Monday, 22 February 2010

In which I receive a postcard

Cardinal Cox, the Poet Laureate of Peterborough, sent me a nice (i.e. terrifying yet oddly sexy) postcard thanking me for reviewing his excellent poetry pamphlet, Carrion Crimson. This will be formally launched at (or among) the World Horror Convention in Brighton next month. The Cardinal also kindly asks if he can help distribute flyers at the con. Not necessary, I reply, for my trusty leather-clad sidekick colleague, Kate Haynes, will be there, and will have a sheaf of flyers to distribute. These flyers are what we experts call 'commercial suicide' as they offer anyone who can simply fill in their name and address a free sample copy of ST. I must be mad. Mad, I tell you.

Oh, here's the postcard.

Vintage Stuff

The writer David Surface (hello!) sends me a link to his excellent website, which is chock-full of stories, essays and much other stuff. There's a wonderful bit of nostalgia about the old black and white 'horror' films that, by modern standards, don't seem so much horrific as weirdly stylised - as if they've somehow been translated from some forgotten cinematic language. Which I suppose they have.

To this day I wonder who was the person at our local TV station who decided that 5:30 AM on Saturday was the perfect time to show every horror movie from the Universal Studios vault. The ungodly hour and the darkness contributed to my vague feeling that there was something subversive, almost indecent about these films. It did not occur to me that they’d been ghettoized, that these movies were (at the time) considered not classics, but garbage, filler between fishing shows and the morning news. But to me, the hour was holy.

Laying on that scratchy old living room rug in the pre-dawn dark, I saw for the first time not only classics like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman and The Mummy, but also lesser-known treasures like The Black Cat, The Raven, The Body Snatchers, The Son of Dracula, The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Haunted Strangler, White Zombie.

Ah, yes, a few familiar names there. Cheap DVDs lying around in supermarkets these days (in the UK,  anyhow) often seem to include a few of these. You can watch quite a few on YouTube, which is like an old-time TV set, only slightly worse. White Zombie is here. Bwahahahaha, and so on.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Moggy Mayhem

For Thornavis, and others - Susan Penhaligon, and everyone else who was ever in a British film in the Seventies. Plus a lorryload of pussy...

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Lizard People?

Not, strictly speaking, half-lizard half people, but still pretty damn Fortean. Have a gander at this, on the excellent Strange Maps blog.

(LA Times, 29 Jan 1934)
By Jean Bosquet

Busy Los Angeles, although little realizing it in the hustle and bustle of modern existence, stands above a lost city of catacombs filled with incalculable treasure and imperishable records of a race of humans further advanced intellectually and scientifically than even the highest type of present day peoples, in the belief of G. Warren Shufelt, geophysical engineer now engaged in an attempt to wrest from the lost city deep in the earth below Fort Moore Hill the secrets of the Lizard People of legendary fame in the medicine lodges of the American Indian.
 So firmly does Shufelt and a little staff of assistants believe that a maze of catacombs and priceless golden tablets are to be found beneath downtown Los Angeles that the engineer and his aides have already driven a shaft 250 feet into the ground, the mouth of the shaft being on the old Banning property on North Hill street overlooking Sunset Boulevard, Spring street and North Broadway.


Anyone read TED Klein's story 'Children of the Kingdom', collected in Dark Gods? A superb novella, all about blackouts, folklore and weird subterranean beings.

I love this underground stuff. Rather like airships and dinosaurs surviving up the jungle somewhere, the idea of strange subterranean cultures - living or dead - fascinates me. Ever since I read Journey to the Centre of the Earth, I've harboured the sneaking suspicion that something other than geophysics is going on Down There.

Of course, in an ideal world - or inside it - one would find a lost civilisation,Mesozoic flora and fauna, half-naked young tribal ladies and some actors.

Look! It's Peter Cushing and Trampas out of The Virginian!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Don't Look Now

A good Ronald Frame dramatisation of Daphne Du Maurier's original short story can be heard here.

Having just watched the 1972 movie, I was impressed by how well it was adapted for the screen. The strange events that take place in Venice are genuinely disturbing because there's none of the usual horror movie stuff. Instead there's the odd attitude of the bishop, the church restoration, the apparently dotty old ladies, confusion with Italian hotel staff etc. The climax is still insanely troubling.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Drag Met To Hell

It's not a drag! Gosh, what a witty opener. Sam Raimi's 2009 horror movie sort of passed me by at the time, but I've found a window in my immensely busy schedule to view that the young folk call a DVD of this cinematic offering. And I enjoyed it.

The basic structure of the movie bears a surely-not-accidental resemblance to that of Curse/Night of the Demon. We begin in 1969 by seeing someone literally dragged to hell by a demon, then we jump forward to find modern day bank worker Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) having a tough day. She is told by her boss that, if she wants to get that vital promotion, she needs to show she can be tough as well as smart and efficient. So - you guessed it - Miss Brown is tough with an old gypsy woman whose house is being repossesed. And wackiness ensues.

The basic conceit of M.R. James' 'Casting the Runes' is adhered to here, as in Jacques Tourneur's post-war classic. But in style and mood DMTH couldn't be more different. There's much OTT 'gross out' humour, for a start. Quite a few of the gorier, yuckier scenes depend on the very old gimmick of 'is it just a dream?' But there's enough going on to always keep your interest, and even surprise you. And the ending is a superb homage to the railway scene in C/NOTD.

Along the way we get plenty of thrills and spills, and more than a few good idea. For instance, Raimi underines the importance of blood sacrifice in traditional magic. Fresh blood pleases the demons/gods, as any classical fule kno. Secondly, the actual behaviour of the demon zeroing in on Christine is refreshingly old-fashioned, in that it behaves like the entities in medieval legends. It knocks her about and smashes her place up, basically.

Other good ingredients include an Indian mystic who takes credit cards, an ageing medium determined to beat the demon in a rematch, and Christine's boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), the rational academic who has to take this crazy stuff seriously. Another splendid performance comes from Lorna Raver as the sinister Mrs Ganush.

My only reservation is rather recondite, I suppose. It's made clear that the demon attacking Christine is called Lamia. Now we know that Lamia, or the Lamia, is not the conventional horned and hoofed demon of Christian fantasy. Lamia is traditionally represented as a snake-woman, and often rather beautiful when in non-ophidian mode. So why did Raimi, a reasonably bright chap, make such a mistake? Did something go wrong at the script-development stage? Was the demon originally supposed to be a snake woman?

Ah well. Here's a nudie picture. Of Lamia, I hasten to add.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Ultraviolet

This mini-series, helmed by critically-rated writer-director Joe Ahearne was shown on Channel 4 in 1998 and set an unusually high standard for a British horror-fantasy-thriller. As my terminology suggests, Ultraviolet is one of those genre-spanning jobs, and - having just watched it again after a good few years - seems all the better for it.

The plot is of a fairly familiar type. Honest London cop Mike Coleman (Jack Davenport) is at his best friend's stag night when he receives a call from an informer who claims his life is in danger. Mike reluctantly decides to help, but the informer is already dead by the time he finds him. The assailant - who has gunned his victim down in a busy amusement arcade - disappears. This is strange, as the killer apparently went into a Tube station, but doesn't appear on any CCTV footage.

Stranger still are events the following day, when Mike's friend Jack doesn't turn up to his wedding, putting a bit of a crimp in the day of the bride, Kirsty. Mike, the best man, is somewhat conflicted as he is carrying a torch for her. This will have consequences later on... Then a mysterious investigative unit takes over the case, and Mike finds himself investigating them, as they are not regular police.

By the end of episode one it's clear that Jack has become a vampire, though the term is never used in the series. Instead the special unit refers to them as Code Fives, from the Latin V. Geddit? The vampire-hunters are government-funded and equipped with interesting gizmos to tackle the undead. For instance, because vampires can't produce an image of any kind, they are not only invisible in mirrors but also can't be photographed. So the hunters have video cameras fixed to their guns, which fire special carbon bullets to provide a more effective 'stake' in the heart.

Ultraviolet, which ran to only six episodes, is refreshingly strong on both plotting and characterisation. Each of the vampire killers has his or her reason to fight the 'leeches', as they're dubbed. Thus Dr Angie March (Susannah Harker) was forced to kill her husband and one of her children because they were 'taken'. Ex-soldier Vaughan Rice (Idris Elba) saw his comrades taken in the first Gulf War. And the head of the special unit, Pearce Harman (Philip Quast), is a former(?) priest for whom the existence of supernatural evil seems to confirm the existence of God.

For their part, the vampires have a more interesting agenda than the usual freelance bitey/lurkey stuff. Indeed, as the series developes it becomes clear that a number of projects undertaken by the vamps are all part of a very dark and grand design. Some of the best plot twists relate to questions of how vampires might handle the pesky human habit of reproducing, getting awful diseases, and wrecking the ecosystem. Vampires, after all, have to take a very long view.

Sometimes the series is a bit too clever for its own good. The vampire not casting an image thing is smartly handled at first, and it makes sense that they also can't be heard on the phone (so they must use voice synthesiers). But then we're told you can't even take their fingerprints because that's an 'image' too. So does this mean I can't see a vampire because I wear glasses? Lenses form an image after all.

Such minor quibbles aside, though, Ultraviolet is one of the best UK horror-fantasy series of all time. If you enjoy clever stories and a rather grimly realistic approach to the vampire question, you might give it a try. You can watch it on Channel 4's YouTube thingy here.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Carrion Crimson

Right, I've read it now. As always, Cardinal Cox delights me with his erudition. Had you heard of the Vinca people, or the Dacian sage Zalmoxis? Playful, witty, and often moving, these poems are really not so much about vampires - though there's a full set of teeth here, never fear - but about our own strangely inhuman humanity. We are the monsters; creatures who cannot see ourselves in the mirror of the world. Monsters who subsist on the lifeblood of others, yet remain bloodless and heartless, and shrink from the sun.

God I'm morbid sometimes.

Anyway, here's a little extract from an atmospheric Wells tribute, 'Strange Orchids':

In the yellow of the evening light
Hothouse reveals a tumescent sight
Heady scent which invites to drowse
She fumbles buttons on her blouse

Warning: disturbing words like 'blouse' appear throughout these poems.

Apparently the Cardinal can now be found on Facebook, too. He's getting out there.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Pink?

Some of the usual US nutcases are up in arms over a ouija board. Not because it's pink - which seems to me very questionable - but because it might endanger the souls of children. This is reminiscent of poor, dead Dennis Wheatley's earnest admonitions to stay away from Satanism, because it can do you terrible damage. Your head spins round, green stuff flies out of your gob, and you are very rude to clergmen.

Which is why you should not buy your niece one of these to go with her Disney Occultist outfit...

Wow, that is pink. Here's what some bleating imbecile has to say about this piece of pretty pink nonsense.

"There's a spiritual reality to it and Hasbro is treating it as if it's just a game," said Stephen Phelan, communications director for Human Life International, which bills itself as the largest international pro-life organization and missionary worldwide. "It's not Monopoly. It really is a dangerous spiritual game and for [Hasbro] to treat it as just another game is quite dishonest."
 Phelan, who has never played the game, said the Bible explicitly states "not to mess with spirits" and that using a Ouija board will leave a person's soul vulnerable to attack.
 "All Christians should know, well everyone should, that it's opening up a person to attack, spiritually," he said. "Christians shouldn't use it."

Empty vessels maketh the most noise.

But I was slightly annoyed by all this for a different reason. I mean, until this story popped up I didn't even realise Hasbro made kiddy ouija boards. How feeble is that? I can't even keep up with the stuff that corrupts the young and hands their souls to Satan on a silver salver. Next thing you know I'll find that, in publishing ST, I'm not really doing the devil's work at all.

Oh well, let's have a seance. Note the young Patricia Routledge.

Vampire Poetry Pamphlet

Cardinal Cox has produced another pamphlet of poems, this time for the World Horror Convention, which is being held in Brighton next month.

This is me,  holding up the review copy of Carrion Crimson.
Yeah, holding it up like a doofus. What's it to ya?



More on this later, because I just got in from work and I'll have to read the poems and stuff.

Thanks to the Cardinal for keeping me in the loop.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Cheap Books for Cheapskates Like Me

There's nothing nicer than dipping into books of short stories, is there? Well, nothing I can writre about here without being put behind one of those content warning thingies. And one undeniably good thing about modern publishing is there are firms that specialise in putting out cheap editions of ye olde stories that otherwise might be hard to obtain.

Which brings me to Wordsworth's nice series of  Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural. I bought three paperbacks in the series for considerably less than a tenner. I employed an internet vendor which, as I must avoid advertising, I will call Orinoco.co.uk.

Two of the books are edited by Mark Valentine. Mark is also editor of the excellent journal Wormwood, which you can buy via Tartarus Press here. An erudite and very knowledgeable connoisseur of the supernatural tale, he's also an original and insightful author. The two books in question are The Werewolf Pack, and The Black Veil &  Other Tales of Supernatural Sleuths. So far I'm enjoying both. In the werewolf book I was pleasantly surprised to come across a new tale by Steve Duffy, 'The Clay Party', which is one of those historical stories that actually works by making you forget that it's set in days of yore. It's fairly grisly, too - suffice to say it was inspired by the Donner Party, and leave it at that.

The third book is a collectiion of Robert E. Howard horror/thrillers entitled The Haunter of the Ring & other Tales. Now I would say that title is a tad unfortunate, but then I have a vulgar mind. Suffice to say that among the other stories in the book are less gigglesome titles such as 'The Black Stone', 'Skull-Face' or 'People of the Dark'. But there you go. I'm  not familiar with Howard's work in the Lovecraft tradition, so this should be interesting.

There is one oddity about these Wordsworth jobs, though. The covers of the two books edited by Mark Valentine would, to the uninitiated, suggest that he is the author - there is 'edited by' above his name. I wonder why that is? Are they afraid they'll scare off people by even implying such a high-falutin', intellectual concept as editorship? Or is it simply cheaper not to bother? Have I failed to notice a significant new trend in publishing?


A Lovecraft Dream

With guest appearances by Creatures of Cosmic Nightmare and Eldritch Malarkey.