holy water slung like acid, and a plunge from the steeple into a booby-trapped grave. Cushing finishes him off by driving him onto the spike with a jab from his shovel.

“That’s done the trick!”

Rest in Final Peace, reads the end title, a proposition immediately turned into a lie by next year’s sequel.

A shame Hammer didn’t make a true-life adaptation of the case of the Highgate Vampire, which would have given them an AMITYVILLE HORROR kind of documentary vibe. But I must admit I enjoy this tosh, and only wish director Alan Gibson could have been put in charge of the HARRY POTTER series, which might be enlivened by a jazz funk soundtrack and great yawning chasms of female cleavage.

Things Roddy said during Face of the Screaming Werewolf

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on December 28, 2008 by dcairns

Every year at Christmastime, we are visited by a jolly fat man in a red hat:

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Face of the beaming Watson.

Fiona’s brother Roderick. The fun never stops when he’s around. Since he has Williams Syndrome, and since he’s not terribly mobile, he can’t really make his own entertainment — except by talking. So the T.V. comes in very handy, and fortunately Roddy agrees with us about horror movies — even when they’re bad, they’re good.

Like a Benshi film describer, or Tod Slaughter narrating his own death in a melodramatic fashion, Roddy keeps up a running commentary during most movies, considerably more eloquent and informative than any of Tim Burton’s director’s commentaries, and with fewer stretches of numbing silence.

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The movie begins as a comely Mexican lady is sent into hypnotic trance by a special machine.

“What’s that sound? What’s the matter with her?” (Eagerly) “Has she been bitten by the werewolf?”

As the woman sinks into coma, a small boy crawls into the lab and hides under a table. At first I thought he was her hallucination, but he’s not. This is my favouritest thing in the whole film, because it’s never explained. But then, very little is explained. I think the geniuses (genii?) who dubbed the movie decided to cut all the boring plot stuff.

In her trance state, the woman experiences a vision of dusty mesas (mesae?) and pyramids.

“Where’s that? Is that Transylvania?”

Some Indians appear.

“Is this to do with Indians or something?”

(Roddy notices I’m jotting down these notes. I feel guilty.) “What’s that you’re writing?” (Looks at squiggles.) “Mmmm!”

The Indians begin a ceremony deep within their pyramid, which involves a lot of walking about.

“Why are they walking about, David?”

After what seems like twenty minutes of walking about, there is a sacrifice, and we cut to our modern-day hypnotic conquistadores entering the tomb, followed by the small boy, who’s sneaked after them. We still don’t know who anyone is.

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Something shambles about in the darkness.

“I ken what that is — the mummy! Am I right? Is that a woman or a man? I can’t tell.”

A sound.

“Is that a wolf?”

The scientists retrieve a female mummy, and Lon Chaney, who turns out to be a modern man who’s transfused himself with mummy juices in order to bring about “a state of death”. But we never learn why. Scientists put Lon in a big machine, which makes a noise.

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 “What’s that noise?”

“A machine.”

“What kind of machine? Where is he — can’t see the mummy! What’s that funny noise?”

“Another machine.”

“Looks like Frankenstein. Wow, that’s some storm, is it?” (Seems to be a Dundonian habit: saying “is it?” instead of “isn’t it?”) “Cheesy peeps!” (This is an exclamation of awe unique to Roddy.) “What’s happening now? Oh my God!”

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I like how Lon rests his jowls on the window sill, in a rather defeatist manner, just before beginning his wolf-out.

Lon Chaney, his apparatus struck by lightning, comes to life, turns into a werewolf, and gores people. I decide that poor Lon must have taken the mummy transfusion as a cure for his lycanthropy, and now these science guys have guffed it up. But this hypothesis is never confirmed.

“Where’s the werewolf? Hmm-hm!”

Lon changes back to non-hairy. Some more stuff happens.

“Is he going to change into a werewolf, do you think?”

He does.

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“Oh my God, the werewolf’s scary, eh?”

Lon creeps up on a sleeping scientist. Roddy finds this particularly exciting.

“Oh, watch this, watch — he’s asleep still, is he? Watch this, watch! Oh my God, ho-ho! Got himnow! Oh-oh! Something’s happened to him. My God. Look at that mist!”

We return to the subplot of the mummy woman, who abducts a little girl. No idea why.

“How can a mummy be a woman? A mummy is supposed to be a man. Where’s she taking her? What’s that noise? Is she taking her away? What’s happening there?”

Now Roddy gets slightly sidelined from the plot:

“I would like to be in a horror film. I would be a vampire. I’d be pretty scary.”

I dare to express doubt.

“I would if I had real fangs, like Christopher Lee.”

I suggest that Christopher Lee does not, in civilian life, have real fangs.

“What do you mean?”

I elaborate.

“That’s what I was saying.” (Vampire voice.) “I’m Roderick, from Transylvania.’ I’d be a good vampire, I would.”

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Meanwhile, a scientist manages to get Lon Chaney locked in a cage.

“Uh-oh, the wolf’s in trouble, he can’t open the gate. Oh, he’s got it. Nae trouble! Where’s he going now? Is he in the forest? Is that a woman and a man? What’s he doing now? That’s the police. Do you think they’ll catch him?”

The wolfman starts stalking a woman. Roddy gets very tense.

“Uh oh. Ssshh! Watch this. Uh-oh. Uh-oh. Uh-oh. He’s getting closer and closer to that woman. What’s going to happen now? Uh oh. David… I heard something. What? Uh-oh! Uh-oh!”

Having crept into the woman’s home, Lon Chaney is startled by his own reflection in her mirror.

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“Ha ha, he got himself a fleg!” (“Fleg” = Dundonian word for “a fright”.) Ah, she locked him in, good one! That means he can’t get out. Uh-oh!”

He gets out. The woman hits him with a vase.

“Nice one, got him a good one, on his head. ‘At’sa cracker! Give him a punch on the nose, that’ll sort him out. Heh!”

Lon’s nose does look pretty tender. But he overpowers the woman and carries her off.

“God’s sake, woman! What happens if the police catch him, that’ll be it, won’t it?”

My favourite bit of action — Lon climbs a building, while carrying the woman. A white-coated scientist follows him. The image of a lab guy climbing a building is a pleasing one.

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Somehow we get from here to another fight, with chairs being smashed over Lon.

“Nice one! Hey — oh — nice one! Oh, hey, he hit him first! Watch this one — here we go — watch this — oh, that’s a good idea. Oh hey, you idiot, no’ him! It’s the wolf, you idiot.”

Lon is incinerated. The police arrive, too late to do anything, and calmly dismiss all reports of monsters as the overactive imagination of the stupid public.

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“It’s the bobbies, look.”

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STOP PRESS: Here’s Roddy’s capsule review of ALIENS.

“That took a while to sort out.”