The Shrieking Flesh

Chapter Six

Ken Preston

30 April 2024

Listen to the audio version, or scroll down to read the post.

A German expressionist illustration of a dark angel with frayed wings.

Film Critic Sylvester Erasmus-Barrett Dies

A Report by Guardian Film Reviewer Philip Spence

The last time I encountered my friend Sylvester Erasmus-Barrett, he was bristling with an energy that belied his seventy-four years, and raging about Hollywood’s dominance of the film industry. I had hoped that he might start reviewing films again, but yesterday he was found dead of an apparent heart attack whilst attending a private screening of, ironically, a Goldie Hawn romantic comedy.

Erasmus-Barrett was as well known for his short-tempered outbursts as he was for his scathing film reviews, and it was a rare review screening that passed without a foul-mouthed shout of disdain from this critic feared by directors and actors around the world.

The truth of the matter was that Sylvester could be so utterly scathing of the films he reviewed because he loved film so much. And nobody had a deeper knowledge and appreciation of film history than he did.

Unfortunately, anyone who knows the name of Sylvester Erasmus-Barrett will remember him mainly for his war of words with German director Max Jakel.

Writing in the Shadows is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

After escaping a pre-war Nazi Germany and landing in the USA, Jakel was embraced by Hollywood, snapped up by Universal studios, and given a contract to direct four movies. This auteur of German Expressionism was expected to follow in Fritz Lang’s footsteps and give Universal a degree of Oscar credence that it sorely lacked at the time.

His first film, Scarred by the Devil, shocked audiences with its sordid subject matter and unsettling, some even claimed obscene, atmosphere. Whilst it received mixed reviews, French film critics in particular announcing it as a masterpiece, Sylvester Erasmus-Barrett hated it. He called it repulsive and abhorrent, accusing it of revelling in humanity’s darkest impulses, and that not only should it be banned but every available copy should be thrown on a bonfire.

And so began a bitter war of words that ended with Max Jakel’s mysterious disappearance in 1962.

Jakel never fulfilled his promise as a director, being relegated to directing cheap, B-movie shockers for the rest of his career.

The German director supposedly made a film in response to Erasmus-Barrett’s scathing critique of his Hollywood debut, ramping up the horror into a carnival of grotesquerie. No one has seen The Shrieking Flesh, and perhaps that is for the best as it is rumoured that the film is cursed, and anyone who watches it will die.

Sylvester Erasmus-Barrett was never one to—

Herman screwed the newspaper up and tossed it onto the back seat. ‘I say we drive north, maybe catch a plane from Manchester.’

‘We could go anywhere we want to.’ Lori was driving one-handed, her right arm encased in plaster from her elbow to her hand, and cradled in a sling.

‘We can’t go to France, they booted me out last year.’

‘Did they use a big red clown’s boot?’

‘Ha, funny. No, they escorted me onto the plane and tore my visa to shreds in front of me.’

Traffic ahead began slowing. Lori placed her foot on the brake pedal.

‘You want me to change gear?’ Herman said.

‘Hold on.’ Lori pushed the clutch down. ‘Okay, now.’

Herman shifted down into third. ‘You know, if we got some blocks of wood and tied them to my shoes, I could drive the car for you.’

Lori giggled. ‘But you still wouldn’t be able to see over the dashboard.’

‘We could boost me up with a couple of telephone books.’

‘But then you wouldn’t be able to reach the pedals again.’

‘Damn it, if only I hadn’t been born so darn short.’

Lori giggled again. ‘Aren’t all babies born short?’

‘You know what I mean.’

‘Herman?’

‘Yeah, babe?’

‘Thank you for saving me from that dog.’

Herman sat up a little straighter and puffed out his chest. ‘It was my pleasure. And didn’t I tell you, clowning is a serious business?’

‘What was in that pie you shoved in the dog’s face?’

‘Shaving cream, mostly.’ Herman paused to light a cigarette. ‘Along with some crushed chilli peppers. I only wish I’d gotten there earlier, before he latched onto your arm.’

‘It’s all right, the doctor said it will heal fine.’ Lori glanced down at her arm in the plaster cast. Herman had drawn a clown’s face on it in red marker pen. ‘Herman?’

‘Yeah, babe?’

‘You want to make a baby with me?’

‘Hoo boy, what a question!’ Herman grinned. ‘You know, I might be short, but I’m not lacking in the important department!’

Lori giggled. ‘Herman?’

‘Yeah, babe?’

 ‘I need to change gear again.’
>