Wednesday, 30 November 2016

This Spectacular Darkness

Tartarus Press is publishing a collection of critical essays by the late Joel Lane. The title of the book comes from a piece published in ST. Joel was a great supporter of the magazine in its early years and contributed several stories. He was a very modest man, but I don't think he'd mind me saying that his interest gave the young ST some kudos it would otherwise have lacked.



Contents: 'Foreword’ by Mark Valentine, ‘Acknowledgments’, Critical Essays for Wormwood by Joel Lane: ‘The Dark Houses of Cornell Woolrich’, ‘The October Revolution: Ray Bradbury’s Existential Paradigm for the Horror Genre’, ‘The Territory of the Others: The Dark Fiction of Theodore Sturgeon’, ‘No Secret Place: The Haunted Cities of Fritz Leiber’, ‘Ruins of Time: The Mortal Terrors of Harlan Ellison’, ‘The Ruins of Reality: Thomas Ligotti and the Uses of Disenchantment’, ‘World Gone Wrong: H.P. Lovecraft’s Mythology of Loss’, ‘Forever Always Ends: Robert Aickman’s Visions of Afterlife’. Other Critical Essays by Joel Lane: ‘Strange Eons and the Cthulhu Mythos’, ‘Negatives in Print: The Early Novels of Ramsey Campbell’, ‘Beyond the Light: The Recent Novels of Ramsey Campbell’, ‘Writers in the James Tradition: Ramsey Campbell’, ‘The Double Edge: Robert Aickman’s Supernatural Stories’, ‘The Master of Masks’, ‘A Dream by the Old Canal’, ‘Hell is Other People: Robert Bloch and the Pathologies of the Family’. Appreciations of the Writings of Joel Lane: ‘Mapping the Territory: Joel Lane’s Essays’, by John Howard, ‘The Paper Ghosts: Reflections on Five Early Stories’, by Mark Valentine, ‘“Where the Gods are Rotting”: The Poetry of Joel Lane’, by Mat Joiner, ‘Socialism or Barbarism: Joel Lane’s Blue Trilogy and the poetry of the lost’, by Nina Allan. ‘Publication History.’

 

'The Devil of Christmas' - Inside No. 9

The splendid comedy/horror series returns for a third outing, and begins with a Christmas special airing on Tuesday, December 27th. This sounds rather wonderful. And yes, that is Rula Lenska on the left.

Inside No. 9. Image shows from L to R: Celia (Rula Lenska), Julian Devonshire (Steve Pemberton), Kathy Devonshire (Jessica Raine), Klaus (Reece Shearsmith), Toby Devonshire (George Bedford). Copyright: BBC.

It is Austria, Krampusnacht, December 1977. Julian Devonshire, his pregnant wife Kathy, their son Toby and mother in law Celia arrive at the alpine chalet for a family holiday. They are shown around by Klaus who tells the family about the local legend of The Devil of Christmas. All the good children are given gifts by St. Nicholas, and all the bad ones are punished by the demonic Krampus. But who has been good, and who has been bad?

Monday, 28 November 2016

'The Moonlit Road'

I've probably posted this before but it's a great story, a dramatisation of one of the best supernatural tales by that master of cruel ambiguities, Ambrose Bierce. It's on my YouTube channel, where you will find various things.

Psychic Pheasant George - A Nation Mourns



That's one less psychic pheasant in a world that desperately needs hope. Sad.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Horror Stories (including a couple of mine)

Here is a collection of stories from Scare Street that seems to be free on Kindle at the moment, and is quite reasonably priced in paperback. Ideal Christmas present for those difficult cousins, aunties, between-maids, that sort of thing.

Horror Stories: A Short Story Collection (Scare Street Horror Short Stories Book 4) by [Ripley, Ron, Whittle, Eric, Clancy, Sara, Longhorn, David, Nasser, A.I.]

There are two stories by me in it. One, 'Urbex', is a short but nonetheless repellent item set in modern Britain, or under it. Some people meet in a pub and then go and do something silly. It's that realistic. The other story, 'The Sin Eater', is set in rural England in Victorian times and concerns a strange ritual that the squire disapproves of but the vicar tolerates. Anyway, it's a book, and its here.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Inside No. 9 returns!

Yes, those wacky dudes Steve Pembertson and Reece Shearsmith are bringing another season of strangeness to our telescreens. What's more, the first episode of the third season/series of Inside No. 9 is a Christmas special...
The new episode due to be broadcast this December is titled The Devil Of Christmas, which stars Rula Lenska and Jessica Raine alongside Shearsmith and Pemberton. First revealed earlier this year at the Starburst Film Festival, the episode is set around an alpine chalet and involves the horned "half-goat, half-demon" Krampus character from Austro-Bavarian folklore. Set in 1978, it has been filmed by the production team using old 1970s filming equipment as a homage to the era.

It's a bit of playful 1970s comedy/horror with Rula Lenska in it. That's how you do it.
The other five episodes from Series 3 are then expected to be shown on BBC Two in early 2017. Settings include a restaurant after closing time and an art gallery. As previously reported, guest stars across the run will include Felicity Kendal, Jason Watkins, Keeley Hawes, Mathew Baynton, Philip Glenister, Sarah Hadland and Morgana Robinson.
Inside No. 9. Image shows from L to R: Celia (Rula Lenska), Julian Devonshire (Steve Pemberton), Kathy Devonshire (Jessica Raine), Klaus (Reece Shearsmith), Toby Devonshire (George Bedford). Copyright: BBC.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Update on Channel Zero

The first Channel Zero serial, Candle Cove, is currently running on the UK's Channel 5. No jokes about that, now. It's available free on demand via the My5 site, here. Having watched the first two episodes, I find it pretty good so far.

1. It's a lot darker than I thought. Child murder is never exactly a jolly subject, but this is small town America at its most peculiar and disturbing.

2. Impressive casting and production values - not lavish, but technically well up to par.

3. No idea how much of the craziness is in the protagonist's head. It's an old trick, yes, but we are given plenty of hints that something other than a mental breakdown is going on, here.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Marrying Ghosts

I give it six months. Or eternity. Whichever seems longer. I mean, you marry a dead person, you've got nothing in common, they want to stay in all the time, there's no conversation. Cold feet in the middle of your back at bedtime. Brrr.

Anyway, here's an item about the surprisingly widespread practice of marrying the dead.

Posthumous marriage—that is, nuptials in which one or both members of the couple are dead—is an established practice in China, Japan, Sudan, France, and even the United States, among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The procedural and legal nuances of each approach vary wildly between cultures, but here is an overview of how to tie the knot with someone who isn’t quite alive...

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Reader Poll - Issue 33

Yes, it's time for you to cast your vote for the best story in the last issue. As you can see, we have a panoply of talent, ranging from ST veterans to newcomers.

The poll runs until just before Christmas, which is disturbingly near. So, read the stories and vote! Winner receives the almost unimaginable sum of £25, which used to be a lot of money.

Image result for voting

The Singing Ringing Tree - Disturbing Tales from Europe

Someone in the comments for the previous entry mention this 1970s TV series. Well, I'm old enough to remember it, and it was indeed a disturbing piece of work. It also has interesting origins. Over to you, Mr Google,..
The Singing Ringing Tree (German: Das singende, klingende Bäumchen) was a children's film made by East German studio DEFA in 1957 and shown in the form of a television series by the BBC. It was a story in the style of the Brothers Grimm, directed by Francesco Stefani.
It was quite lavish stuff by Eastern Bloc standards. But what made it stand out in the BBC's 'Tales from Europe' strand for kiddies was that every other scene contained something striking and/or disturbing. I mean, this is one of the less weird bits. Checkout that goldfish. Flippin' 'eck.



Here's a Telegraph article on the DVD release. Yes, there is one...
The BBC's reliance on Continental and, particularly, Eastern European children's drama came about through an administrative anomaly. For a brief period in the early Sixties, the children's programmes department was unable to make drama programmes of its own, and was forced to scout round foreign film festivals for suitable material. 
Much of what they found had a poetic resonance that British television has only rarely achieved, principally because they were made not by television companies, but by their respective countries' national film industries, which were all heavily subsidised.
Ah, the good old BBC cock-up that led to communist fairy tales appearing at tea time. Actually I think they had a fairly benevolent effect.

If you want to see a list of all the Tales from Europe, covering both sides of the Iron Curtain plus Mongolia, it is here. And it would be completely wrong for me to end this without featuring the greatest theme tune of all. It's not classed as a Tale from Europe, but it is a dubbed Euro-series that we lucky oldies saw as kids.




Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Channel Zero

A hat-tip to author Steve Duffy for this one, a new TV series on SyFy. Each season of Channel Zero features a six-part, self-contained story. The first stars Paul Schneider (Mark in the first season of Parks & Recreation) and British thesp Fiona Shaw. Here is the synopsis of the first story, 'Candle Cove'.
What happened to Mike Painter's twin brother back in the summer of 1988? How is his death connected to Candle Cove, a children's show which no one seems to remember, and exists only as a whisper of a memory in Mike's mind? And how are they connected to a mysterious child made of human teeth?
A mysterious child made of human teeth? I'm in!

The premise of the story is that a small group of people remember a creepy children's puppet show called Candle Cove. It seems to have a very disturbing effect on anyone who sees it. Thus television is made from television. It's a natural progression from the old days when ghost stories were often based on rare books, collections of letters, and the like. The difference, of course, is that an old television broadcast can pop up almost anywhere these days (but most probably on YouTube).

Anyway, I'll be keeping a weather eye out for Channel Zero. It sounds interesting.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Folklore Thursday - The Bunyip

Folklore Thursday is an Internet Thing, but even old codgers like me can get into it. The idea is to spread some folklore about the place in the form of links on Twitter etc. The actual site is here, as is an item about the Bunyip, a mysterious mythical beast from Down Under.

Eye-witnesses claimed the Bunyip was like a forty-five foot long snake or a type of alligator or covered in grey feathers. Evidence of the Bunyip was hard to find but in 1847 a Bunyip skull was exhibited in the Sydney Museum and thousands flocked to view it. Although, the skull has now been substantiated as the remains of a deformed foal or calf. 
I heard about the Bunyip as a youngster, perhaps because it featured in quite a few Australian TV series and films show in Britain. It's an interesting example of a mythical beast that was considered to be real by many people for years in the 'modern' era. As a swamp monster with snakey tendencies it seems to be a distant cousin of that much-loved Victorian chimera, the sea serpent.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Donald Pleasence as Carnacki

For those who don't know, Donald Pleasence (1919-95) was a British actor whose career spanned several decades and who appeared in a wide range of films and TV shows. One of his first major roles was as Syme, the Newspeak expert, in Nigel Kneale's BBC adaptation of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the Sixties Pleasence played Blofeld opposite Sean Connery's James Bond in You Only Live Twice. But he was best known for horror movie roles, such as Dr. Sam Loomis in the Halloween series.

Anyway, here he is in a British TV adaptation of one of William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki stories, 'The Horse of the Invisible'. It's part of a fascinating series of stand-alone dramas entitled The Rivals of Sherlock Homes. Like most supernatural drama of the period it's long on acting talent and short on visual effects, and some may find the conclusion a tad risible. But I think it's worth it to see a fine actor bring his talents to the role of a major figure in weird fiction.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

'Rolf'

I've come to the end of The Girl with the Peacock Harp by Michael Eisle. and a very impressive debut collection it is.

The final story has a classic setup, in which an old beggar asks to share the fire of a group of apprentice stonemasons. Rolf is a garrulous old chap and, in return for warmth and some good ale, he offers to repay his young hosts with a story. The tale he tells is of a talented young mason, not unlike his hosts, who was too ambitious. As a result he found himself with an unusual patron, and ended up facing a terrible ethical dilemma.

Again, then, we have the theme of the gifted, creative, or otherwise exceptional outsider. This is Eisele country, exploring the world of the nomad, the genius, the misfit through the medium of weird fiction. The widely-travelled author's fascination with unusual and marginal characters shines through, as does his compassion.

I ought to add that the title of this volume is taken not from a story but from a short narrative poem that perhaps owes something to Fitzgerald's famous translation of Omar Khayyam. Here again we have the theme of the outsider. The eponymous harpist is a European in the Middle East during (or shortly after) the period of the crusades, and her song is of 'the lonely road'. Against her is set another exile, a bigoted monk with all-too-familiar attitudes towards women and culture. The clash between them takes on a mystical resonance.

I think this book will appeal to anyone who enjoys richly-imagined, intelligent fiction. They are not easy to classify, and certainly don't qualify as horror or ghost stories per se. Instead they occupy a fascinating region where myth and legend overlap with the fears and crises of all-too-real world.

'Died in House'


A website has been created so that people can look up their address and find out how many people have died there.

The website is called Diedinhouse.com and uses information from news announcements, death certificates and police records to identify whether or not one or more people have died at an address. 

Saturday, 5 November 2016

'The Change'

'The change came as he was sleeping. There was barely time to prepare himself as the pain ripped through him, his muscles rippling and knotting and every joint in his body, it seemed, being stretched to the breaking point.'

The penultimate story in The Girl with the Peacock Harp is a tricky one. Michael Eisele offers an interesting variation on one of the most familiar tropes of horror fiction. I could add that it was used quite recently by scriptwriter X in TV series Y, but I'm not going to. No spoilers from me! But it could add that the vignette 'The Eyes' is something of a pendant to this longer tale.

Instead of blabbing about the central idea, let me say that it's a well-crafted story that deals with confusion, isolation, and fear. The outcast, in one form or another, dominates this collection. Here the nature of protagonist is implicitly supernatural, but the same sense of alienation is found among 'natural' characters, too. Eisele is on the side of the outsider, like many authors of weird fiction before him. Again and again the man/woman/child/being who seeks to escape the straitjacket of convention must battle for freedom, and sometimes wins.

Last story tomorrow! And, if you haven't clicked on the link above, you're missing a chance to look at a very beautiful book.

Friday, 4 November 2016

'Monkey'

Today's story from The Girl with the Peacock Harp is set in contemporary Britain. Nadia Marabet, a British-born Arab Muslim, is sent to do community service at a psychiatric hospital. There she encounters a boy dubbed Monkey, who was found in mysterious circumstances and is assumed to be autistic. However, Monkey's strange, cat-like eyes and his ability to speak Arabic leads Nadia to form a rather different theory.

As with the previous story, 'Kelpie', Michael Eisele here offers a variation on a theme from folklore. In this case the supernatural being is one familiar from The Thousand and One Nights, but the author rings the changes by having a djinn or genie encounter a clever, resourceful modern woman who is not interested in having wishes granted. Or at least, not for her. The story also use the classic 'be careful what you wish for' theme in a new and interesting way. The conclusion may not be entirely surprising to anyone who recalls the X-Files episode 'Je Souhaite'.

The Britain Nadia inhabits is not a particularly pleasant one. Bigotry and corruption flourish, and minorities are objects of suspicion  or worse. But there is still an optimistic tone to the tale, and in general Eisele is less pessimistic than many modern authors of weird fiction.

I'll have another mini-review tomorrow!


Clash of the Icons

Everyone knows John Carpenter's soundtracks for his early movies, if you know his early movies. Here someone has taken the distinctive, minimalist, Carpenter approach and applied to another iconic piece of pop culture, the Doctor Who theme. I think it's rather good.





Thursday, 3 November 2016

'Kelpie'

Today's story from Michael Eisele's first collection, The Girl with the Peacock Harp, features a relatively neglected being from Celtic folklore. I've always like the Kelpie, or water-horse. (One of the many Loch Ness investigations was named Project Water Horse.) Depending on which source you read the kelpie can be bad news, but in some cases it is benevolent.

The kelpie's ambiguous nature is evoked in this story, which is set in an Ireland not known to history. This is an land where witches are ducked in ponds and the Witchfinder General (a very English, Puritan concept that never crossed the Irish Sea) strikes terror into humble peasant folk.

Young Dara is known to be a girl with strange powers, but she survives ducking by an apparent miracle. Dara has some mystical link to the element of water, and enjoys the protection of the nuns at what appears to be a Catholic sanctuary. However, all is not quite as it seems.

This story shines when Eisele describes the emergence of the kelpie, and the way in which Dara tries to harness the elemental being. There is a poetic feeling of liberation as the put-upon girl rides away, and a coda that suggests her future will be even stranger than her past and present.

Another story reviewed in miniature tomorrow!

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Ghost Poll

The poll asking 'Do You Believe in Ghosts' ended with a draw between 'Yes' and 'No, but I'm still scared of them'. There were a few Maybes and only one straight No.

What does this prove? I've no idea. If ghosts exist we are all ghosts, and I'm typing this during a brief sojourn in a fleshly form. With sausage fingers.

Image result for ghosts

'Milosh' & 'Sanity'

Not one but two stories by Michael Eisele today, because I went to bed early last night. Yes, I read in bed, what of it? I have a hot water bottle and always wrap up warm.

Anyway, both these tales return to themes already explored earlier in The Girl with the Peacock Harp. 'Milosh', which has no supernatural elements, is the simple tale of a Roma/gypsy lad who falls in love with a young woman who plays him false. It's nicely wrought, and it's message that the outcasts are often better people than self-styled civilised folk seems apposite these days.

'Sanity' surprised me a little, in that it seems a little too like 'What Dreams May Come'. Here again we have a woman in contemporary America who imagines that she is a being of great power in another world. There is a twist, but it's a little too predictable for old Buffy fans like myself. Another problem is that the fantasy world where Magda, the protagonist, is a powerful mage made me think of Dungeons and Dragons. So, a bit out of my wheelhouse, I'm afraid.

Never mind. More of my fascinating insights tomorrow!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

'Frogs'

We're back in eastern Europe for the next story in The Girl with the Peacock Harp by Michael Eisele. This time, though, we are not Tsarist Russia or Austria-Hungary, but in Soviet-occupied Poland. In  this vignette a Russian police officer encounters a beautiful woman and, fancying his chances, arranges a rendezvous of a fateful night. Rejecting the warnings of the local priest, he suffers the same fate as an army of Mongol conquerors centuries earlier...

This is a slight but atmospheric tale, in which magic is interwoven with the grim, bloody chaos that engulfed most of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. It's tempting to try and see Eisele as having an over-arching world view, given how he homes in on certain crucial periods. But of course an author can simply find turbulent times interesting for their own sake.

Another story will be reviewed tomorrow.

Closed to Submissions!

Sorry, but that's it for another year! I've been deluged, as per usual, with stories. Many are of a very high quality and I'm pleased - as always - that ST is attracting so many writers with such a divers range of styles, ideas, and approaches. Thank you to everyone who submitted.