Saturday, 30 April 2016

M.R. James Games!

Do you like games? I like games, so long as they're not too noisy, like Twister or that Russian one with the gun. Over at Pleasing Terror Games there are games for fans of the Jamesian ghost story, with one currently in development that you can offer feedback on.

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Cards for the Curious is a dice-rolling, story-telling game.
Play the leading role in a series of chilling ghost stories from the canon of M. R. James. Embark on a terrifying journey of the imagination, as you try to survive the nameless dread that hunts you, with either your life or your sanity intact. Relive all the main drama of the actual tale, but, with a host of other encounters thrown in the mix, no story will ever be told the same way twice.
Sounds brilliant, and the illustrations by Richard Svensson are great.

foreboding ruin for website

Friday, 29 April 2016

Dissonant Intervals

Side Real Press (an excellent small press based just over the river from ST in Newcastle) has published a new collection of stories by Louis Marvick. Among them are two tales Louis wrote for ST - 'Pockets of Emptiness' and 'Is for Ilinx'. As always, the book is superbly produced and an instant collector's item.




Thursday, 28 April 2016

M.R. James locations

It's that time of year when people who live in the UK, or nearby, plan excursions to places mentioned in tales to chill the blood. Well, maybe. It's certainly a thought, as many of M.R. James locations are famously based on real churches, towns, and country houses. So here are just a few places you might consider visiting, not just in England but in Western Europe.




Well, okay, not that one. 'Lost Hearts' is out because Aswarby Hall is one of England's 'lost' country houses. Tsk. Moving swiftly along...

In which I receive an item of electronic mail!

David,
I have supernatural tales 1 to 8 and enjoyed them very much. Do you know of someone wanting to complete their collection and is both desperate and deserving of such a gift?
Paul  

Well, do I? If so get in touch and I will put you in touch with Paul. He's a generous chap!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Beltane

 



In the conservative and generally somewhat Catholic-leaning Daily Telegraph is an account of the revival of native British customs. Sort of.
In our peripatetic, deeply temporal, modern society, why would anyone choose to spend a long night marking the passing of Winter and greeting Summer? You can sit at home with a boxed set of The Killing and a Waitrose ready meal. Who celebrates change – apart from the Coalition?

Actually, it emerges, increasing numbers of Britons – old, young, and of worldwide origin – still do. In Edinburgh, thousands will celebrate the 25th Beltane (the name is probably derived from a Gaelic word meaning bright fire) Fire Festival this year. In Yorkshire, Thornborough Henge will see its eighth annual event. Butser Ancient Farm has been building and burning its wicker man for more than a decade.

Events have sprung up from Devon to Peebles, Cardiff to Ireland (where the festival is connected to the legends of Tara). All have seen annual attendance and interest on the rise at a time when modern music festivals are seeing numbers slump. Even Glastonbury is taking a year out, due to lack of Portaloos.

I haven't looked at the comments to the Torygraph article (because I am not that deranged) but I dare say some folk had a good old sneer at the notion that middle-class people driving to burnings of wicker persons and filming it all on their iPhones is a 'proper' tradition. But traditions in a civilized society - let's leave the hunter-gatherers to one side - tend to change and evolve while paradoxically offering a sense of continuity and rootedness. England's state religion is irrelevant to most people, while other Christian sects across Britain are either dull or acridly intolerant. The choice facing the vast majority of people is therefore consumer secularism, or consumer secularism with a dash of paganism. The latter at least offers a bit more fun for the smarter kiddies.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Nerds Victorious

There's an article in the New York Times about the moral panic over Dungeons & Dragons in the Eighties. I only played it a few times, and I remember that I sort of enjoyed it, but it never became part of my life. I just wasn't that sociable a nerd and preferred to read sci-fi by myself. Also, D&D came in when I was already in my early twenties, and I think you had to catch the bug in your mid-teens or thereabouts. Anyway, the D&D panic never really spread to Britain, perhaps because fundamentalist Christians have never had much clout since the 19th century (in England, at any rate). We've been lucky in that respect. 

Anyway, the story behind the D&D panic is the usual nonsense - the association of various real and imaginary Bad Things with a Strange Activity adults don't get. 'Fred plays this game, now Fred is dead - the game somehow killed Fred'. One can of course correlate teen suicide quite easily with walking, bathing, or wearing trousers, but a game featuring spells and evil wizards must have seemed like a literal godsend to attention-seekers and yammering idiots of the 'think of the children' variety.

An interesting fact the NYT mentions in passing:
The explosion of video games over the last few decades has been accompanied not by an increase in youth violence but, rather, by a sharp decline.
But there are no headlines in that. Another good article on D&D is here. It makes the point that nerd culture has won the war against Christian intolerance, and that the nerds are fairly magnanimous in victory. It also gives examples of the scare pamphlets religious bigots put out to stigmatise gamers. The parallels with Salem and the McCarthy era are obvious enough so I won't labour them.

How We Won the War on Dungeons & Dragons

How We Won the War on Dungeons & Dragons

A list of deaths caused by various problems were blamed on a dice-rolling fantasy game, in a dishonest attempt to provide a religious 'one size fits all' explanation. And the article ends with this thought:
In the 1980s, angry mobs of parents burned their kids' D&D books. Those kids, now grown up, digitize and annotate the pamphlets that once condemned them.
It's a weird kind of progress, but progress nonetheless.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Supernatural Shakespeare

The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania, 1847 - Sir Joseph Noel Paton

I went to a talk at Newcastle's Lit and Phil given by the excellent Dr Gail-Nina Anderson, one of our greatest regional treasures. Her subject was art inspired by Shakespeare, and there's a lot of it. However, not a single illustration of any of the Bard's work appeared in his lifetime, or for generations after. It was in the 18th century, with the rise of the cult of Shakespeare as England's national poet, that the artists started illustrating scenes from his plays. During the Romantic era, things got very strange. I hadn't realised quite how much artists tended to use supernatural incidents in the plays. Here are just a few of the pictures the good doctor discussed.

We begin with Fuseli, and Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth with the Daggers

Monday, 18 April 2016

Review of ST 32

Not a great one for blowing my own trumpet (or indeed horn) but this generous review by Jose Cruz is too good to let pass unnoticed. Major fanfare, please, for a discerning reader!

Since “the beginning of this century,” editor David Longhorn has been compiling the magazine Supernatural Tales. In that time the series has amassed stories from a cornucopia of authors who were or have become household names within the fields of dark and strange fiction, among them Lynda E. Rucker, Simon Strantzas, Nina Allan, Steve Rasnic Tem, Rosalie Parker, Joel Lane, S. P. Miskowski, Gary McMahon, and Mark Valentine. It is an impressive assemblage of talent working in Longhorn’s preferred mode of the whispery tale of chilling dread, ensuring that the rich lineage of subtlety and restraint in horror remains as vibrant and vital as ever. 
In this, the thirty-second issue, Longhorn has published six stories that also work in this mode and, though some prove more successful than others, the overall mood is one of mystery and quietude. Chloe N. Clark’s “Even the Veins of Leaves” opens the issue, dealing with the well-worn framework of police investigating disappearances in a spooky old wood, but the terse, literal statements favored by our protagonist fail to add much depth to this classical mold, leaving some of the action staid and the central mystique too general to generate any sense of wonder or foreboding. Clark does prove that she has a good hand at plot though: she slyly works in a reveal in the climactic scene that will take some readers by surprise.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Codex New England

'Dunwich Jazz Festival'. There, that should be argument enough for any decent person to read the poems of Cardinal Cox. Just that title, right there. But if you need more persuading, here goes.

'Codex New England' is the tenth pamphlet of Lovecraftian poetry produced by the former Poet Laureate of Peterborough.


The poems here offer a whistle-stop tour of Lovecraft's settings and landscapes - or dreamscapes. In 'Circling New York' the description of the city in 'He' is in the mind of a traveller nearing JFK. A'fter those 'black cyclopaean towers' we move on to 'Boston Subway Memorial', with no mention of Pickman but a clear nod to the source of his inspiration. 'Bus From Newburyport' takes us you-know-where along 'reptile skinned road'. Innsmouth never looked so inviting.

And this is a recurring theme, as we all know that Lovecraft's imaginary places are rather attractive. 'The Gilman House' and 'Innsmouth Seafront' are more familiar than many real places, and on the latter our nameless traveller meets a boozer who talks of grandparents' internment. For Lovecraft, sending certain people to camps was an antidote to horror. Not so much for us.

The world of the mythos blends with later paranoia in 'Conspiracies', with real-life experiments on 'inferior' US populations. There's humour, too, as 'kids born with fingers and toes webbed' are no surprise to someone who lives 'on the edge of the Fens'. A hipster restaurant offers 'Tcho-Tcho Chow', while ukelele music wafts from the K'tulu-Tiki Lounge.

Someone really needs to collect Cox's poems in a proper book. Considered as a whole they form a remarkably erudite and witty commentary on life and Lovecraft, and how those two worlds intersect at strange angles that often defy mundane geometry.


Want a copy of 'Codex New England'? Send a C5 SAE to

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay
Peterborough
PE2 5RB
You can also email the Cardinal at cardinalcox1@yahoo.co.uk

Lovecraft on the British Stage, No Less!



They're on tour. Here's their schedule.

Thanks to the redoubtable Cardinal Cox for sending me the flyer, which accompanied his latest poetry pamphlet. More on these new Lovecraftian emanations very soon!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Gareth Thomas (1945-2016)



The Welsh actor Gareth Thomas, who died on Wednesday, was best known for his starring role in the sci-fi adventure series Blake's 7. However, he also appeared in Children of the Stones, a very good supernatural serial.

Children of the Stones was an ITV children's drama that was distinguished by a very strong cast - as well as Gareth Thomas it featured Iain Cuthbertson and Freddie Jones. Filmed in Avebury, it concerns a scientist, played by Thomas, who arrives in the village with his teenage son to survey the stone circle. It quickly emerges that the village is not a normal place, and that some kind of influence linked to the stones is exerted by the local squire, a maverick scientist played by Cuthbertson.

For a children's show CotS is remarkably intelligent, well-acted, and absorbing. It may be the scariest example of its kind, too. It combines ideas from modern science with mythology, and has a clever twist ending. The theme of ordinary people being brainwashed by occult powers unleashed by science is great fun, of course, and the script by Trevor Ray and Jeremy Burnham is first-rate. There's a nod to The Prisoner in the village greeting 'Happy Day!' Then there's the weird  title music...

All Souls' Night


Valancourt Books, which publishes quality paperbacks, is bringing out a new edition of Hugh Walpole's collection All Souls' Night. Here is the blurb:


Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) was one of the most popular and prolific English authors of his time, best known for his historical fiction and novels for boys. But it was in the field of the macabre and supernatural that Walpole was at his best, and this collection of sixteen tales contains many of his finest, including the classic werewolf story ‘Tarnhelm’; the oft-anthologized ‘The Little Ghost’; ‘The Snow’, a chilling story of vengeance from beyond the grave; and perhaps the highlight of the collection, ‘The Silver Mask’, which one critic has called ‘a masterpiece, a classic example of how a tale can be truly terrible and ghostly with no ghost and only the wispiest hint of the supernatural.’ 
This new edition, which reprints the unabridged text of the 1933 first edition and includes a new introduction by John Howard, will allow a new generation of readers to discover an unjustly forgotten master of the eerie and macabre.
Picture

I'd concur with the blurb, especially with regard to 'The Silver Mask', a fine example of quiet horror. Walpole is an old-fashioned author, but then so are L.P. Hartley and Walter de la Mare. The style may not be modern, but the sense of the strange and disturbing is still immediate. 


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Goths Up the Amazon

The title of this post may suggest that a Germanic tribe got lost sometime in the fourth century AD and ended up crossing the Atlantic to be discovered centuries later by Doug McClure etcetera. Come to think of it, that's a brilliant film scenario, and I would very much like to be paid lots of money for it.

But no, this post is about Goths in Manaos, which is a city (with a famous opera house) in Brazil's steamy interior. It's not easy being a Goth there. It's very warm.

Not easy being pale in Brazil, so kudos for trying
But if you're a Goth up the Amazon, you're a proper Goth.
'Basically, the city's climate functions like a natural selection system – filtering out those who don't take the lifestyle seriously.'

 

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghost Bonkers

Here's a feature about two women who tried to have sex with ghosts. I'll just leave it here for your perusal.

Katie: My room is generally pretty clean, so I didn’t have to do much to tidy up. I lit a red candle that I’d bought from a witchcraft shop (red for sex), closed my curtain, and lay down on top of my bed, fully clothed. Everyone knows that ghosts can go through things, so in my mind, that shouldn’t matter. Also, it was too cold to get naked. 
Arianna: I, too, was clothed because of the temperature of my apartment but, to be fair, could have probably chosen a sexier outfit than my Mickey Mouse sweatshirt and BuzzFeed sweatpants.




You may think they didn't take it entirely seriously. I couldn't possibly comment.

There are a few ghost stories that feature what our American cousins call bumping uglies. The obvious one is 'The Amorous Ghost' by Enid Bagnold, which isn't bad. There's also Gordon Honeycombe's novel Neither the Sea Nor the Sand, which made for a decent enough film. But most such accounts are offered as true stories, as in the case which was filmed as The Entity. Try Googling 'Amorous Ghost' and you'll get a lot more than the Bagnold story.

It seems that sexy ghosts are pretty popular, perhaps because they link sex and death so intimately. That which we yearn for and that which we fear, inextricably entwined.




Monday, 11 April 2016

Study for 'The Unknown' (1912) by John Charles Dollman

Here's the second in my series of what is, essentially, an artistic ignoramus peering at weird/supernatural pictures on display at Newcastle's Laing Art Gallery. This one is a bit of a mystery, as it seems to relate to no known story. Click to enlarge.



The finished painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy, so Dollman was clearly not some bonkers maverick. Perhaps he was just keen on apes and half-naked girls. But there is something distinctly odd about a bunch of chimps being reproved, enchanted, or lectured by a topless witch, or something.

Is it an evolutionary parable? Does the woman represent enlightenment, language, religion, or just someone who's trying to teach them basic fire-related health and safety procedures? And is she kneeling down or standing in a hole? The fact that one chimp has given upon the whole thing and is shuffling away in the background only adds to the mystery.

Dollman illustrated Kipling, so it's tempting to see it as some sort of 'Just So' story. 'How the Chimps Were Dominated & Developed a Boob Fixation' seems a tad unlikely, however. This was the age of weird fiction, with writers as diverse as Kipling, Machen. Stoker, Blackwood, James (both of 'em), and Wells pushing the boundaries in various directions. So it's weird fiction all right, but I'm not sure what - if anything - it's trying to say.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Devils of Darkness (1965)

The mid-Sixties saw a dip in horror movie quality - after the Hammer/Corman boom that began in the late Fifties the genre started to look a little tired. But the films kept coming, sometimes in more subtle forms - The Innocents, The Haunting, The Witches, and a few others with the definite article in the title - and sometimes as variations on familiar themes.

Devils of Darkness is classed as a British film, though like many of its ilk it has an American star, the craggy William Sylvester, and much of it supposedly takes place on the continent. It concerns a group of tourists who visit a French village that we know, thanks to the pre-title sequence, is the domain of a vampire, Count Sinistre. No, really, that's what he's called. Anyway, the village is the home of a secret vampire cult, and only the gypsies try to warn the visitors to beware, and so forth. Two people die in odd circumstances and the authorities are unhelpful, because they're in on it.

The cult itself is a Dennis Wheatley affair, all red nylon robes and clich├ęd ritual, This might have been fun, but unfortunately the count is played by Hubert Noel, an obscure French actor. In marked contrast to Christopher Lee, Noel does not seem imposing or sexy when pouncing on female cast members. I have a sneaking suspicion that director Lance Comfort avoided having Noel do much traditional vampire stuff precisely because he lacked presence. Instead he is demoted to the role of boring cult leader.

Noel's weak performance unbalances the film - it becomes a kind of Agatha Christie with vampires, as Sylvester's character tries to unravel the mystery while Sinistre tries to recover the talisman of a golden bat that he carelessly dropped. No really, he's that useless. Other ingredients include a Swinging Chelsea party where the look and the music remind you that in 1965 the Beatles et al were way too radical for mainstream entertainment. So it's short hair and bebop all the way. Instead of a sense of immediacy the contemporary setting consigns DoD to the slightly laughable and boring past, while Hammer's period Gothic approach continues to work well.



That said, there are a few good bits. At one point Sinistre's gypsy-vampire bride slashes a portrait of the leading lady and blood trickles out. And there's also a remarkable finale which definitely foreshadows the climactic Black Mass scene of The Devil Rides Out. Visually it's not bad, and Tracy Reed as Karen is impressive - a statuesque redhead, she spends a lot of time barefoot so as not to tower over Noel. Overall, though, Devils of Darkness is not as much fun as it should be.

Laus Veneris (1873-5)

I'm lucky to live near Newcastle, where the Laing Art Gallery offers a small but excellent collection of paintings and other artworks. There are a few that tackle supernatural themes, or at least fall in the general horror/fantasy zone. I thought I'd post an occasional series about paintings I've enjoyed and do my bit for tourism, culture, dead artists etc.

Let's start with Edward Burne-Jones and Algernon Charles Swinburne - that's full-on Victorian, dude. Click to enlarge Laus Veneris.

The Heart of the Rose

According to the Victorian Web, the painting is based closely on Swinburne's poem, which is a typically sensuous re-telling of the legend of Tannhauser. The latter was a German knight who was lured by Venus into her underground lair (was she a super-villain?), where they enjoyed many years of purely physical pleasure. Lucky bastard. Eventually, being a goodly Christian knight, old Tanners felt a bit guilty and went to Rome to try and get absolved. The Pope told him that he could no more be forgiven his sins of the flesh than flowers could blossom from the papal staff (I kid you not). Needless to say, after Tannhauser wandered off in dejection the staff bloomed, but in those pre-internet days the knight didn't hear that God had, apparently, offered him forgiveness and was convinced he was damned.

Swinburne - who was distinctly anti-Christian - focuses on the sensual joys of dalliance in his poem and describes Venus thus:

The Old Parallel Universe Trick

A man from Edinburgh believes he spotted Bigfoot near Fife
“I can remember a forest and I looked to my left to see a tall dark shape standing 20 feet away in the trees. 
“At first I thought it was a man but then it came towards me. 
“He must have been huge, some eight to ten feet tall, and really wide."
The man in question was driving by at 60 mph, and therefore not in a position to give a more detailed description. A rationalist/sourpuss might remark that judging the size of anything briefly glimpsed in the dark is tricky, which is why we keep hearing about mysterious big cats. But let's assume that an eight-to-ten feet tall entity is out there, near Fife. What might it be?


Well, if it's straining credulity to believe there's a Beast of Bodmin, or a Surrey Panther, the Bigfoot of Tayside really can't be credited. At least, not as a legitimate species of primate. But what if it's a visitor from a parallel universe? This was the view advanced by John Keel, a UFO researcher - and author of The Mothman Prophecies - who concluded that weird visitants of all kinds were popping into our world from some other, equally real, parallel reality.

The obvious problem is finding actual evidence of any parallel reality, monster-infested or otherwise. I would love to believe that a world of vampires, Bigfoots/Bigfeet, werewolves, unicorns, dragons, and such exists right alongside my own. Such a parallel universe (or whatever you call it) would also explain ghosts. Oh, you've seen the Weeping Nun of Bognor Regis? Well, in one particular parallel universe Bognor Regis is pretty much Weeping Nun Central. For some reason.

Like all 'theories' that explain everything, the parallel universe notion really explains nothing. But that's the clever part. The fact that we have precisely no DNA from Bigfoot, or Nessie, or the Yeti, or the Ogopogo, is to me evidence that they don't exist. But if you desperately want to believe in such creatures you can claim they don't hang around in our universe long enough to leave any genetic material.

There have been a few fictional treatments of this idea. The earliest I know of was by the 'hard sf' writer Larry Niven in his stories about Hanville Svetz, collected originally in The Flight of the Horse (more recently in Rainbow Mars). Svetz is a state functionary in a far-future world where pollution has killed off all plants and animals except those preserved in parks and zoos.

The despot of the day sends Svetz back in time to nab various historic creatures, artefacts etc, but it emerges that the time machine can't function in our universe because it would generate the usual paradoxes. Instead it slews about all over various parallel realities where Svetz encounters mythical beings. Thus instead of a horse he brings back a unicorn, and his ostrich egg hatches out the Roc of Scheherazade's tales.

This is rather different from the 'other dimensions' routinely used by Lovecraft and his many disciples. These, so far as I can tell, bear no relation to our reality, and of course the beings in  them are not your regular monsters of folklore.

Another, related, idea is used by (among others) the sf writer Clifford Simak in his novel Out of Their Minds. Here a newsman (Simak was a reporter) stumbles across a world of mythical and fictional beings, essentially brought into existence by human imaginings. Not a parallel world, but one existing in pockets of our own.

The main problem with the parallel universe story is that it's too easy to invoke. Harry Potter? Indiana Jones? The Great Old Ones? A Thousand Year Reich victorious in WW2 and going on to conquer space? All feasible in their own universes. Perhaps for this reason parallel universe stories remain an obscure sub-genre of science fiction, with a few remarkable exceptions such as The Man in the High Castle.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

RIP Erik Bauersfeld - Voice of The Black Mass



The BBC announcement is here. Erik Bauersfeld achieved an indirect kind of stardom by voicing a minor Star Wars character who exclaimed: 'It's a trap!' What few people realised is that he'd already established a reputation as a splendid voice actor on radio. The Black Mass remains a splendid example of a low-budget, high-quality radio series that tackled literary horror tales and did a fine job. Authors whose works were adapted range from Nigel Kneale to Edgar Allan Poe, and from H.P. Lovecraft to Walter de la Mare. Here are some examples of Bauersfeld's artistry. You can access all the radio shows as MP3 downloads here.

The Debate Rages! Well, not really...

The votes for the best story in ST 31 are not exactly flooding in. Still plenty of time to vote, but let me remind you that the magazine can be had nice and cheaply for Kindle or other e-reader. The price is 99p, in English money, which is in the region of $1.50. (I set the price to the lowest allowed by Amazon.) So if you're interested, pop along to the Buy Supernatural Tales page, where you can also get print copies on demand.

And vote for your favourite story!

Monday, 4 April 2016

Ghosts & Scholars

It seems a long time since I last mentioned Ghosts & Scholars, which is both a fascinating website and a regular journal of goodies pertaining to all things M.R. Jamesian. The original magazine was dedicated to scholarship, reviews, and fiction in roughly equal amounts. At the end of the century, after two decades of flawless editorial, Ro Pardoe decided to scale things down to a regular newsletter, without the fiction. 

A lot of people missed the regular diet of excellent stories, of course, but fortunately over the last few years Ro has taken to publishing a small number of stories per issue. Why, yes, some of them are mine, why do you ask? Oh, all right, I have a story in the latest issue and some people think it's good. The point is that if you go the link above you will find yourself in Monty James heaven, with access to a huge amount of fact and fiction of excellent quality. 

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Mythical Beast Wars

I've always been fascinated by mythical or apocryphal creatures, whether they're the stuff of serious literature (as in Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings) or in the movies of Ray Harryhausen. Now there's a site that I'm sure will appeal to folk like me. Mythical Beast Wars sees artists create drawings of various unlikely creatures, then pits them against each other. 

It's easier when the combatants have something in common. Like chickenosity...

Baba Yaga Vs Pollo Maligno March Header

Baba Yaga I'd heard of, but not Pollo Maligno, a giant jungle chicken from Colombia that lures in hunters and eats them. I'm not sure how it does the luring, but I inevitably thought of this scene from a favourite film.


Hobgoblins, elves, and the automatons of Hephaestus (rather classy) all feature in Mythical Beast Wars. If I had a tithe of artistic ability I'd join in myself. It's also a good site to test your knowledge of cryptozoology, because there are quite a few supposedly real creatures I'd never heard of, such as the Pigsie, the Beast of Bray Road, and the Murphysboro Mud Monster. No, really.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Cursed (2004) - The Little Convenience Store of Horrors

A film recommended by writer Steve Duffy, this title came at the end of the remarkable J-Horror boom, following such renowned classics as Ring, The Grudge, Audition, and Dark Water. It was therefore bound to be overshadowed by its illustrious predecessors, which is a pity. It's a very good take on the idea of the 'evil place' ghost story, and as such complements rather than slavishly imitates the kind of horror produced in Japan around the millennium.

Cursed (2004 film).jpgIt doesn't help that Cursed is an unimaginative title, and one that was in fact used by a Wes Craven werewolf film released the following year. The Japanese title is translated as Extremely Scary Story A: Dark Crow. I can't help feeling A Dark Crow might have been better, although crows don't play a very big part in the film.

Cursed begins with shock horror, as two schoolgirls get off a bus and head off to a (presumably fun) rendezvous, phones in hand. One suggests that they go into the store, called Mitsuya, to get some snacks. Her friend, however, takes one look at the shop and backs away in horror. Unfortunately this takes her into the path of a truck and she is killed.

The story then jumps to another day at the store, in which a female manager, Ryoko, arrives to handle the takeover of Mitsuya by the franchise she works for. She meets Nao, a schoolgirl working as a shop assistant, and the store managers Mr and Mrs Kitura. The Kituras have a Royston Vasey vibe, not least because Mrs K wears a neck brace. Ryoko starts taking inventory without their help and strikes up a friendship with Nao, who is day assistant. Nao is admired by night assistant Komori, another student.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Pagan Triptych - a tribute to Algernon Blackwood

Over at the Sarob Press blog you'll find details of a new book. The authors who wrote the excellent Machen tribute, Romances of the White Day, have produced three new stories.

Ron Weighell ... THE LETTER KILLETH ... a tale of ancient secrets, a book of shadows and dark magic

John Howard ... IN THE CLEARING ... the mystery of trees, new beginnings and the truth of things
Mark Valentine ... THE FIG GARDEN ... a childhood game, strange rituals and pagan worship

And there's an excellent Paul Lowe cover.

Is Comedy Horror Dead?

I recently had the pleasure (?) of watching two comedy horror movies that made me wonder if the genre (or sub-genre) is dead, or at least not feeling very well. The films were Stung and Detention of the Dead, both recent movies using well-worn horror concepts. They weren't terrible - there were some good performances, nicely-done scenes, amusing lines, that sort of thing. But the tone, in both cases, was all over the place.



Detention of the Dead (2012): 'A group of oddball high school students find themselves trapped in detention with their classmates having turned into a horde of Zombies.' So it's a lot like Buffy but nobody has superpowers, and sure enough we have the familiar American high school cast of late teens - there's a Goth girl who likes the nerd, whose into the cheerleader, who in turn is giving blow-jobs to the bully, who has a jock friend who's buying from the stoner. They're in detention when a zombie outbreak occurs, and they're picked off one by one until only two survive.

The movie is, interestingly, based on a play, and was perhaps a little padded for the big screen - some scenes feel as if they've been shoved in to extend running time. The characters have a theatrical feel, talking about their hopes and fears rather too rhetorically for the small town kids they're supposed to be. All of which would be forgiveable if the horror was truly horrific and the comedy was more fun. But one of the key 'funny' scenes involves the nerd getting his balls grabbed by a zombie arm that's then ripped off. Cue much supposed merriment as the stoner tried to pull the arm off. Talky, predictable, and unfunny. Not a stinker, by any means, but a waste of a talented cast.



The same can be said for Stung (2015), a German production whose creators could afford to hire three American actors for the lead roles - and one of them is Lance Henrikson. The premise is simple - two caterers arrive at a remote mansion for a big party at which the guest of honour is the local mayor (Henrikson). Mutant wasps created by dodgy fertilizer attack the guests, and do that thing where they lay their eggs inside their victims' bodies. The twist is that the hatchling wasps are the same size as the creature they grow inside, so man-sized insects are produced - in about three minutes flat.

So, all premise of sci-fi plausibility is gone, leaving big wasps killing off a dwindling number of resourceful survivors. The direction is patchy, with Henrikson under-used (he was only available for a week) and much unengaging action. This is one of those films where a monster that can cut through a door is somehow weak enough to be held off by a not-very-big hero. The chase scenes are oddly slow and clunky given that wasps are famously swift and remorseless creatures. Eventually the caterers do destroy the menace, but there is of course a twist ending. I had to agree with the IMDb commenter who stopped following the plot quite early and started noticing structural flaws.