Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Shining - Sweded

October Dreams

Enjoy Michael Kelly's splendidly atmospheric vignette from the latest issue. Music by Tony Tooke, reading by yours truly. Shades of Bradbury and the Twilight Zone on All Hallows' Eve.

Online seance

'Tis nearly the Witching Hour, by Greenwich Mean Time anyway, so I offer you, my insomniac or differently-time-zoned reader, a special treat. An online psychic reading! The spirits move through me, and thanks to them I can reveal your inmost secrets...

Do you have a name beginning with a letter of the alphabet?

Yes, I know, it's spooky, but stay with it...
Have you ever been really disappointed?

Did it involve love, money, or possibly something else?

Is the colour blue, the number three, or a large watermelon important in your life?

What's that crawling up your leg?

Perhaps I should end this psychic session now, lest I go too far. And I must stress that psychic powers are not to be meddled with by the uninitiated. Check out Mr Nude...

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Call for submissions

Tartarus Press are seeking stories for a special anthology of ghost stories. It's entitled Dark World and details can be found on the TP website here.

Publication is scheduled for February, so get a wiggle on, authors!



Sunday, 28 October 2012

Halloween Horror Films to Watch Drunk With Friends

Sometimes you watch a film sober. Sometimes you watch a film drunk, preferably with friends. With the latter viewing experience in mind, here are a few ideas for viewing 'pleasure' that might make this Halloween special. It all depends on your definition of special.

1. Planet of the Vampires (1965)
A fairly bad Italian sci-fi caper that, oddly enough, seems to foreshadow Ridley Scott's Alien. It's notable as an early effort by legendary giallo nutcase Mario Bava. It's about this planet, and when they land on it, there are vampires or maybe zombies. Some stuff happens, but really it's more a series of incidents held together with variable acting and interesting costume choices. I quite like the spaceship.



2. Deathline (1973)
Also knows as Raw Meat, this is the one about cannibals on the London Underground. I'm not really giving much away because it's obvious quite early on that we're dealing with the degenerate survivors of a Victorian tunnel collapse... Look, it really makes no sense but Donald Pleasance plays a grumpy, sweary detective, Christopher Lee pops round for his cheque, and it's all good grubby fun - dolly birds and a bucket of blood. To be fair, this is a visually well-crafted film with a lot going for it, but the premise is so bizarre it often feels like a black comedy even if that wasn't the idea.

Death Line Poster

3. Love At First Bite (1979)
A spate of strange Dracula variants emerged in the Seventies, almost as if everyone recognised that the franchise was in need of a drastic rethink. Oddly enough, nobody suggested sparkling. Instead there was spoofery. I have a soft spot for George Hamilton IV's count, who's forced to relocate to New York and gets entangled in a love battle for a beautiful model. His rival in love just happens to know what he's up against, more or less...



4. Asylum (1972)
A good portmanteau effort scripted by Robert Bloch and starring Robert Powell as a doctor seeking employment at the eponymous establishment. In an unorthodox approach to recruitment, he is challenged by the director (Patrick Magee) to identify which of the inmates is the newly-deranged staff member whose descent into loopiness has created the vacancy. Needless to say, Powell's Dr Martin (not to be confused with Doc Martin) has a merry old time as we find out just why the patients are all deemed incurably insane. If you think this film is insensitive to the important issue of mental health, you'd be right - it's alternate title was House of Crazies. But it's got a shedload of real stars, starting with Peter Cushing.







Edith Nesbit's ghostly tales

After going on about M.R. James (admittedly in his 150th anniversary year) it's only fair to mention other fine ghost story writers of the early 20th century. One of the leading ladies of the era was E. Nesbit, who is deservedly famous for her children's books. However, she also wrote some cracking weird tales, and dramatised versions of five of them can be heard on Radio 4 Extra next week.

The stories are 'The Violet Car', 'John Charrington's Wedding', 'Man-Size in Marble', 'The Shadow', and 'The Ebony Frame'. And a link to the Edith Nesbit Society? You're welcome.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Farewell, stately ash?



M.R. James' 'The Ash-Tree' is one of my favourite ghost stories, not least because of the weirdly nasty pay-off  I mean, who'd have thought that she would have... you know... Deeply disturbing ideas.

But it seems that the ash tree in the English countryside might soon be a thing of the past.
"Thousands and thousands" of ash trees could die at a nature reserve where symptoms of Chalara dieback have been seen, Suffolk Wildlife Trust has said. 
The disease was reported to have wiped out 90% of ash trees in Denmark and earlier in the week was confirmed at Pound Farm, near Great Glemham. 
The trust said symptoms had now been found at its Arger Fen and Spouse's Vale reserve, near Sudbury. 
A spokesperson for Suffolk Wildlife Trust said they were "very concerned".

And where is 'The Ash-Tree' set? 'Castringham Hall in Suffolk'. It may be that, in a few years' time, the story will seem markedly more dated, more emphatically a thing of the past, because what is now a very familiar tree will be gone from the landscape of Suffolk and indeed the entire British mainland. A sad thought.

The Witches Maze

... might be a good title for a story, but is in fact very much a real thing. It's a memorial to 11 witches who were legally killed in Scotland in 1662. According to the BBC report:
The castle was once home to William Halliday and his son John who held court over the 'covens' in the village. 
Lord Moncrieff, who now owns Tullibole, commissioned the maze as there is no memorial in Crook of Devon. 
In 1662 the court sat five times and resulted in the death of 11 suspected witches. 
Those who survived the trials were taken to a small mound near the current village hall and strangled by the common hangman and their bodies thrown on a fire. 

 Whiches Maze

The central pillar of the maze (commenced on the orders of Lord Moncrieff in 2003) bears the names of the victims on its five sides. You can find out more about the background to the trials and the victims here. The pillar was carved by Gillian Forbes.

The maze naturally made me think of M.R. James' story 'Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance', a personal favourite of mine. That was the work of James Wilson, an 18th century scholar of the dark arts who might well have been a witch. It's notable that one of the names above is Wilson. Coincidence, I'm sure...

There are of course a good few mazes in tales of the supernatural, not least the crop maze in Carole Tyrrell's story 'The Rustling of Tiny Paws', which features in the latest ST. I wonder if anyone will be spooked by the maze at Tullibole Castle, given that these things are designed to disorientate and generally shake people up?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Egyptian Interlude - Terrors of the Nile?

Interesting comment from Sam on my Halloween Movie post 'Blood from the Mummy's Tomb'.
What scared at that age was its Ancient Egyptian-ess, in that I didn't know any remedies against anything that came from that era. I vaguely knew about how to avoid/fight vampires, witches and WW2 German and Japanese soldiers, but not what to do about that culture...
I can see how that might have been worrying. But, oddly enough, my own response was the exact opposite. To me there was never anything intrinsically scary about Ancient Egypt except for the mummies, which were magically reanimated corpses. All the other stuff was too alien to be worrying.

And the more I found out about Egypt the more non-threatening it seemed. Here was a culture that valued life so much that its people wanted another go, so to speak, anticipating an afterlife full of the pleasures of this world. They enjoyed food, drink, music, love and friendship, and the good things in general. Their world was sunlit and optimistic. They were obviously a smart, sexy, warm people - I mean, they even wanted their pets to join them in the life to come.

Compare and contrast, as they say, the bright and colourful Egyptian world with the Calvinistic bleakness of damnation. The Christian mythology of most horror films was, for me, infused with a very plausible Northern darkness. I had seen grey, miserable churches all too often, heard the bleak, minatory words of scripture (and the rather unconvincing stuff about love and redemption), read of witch trials and heresy hunts. This was in the DNA of my own culture, and very nasty it was.

Having said that, here's a VHS rip of a TV movie from the Seventies which does its level best to conjure up the darkness of the Egyptians. It's a bit slow and obviously not a big-budget effort, but is a Robert Bloch story. I remember being quite impressed when it was run on ITV in my early teens, and rewatching it - while there are some unintentionally funny moments - it hangs together fairly well. Anyway, let me introduce you to... The Cat Creature!

Leave Your Sleep

Ray Russell tells me that he has a new book out. The collection, from PS Publishing, is available in hard cover and runs to over 200 pages. Here's the blurb from PS Publishing.

Following on from Literary Remains, R.B. Russell’s previous collection for PS Publishing, the twelve stories of Leave Your Sleep concern sex and death, love and loss. Russell allows his characters to disappear, slip into alternate realities, or re-write their own histories. They find they are able to do the most extraordinary things, even though they may not immediately realise it. And who is in control of their actions, or those around them?

If you want to know more, here is a link to PS. As you can see from the cover, it's a rather classy book.


Incidentally, Leave Your Sleep includes Ray's sexy story 'The Dress', which was published in ST under a cunning pseudonym. Which raises the question - are any other famous persons publishing under assumed names? You never know.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Halloween Movie 9. The Fog (1980)

Yes, I know it's an obvious choice, but have you watched it lately? It's tremendous fun and chock-full of goodies, from the deliberate slowness of the opening half hour or so to the gradual accumulation of strange and disturbing details as the ghost-infested fog draws in. Absurd though it may be in some respects, for me The Fog is one of the great ghost stories on film. Nautical spooks are fun, nemesis always provides a good plot motor, and the idea of supernatural forces wreaking wild vengeance on a community is now a time-honoured classic, thanks in part to Carpenter. While Halloween was vastly more successful, for me this is the quintessential story for the last days of October - it has the authentic chill of the sea about it.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Halloween Movie 8. Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971)













Based on Bram Stoker's not-easily-read novel The Jewel of the Seven Stars, this is a Hammer film that, with the benefit of hindsight, represents almost the last hurrah for the traditional 'lots of old furniture and people shouting' school. I've always had a weakness for Egyptian spookery, and this one comes closet to capturing the (admittedly very silly) idea that the curse of the pharaohs might represent a truly existential  threat to modern civilization. The excellent cast includes James Villiers as a posh baddie of the old school, Andrew Keir of Quatermass fame, and the curvaceous Valerie Leon, who featured heavily in the publicity campaign for the film. This one deserves a respectful remake, I feel - modern effects could work well witthin the framework of a looming psychic onslaught. Also, today they'd make a much better job of the snake, the cat, the wandering severed hand... Anyway, there's a nice 'making of' feature here


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Halloween Movie Interlude - 'The Lost Will of Dr. Rant'



It's a condensed (or, if you like, mercifully short) adaptation of an M.R. James classic - starring Leslie Nielsen! And don't call me Shirley!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Shadows

My review copy is here... If you click on the image it will magically embiggen itself so you can read the list of authors etc.




But by the time I actually review it, it will be sold out I suspect. So instead of waiting for my opinion (yes, I know you want to) why not mosey on over to Sarob Press and order a copy?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Halloween Movies 6. & 7. Fleshy Waxy Screamy Double Bill!



Two classics from the early Thirties, next, with The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and Doctor X (1932). Both films star Lionel Atwill and Fray 'Eek!' Wray, and both were directed by Michael Curtiz. Both are bonkers but engaging, and I have to admit that I found myself warming to Mr Atwill and Miss Wray. What's more, the brilliant Curtiz makes both films look better, with pre-war technology, than 99 per cent of the stuff produced nowadays.

Curtiz's gifts are particularly evident in Doctor X, an absurdly-plotted story that feels a bit like a wildly improbable Sherlock Holmes mystery, but only if Conan Doyle had chronicled the great detective's dreams under the influence of powerful drugs. The film was produced before the notorious Hays Code severely restricted the range of violence, sex and general depravity that film-makers could include. This might explain why, for all its period charm, it has a distinctly grisly plot and some weirdly disturbing scenes.

In New York, a series of cannibalistic murders are committed. The killer employs a special type of scalpel that happens to be only used in a particular research institute. The scientists under suspicion are a fantastical hodgepodge of mad, maimed and boggled-eyed types, leaving the detectives and a fast-talking reporter baffled by Too Many Nutters As Suspects. We, the audience, already know that the killer is a weirdly-deformed creature in a hooded black robe who looks nothing like any of the suspects anyway. What on earth is going on?

Suffice to say that the gradual build-up to the revelation that the killer is... Well, I won't spoil it. Suffice to say that the decision by New York's finest to let Atwill's character sort out the problem by using scientific brain analysis does not quite prove the resounding success he'd hoped for. And if this all sounds rather comical, well, that's sort of the idea. Even this early on, Hollywood was mining the seam of parody, recognising that the tropes of the horror/mystery genre were ripe for calculated satire. Yet the climactic scenes involving the full-blown mad scientist's laboratory are as good as any 'straight' feature of the day.






Billed (see poster) as 'Better than Dr. X', our second feature certainly looks very different, not least because the early colour process (apparently it was the last feature film using a 'two-color' Technicolor system) gives it a beautiful 'hand-tinted' appearance. Again, Atwill is a genius with a problem, and Wray gets to scream a lot. (To be fair, Fay Wray's characters always had perfectly good reasons to panic and yell for help, what with giant gorillas and so forth.) In a nod to feminism Glenda Farrell plays the fast-talking reporter this time, and the whole thing chugs along nicely.

It doesn't take the astute viewer long to realise that Atwill's maimed sculptor, Ivan Igor, went more than a bit barmy when his London business was torched for the insurance by his dodgy partner. When he set up shop in New York things take a turn for the odd when yet another hideously disfigured weirdo in a cloak starts stealing bodies from the city morgue.

The actual mystery is not really hard to solve, but as with Doctor X the fun is in playing along with a film that recalls - as events career towards yet another OTT climax - Kenneth Williams' immortal 'Frying Tonight!' Again, it's barmy but stylish and fun, like a horror movie should be. Here's a rather realistic scuffle between two middle-aged blokes who have different opinions about insurance fraud, with some wonderful images of melting historical personages.





Monday, 15 October 2012

Halloween Movie 5. The Haunted Palace (1963)

Roger Corman successfully emulated the Hammer horror model in America, adapting stories of Edgar Allan Poe for the big screen. Unfortunately the number of Poe stories that make halfway decent movies isn't that great, and Corman's production line approach got through them rather quickly. So he tried his hand at an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The result is a film originally billed, with typical Hollywood accuracy, as 'Edgar Allan Poe's Haunted Palace'.

On one level, it's all ludicrous. In 1765 warlock Joseph Curwen is burned by the usual angry mob, but for some reason his castle (imported to New England from Europe, stone by stone - like London Bridge, I suppose) is left standing. Not only that, but his ghoulish retainer/disciple, played by Lon Chaney Jnr., is still looking after the place when Charles Dexter Ward and his new bride Anne arrive to take possession of the ancestral pile. Vincent Price plays Ward and Curwen, because of course the latter's spirit gradually takes possession of the former.

The film works, somehow, because it has an excellent cast, looks rather good, and somehow avoids the campery that can mar Price's performances (when it's not actually required, as in Theatre of Blood). Even Lovecraft's Mythos is worked in rather well, with Curwen and his disciples not merely conjuring up demons but seeking to produce a hybrid race for vaguely idealistic purposes. Unfortunately this includes offering attractive young ladies, such as the lovely Anne (Debra Paget), to a Thing in a Pit.

The film does sag a little in places, but it has enough energy and panache to remain watchable today, long after costume-drama approach to horror was consigned to oblivion. More or less.

Halloween Movie 4. Night of the Eagle (1962)

Based on the novel Conjure Wife by US author Fritz Leiber, this relatively low-budget British film is notable for strong central performances, some good dialogue, and a plot that holds us rather well. (One major theme is the idea of sexual exploitation of vulnerable young women by older men in positions of power.) The black and white starkness of many scenes gives NotE a 'classic' feel, and the setting - a British university - is well evoked.

Leiber's basic premise is very simple - magic is real, and women are often witches who use spells to advance their menfolk's careers. When psychology professor Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) discovers that his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) has been putting magical protective items around their home, he sternly reminds her that - as a social scientist - he can have no truck with such superstition. But when he dispenses with the 'trash' his life takes a turn for the worse. Director Sidney Hayers handles Taylor's descent from modernity into a kind of medieval netherworld of terror with great aplomb, not least in this scene, where much is conveyed without a single word being spoken.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Halloween Movie 3. The Reptile (1966)

The Reptile is one of Hammer's odder ventures. By the mid-Sixties the studio, which had done so well from reviving Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, and the Mummy, mid-Sixties Hammer was struggling a bit. But they had to keep churning 'em out for their American distributors, so producer Anthony Hinds (under the name John Elder) bashed out this low-budget drama about colonial curses.

This is one of those films in which a sensible chap takes his new bride to a country cottage in a neighbourhood where people die horribly for no readily apparent reason  It's not difficult to figure out what's going on, but the nature of the horror is interesting. In a way it inverts the conventional vampire theme, with the monster of the title arguably as great a victim as any of the hapless folk found frothing in the foliage. There's a distinct touch of Conan Doyle about some plot developments, and an interesting subtext about Victorian attitudes to women as well as a more obvious comment about the dark side of colonialism coming back to bite Britannia on the bottom (or very nearly).

The cast is rather good, too. The statuesque knockout Jacqueline Pearce might seem miscast as the put-upn Victorian daughter, but she has real presence and imbues a tricky role with pathos. It's a pity she only did two Hammers (she was also in Plague of the Zombies, which was made back-to-back using the same location). The supporting cast is reassuringly solid - anything with Michael Ripper issuing dire warnings is fine by me, and John Laurie (Private Fraser from Dad's Army) does his level best to make everyone feel totally doomed. Arguably the absence of the two big-name Brit horror stars makes this a well-balanced film, as Hammer was sometimes inclined to use Cushing, in particular, on roles that didn't make much of his talents.

Anyway, let's all clutch our necks and collapse down a flight of stairs. It's either that, or smash the sitar.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Halloween Movie 2. Night of the Demon (1957)

As this one has been praised to death by almost everyone, I won't bang on again  about how good it is. So here's something a bit different - a taste of the excellent score, that is often overlooked, adds immensely to the enjoyment.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Halloween Movie 1. Dead of Night (1945)

I know it's a bit obvious, but this British classic offering weird tales-within-a-tale seems the obvious place to begin my very personal (i.e. totally unreasonable) survey of things to watch in the run up to the Spookiest Time of the Year. It's great fun and it can be found in its entirety on YouTube. Opinions vary on the different stories, but one thing is obvious - DoN set the template for many later portmanteau horror films from Amicus.

The last story, the ventriloquist's dummy, is truly disturbing and leads into the finale with its nightmare twist. Michael Redgrave is brilliant and the sheer violence (bloodless thought it may be) of the denouement is still disturbing. I'm surprised they were allowed to get away with it back in the days of powdered eggs and Mrs Mopp.

WARNING: This clip is essentially one humongous spoiler, but I couldn't find a better (i.e. less humongously spoilerish) one.




Halloween Fun at a London Lido

I'm not in London, so I can't go to this. But it looks good.

To celebrate the launch of the third Kindle installment of scary stories from another London there will be a night of scary South London songs and stories 29th October Brockwell Park Lido Café 7.30 for an 8pm start. (9.30 finish)

Chris Roberts, London Dreamtime and others present: Full Moon Brockwell Lido.

Crafty rats, Lido mermaids, the dead boxer of Denmark Hill and other songs and stories from another London. There will be music, surprises and the chance to play a few hands of that popular cemetery focused card game Boneyard Brag.

Entry is free and dress code absorbent underwear.

See www.thelidocafe.co.uk for details nearer time

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

YouTube world...

If you haven't already noticed the Video Bar over to the right, it leads to the YouTube channel of me, David Longhorn, editor of Supernatural Tales. I wasn't sure if there was any actual point to uploading purely audio files to YT. My original intention was simply to put mp3 files on this blog, but it turned out to be a process more complex than organising a mission to Mars, or very nearly. Why Blogger makes audio stuff hard to promote I don't know, but there it is. You can upload movies easily, but not audio.

Anyway, the number of hits on my forty-odd videos (i.e. audios with still slideshows of still photos) is approaching the 2,000 mark, which isn't bad for a channel that started in April and caters to a relatively narrow niche. Of all the things I've posted so far, as of this morning, the most popular ones are as follows:

Monday, 8 October 2012

Spireclaw

Huw Langridge, whose story 'Last Train to Tassenmere' appeared in ST#15 some three millennia ago, has a new book out. Spireclaw is a novel about coincidences, a fascinating subject that's formed the basis of a lot of good weird fiction. Here's a bit o' blurb...
When Kieran Whyteleafe starts to see little coincidences happening around him he decides to investigate their meaning. The coincidences seem to centre around the word Spireclaw. Why does the word keep appearing in places only meant for Kieran's eyes? Is it connected to the suicide of his old school friend? And what is the significance of the archive boxes that turn up mysteriously at his work?
Questions, questions... The book is available to download free as a PDF, as an audiobook, or as a paperback, which seems pretty comprehensive.



Mucky Old Books



If you like filth, you'll love author Helen Grant's blog, where she's been exploring our ancestors' rather interesting attitudes towards witchcraft and related matters. Here latest post concerns the fairly famous Discovery (or Discoverie) of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot (or Scott). The guy's spelling was all over the place, but he knew a good story when he read one in some other bloke's book:
There was (saith he) a noble Gentlewoman at Lions, that being in bed with a lover of hers, suddenly in the night arose up, and lighted a candle: and when she had done, she took a box of ointment, wherewith she annointed her body; and after a few words spoken, she was carried away. Her bed-fellow seeing the order hereof, leapt out of his bed, took the candle in his hand, and sought for the Lady round about the chamber, and in every corner thereof; But though he could not find her, yet did he find her box of ointment; and being desirous to know the vertue thereof, besmeered himself therewith, even as he perceived her to have done before: And although he was not so superstitious, as to use any words to help him forward in his business, yet by the vertue of that ointment (saith Bodin) he was immediately conveyed to Lorrein, into the assembly of Witches. Which when he saw, he was abashed, and said; In the name of God, what make I here? And upon those words the whole assembly vanished away, and left him alone there stark naked; and so was he fain to return to Lions: But he had so good a conscience, for you may perceive by the first half of the history, he was a very honest man, that he accused his true lover for a Witch, and caused her to be burned: And as for his adultery, neither, M.Mal. nor Bodin do once so much as speak in the dispraise thereof.
Oh, those Frenchies, with their moral turpitude and magic ointment. When considerably younger I read a lot about witchcraft and demonology, and one thing that struck me was how lazily stories were recycled. People like Scot and Bodin were the tabloid hacks of their day, peddling gossip to titillate under the pretence of serving a greater good. The difference is that the likes of Piers Morgan or Jan Moir never actually got anyone burned at the stake.





Thursday, 4 October 2012

For National Poetry Day

The Way Through the Woods
by
Rudyard Kipling

THEY shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

'October Dreams' by Michael Kelly



A short sample from the latest issue. Music and effects by Tony Tooke, who can be found on Twitter and elsewhere.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Nightfall - an essay by Adam Golaski

No, not here - here it is. Adam writes with great insight about the (to me) obscure Canadian radio drama series that produced some of the best weird fiction to be broadcast in my lifetime. While radio drama virtually died in the USA it survived with the 'BBC ethos' of CBC and as a result Nightfall (and other good series, such as Vanishing Point) had respectable runs.

Adam's essay begins with his own personal response (as a lad) to Nightfall's adaptation of Aickman's 'Ringing the Changes'. He concludes by pondering the series' demise - perhaps they simply ran out of stories, or maybe angry complaints about it being too scary played a part? Whatever the facts, Nightfall remains an anomaly - a Canadian show from the television era that recalls the post-war golden age of American radio drama.


Monday, 1 October 2012

Absentia



Imagine a really good episode of the X-Files extended to feature length - but Mulder and Scully never turn up. Instead, ordinary people have to cope with an extraordinary menace as best they can.

That's it, really, you don't need to know more...

Well, all right then. Absentia is an independent horror movie with no big stars, written and directed by one Mike Flanagan - a name to watch. It's a remarkably effective film, not least because - for me at least - it gets to the core of genuine horror. There is precious little on-screen violence here. Almost everything that happens does so in the context of ordinary people trying to live their lives happily, securely, normally - and being thwarted by something so strange and menacing that it can't possibly exist. Except that it does.

The film begins with Tricia, a heavily-pregnant woman, replacing old 'Missing' posters on telephone poles. It emerges that Megan's husband Daniel vanished seven years earlier, and she is about to have him declared dead in absentia - hence the title. At this crucial juncture Tricia's younger sister Callie turns up. Cue much discussion of Daniel's disappearance, and Tricia's pregnancy. It becomes apparent that the father of the baby is Detective Lonergan, who a few years ago took over the Daniel Riley case and become part of Tricia's life.

This would in itself form the basis of an interesting drama. But things are already spiralling into weirdness because Tricia is having visions of Daniel as a menacing ghost. Lonergan wants Tricia to move out of the neighbourhood, because it has a bad reputation - though not for normal crime. Then, when Tricia goes jogging through an underpass to the nearest park she encounters what seems to be a homeless man who insists on some kind of 'trade'. He offers her an impressive collection of keys, which turn up later in Callie's room, as if by magic...

Then Daniel Riley comes back. He is still wearing the clothes he had on when he vanished, seven years ago. And he has - according to X-rays that reveal small bones in his gut - been living off animals. Possibly dead animals...

Without going into more detail, Absentia offers a neat and at times nasty range of shocks that, while sometimes resorting to visual clichĂ©, never seem tired or banal. There is one point when the worst aspects of TV sci-fi come to the fore, with a rapid and frankly strained attempt to explain what's happening in terms of advanced physics. But much more effective than that slight slip is the way the book Callie has bought for Tricia's baby suggests what is happening to the disappeared. It's The Three Billy-goats Gruff.

This film genuinely frightened me. I was afraid simply because I was home alone after watching this film. This doesn't happen often. The only other films that have put the wind up me to the same degree are The Grudge (the original Korean film) and The Mothman Prophecies. The latter, in particular, has the same 'vibe' as Absentia, because in both cases the menace seems at once new and somehow archetypal. But that's by the way. It's a film worth seeing.

And here's a different trailer.