In March 1925 a huge fire erupted at Madame Tussauds, the famous waxwork museum on Marylebone Road.
So intense was the blaze that flames leapt up to 5o feet into the air and, according to a report in the Manchester Guardian, one eyewitness who lived opposite said the “wax models could be distinctly heard sizzling.”
The two unsettling images below depict damaged dummies which were salvaged from the building’s smouldering ruins.
My latest article for the Time Out London website is a Halloween special looking at 12 characters from London-based films, legends and literature…including pig-faced hybrids, razor-wielding barbers and much more. Please click here to read.
Warning, this post contains clips & images which some readers may find disturbing.
This is part two of a look at some of London’s scariest film and television scenes. For the first instalment, please click here.
The Day of the Triffids (1981)
In this BBC adaptation of John Wyndham’s classic 1951 novel, most of the world’s population have been permanently blinded after witnessing an incredible ‘meteor shower’ (which it transpires, was actually created by malfunctioning Soviet satellites).
Society collapses overnight and to make matters worse the blind are now at the mercy of swarms of ‘Triffids’; bio-engineered plants which can move around freely, lash out and kill.
In this clip, Bill Masen (played by John Duttine) and Jo (Emma Relph), both of whom have managed to escape blindness, are ambushed by a desperate, grasping group of scavengers on Rocliffe Street, Islington.
Later on in the series, a sequence of chilling images depicts an abandoned, crumbling London being reclaimed by nature.
QED: A Guide to Armageddon (1982)
Broadcast at the height of the Cold War, this deeply unnerving QED documentary examined what would occur if a single, 1-megaton nuclear weapon was detonated above St Paul’s Cathedral.
To simulate the impact on the human body, flying glass is blasted at a pumpkin, meat from Lidgate’s butchers is seared to charcoal and actors are slathered in make-up to emulate severe burns and the gruesome effects of radiation poisoning.
Perhaps most terrifying of all though are the early 1980s fashions, as modelled by this young Finsbury Park couple…
The full documentary can be viewed below.
By far one of the most controversial programs ever broadcast on the BBC, Ghostwatch was billed as a live investigation into apparent poltergeist activity at a normal, suburban home in Northolt.
Closely based on the ‘Enfield Haunting‘ from the late 1970s, the malevolent spirit in Ghostwatch was a being nicknamed ‘Pipes’ who is briefly glimpsed several times as chaos unfolds.
The problem with Ghostwatch was that many viewers didn’t realise it was a drama and genuinely believed that the events they were witnessing were real- rather like the infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938. Panic ensued, complaints flooded in and it has never been repeated since…
Red Dwarf: Quarantine (1992)
In this episode of the deep-space set comedy, Red Dwarf the crew discover an abandoned medical research laboratory where professor Hildegarde Lanstrom (played by Maggie Steed) has placed herself in suspended animation. After reviving the professor however it’s discovered that she is infected with a deadly virus which produces petrifying results…
The eerie medical base in this scene is in fact Kempton Park Pumping station, an impressive industrial building on the outskirts of south-west London which is open to the public for guided tours.
28 Days Later (2002)
In the famous, Day of the Triffids inspired opening sequence to this post-apocalyptic horror film, Jim (played by Cillian Murphy) emerges from a coma in St Thomas’s Hospital, only to find himself completely alone and the building deserted.
As Jim heads out onto the streets of London it becomes clear that a massive catastrophe has occurred and the city has been effectively abandoned– something which director, Danny Boyle achieves with tremendous skill, making the capital’s most prominent spots appear completely devoid of life…
Later on in the film, Jim meets Selena (played by Naomie Harris) and London cabbie, Frank (Brendan Gleeson). The group agree to travel together to Lancashire from where a mysterious radio message offering hope and safety is being repeated on a recorded loop- Frank plays the broadcast to Jim and Selena on top of East London’s Balfron Tower:
As they embark on their journey however, Frank’s cab suffers a puncture in the middle of the Blackwall Tunnel, resulting in an utterly terrifying adrenaline rush… (although in real life they wouldn’t need to cross the Thames- the Balfron Tower is already north of the river!)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Despite being a comedy, Shaun of the Dead– a homage to George A. Romero’s infamous zombie films- has some alarmingly tense scenes.
Much of the action occurs in Crouch End, north London where Shaun lives on Nelson Road. The film’s climax however, which takes place in The Winchester pub, was filmed on the opposite side of the city at The Old Duke of Albany on Monson Road, New Cross. The pub has since been converted into flats.