Monday, 30 August 2010

213 today

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, proto-feminist, muse to poets, and crafter of the first 'mad scientist' Gothic horror story. As Frankenstein began as a ghost story (supposedly) it merits mention here. And, of course, it was very much a staple 'modern myth' of Hammer films along with Dracula. It's a while since I read it, but I recall Frankenstein says some magical mumbo-jumbo over his creation to get it to live, which pushes the story close to the Golem of Prague and similar tales.

I always liked the version below, not because it was 'The True Story' at all, but because of the splendid OTT plot and excellent cast.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Ghostwatch

Stephen Volk's 1992 drama is hard to obtain on DVD. I've seen absurd prices quotes. Fortunately it's available to watch online if you don't mind risking eye strain. If you're too young or foreign (or both) the context is this. It was billed as a Hallowe'en visit to a genuine haunted house and the presenters - particularly Michael Parkinson - were seen as 'safe' or reassuring TV personalities who'd never been involved in drama or indeed hoaxes. The one exception was Craig Charles of Red Dwarf fame, but as you'll see he did his bumptious Scouser act to further allay viewer suspicion. That said, for a hoax show it played fair. You can see the writer credit for Volk in the opening titles, and the closing credits have a cast list. (Weirdly, there's also a credit for a Mike Chislett.) In addition to the 90 minute show below I've added a brief video showing the various sighting of 'Pipes', the genuinely disturbing spook.

A lot of people complained about the show, claiming it was too realistic and disturbing. Certainly a lot of people complained, but then a phone number was repeatedly put on screen as part of the 'mockumentary' format. According to Wikipedia:


Ghostwatch (...) currently holds the record for the highest rated single drama in the UK of all time with a peak audience of 11.5 million viewers, and an estimated 30,000 calls to the BBC switchboard in a single hour.



Friday, 27 August 2010

A Warning to the Curious - Pop Song

I'm sure if the Provost of Eton were with us today, he'd be blasting out power chords from his Fender with the best of them and giving it lead vocals. In Latin. Mediaeval Latin. Coz that's how he rolled.

A Warning to the Curious - Short Silent Film

I like this. I think the music is good, the modern characters don't detract from the basic setup, and it stays faithful to MRJ's plot.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Right, everybody spend money on this book

Sarob Press is back, and this time they're kicking ass like a very rude hero in one of those loud confusing films your mother doesn't like. Well, more precisely they are publishing a new collection of ghost stories by Clive Ward, also known as C.E. Ward, possibly for tax purposes.

Anyway, here are some facts...


NEW for October 2010 from WORLD FANTASY AWARD winning SAROB PRESS

C.E. Ward : Seven Ghosts and One Other

In 1998 we published Vengeful Ghosts by C.E. Ward as our second publication (and our first by a living author). The collection was very well received, sold out pretty quickly and is long out of print. Indeed, it's now something of a collectors item. We are pleased and very proud to now present Mr Ward's long-awaited second ghost story collection ... Seven Ghosts and One Other. These eight Jamesian tales include two new long and previously unpublished supernatural stories and the authorised completion of M.R. James' unfinished “The Game of Bear”.  Stories: “The Doorway of St Stephen's”, “The Game of Bear”, “The Short Cut”, “Not Found Among You”, “The Particular”, “The Guardian”, “Mariner's Rest” and “Behind the Curtain”.
Afterword by C.E. Ward. Illustrations by Paul Lowe.
Limited Edition Hardcover. Printed Boards. Edition limited to 150 numbered copies.
Limitation will be reviewed if pre-publication interest suggests a larger print run is appropriate.

UK: UK £20    Europe: 25 euros   USA & Rest of World: US $35

Free Surface Mail Postage & Packing Included
UK orders are sent second class UK postage from within UK.
For Airmail ADD : USA/RoW: US $5

HOW TO PAY

CHEQUE (payable to ROBERT MORGAN) [UK £ or USA $* only]
*Please ADD US $5 for Conversion Fees if paying by USA $ check. Or keep the cost down and pay by PAYPAL.

PAYPAL  Details will be posted here very shortly. E-mail Robert at sarobpress@gmail.com if you want to reserve a copy of Seven Ghosts and One Other pending payment.

CASH. Cash at Senders Risk.

Euros ~ Sorry, but Paypal or Cash Only. 

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Messengers

This first Hollywood venture for the HK horror experts Danny and Oxide Pang passed me by when it was released in 2007. The Messengers is one of those horror movies that pass the time nicely, but without stirring too much in the way of thought or feeling. Perhaps it's unfair to compare it too closely with The Eye, a favourite celluloid ghost story. But there are parallels, not least the idea that some people are gifted (or cursed) with an ability to see the dead.

The basic story is simple. A family who have obviously been through the wringer buy a sunflower farm in the back of beyond. We know Something Bad has happened to the previous occupants - the official version is that they moved away, but a monochrome intro sequence makes clear they didn't really go far. Soon it becomes apparent that the farm is haunted. But by what? There is some significance to the crows that flap about the place, the stains that won't be shifted, the scratches on the floor. You get the general idea.

The movie pivots around a good central performance by Kristen Stewart as Jess, a troubled teen who - it transpires - was partly responsible for an accident to her little brother Ben. Ben, a toddler, hasn't spoken since. But he can see a lot more than the rest of the Solomon family. What he sees are ghosts of a fairly Asian type, not unlike those in The Eye. They do that scuttling around the ceiling thing, which is becoming a bit too familiar. But, as with the crows that hang around the farm, it's not quite clear what the ghosts' motives are.

Things come to a head when Jess senses the ghosts, and more. She is terrorised when left alone with Ben one night and - predictably - her folks don't believe her story. Cue some more plot developments that eventually lead to revelations as to what really happened and why. While there are some effective shocks during the haunting scenes, it is only when the backstory is revealed that the film moves up a gear and becomes a genuinely effective thriller. There's a judicious nod to Hitchcock at this point, incidentally.

I wish I liked The Messengers more. The ingredients for a good spooky shocker are all there. Heck, it was even produced by Sam Raimi. But somehow, while always looking good, the whole thing doesn't quite achieve critical mass as a story. Not a film to dislike, but not one to view a second time either. Ironically, given the basic premise, there is no more to this one than meets the eye.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Encyclopedia Phantasmagoria

Here is a useful list of Fontana books of ghost and horror stories. One I wasn't aware of is Supernatural, edited by Robert Muller. This is a collection of stories based on Muller's scripts for the obscure BBC portmanteau Gothic series. I was impressed by the writers marshalled to produce the short stories.

Supernatural - not to be confused with the current US TV show - is not available on DVD, which is a pity. It had a starry cast (that's the great Billie Whitelaw on the cover below) and some damn good stories. Thanks to a kind friend I have a DVD of the series that was clearly for internal use and is a bit wonky. But I've managed to run all but one of the shows by trying them on two different DVD players and my laptop. So I'll cobble together a review of this series you can't see, yet.

Rosemary Timperley – Dorabella, or In Love With Death
Mary Danby – Lady Sybil, or The Phantom Of Black Gables
Brian Leonard Hayles – Heirs, or The Workshop Of Filthy Creation
Roger Malisson – Countess Ilona, or The Werewolf Reunion
Sue Lake – Viktoria, or The Hungarian Doll
Robert Muller – Mr. Nightingale, or Burning Masts
Rosemary Timperley – Gall, or Ghost Of Venice



Saturday, 7 August 2010

A Tale of Two Sisters

When I first watched this Korean horror movie about four or five years back I thought it was interesting but flawed. Now, having been prompted by someone's praise to watch it again, I think I was inattentive. The plot makes perfect sense - but you have to sit through some deliberately disorientating and harrowing stuff to get right to the ending. Along the way you get not one but two major plot twists, which I can't discuss because it would scupper your enjoyment, dear viewer. So what else can I talk about?

The basic setup. The two sisters of the title return to the family home in the country to live with their father and stepmother. Not surprisingly, the latter is unpopular with the girls (who are early teenagers, I'd guess). The father seems remote and ineffectual while stepmom attempts to play happy families. It emerges that she was a nurse and worked with the girl's late mother. It's hinted that the mother was unstable and this contributed to her death in some way.

What else? The older, tougher sister, Su-mi, is out to protect her younger sibling, Su-yeon, from stepmother. Much seething resentment, things left unsaid, meaningful glares. The scenes between the sisters are touching, emphasising the girls' loneliness and sense of helplessness in the face of events. Indeed, all the performances are darn good.

Soon after the girls return to the somewhat Gothicky home, strange things start to happen. Su-mi has weird dreams, offering some good variations on standard Asian horror imagery. A tense dinner party disintegrates when a guest has an epileptic seizure and sees 'a girl under the sink'. There is much made of a closet that terrifies Su-yeon. Odd events multiply and domestic strife worsens. Is the house haunted? If so, is it by the mother or someone, or something, else? Eventually there is blood - lots of it, in fact. And there are revelations aplenty.

Look, I can't really explain this movie. It's intriguing to see just how far writer/director Ji-Woon Kim takes the unreliable narrator concept, which is always tricky to pull off in the literal medium of cinema. On second viewing I found this film absorbing, moving and at times genuinely frightening. One to watch, and think about, and watch again.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Bleeding Horse


Brian J. Showers of Swan River Press informs me that he still has a good few copies of this excellent collection of ghostly tales in the 'localist' tradition of Le Fanu. It makes for a really good read. Indeed, if you want a volume to snuggle down with at the end of summer, as the nights lengthen, this is one to read by the light of a guttering candle. Here's a bit of blurb. Follow this link to see more:


Each story features a recognisable Dublin setting and infuses it with a spectral history. Among the mysteries you will be invited to unravel are: the origins of The Bleeding Horse pub's gruesome name ('The Bleeding Horse'); the mysterious events leading to the discovery of Jack B. Yeats' final painting ('Oil on Canvas'); the eerie and persistent repercussions of a tragic omnibus accident in 1861 ('Favourite No. 7 Omnibus'); the possible resting place of the stolen Irish Crown Jewels and what guards it ('Quis Separabit'); the identify of the strange entity that plagued a 19th c. curate ('Father Corrigan's Diary'); and more. The Bleeding Horse and Other Ghost Stories features black and white illustrations throughout byDuane Spurlock, an introduction by Le Fanu scholar Jim Rockhill, and a cover by Harvey Award winner Scott Hampton.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Good News from Sarob

Ghost story enthusiasts will know that Sarob press produced some excellent short story collections before its founder, Robert Morgan, put it into hibernation a few years ago. Well, ghost story fans rejoice! Sarob press is back with a new collection of traditional ghost stories by C.E. Ward. I'm proud to say that a tale from ST is among them. Clive Ward's first collection for Sarob was particularly spiffing, and I'm glad to say I still have my copy of Vengeful Ghosts, now a bit of a collector's item. All in all, an auspicious renaissance of the spooky tale.