Friday, 31 July 2015

Supernatural Tales 30 - Don't Miss Out, Hepster Groove Gerbils!

Not content with making the latest, rather brilliant, issue of ST available in print form, I can also reveal that it's available for Amazon Kindle, and - for the Amazon averse - as an ebook from Smashwords.


Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Babadook (2014)

Here I go again, reviewing a film that's been out for about a year. Why? Well, if you're like me you never go to the pictures because you don't find it a pleasant experience. So you've got the option of seeing films on DVD, online, or when they pop up on regular telly. I rented The Babadook because it got a lot of praise from people I know and whose opinions I respect. Surprise, surprise, these people were entirely right.



The film is an Australian-Canadian horror movie and marks the debut of writer-director Jennifer Kent. On the strength this film I'll definitely watch her next one. It's a very simple story with Gothic overtones, and yet at the same time manages to be a realistic, modern drama. It's grown-up horror that is, at times, so harrowing you might not want to see it more than once. But it is worth seeing.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a young single mother, because she was widowed when her husband died in a car crash. Her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is nearly seven. He was born on the day his father died - the fatal accident happened on the way to the maternity ward. Young Sammy is bright, inventive, but also troubled and hard to handle. He is going through a 'monster phase', so every night Amelia must check under the bed, in the wardrobe etc before Sammy will settle down. Juggling motherhood with a job working in a care home and lack of sleep due to Sammy's nightmares is fraying her at the edges.

It's all credible, realistic drama, but things take a twist when Amelia finds an unusual storybook in Samuel's room. The pop-up book entitled Mister Babadook has no author or publisher, and its story is not a pleasant one. Amelia gets rid of the book, or thinks she does, but the Babadook arrives, heralded by the rumbling and knocking mentioned in the story. But is this a folie à deux between a disturbed boy and his stressed-out mother? There are hints that suggest Amelia is hallucinating, but nothing decisive.

What makes The Babadook memorable compared to most modern horror films is that the story springs from realistic characterisation and a well-crafted plot. It is also devoid of cheap gimmicks, like the sudden crashing chord to make us jump. Amelia may be cracking up under the pressure of bereavement, motherhood, and sheer loneliness. A friendly co-worker who might have provided a conventional respite for Amelia proves unhelpful. The same goes for her sister and the latter's circle of glossy, suburban friends. During the final crisis the nice old lady next door is turned away. If the film has a message it's that confronting our terrors is something we can only do alone. Even if, paradoxically enough, we are doing it for someone else.

The performances are excellent, with Essie Davis progressing from wearily sad through to bloodstained frenzy by uneasy stages. Noah Wiseman, who resembles a tiny Edgar Allan Poe with pale face and huge dark eyes, is utterly convincing. Small children tend to be funny, infuriating, and vulnerable, and we get all that in spades. Samuel winds his mother up in grand style, and her response is horrifying without ever being unbelievable. This is grown-up horror in which the shocks are controlled but always effective. Two especially horrific moments are treated differently, and you can see the artistic reasoning behind both decisions. And it all holds together, right to the very end.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Owlman!



Not a huge fan of practical jokes and hidden camera stuff, but this is fun and educational. It illustrates the link between being scared and laughter, for a start. So much pf what we call horror is a form of absurdist comedy.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Supernatural Tales 30 - Extracts

The new issue is now available to purchase as a print-on-demand magazine. It will shortly be available as an ebook, whereupon I'll update the 'Buy Supernatural Tales!' page accordingly. Here is the link. And here are some teasers:


'30' by Helen Grant
Job the handyman had managed, with an ease born of long experience, to make himself absent at the moment when coffin bearers were required, thus sparing himself an unpleasant exertion. All the same, as he stood in the shadows watching the casket being carried out, he took off his hat in respect for the deceased. The dead man had been the son of a Lord, after all.

'An Element of Blank' by Lynda E. Rucker
It had that way about it, of getting inside your head. She reached again for the hands of the others, but she seemed to be alone. Not only that, but she was sure that she was thirteen years old again, that the years had fallen away. You always were thirteen years old, a part of you anyway: all the ages you’d ever been stayed inside you, locked in along with the memories.

 'Vain Shadows Flee' by Mark Valentine
The many-hundred faces had been changed into grotesques, leering, shouting, grinning, or with tongues lolling towards the sword and the crozier that the giant held aloft.

'Tears From An Eyeless Face' by Michael Kelly
You still have hands. You lift them to your head and touch what is left of your face. It is wet, clammy and uneven, like a lump of malleable grey clay.

'Wild Dogs' by Adam Golaski
The man beside me turns and looks at me. I return his look—he looks back at the wall. He says, “Touch the threshold. It is ancient.”

'Even Clean Hands Can Do Damage' by Steve Duffy
Above the cul-de-sac, against the gravid rainclouds, reared the headland, the thing she’d dreamed of first of all, before the little girl, before anything. The fatal precipice, they’d called it in the newspaper: the scene of the accident.

Supernatural Tales 30





Thursday, 16 July 2015

Cover


As you can see, cover artist Sam Dawson has done a number 30...


... which is bigger on the back cover. Oddly enough, it fits nicely with one of the stories in this special issue, despite the artist not knowing what the story is about. Spooky, eh?

Soon we'll have some extracts from the stories. 


Saturday, 11 July 2015

Too late to plump for Betamax now...

Over at Juxtapoz magazine we find Things. Things made from old VHS tapes. Things that have a distinct M.R. Jamesian feel, but might also be deemed a tad Lovecraftian, or indeed Hodgsonian.

Creatures Made From Old VHS Tapes: JuxtapozPhilipObRey12.jpg

Creatures Made From Old VHS Tapes: JuxtapozPhilipObRey08.jpg

Creatures Made From Old VHS Tapes: JuxtapozPhilipObRey20.jpg

Friday, 10 July 2015

The Ghost of the Pickled Parson!

With a title like that you want to know more, surely? Or are you a bit blasé about pickled folk, whether they be clerical or secular? Anyway, I think you should read the excellent article by Jim Moon at the link above. His blog is absorbing to anyone who likes horror and folkore, and well worth a good old perusal.

Sedgefield, where the parson was allegedly pickled (or perhaps salted) is just up the road from my home. It's in County Durham, one of England's lesser-known but rather fascinating counties. Among its many attractions is Barnard Castle, a tucked-away place with a huge museum built in the style of a French chateau, and containing an amazing automaton, great works of art, and more fancy frocks than you can shake a stick at.

But I digress, again...

Re: pickling parsons, it's perfectly possible that someone would preserve a dead body in the way described. But I can't help wondering if even an 18th century physician would be fooled. Perhaps the story was concocted after it became known that Nelson's body was preserved in brandy after his death at Trafalgar?

Still, it's a cracking story.

No obvious signs of parson pickling. But you never know...

Spoilsports!

What with The X-Files on the way back to our screens, there may be a surge in interest in 'unexplained' phenomena. Of course, if you don't look for an explanation you will be forever baffled by cattle mutilation, ley lines, the toaster, pencils...



As this list shows, a lot of things that pop up in those by-the-numbers TV series with titles like 'Totally the World's Most Amazing Mysteries And, Like, Really Awesome Weird Stuff' are not quite so baffling as some like to claim. For instance, note the way a humble sheriff, fed up with reports of aliens/Satanists mutilating cattle, conducted a very simple experiment to find out what really happens when a cow drops dead in a field. Don't read any of that bit at tea-time, though.

The obvious outlier in this list is the humble ghost. Whether all supernatural experiences can be explained by unusual brain activity is open to question, because it's impossible - for practical purposes - for scientists to explore every haunted house etc. And, by definition, a uniquely personal experience at a particular time and place can't be reproduced perfectly under laboratory conditions. My position, most of the time, is the familiar one: I don't believe in ghosts, but I'm afraid of them.

The list I've linked to at Cracked.com is also notable for the absence of certain 'mysteries'. Erich Von Daniken's ancient astronauts seem to be a busted flush, despite his books spawning dozens of imitators back in the Seventies. To my shame, my younger (I was about twelve, I think) self believed in old Erich's claims right up to the point where I saw a TV documentary that took apart his essentially dishonest approach.

We are all vulnerable to being conned. But that doesn't the world is devoid of mystery. Merely that we should be careful who we listen to, and who we believe.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Temple to the God Pan



Let's go inside and mess around, confident in the knowledge that he who ordered this fine structure built is long gone. You can find out more here (though the site is in French.)




Temple au Dieu Pan au Désert de Retz à Chambourcy














There's also a mysterious pyramid!

Pyramide glacière sous la neige dans la forêt de Chambourcy


Glacière pyramide sous la neige au Désert de Retz


Monday, 6 July 2015

The Anniversary of Never

The Swan River Press is publishing a new volume of stories by the late Joel Lane. While I never met Joel, he was very encouraging in the early years of ST, and submitted stories to me that he could just as easily have placed in popular (and cash paying) markets. He cared for the genre and wanted horror fiction to be intelligent, enjoyable, and above- all well-written. This new collection is a landmark and a tribute to a superb writer and critic who was lost to us far too soon.



 I think that the cover art, by Polly Rose Morris, is brilliant.

Contents
"Introduction" by Nicholas Royle
"Sight Unseen"
"Crow's Nest"
"All the Shadows"
"Midnight Flight"
"Ashes in the Water" with Mat Joiner
"For Their Own Ends"
"Bitter Angel"
"After the Fire"
"The Annniversary of Never"
"The Messenger"
"For Crying Out Loud"
"All Dead Years"
"Some of the Fell"
"Acknowledgements"

Saturday, 4 July 2015

United States of the Supernatural

On the 4th July is a good day to celebrate just a few of the Americans who've contributed works of enduring merit to this crazy old genre. We begin, of course, with the man in black...



I suppose it's only appropriate, given Poe's predilections, that he didn't stay buried in the same place for long. Poe didn't write conventional ghost stories and much of his work doesn't qualify as horror fiction at all. But a minority of his works have an enduring power that lesser writers can only envy. 'The Masque of the Red Death', 'The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar', 'The Fall of the House of Usher', 'The Black Cat', 'MS Found in a Bottle' - those are my personal favourites, along with his Dupin stories, but I'm sure fans could name half a dozen more. Without Poe things would be very different in supernatural fiction, detective fiction, science fiction...



Good show, Edgar, you madcap fellow.


Friday, 3 July 2015

Girls Wielding Steel

I should have included this in the last post, to show you what the actual dance is like. Silly me. 


Rappers Delight

The third film in the series that started with The Wicker Man has just been launched as a crowd-funded project. There's already a Brit Ekland-ish ingredient, it seems...
The film has already cast Halla Williams, an Icelandic model who also hosted her country’s version of The X Factor.
Well, good luck with that. You never know. But I wonder if there'll be rappers in this new movie?

The original film is replete with images (and songs) taken from British folklore, though it has to be said that Summerisle, while off the coast of Scotland, seems awfully English in many ways. This is especially true of the sword or rapper dancers who feature in a number of scenes.

I happen to come from a part of England where sword dancing of the rapper (possibly a corruption of 'rapier') kind has been practised for many years. It seems to have been common among miners but is now a subculture of Morris dancing, which is obviously resembles. Anyway, historical pictures of rapper teams are rather interesting, and make an interesting contrast with the May Day folk pictured in an earlier post.


'Who's the tosser in the titfer?'


Yeats on Fairies

W.B. Yeats was arguably the greatest poet to write in English since Shakespeare. His influence was immense, and he's become synonymous with the revival of Irish cultural life (often called the Celtic Twilight) that took place in the decades before the Great War. He was made a senator when the Irish won their independence and had a huge influence on the cultural life of the new Free State. And he believed in fairies.

The Irish Times has reprinted an article that appeared in a London magazine in 1890, in which Yeats - then an up-and-coming poet rather than a cultural titan - is quite explicit about his belief in supernatural entities. It makes for fascinating reading, especially when you realise that, as a convinced Spiritualist, Yeats was also keen on contacting legendary figures from Irish history and folklore.

Here's a brief extract.

Sligo is, indeed, a great place for fairy pillaging of this kind. In the side of Ben Bulben is a white square in the limestone. It is said to be the door of fairyland. There is no more inaccessible place in existence than this white square door; no human foot has ever gone near it, not even the mountain goats can browse the saxifrage beside its mysterious whiteness. Tradition says that it swings open at nightfall and lets pour through an unearthly troop of hurrying spirits. To those gifted to hear their voices the air will be full at such a moment with a sound like whistling. Many have been carried away out of the neighbouring villages by this troop of riders.





Thursday, 2 July 2015

Legend of the Mummy (1998)

'Beware the beat of bandaged feet!' And so on, and so forth. Ever since Napoleon took a boatload of scholarly chaps to Egypt to document his rather ephemeral conquest, Europeans have been fascinated by the fact that a bunch of non-Europeans created a civilization that was more enduring, more grandiose, and just more all-round spiffing than that of ancient Greece or Rome.

The result was a mixture of fear and fascination. After all, those ancient Egyptians weren't white, and therefore - to many Victorians - they must have been a bit dodgy. Or, as some more radical thinkers argued, they must have been a truly superior civilization with advanced cosmic knowledge, and probably came from Atlantis or something. For every academic tome on the subject of Egypt there must be at least three stories of ancient curses, ambulatory mummies, and reincarnation. But it was Bram Stoker, who gave us the modern vampire genre, who also created the Mummy movie franchise with his novel The Jewel of Seven Stars.

I read the book recently, and found that - like much of Stoker's work - it's a clunkily-written story imbued with a great central idea. All movie and TV adaptations of the novel must begin with a scriptwriter who, faced with too many characters, enormous chunks of tedious exposition, and a badly-constructed plot, must first decide what to jettison. The result can be a fun film, such as Blood from the Mummy's Tomb. Or it can be a mish-mash of old cobblers, like the film I watched last night.

Legend of the Mummy is all over the place. IMDb does not mince words: 'A pretty sorry looking mummy with seven fingers could be the cause of several weird murders and the daughter of an Egyptologist sets out to solve the mystery.' The reviewer might have added that the jewel in the film looks like an over-sized novelty from a Christmas cracker. Oh, and there is no mention of the Seven Stars at all. This is so absurd it deserves an award for narrative incompetence. But it's just one of the things that makes Legend a modern genre turkey that's so bad it's quite entertaining for much of its ninety-odd minutes.


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Strange Fertility Rituals in Olde England

This post on a local history blog mentions M.R. James in passing, though that's not why I stumbled upon it. It gives a little insight into how often authors of supernatural fiction would have seen people dressed up and performing weird rituals, ceremonies etc. We think of the Order of the Golden Dawn as a bit outré and marginal, but it was arguably just a posh and pretentious version of what thousands of arty middle-class Brits got up to on a regular basis. Check out those Druids.