Posted on December 2, 2019
Mercedes Bentso (real name Linda-Maria Roine) is a pioneering Finnish female rapper with an interest in true crime. We interviewed her about the topics of crime, dark history, and her personal experiences in the Finnish criminal underworld. We also chatted about her music, which is available on Spotify.
The episode can be heard through Spotify and SoundCloud; click here for the SoundCloud link.
Posted on November 26, 2019
I recently came across an interesting book about the time of the “video nasties”, a horror phenomenon from the time when VHS ruled the movie market. Some of you might even remember those days when sneaking a “forbidden” video cassette to your room and watching it with a group of friends gave you a huge adrenaline rush, a sense of doing something dark and edgy. Those were the days!
The book in question, Video Nasty Mayhem (2019), is an interesting look behind the “nasties” and the company that made them famous, Vipco. So interesting, in fact, that I decided to interview the author, James Simpson.
Below is our chit-chat.
Thank you, James, for taking the time to talk to ForenSeek!
Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself and your background!
I am a film critic turned author based in the barren north east of England. I have been a lifelong fan of horror movies as my parents were quite cool with me watching them from a young age which, looking back, is quite worrying now I am a parent myself! What were they thinking? But it allowed me to fall in love with some movies that have stayed with me from being a young boy: Hellraiser, Critters and Child’s Play among others. It wasn’t until 2012 I began actually writing about them for websites and magazines. I have previously written for Scream Magazine, Rue Morgue and my own defunct site Infernal Cinema plus several other outlets.
What are “video nasties”, for those unaware of the phenomenon?
Video Nasties were several films grouped together and demonized by the British establishment and press as movies that could ‘morally corrupt’ the British people. As mad as it sounds now, these people were convinced that flicks like Zombie Flesh Eaters and The Driller Killer would not only leave people mentally disturbed but dogs too!
Some of the Nasties were gory and realistic, unlike anything most of the British public had seen at the time, after decades of being raised on Hammer horrors or Amicus releases. They, the Nasties, flooded the shelves of newly established video rental stores and as there was no way of regulating VHS at the time anyone of any age would rent or buy these films. Politian’s and the tabloid press claimed the nations youth were at risk of growing up to be blood crazed killers because they could easily watch the Nasties. VIPCO sold several of the titles in question and were made a scapegoat by the vengeance seeking moral crusaders.
The man behind the phenomenon was a guy named Michael Lee. Who is he?
He could indeed be described as being behind the phenomenon – more often than not it was the Nasties which he sold that were labelled as the worst offenders!
Michael, Mike as he liked to be called, was born and raised in London and a very proud family man. He got into selling VHS in the late seventies when VCR’s and Betamax began being sold in the UK. He was working for an electronics firm and spotted that sales of VCR’s were increasing for his employer. He decided he wanted a bigger piece of the action, as it were, and began selling VHS tapes. Admittedly, he did it illegally at first but when he went about it in the legal way he formed VIPCO. During the firms history VIPCO was pretty much Mike, with several staff sometimes employed, who was a one man work force with a passion to make money.
What are the most notorious titles under the “video nasties” heading? Why are these particular titles the most notorious?
One of the most notorious, although not the goriest, would have to be The Driller Killer. Mike decided that, for his VIPCO release, he would have the tapes and posters feature nothing but an image of the infamous scene where a tramp is being drilled in the forehead. Those already mentioned politicians and tabloid papers thought this was outrageous and hounded VIPCO because of it. Other’s were Zombie Flesh Eaters (too much gore), Fight For Your Life (inciting racial hatred) and The Beast in Heat (sex and violence, a big no-no).
Is there a value to the films beyond the “shock element”? Would you describe any of the films as genuinely high-quality in terms of their artistic contribution?
Some of the Nasties are only remembered now for being just that: a Nasty. They have no real value. Yet there are some that are genuinely good movies. Shogun Assassin is stunning. Cannibal Holocaust is a very cerebral film. The Slayer is a movie that has gotten better with age
What’s your personal favorite film in the catalogue?
My favourite VIPCO title has to be the film that Mike actually had a hand in making: Spookies. It is a truly strange, yet never dull, movie that has such an interesting backstory to it too. Video Nasty Mayhem details all the madness involved with Spookies in much more detail.
Other titles worth mentioning are: The Bogey Man, Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond [I second that; good horror film -admin], The Slayer and Cannibal Holocaust.
How would you describe your book Video Nasty Mayhem to someone who might be interested in reading it?
It takes a look at how one man, Mike Lee, took his desire to be a successful businessman and used it to stoke the flames of the Video Nasties and released a whole host of classic and woeful horror movies on VHS and DVD to the UK! People involved with the firm, and involved with its rivals, offer their insights into the firms history, too.
What was the process of writing it like?
I had the idea in late 2017 and didn’t take it seriously until a couple of months later. I would try to spend a few weeks at a time writing about the certain genres of cult cinema VIPCO released (Cannibal, Nasties, Zombie) and speak to people that worked for VIPCO in order to flesh out the chapter that concerned the firm’s history. Come December 2018 the book was finished, the same day I found out I was to become a first-time father no less! Now the book is on sale and my son Noah is four months old!
How many interviews did you conduct for the book? Was it generally easy or difficult to get people to talk about the subject of the “nasties”?
The interviews were surprisingly easy to set up. People I thought would baulk at the idea were more than happy to talk via email or phone. Marc Morris (of Nucleus Films) even helped me out with some old VIPCO press materials he had in his archive! Jay Slater, who worked for Mike Lee for many years, and Graham Humphreys, designer of many VHS sleeves, were delights to talk too.
Only two people declined to be interviewed, although one of those actually spoke to me at length about horror and its history on home video only to decline at the last moment! I will not name them, to save their blushes.
Where can people read your book?
Video Nasty Mayhem is readily available in print and on Kindle via Amazon in multiple countries. Other outlets like Waterstones, Bol.com and several others sell the book, too. My publisher, Bennion Kearny, sell it on their website too.
Where can people keep up with you and your work?
I primarily use Twitter and can be found at @VIPCObook
Is there anything you’d like to add that I forgot to ask about?
Those wondering why a certain title wasn’t included: there were so many films I reviewed that didn’t make the final cut for the book that I hope to revisit and publish in print or online eventually! Also, I do a VIPCO podcast with director Jason Impey named Strong Uncut Podcast (on Twitter: @StrongUncutPod)
Posted on November 22, 2019
In Halloween 2019, a unique opportunity was presented to me: spend a night at Villa Marjaniemi, a villa with a colorful history that includes service as a code-breaking facility during World War II.
Like many an old mansion, it also has a long history of ghost sightings. Rather than go through them again, I’m going to send you to this blog post from earlier in the year; you will find all the juiciest tales there. To visit Villa Marjaniemi’s own website, go here.
So, on a dark, rainy evening in late October, I took the bus from downtown Turku to Ruissalo, a gorgeous, nature-oriented part of the town, where the Villa is located. I had nothing to eat with me, but this was not a problem – Laura, the amazing, hospitable boss of the Villa, had arranged a late night snack for me; all I had to do was get there and enjoy my stay… or die of fear.
Armed with a steady mind, a steely resolve, and a fresh pair of boxers in case I actually encounter a ghost, I arrived at Villa Marjaniemi.
After stepping off the bus, I find myself on a pitch-black gravel path that I will need to negotiate to make my way to the Villa.
Walking forward in the dim light of the lampposts situated along the way, I reflected on my own attitudes and ideas about ghosts. Do I believe in them? To be honest, the answer is a “No” – but a hesitant one, I rush to add, as I have seen enough things in my life to occasionally question the very nature of reality. My belief is that, if ghosts are real, the phenomenon is most likely tied to the space-time-continuum rather than any spiritual “afterworld”; if ghost sightings are real, they are most likely enabled by some kind of a tear in the aforementioned continuum that allows us to look into a gone (or perhaps even future?) time through a hole in reality.
The Villa appears before me like a guesthouse from an old horror tale: the lights in the windows are shining an inviting, cozy light, and the whole building looks like something Charles Dickens may have imagined in one of his novels. There are some occupants there tonight, possibly celebrating someone’s birthday; they won’t stay the night, however, and once they and the staff leave, I will be alone.
Opening the door to my room, I realize there’s a surprise in store for me: they’ve put me in the finest suite in the house! This is the room where the man who had the place built had his own, personal bedroom. Nice!
The ceiling is high, and there’s a feeling of old-timey upper class novelty to the room; you can easily imagine an industrial magnate (like the builder of the house) relaxing hear after a day of… well, whatever the upper class got up to almost a hundred years ago.
As for myself, I put on the 2007 film 1408, based on a Stephen King short story about a writer who stays at various supposedly haunted locations to determine the truthfulness (or lack thereof) of their ghost tales. Perfect mood-setter.
The only problem is, now I’m starting get a little creeped out… Suddenly, every little creek (of which there are plenty in an old house, believe me) starts to sound like a potential invasion from the Netherworld of Terrors. I can feel a little bit of legitimate fear entering into the equation, which I welcome – after all, it would be a waste to not feel a little scared under these unique circumstances.
The night is finally here. I’ve watched 1408, and my fat ass has hammered down the two sandwiches the hostess of the house was kind enough to have delivered to my room.
But still no ghosts.
Time to up the stakes. I pop in The Innkeepers (2011), one of my favorite horror films, and one of the most underrated films in the genre possibly ever.
It’s here – the Hour of the Wolf! And still, absolutely nothing peculiar. Well, unless you count the mystery of how a room this majestic.
I decide to take a little midnight tour of the house, and snap some photos for you, My Dear Readers. And who knows – maybe the ghosts are hiding in the photographs, unable or unwilling to show themselves to the naked human eye!
See anything? I didn’t, unfortunately, though I do have to say that an old mansion like this after dark is eerie, no matter how skeptical you are. The walls creak, as does the floor under your feet as you walk, and there’s a kind of sense of the presence of history in the air everywhere.
After my one last attempt at being face to face with some demon from Hell has failed, I retire to my room to get some sleep after a long day.
And I don’t even have nightmares!
There is a kind of inherent need in people like me to get a personal validation for all those paranormal tales we’ve heard, to experience firsthand what we have only read about in books. I did not experience that in this house, but of course that doesn’t mean that the phenomena are not real: maybe I’m just not attuned to the right “frequency”, or there is a skeptical barrier in my frame of interpretation that is impenetrable to the Otherside, the “Ghost World”, or whatever you call it.
The try has been fun, though: Villa Marjaniemi was beautiful, and it was a fantastic chance to experience a little luxury at the end of a long work week.
I leave the mansion determined to do the same at some other mansion, to stay the night and see what happens.
Maybe next time, the ghouls will be ready and waiting for me…
Posted on October 17, 2019
It is a massive mistake to travel to a destination and expect your visit to give you a kind of transcendental ”understading” of what happened there. Doing so is like peeling an onion, and expecting there to be a definitive ”core” to it; in the end, you’ll just be left with the layers scattered across the table, with no core element in sight.
The reality is that in the construction of meaning, it’s the layers that count: an event as massive as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 left behind thousands of stories, and the incident means different things to different people. Not only were there thousands of survivors, all with their own tales, there are also millions of us around the world who are fascinated with the disaster, and we all have our own reasons for our fascination.
For me, the main point of reading and seeing documentaries about the accident of 1986 has been in trying to understand how an individual human heing comes to terms with a massive disaster with global implications. I’m also fascinated by how specific accidents and tragedies impact paradigms of thinking (another fascination of mine is the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and its effects on organized religion and atheism). The Chernobyl disaster was another blow to the argument that the Soviet Union was a perfectly oiled machine, a political structure serving the working man. In fact, Adam Higginbotham, author of Midnight in Chernobyl (2019), even goes so far as to claim that Chernobyl was the very event that ultimately crushed the Soviet system.
It also had some serious implications on our species’ never-ending arrogance in the face of nature and the laws of the universe: we are not in control of the Cosmos – ultimately, the Cosmos is in control of us.
I set off on a trip to Ukraine on 11th October 2019. My brother (his blog, in Finnish, is here) had arranged for all the practical necesseties, such as a place to stay, and he had negotiated a trip to the nuclear disaster zone with a company that provides such trips for a living. Our guide was a man named Taras, a historian and biologist with an extensive knowledge of the 1986 disaster as well as the surrounding cultural and historical circumstances.
All photos in this post were taken by me using an Honor 20 Pro smartphone. Some images were edited with Snapseed.
Step 1: Kiev
Kiev is an amazing, very European city with over 2 million inhabitants. Many Westerners still have negative stereotypes about countries in Eastern Europe, but they are mostly just that – stereotypes. The truth is, essentially anything you can ask for is available in a city like Kiev, from well-stocked luxury boutiques to excellent restaurants.
We arrived there in the afternoon of Friday the 11th of October 2019, and immediately set about exploring the town.
We first headed to the Holodomor memorial museum, a place dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the 1932-1933 famine, forced upon Ukraine by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Somewhere between 3-12 million people perished, most dying of hunger and diseases. It is, sadly, a largely forgotten tragedy.
If you’re going to visit the museum on your trip to Kiev, be sure to walk out of a doorway to the left of the main entrance – this doorway leads you outside, to the top of a long stairway, and gives you an amazing view of a part of the city.
Once we had explored the museum and lit up a candle in remembrance of the victims of Holodomor, we took an Uber (which are extremely cheap in Ukraine, by the way) to the Independence Square, or Maidan Nezalezhnosti. This is where the 2014 revolution took place.
After the Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich refused to fulfill the Ukrainian people’s wishes to be a part of Europe rather than a pawn in Russia’s imperialist games, the people took to the streets. The riots and demonstrations got violent, with the police and their tactical teams assaulting and brutalizing the people, but the demonstrators ultimately prevailed, forcing the President to leave the country. They had done it – they had overthrown the Ukrainian government.
The documentary Winter on Fire (2015) is an excellent telling of the story.
The only negative thing I would say about this spot is that, on the night of our visit, it was full of local “enterpreneurs” who had chained wild animals to themselves (owls, birds, even monkeys), and were using these poor animals as an attraction to get money from tourists. Absolutely tasteless and cruel.
Step 2: Chernobyl
On Saturday morning, a minibus came to fetch us from our apartment in downtown Kiev. We had paid for our Chernobyl exploration in advance, so all we had to do was show the tour guide our passports and tickets, and we were off.
The drive to the “zone” took around two hours, with our drive stopping for a quick bathroom and coffee break once along the way.
Entrance into the contamination zone is controlled through two checkpoints: the first one stands at the 30 kilometer mark from the reactor, the second around 10 kilometers from “ground zero”. Once you reach the first checkpoint, you have to get out of the bus with your passport and tickets you’ve bought with a Chernobyl tour company, and wait for the police to come check these documents.
There will most likely be other tour groups at the checkpoint with you, all accompanied by their tour guides, so it might take something like 10-20 minutes for the police to come to you. In the meantime, you can enjoy the bizarre, surreal atmosphere of the checkpoint: there are two little kiosks at the first checkpoint, selling all kinds of Chernobyl-related keepsakes, such as fridge magnets, postcards, t-shirts, hats – you name it. What adds to the bizarre atmosphere is that there is this old-time music playing from loudspeakers, as though at a mental asylum to calm the patients down, and you can see Jehovah’s Witnesses standing around, distributing leaflets about the coming apocalypse.
Once the police had checked our papers, we were allowed inside the area. We hopped back into our minibus, which took us to the Duga radar, a massive secret Soviet era device used to spy on the West. It was located near the Chernobyl power plant because it required so much energy to run.
Once this less-known aspect of the nuclear tragedy was relayed, we continued on to the site of the nuclear plant. This was, without question, the most anticipated part of our journey: I yearned the see “ground zero”, the actual reactor where the life-changing tragedy had taken place.
The sarcophagus (a protective structure built on top of the destroyed reactor) was visible from far away – it is that massive. As we entered the industrial area where ground zero was located, the minibus stopped, allowing us outside to photograph and marvel at this dangerous, terrifying structure. And there it was – reactor #4:
Standing next to the reactor, you feel like you’re standing in the middle of history. If you are interested in the Chernobyl disaster, have seen documentaries and read books about it, standing here, next to the reactor, is such an intense experience that it will most likely take you the rest of your trip (or your life) to fully digest the idea of where you’ve just stood.
On the night of the disaster, several residents stood at a bridge watching the colors in the sky caused by the explosion of the reactor. We drove over this bridge, and continued on to the town of Pripyat, another highlight of the Chernobyl tour.
Pripyat is a ghost town left behind by the people who manned the nuclear plant. Entire families were given just a few hours to evacuate the town, which meant that the infrastructure and the homes were left essentially intact. Entering the town is like walking into an elaborate studio lot, decorated for some post-apocalyptic cinematic nightmare, possibly directed by Andrei Tarkovski.
If you follow the news and are interested in history even just a little bit, you are most likely familiar with a lot of the imagery related to Chernobyl. However, actually standing there surrounded by the physicality, the reality of it all gives you goosebumps, no matter how many documentaries or pictures you’ve seen. I would imagine that, for many people, the sense of displacement, of people having to leave their lives behind in a matter of seconds, would also increase their empathy towards groups such as refugees and homeless people; maybe it should be compulsory for politicians and other leaders to visit Pripyat before they can assume the duties of their office.
One question you might be asking while reading this is “Isn’t it dangerous to be in the contamination zone?”
The answer is Yes and No.
Yes, in the sense that you do have to listen to your guide and keep up with his/her instructions as to how long you can spend in an individual spot; some places are more contaminated than others. You also can’t go flying solo – you will most likely get lost in the dense, forested area. Pripyat, the town housing the Chernobyl workers, is not a small one, and it’s an entirely possible scenario to get lost in the bizarre, dreamlike mixture of nature and concrete surrounding you in all directions. (Think of it as like getting lost in a nightmare going on inside David Lynch’s or Jorge Luis Borges’ head).
But no, ultimately it is not life-threatening, nor is it even dangerous for something like procreation: the radiation levels are down to a manageable degree now. You’ll be fine, just don’t go playing Indiana Jones and pretending like you’re going to be the one to “get to the bottom” of the mystery by negotiating the walls and entering Reactor 4 or something.
Conclusion (5 days later)
Visiting the area was intellectually and emotionally exhausting: you are surrounded by so much meaning that no matter how hard your brain works to make sense of it all, it will not succeed. This is, of course, a classic sign of a place worth visiting: you have to see it to believe it; no film or television show, no matter how well made, will quench your thirst to experience it first hand. Just don’t expect a “revelation” of any sort – be content with the chills and goosebumps it gives you; ultimately, that feeling is closer to truth than any written or pictorial account of a trip there.
One of the things that frustrates me about modern cinema and literature is that I feel that many otherwise great works are “over-written”, so I am going to live as I preach and keep this post to a moderate length.
I will upload more pictures for those of you interested to my Flickr account as the week progresses and my head slowly returns from Ukraine.
Posted on September 5, 2019
ForenSeek true crime app is now available trough AppStore and Google Play store. Click the links below to download.
The story of ForenSeek, the true crime / mystery app, begins in the living room of a suburban house in Western Finland in the early 1990s.
Sitting on the living room couch, Teemu, one of the creators of the app, used to read countless books about unsolved mysteries during the days of his youth. UFOs, ghosts, unsolved murders – they all made the Northern winds whisper secrets into his ear, and he was hooked for life.
Meanwhile Sami, the other part of the duo who would go on to create ForenSeek, was out in the world already, making a name for himself as a sales manager, specializing in marketing. He was also involved in the early
Decades went by, until finally the two brothers, Sami and Teemu, decided to combine their respective areas of expertise (mysteries and sales). They entered into a partnership with the software house Vertics Oy, and created ForenSeek, an app that takes you on tours to the darker side of history. Crime scenes, locations of mysterious events and notorious historical incidents – you name it, and there’s most likely a tour under that theme in ForenSeek.
When you open the app, it shows you your nearest locations. You choose one, and the app opens up a map, showing YOU as a blue dot, and the DESTINATION as a red tag. Following the map on the app screen, you make your way to the destination. Once you’ve reached it, the app recognizes this, and tells you the full tale of what happened there.
If you’re not big on travelling, worry not – ForenSeek serves ”couch travellers” as well, as it allows you to study some locations without actually, physically making your way to them.
The app is available for both iPhones and android phones.
ForenSeek has been featured on Radio Rock, Iltalehti, Radio SuomiRock, and many other media outlets.