Thursday, 16 November 2017

'Little Heart'



Georgia Bruce - a writer new to me - contributes a remarkable story to the Impostor Syndrome anthology It's not easy to summarise. The first sentence is 'This woman liked to break things', and the theme of things being broken, and the damage caused by the debris, runs through the tale.

Anna's mother was a famous film actress in black and white cinema days, and her most famous performance was in a rather Gothic production. Shown the film as a little girl Anna struggles to reconcile the on-screen woman - 'the wrong mother' - with the mother she knows. On screen her mother shatters glass, cuts her feet walking on the shards. This image is central to Anna's development as an artist, and what may be her eventually mental breakdown.

A thread of confusion and doubt runs through a precisely-written story that has intensely cinematic qualities. The power of the projected image, the curious nature of mirrors, and the incursions of a terrifying bird-like entity almost cry out for screen adaptation. And yet the exploration of Anna's inner life would be impossible off the page. The author's prose is cool, but like a piece of broken glass in the hand it draws blood.

And that almost completes this running review. One more story to go!


Monday, 13 November 2017

Cabaret Sadako

It had to happen. The by-now rather tired horror movie trope of the long-hair Asian girl creeping about the place and pouncing on people has moved into mainstream showbiz.
Riana’s gimmick is definitely a reference to The Ring’s Sadako and similarly scary female spirits, with her long hair falling in front of her face and schoolgirl-like outfit, while her doll calls to mind Annabelle from The Conjuring. Her ability to totally stay in character while still lending her trick a touch humor (and keeping it creepy) shows The Sacred Riana is quite a talented performer.

The Sacred Riana did not appear out of thin air on the set of Asia’s Got Talent. Her real name is Marie Antoinette Riana Graharani and she’s been performing in Indonesia, at magic shows and in numerous TV performances, for a few years now. 

Marie Antoinette? This just gets better.




Friday, 10 November 2017

'The Wrong House'

Tracey Fahey's contribution to Impostor Syndrome is compact and straightforward, but still manages a cruel twist.

A man becomes convinced that his wife, daughter, and home are all spurious - this is not the family he remembers, not the home he used to wake up to. He goes to work, feeling relieved when he escapes 'the wrong house' - but when he gets to work it seems that he is on extended leave. Confusion. A colleague's remarks hint at something wrong, and a medical appointment leads to a revelation that cannot be borne.

 I found 'The Wrong House' moving, a story that is humane and decent while avoiding any sentimentality. In a way it's a tale of everyday horror, the stuff of news reports that we barely notice most of the time. Here there is no malice, only the terrible weight of the truth that so many of us struggle to bear.

Only two more stories to go in this review. Remember to check out the link above for details about the book!

The Sound of Horror

What is the sound of horror? 'Ker-thunk!'? 'Eeek!'? 'Squelchy-squelchy!'? Possibly. But it is also a radio show down in Brighton and Hove, where Tom Johnston discusses the genre and introduces readings by Thana Niveau. But let the blurb for the show tell you more...
The Sound of Horror. Local writer Tom Johnstone discusses the importance of sound in horror, drawing from radio, film and music he will examine his favourite subject for Halloween. As an example of radio-based horror fiction, we'll hear an extract from Thana Niveau's terrifying short story 'Two Five Seven', about numbers stations. if listeners want to find out what happens in the remainder of 'Two Five Seven', they'll need to buy a copy of The Eleventh Black Book of Horror from Mortbury Press...& More info about the author at thananiveau.com
We'll also hear one of Tom's supernatural stories, 'The Apotheosis of Jenny Swallow'
More info at tomjohnstone.wordpress.com US editor Ellen Datlow has tipped him as a 'name to watch' in contemporary horror fiction.
Music from Scott Walker, David Bowie, John Carpenter, The Kinks, Grinderman and more. Listen and learn
First broadcast on Bhcr.org.uk
Some pretty good music, there, and of course the Carpenter movie themes create the ideal ambience. Great stuff. Follow the link to listen - if you dare!

You probably dare. I was just being a bit rhetorical.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

'Hold My Hand and I'll Take You There'

This story in Impostor Syndrome left me a tad puzzled. What is it about, and where does the imposture occur? Ralph Robert Moore's tale is a moving, clinically precise account of two lives that could, should, and perhaps did in some sense intersect. It is arguably a story about the What Ifs of life, and in this case love. The title, I think, is a clue. It's a beautiful song, but it is sung by star-crossed lovers parted by death. The story told here is (in its way) beautiful but death casts its shadow over all.

We begin with Noah, a small boy who gets seriously ill. As we're in America his parents have to pay vast sums for his leukaemia treatment, but it seems to be failing. Noah's illness drives his parents apart, adding to his suffering. Meanwhile a young woman called Audrey is suffering from increasingly severe mental illness, one that isolates and almost destroys her. But one day, undergoing yet another bout of treatment, Audrey sees a TV news item about Noah...

Does Noah survive, grow up to become a caring, strong person? Does he meet and marry Audrey? Is there marriage long, difficult, and yet the best - in its way - that either could have hoped for? Or is their life together a kind of hybrid fantasy of two people adrift on the wilder shores of reality? I've no idea, but it's a damn good piece of writing. I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually. Almost sure.

Approaching the end of the anthology! So far I have not disliked a single story. Will I get to the end of this running review with nothing serious to complain about? Watch this space, don't touch that dial, and so forth.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

'Other People's Dreams'



Stephen Bacon's story in Impostor Syndrome nods to Edgar Allan Poe, among other Gothicists, despite a thoroughly realistic setting and premise. The first-person narrator is the amnesiac survivor of a terrorist bombing in Nuremberg. Why Nuremberg? Well, in part because of Kaspar Hauser, whose mysterious appearance and equally mysterious and violent death continue to intrigue many.

The nameless survivor - who seems to be British but has no ID - is plagued by nightmares that he comes to believe are someone else's dreams. When he catches sight of a man who seems to be his double he develops a plan that will allow him to return to normality. This is a tricksy tale, in that I was left uncertain as to whether the supposed doppelganger ever existed. This is not a failing, for me, as unnerving confusion is a very acceptable horror ingredient.

I'm past the halfway point in this anthology and am well satisfied with the standard thus far. More to come soon.


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

The Similars (2015)

Imagine a horror movie so strange that it resists easy categorisation. Imagine a Mexican film set in 1968, in a bus station. Imagine a plot that defies logic but has a remorseless, dream-like coherence. Imagine me writing an entire review like this. But it's difficult to stop, because this slightly ropy Rod Serling-style intro is just what The Similars offers. Among other things.



The Similars is one of those films that I watch all the way through because I'm genuinely intrigued. What on earth, I ask myself, is going to happen next? Superficially it's a tale of sci-fi horror, as a group of disparate individuals end up in a bus station some distance from Mexico City in a torrential storm. The rain is so bad that it's made road travel impossible. This is bad news for Ulises, a man whose wife is giving birth in a city hospital. He can't get to her, and is understandably stressed out by the unhelpful attitude of the sleazy old station manager, Martin.

Martin spends more time reading girly mags than attending to his duties. There's another occupant of the station, a Native American woman who apparently can't speak Spanish but seems intent on conducting rituals and issuing warnings in her native tongue. She clearly Knows Something. Enter a pregnant woman, Irene, who is desperate to escape a violent relationship. In the washroom Irene encounters the other member of staff, the slightly barmy Roberta. Another arrival, medical student Alvaro, looks remarkably like a groovy Peter Sellers, which I probably found more amusing than I should have done. Alvaro is apparently on his way to a big anti-government protest.. Last come a sick child, Ignacio, and his mother Gertrudis. The continued absence of buses cause stress, then come radio announcements suggesting that the rain is not normal. It seems to be causing strange transformations in people exposed to it, unspecified but shocking...

I won't spoil it by telling you what happens. Suffice to say it's a genuinely weird tale, as if Rod Serling roughed out an episode of the X-Files in partnership with Philip K. Dick. Sci-fi, sort of, horror quite definitely, but arguably it's also supernatural too. And it's a retro piece, replete with Sixties fashions and attitudes, especially in the clashes between the student and authority figures. It also has a period look. Apparently writer-director Isaac Ezban wanted to make it a black and white film, but settled for washed-out colours. All in all, this is a major change from anyone's usual fare.

Image result for the similars

Saturday, 4 November 2017

'The Insider'

Continuing my running review of Impostor Syndrome we come to Neil Williamson's tale of psychological horror.

It strikes me that all of the stories thus far have been timely, in that they deal with ideas or themes that are in the air. Folk horror, identity theft, the contentious history of empire and colonisation. 'The Insider' is also bang up to date with its subject of a Twitter troll who appears to have stolen the identity of an amiable company guy who never seems to get the promotions he deserves. But things are, as they say, not quite what they seem.

This is a concise, economical tale that pulls no punches in its depiction of what's become known as toxic masculinity. We see the self-assessed 'nice guy' who bigoted online from both sides. It's implicit that the modern corporate environment, and by extension the world is creates, is a swamp of resentment, fear, and dishonesty. Within this, Williamson implies, only the dark side of our natures can flourish. The better angels of our natures get clobbered every time. Well, that's what I took away from it.

So, another good one. This anthology is looking like one of the best I've seen this year. I wouldn't be surprised if award nominations and Best Of... inclusions follow in its wake. More soon.

Friday, 3 November 2017

'What's Yours Is Mine'

Holly Ice's contribution to Impostor Syndrome is, in some respects, the most straightforward story so far. Sophie visits her mother who is suffering from early onset dementia. A friend of the family reveals a secret that's been  kept from Sophie since early childhood - she has an older sister, Isabelle. The scar on Sophie's arm was not from a cycling accident. Isabelle is confined to a hospital and her mother has been visiting her regularly for decades.

Understandably staggered by this revelation Sophie decides to go and meet Isabelle, only to encounter a woman who looks uncannily like her. Things then take a nightmarish twist, one that is arguably a little too predictable. However, the story's ending has a genuine modern Gothic feel, as Sophie discovers just how dangerous Isabelle is.

'What's Yours Is Mine' is a well-written tale of existential horror, suggesting - quite rightly - that even the most ordinary-seeming family can harbour strange secrets.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

'Who Is That On the Other Side of You?'


The third story in the Impostor Syndrome anthology is an ambitious tale by Timothy J. Jarvis. The title is taken from The Waste Land, which is apt given that the setting is (mostly) Antarctica. This is the white continent of Captain Scott and his great rival Amundsen. Scott and other members of his expedition feature in the narrative, albeit peripherally. 

The focus is on two unlikely anti-heroes who arrive in the Antarctic at the same time in pursuit of a portal into the hollow earth. The two men are uncannily similar despite being unrelated - doubles who seem like identical twins. Their adventures are strange, violent, at times disturbing. The world the author creates is that of the Gilded Age, the US after the Civil War when robber barons prevailed. The author throws in magic (with even a passing reference to Aleister Crowley), to create a rich stew of decadence and vaulting ambition.

The main problem with the story is that the quest at its heart either leads into the hollow earth, or it doesn't - both are bound to be anticlimactic to some degree. Sure enough, I felt that this one did not so much end as peter out, leaving lurid splashes of colour against a bleak, white background. An interesting failure by an ambitious writer, but a failure nonetheless.

This running review will continue in a day or two. Stay tuned, and so forth.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Anthology of Anthology Horror!

Yes, someone has compiled clips from a lot of anthology horror films, thus providing a handy Hallowe'en sampler.
If the horror anthology film has a weakness, the equivalent of a wooden stake or an overbearing (and decapitated) mother, it’s that they are almost always, by their very nature, uneven. Whether one director is in charge or the stories have been divvied up among a group, the result is still usually a mixed bag...
Here's a bit I hadn't seen, from the Italian movie Black Sabbath. I didn't know there were Italian horror movies.



And here's one of the nastier bits of the Amicus classic Tales from the Crypt. A brutal ex-army officer has taken over a home for the blind and begun mistreating the residents. Needless to say...



Finallly, here's a clip from a French antho film I should have mentioned earlier - Fears of the Dark.



Don't have nightmares!

Friday, 27 October 2017

Impostor Syndrome - 'In the Marrow'

Laura Mauro's contribution to the Impostor Syndrome anthology draws on Irish folklore and modern medical science to produce a remarkable story. Is it a coming-of-age tale? Not exactly, though it concerns pre-teen twins at a time of great change in their lives.

At twelve confident Hazel is developing faster than quiet, uncertain Tara. Despite this new distance between them the twins still share a secret life, heading out after school for the lough near their home, where they set traps for faeries. Not that they believe in faeries, not really. They're no longer little kids. But their custom is belief of a kind, and becomes crucial when Tara collapses and is diagnosed with leukaemia.

The mysteries and terrors of childhood illness are perfectly described, here, with an added weird touch. Hazel becomes convinced that Tara is not, in fact, her sister at all, but a changeling. She is of course trying to rationalise away the unbearable truth that her sister is dying. Or is she? No spoilers here. I'll just say that the story is excellent, and could not have been more artfully completed.

More impostors (real or imagined) in due course.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Impostor Syndrome - New Anthology

Doubles, doppelgangers, people who impersonate minor celebrities for a living - two of those are weird. No, make that all three. The excellent James Everington has co-edited, with Dan Howarth, a selection of stories based on the disturbing notion that, out there, is somebody who looks exactly like you. Or me. Possibly both. The point is that Impostor Syndrome will soon be published by Dark Minds Press, and you can find details here.

I have received a PDF of the book from James and will be doing one of my running reviews over the next fortnight or so. The contents page is interesting, offering what I like best - a mix of authors whose work I know and like, and some who I have not encountered before.

First up is a story by Gary McMahon. 'I Know What They Look Like' is a gritty tale of modern urban horror which (I suspect) nods towards Taxi Driver and the sub-genre of the urban vigilante thriller. A cab driver takes a fare who is his double - or is the driver deluded, insane? Violence in the name of justice, or vengeance, occurs - but is the protagonist a hero, however deluded, or a villain? This is a punchy start, perhaps deliberately so, to emphasise that the theme of the double is not just a quaint, olde worlde notion. It is a valid in the context of modern, increasingly brutalised Britain as anywhere else.

So, a good start. Stay tuned for more doppelgangers!

Ghost Impersonators

Have you ever wondered when people started going around in sheets pretending to be ghosts, possibly shouting 'Woo! WOOOO!' during the process? Neither had it, but it has been drawn to my attention that the tradition is as old as it is silly. And it could get you killed. The story of the Hammersmith Ghost is new to me, and one well worth retelling, given the sheer number of ghost impersonators of all sizes liable to descend upon us very soon.
The Hammersmith Ghost.
Ghost or not, there was undoubtedly a public menace in Hammersmith, and people wanted it gone. A bounty of 10 pounds would be awarded to anybody who caught it.
The story is also told here on a legal blog. 
In December 1803, villagers claimed a ghost, covered in a white shroud, was confronting travelers and, in some cases, physically attacking them.
There were lots of other cases, as it seems our ancestors were both very credulous and amply supplied with linen etc. But there was a very serious side to the dressing up,  especially in the days before organised police forces and adequate street lighting.
Like many other pastimes in 19th century Britain, ghost impersonating was a gendered activity: Women, especially young female servants, were often restricted to mimicking poltergeist activity indoors—rapping on doors, moving furniture, throwing rocks at windows—while the sheet-wearing hijinks were reserved for young men who, far too often, had scuzzy intentions.
All in all, fascinating reads. I'm indebted to author Steve Duffy for drawing my attention to this interesting corner of social history.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Hallowe'en Movies - The Mysterious East

Apart from a handful of movies like KWAIDAN relatively few East Asian horror movies were on my white Western radar. Then along came THE RING and suddenly I was immersed in dark-haired ghosts lurking in the attic, emerging from the telly, chasing kids up and down corridors, and just generally misbehaving. Great stuff. But which J-Horror, K-Horror, and just general E-Horror are best for Hallowe'en?



JU-ON/THE GRUDGE - Arguably the most terrifying of the lot. It works well on all the levels you want - scary ghost,  haunted house, curse, neatly knitted plot. It's also one of those films that offers no real escape or restitution, just a remorseless working out of fate. There is a series of Ju-On movies but, oddly, the first to be released in cinemas was the third. 


DARK WATER - A milder dose of horror than the Ju-On movies, with a more traditional ghostly feel. This is a character-drive supernatural drama in a rainy, bleak Japan that has its own offbeat beauty. When a mother and daughter move to a run-down apartment a tragedy is slowly revealed, and a sacrifice must be made.


HANSEL AND GRETEL - A dark fantasy based on the Grimm fairy tale, but with a twist. In this version was man who crashes his car on a lonely road meets a little girl in the woods. She takes him to a warm, friendly house among the trees where three children and their doting parents seem to live an idyllic life. But the truth is very different...

Monday, 23 October 2017

Hallowe'en Movies - Anthology Horror

Or, if you like, portmanteau horror. Horror films with lots of stories in them, that's the point. It's a genre that was invented in Britain and perhaps the best examples were produced here. But there are some cracking examples from overseas. So, here goes...

DEAD OF NIGHT - Made immediately after World War II by Ealing Studios (far better known for comedy) as a bit of pure entertainment. Horror was explicitly banned during the war in Britain, so DOF represented a return to normality for the film industry. It was also an opportunity to showcase acting and directorial talent. The stories are variable in terms of chills, but all have their virtues. The adaptation of E.F. Benson's 'The Bus Conductor' is pretty good, the comedy interlude based on Wells' 'The Inexperienced Ghost' is pleasant. Those two old faithfuls, the country house ghost and the haunted mirror, are both handled well. But of course the most memorable sequence concerns Micheal Redgrave's ventriloquist that stands out, especially as it leads to a rather good pseudo-twist ending.



KWAIDAN/KAIDAN - Very different from Dead of Night in almost every way, but undeniably an anthology horror movie based on tales by Lafacadio Hearn. The title means 'ghost story' and all four tales are supernatural. 'Black Hair' is an effective start, a tale of the samurai who abandons his faithful wife, then returns to her years later only to find her apparently unchanged. 'The Woman of the Snows' is my personal favourite, a cruel tale of a simple man who encounters a kind of vampire. 'Hoichi the Earless' is steeped in folklore and bloody Japanese history. The tricky vignette 'In a Cup of Tea' offers a playful conclusion.



TALES FROM THE CRYPT - No list of anthology horror films would be complete without an Amicus production. While ASYLUM, VAULT OF HORROR, and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE are very enjoyable, this one is arguably the best of the bunch. Yes, it's the one with Joan Collins. Also Roy Dotrice, Ian Hendry, Peter Cushing, and no lesser thesp than Ralph Richardson as the Crypt Keeper. It's wondrous hokum, with five strangers getting lost on a tour of Somewhere Spooky and being told that their futures are to be reviewed. Guess what? None of them are going to live to a ripe old age, and one of them is going to be done in by Santa.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Hallowe'en Movies - Folk Horror

Here are some folk horror movies that aren't THE WICKER MAN, BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW, or WITCHFINDER GENERAL. Such strange entities do exist. Perhaps the best examples were created for British TV in the Seventies, but there are a few films out there that use folkloric ideas and/or imagery.

ABSENTIA - A relatively low-budget chiller with the premise that monsters lurk in dark places, waiting to ensnare unwary travellers. In this case the lair of the entity is an underpass near the home of a woman whose husband vanished seven years before the film begins. While low key for most of its length, this one has at least one moment of visceral horror.



THALE - A Norwegian tale of huldras, mysterious forest-dwelling entities. The film begins when a clean-up crew go to the house of an apparent suicide and find a secret basement room, complete with weird equipment. They also discover what seems to be a beautiful young woman, Thale, who soon turns out to have strange powers. It''s pretty good for a low-budget film and offers a new take on the old question, 'Who are the real monsters here?'



NIGHT OF THE DEMON - Well, why not? Here we have a witch-cult active in rural England, complete with rituals, symbols, horrific deaths. The very idea of casting the runes is rooted in magical tradition. All of the adaptations of M.R. James stories are to some extent folk horror because they are rooted in landscape and rural beliefs in a way that most Gothic fiction is not.




Saturday, 21 October 2017

Hallowen'en Movies - Lovecraftiana!

Yes, old Howard P. has inspired a shedload of movies, some good, some bad, some a bit meh. Here are a few that range from respectful adaptation to thematic homage to... well, silly but fun.

THE CALL OF CTHULHU - A silent film by the HPL Historical Society, this is a spiffing effort. It succeeds in recreating the essence of early Hollywood, complete with stop-motion effects and old-school studio-based action sequences. A faithful adaptation, and a fun one, this is a labour of love that works damn near perfectly.



SPRING - About as different from the above as you can imagine, yet still replete with Lovecraftian themes. Like tentacles, ancient secrets, and weird miscegenation. Overall it's not so much a horror film as an offbeat love story with a whacking great obstacle for our hero. It's also rather beautiful - it's Italian setting is about as far from HPL's Vermont as you could get, but it works, not least when the star-crossed lovers visit Pompeii.



DIE FARBE (THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE) - This German film tackles the obvious problem with the original story - how to show a new colour on screen? The solution is simple - make it a black and white movie, have 'normal' colour represent the cosmic tint. The German setting works well and the acting is never less than passable. No tentacles, though.



DAGON - Here's a contentious one. For some this Spanish-set version of 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth' is just plain wrong. For me it's a fun version of a tale that is obviously pulpy in more than one sense. Stuart Gordon is good value and the overall 'feel' is right - the Spanish fishing port has a dank grimness that is pure Innsmouth. Plus, we get a veritable ton o' tentacles!




Friday, 20 October 2017

Halloween Movies - A Mixed Bag

Here are a few suggestions for viewing over the spooky season. I'll probably think of some more in due course. I'm like that.

CITY OF THE DEAD - aka HORROR HOTEL, a cheap and cheerful movie starring Christopher Lee. It sets out to create an atmosphere for witchiness, or witchitude, in a New England town in the post-war era. It succeeds, despite its tiny budget. Lee is excellent, of course, but the cast is rather good overall. Splendidly atmospheric.



GHOST STORY - as recommended to me by no lesser authority than award-winning author Steve Duffy. A starry adaptation of Peter Straub's novel, this is again an atmospheric small-town America story. Here the supernatural force is not something conjured up deliberately but created as an avenging force by wrongdoing of a very familiar kind. This theme plus excellent performance by the young Alice Krige makes it a far from simple tale of good v. evil.



CARNIVAL OF SOULS - cheap and cheerful amateur production, this is the sort of film Ed Wood thought he was making. The moment when the star emerges from the river (three hours after the car she's in goes under water, oo-er) is splendid. It hovers somewhere between B-movie and art-house.



STATIC - not everyone's cup of tea, I admit. This one offers a twist on the conventional ghost story and, for me, does it quite well. It is, on the face of it, a tale of a bickering couple who take in a strange woman who claims to be lost. But her story has holes, and her behaviour is disruptive and just plain odd. Who are the strange masked figures lurking around the house? Why can't the besieged couple get help to combat what appears to be a home invasion?



HALLOWEEN - well I could hardly ignore it. Any of John Carpenter's early figures are of course great fun, but this one is inevitable. And it is rather good, you know - far less conventional than you might think. The definitive slasher movie is not just a slasher movie. Also, Jamie Lee Curtis is allowed to be a warm, believable character - the definitive 'final girl'.



All the Rage




Thursday, 12 October 2017

The White Road


One of the great rarities of modern weird fiction is The White Road by Ron Weighell, It was published in 1997 by Ghost Story Press. Many enthusiasts have tried in vain to obtain a copy. And now Sarob Press is bringing out a new edition of the book! Details are on the Sarob blog here. This is a major event by any standard. The striking cover (see above) is by Nick Maloret,  and here's a hint of what is in store for the eager multitude.
This 384pp (approx) hardcover containing 24 stories and 2 novellas has been a massive undertaking by the author, the artist and by Sarob Press ... a true labour of love. The original stories have mostly only minor revisions/corrections etc and appear in the author’s preferred order ... and the overall feel and concept of this new volume is wholly different to the GSP edition.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories is a nice, on-the-nose title for a film, is it not? This particular British portmanteau film was adapted by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson from the hit stage show of the same name. There's a very good, detailed review here in the Guardian.
It’s not a film that wants to be subtle – and, as I say, its unsubtler flourishes and jump scares may have been more potent in the theatre, like outrageously startling but cleverly managed stage illusions. But there’s a tremendous atmosphere to this picture, a dream-like oddness and offness to everything. Nyman and Dyson have created a weird world of menace, despair and decay.

All good fun, then. And impressive that they've got hot property Martin Freeman as one of the leads. I look forward to this, as Jeremy Dyson is a huge fan of classic horror movies, as he explains here.
This was one genre in particular that we in this country seemed to do well. A disproportionate number of the finest examples of the supernatural horror film were British productions (although sometimes, as in the case of The Haunting and Night of the Demon, with American directors). This expertise accords with the written ghost story, many of whose finest exponents have been British, too. Maybe it’s something to do with our climate - fog and rain and long winter nights are effective stimulants to the fantastic imagination.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Readers Poll - Issue 35

Image result for victoryWell it's a triumph and a half for Andrew Alford, whose story 'A Russian Nesting Demon' ran away with the poll.

Congratulations to Andrew, who will be receiving the almost unimaginable sum of £25 British pounds as a prize. (I know, it's a puny sum really, but I can't help currency fluctuations.)

Thanks to everyone who voted, and commiserations with all the runners up. I was pleased to see that nobody failed to trouble to the poll-ometer. If you want to check out the issue and have not yet obtained a copy, well, you can do so here. And there are back issues, too. It's a veritable cornucopia of stuff.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Innkeepers (2011)


What makes a good ghost story on film? Setting, characters, central idea, basic plot - lots of things, in fact. The Innkeepers is an interesting example of a film that seems to have everything going for it, but somehow failed to win over this ghost story lover. Why? It just lacks clout.
Image result


























The setup is good. The Yankee Pedlar Inn (a real hotel in Torrington, Connecticut) is closing down because it's losing money. It's a quaint old place, allegedly haunted, and in its final days under the care of Luke and Claire. Luke (Pat Healy) is a classic pretentious dropout type who has set up a website cataloguing supposed paranormal events at the hotel. Claire (Sara Paxton) is young, perky, not quite sure what she's going to do with her life. When the film begins there are only a handful of guests and the innkeepers are planning a long weekend of ghost-hunting. They are seeking to contact the ghost of tragic Madeline O'Malley, who hanged herself after being jilted on her wedding night.

The setting looks good, the premise is fine, the lead actors are more than competent. Luke and Claire have a slightly spiky chemistry and - as the film goes on - it becomes clear that he has more than friendly feelings for her. During her night shift Claire has a series of strange experiences, including the old 'piano playing itself' gimmick. This is nicely done but nothing special. Conventional methods such as EVP recordings are used but not to any great effect. In fact we do not hear most of the really weird stuff, which seems an odd choice by writer-director Ti West.

The arrival of Leanne, a faded TV star (played by Kelly McGillis) who is now a spiritual healer, throws another ingredient into the mix. Luke is contemptuous of Leanne but Claire asks for her help. The resulting quasi-seance foreshadows later tragedy. Things move towards a climax, but not at any great pace or with much conviction. There are shocks, now and again, but most of the time there is a lack of energy, a sense that we've seen it all before. At times I felt The Innkeepers might be a tribute to old-school TV movies of the Seventies, which were low-budget and seldom high concept. West's The House of the Devil was, after all, a homage to early Eighties horror.

Without giving too much away, I was left thinking 'Is that it?' The Innkeepers is too thin for a feature film and might have worked better as an episode in a TV series. It also contains too many hackneyed ideas, especially the 'Oh I'll just go down into the spooky dark place for no good reason' moment. It is a film that promises a reasonable quantity of unpretentious chills and fails to deliver. It's a flat-footed attempt to do something old-fashioned well. It passes the time. It's not too bad.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace - A Forgotten Classic

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is available on demand for anyone willing to sign up to Channel 4. It's free! Rewatching these shows made me regret that there are so few of them, but accept that it's not easy to do horror comedy that's at once so entertaining and so knowing. If you don't know Darkplace, here's Marenghi himself, plus his all-star cast.



Matthew Holness, Matt Berry, Alice Lowe, and Richard Ayoade are rather brilliant. The guest stars are also great fun, especially Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. Each episode of Darkplace is dotted with cast interviews, in which the fascinating opinions of the creative team are shared. And Darkplace tackles some of the most vital issues of our time. I mean, cop a load of this from .



If this isn't enough to convince you that GMD is worth your while, listen to the author/actor himself read a sample of one of his bestsellers.



Now that's horror.




Friday, 29 September 2017

As They Grow Older: Running Review 4.


As they grow older - Cover revised.png


The next three stories in Stephen Cashmore's collection of children's stories all have a slightly familiar ring to me.

The innocuously-titled 'Teddies' has the familiar theme of children's toys that come to life. Oddly enough I always found this idea scary as a kid, and I'm pleased to say that the story has the right nightmarish feel.

'Wings' is an old-school framed narrative, in which granddad tells the sprog about something strange that happened on holiday many years ago. This one has a good menacing entity - a flying entity that attacks the family car in a manner that might be mistaken for a hailstorm. This one brought back memories of my own family holidays in Scotland.

Finally there is 'Doctor MacGregor', who lives on Witch Street next to the derelict old school There's a slight touch of Salem's Lot here, as local children fall victim to a mysterious disorder. Eventually the doctor realises that's going on, and a showdown is in order.

It's important to bear in mind that these are 'spooky stories to be read aloud'. This means brevity, and relative simplicity. Most effective ghost stories do work as spoken performances, and I think the tales in As They Grow Older have the authentic touch.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Borkchito!

The world has been waiting for...

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Of course, there are some seriously Lovecraftian overtones to this canine crime noir series.

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Borkchito has a Facebook page. Also Etsy.

I suppose an occult cat detective would be a tad counter-intuitive, what with cats generally being horror shorthand for Spooky Stuff Ahead. However, Robert Westall did write a cracking story about a vampiric entity being defeated by a brave cat - 'The Creatures in the House'. Just thought I'd include that for balance.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Psychic Vampire Repellent

Yes! It's that time of year again, when Hallowe'en looms and all things ghostly, ghoul-y, and moderately long-legged and beastly return from their summer holidays. Of course we are all terrified of being haunted, throttled, disembowelled, or otherwise messed up by creatures of darkness. So it's good to know that, for the smallest of fortunes, one can at least ward off one category of evil entities.



Yes, it's a bottle of squirty perfume that 'uses a combination of gem healing and deeply aromatic therapeutic oils, reported to banish bad vibes (and shield you from the people who may be causing them). Fans spray generously around their heads to safeguard their auras.'

You can find it on Gwyneth Patrow's Goop site. A snip at thirty US dollars, for which you get a 3.4 oz bottle.

Purchasers may be away with the fairies. (See previous post.)

Away With the Fairies

When I was young and just staring into space - probably imagining myself on a voyage to the Moon, or the Earth's core - grown-ups would remark that I was 'away with the fairies'. I don't know if people still say it nowadays, but the meaning is clear. Fairies, the Good Folk, the Little People, or whatever you call 'em, could enchant people. They might steal you bodily, or just nick your soul. But they were always out there, watching, waiting...


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Yes, you can spell it that way if you like. No, I'm not being all grumpy.

Fairies don't feature strongly in modern supernatural fiction for obvious reasons. The Victorian conception of the fairie-folk was twee and harmless. Shakespeare's Ariel and Puck were both powerful beings of a normal-ish size. But once supernatural beings get to be tiny and cute (sort of) any potential for unease is banished. Garden gnomes are scarier than 19th century fairies.


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Your basic Victorian fairies, here, escaping from a children's book to be photographed for the benefit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, before all those sentimental authors and artists got their hands on the Little People, they were a bit bigger and more menacing. Which beings me to something I was vaguely aware of before, but which popped up on Twitter today, as part of #folklorethursday. I refer to the legendary Fairy Flag of Clan MacLeod.
It’s not clear how the flag got into the MacLeods’ possession – either a gift from the fairies to an infant chieftain, a gift to a chief from a departing fairy-lover, or a reward for defeating an evil spirit. But the flag likely originated somewhere far away from Scotland, potentially even in the Middle East.



The story about gift from a lover underlines the point that old-time fairies must have been somewhat larger than, say, Tinkerbell. Another aspect of the legend is that the flag can be waved three times to summon magical help for the clan, but will then be borne away, along with the standard bearer. All evocative stuff. Makes you wonder...

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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Where They're From



Ibrahim Ineke, whose graphic novels on weird themes I reviewed here and here, has a short online piece here. 'Where They're From' is another strange story with a modern setting, but with a classic feel. An invalid is convinced that a portal to another reality exists. A friend agrees to go and investigate. What she finds is both surprising and oddly appropriate. Well worth a look - as I've mentioned before Ineke's work has a Seventies feel, which is right up my street.

Update: Sorry, failed to link to the story. Link fixed!

Good Omens

I haven't read all of the late Sir Terry Pratchett's books, but I've read quite a few of 'em. One of the best, for me, is Good Omens, his collaboration with Neil Gaiman. So it's good news that the BBC and Amazon have joined forces to produce a TV adaptation. What's more, it stars two of my favourite actor persons as a mismatched apocalypse-fighting team.

David Tennant and Michael Sheen as a rather odd couple...
'Confirmed to be joining Sheen and Tennant in the cast are Adria Arjona (Anathema Device), Nina Sosanya (Sister Mary Loquacious), Jack Whitehall (Newt), Michael McKean (Shadwell), Miranda Richardson (Madame Tracy), Ned Dennehy (Hastur) and Ariyon Bakare (Ligur).'
It looks good. Note that Hastur is in there, in a big shout-out to the deeply weird. If you don't know the book, now might be a good time to read it. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

I have a new book out! Or at least, it's available for pre-order in paperback and for Kindle.


"What's this one about, then, you sad old git?"

Glad you asked me, imaginary person! It's about a cathedral tower that by rights should have fallen down years ago, but which seems to be held up by necromantic means. Oh yes. This bit of ungodly folderol leads to all sorts of problems. Behind the curse stands (or hovers) a supernatural being with a Plan, which I will reveal in due course etc. Opposing the forces of evil are the usual motley band of Scooby-esque characters. Includes violent death, ghosts, scrying, psychometry, and all that sort of thing.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Ghosts & Scholars Bumper Bundlette!

I keep forgetting to mention the excellent Ghosts & Scholars M.R. James Newsletter (and website), perhaps because I assume that everyone who's into supernatural fiction must know about it already. But I may be wrong! So I will mention editor Ro Pardoe's excellent journal now. Not only is G&S #32 full of interesting stuff, as always, but it comes with a special booklet. Look, this me holding them up.





Yes, that pervy looking individual behind the booklets is me. Sorry. Yes, the cover on the left is quite something. Daniel McGahey illustrated his own story rather brilliantly.

The point is that 'Ting-a-Ling-a-Ling' is a splendid long story about automata that owes something to 'The Haunted Dolls' House' and 'The Diary of Mr. Poynter'. Now would be a rather good time to subscribe to G&S on the 'buy one, get one free' principle.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

As They Grow Older - Running Review 3.

Moving on with Stephen Cashmore's collection of children's ghost stories we come to 'The House at the End of Witch Street'. This is one of a series of tales about strange doing in the eponymous thoroughfare, which is 'the longest street in town'. Lots of haunting potential, then. In this story a boy called Jonathon glimpses something in the window of the house and decides to investigate. The result is an encounter that gives the lad a bit of a fright, and leads to the house becoming vacant. There's a Ray Bradbury feel about this one, with a boy inhabiting a world of perilous imaginings he can't really share with the grown-up world.

The next story is 'Sunset'. Jenny and Bill stay at a beach house with their aunt and uncle. Jenny has a vision of an old woman with a dog who 'isn't really there'. Jenny investigates (this book is full of intrepid children who probe mysteries) and has a disturbing experience, but does not resolve the apparent haunting. However, the truth is revealed many years later in a clever twist ending.

'The Scariest Moment' was inspired, the author explains. by Hodgson's Carnacki story 'The Horse of the Invisible'. It also introduces the Spook, a teacher who tells seasonal ghostly tales. This one has a touch of Robert Westall about it, as a series of strange messages appear on a blackboard. Suspicion falls on a prankster called Billy. But when the teacher stays behind in his classroom at night something far more disturbing is revealed.

More if this review soon. And just a reminder that, if you buy a copy of As They Grow Older you'll be making a donation to a very worthy cause. See link above for details.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

'The English House'

The final story in Darkly Haunting came as a surprise to me. After Peter Holmans's take on Britain's murky past in 'No Surrender' I had expected D.P. Watt's story to be very different. And it is, to be fair, but it remains resolutely political.

'The English House' is set in the mid-21st century, decades after Brexit has caused the unravelling of the EU. The result is a bloody, Balkanised Europe, with a never-ending series of brush-fire wars killing off what remains of the continent's youth. An elderly English couple living in rural France become obsessed with 'La Maison Anglaise', a seemingly abandoned house near their own. Their daughter, when young, imagined the English House to be full of fascinating and fantastical residents. As the brutal reality of a collapsing culture becomes unendurable the discovery of the daughter's diary triggers a series of unusual events.

It is hard to classify this story, as it borrows both from science fiction and some of the classics of weird fiction. There's a distinct Blackwoodian feel to the treatment of the 'haunted' house. Above all, though, 'The English House' is about escapism, the way in which people whose lives have failed seek solace in the impossible. Or, put simply, I don't know what to make of it. Suffice to say that it's a remarkable tale, well up the author's usual standard.

And that ends this running review of Darkly Haunting. I hope you've found it informative, or at least vaguely helpful.

Monday, 4 September 2017

'No Surrender'

The fourth story in Darkly Haunting is by Peter Holman, who adopts a bleak and gritty approach suited to his subject matter. This is a story about Britain's Dirty War, the 'asymmetric' conflict in Northern Ireland (and elsewhere) that stretched from the early Seventies into the Nineties. Thousands died, many bodies are still missing, and a great deal of covert activity by the UK government's security agencies remains secret.

In 'No Surrender' (a very familiar phrase in Northern Irish politics, if you didn't know) a former British agent, Cowan, receives an unusual item in the post. It's a long-outdated passport for one of the missing, a young Catholic that Cowan and his colleagues pressured into becoming an informer. The logical explanation is that the Continuation IRA, or some related outfit, has tracked Cowan down in retirement and is going to kill him. But as the story unfolds it becomes clear that something stranger is happening.

This is a compelling story that combines elements of Le Carre and the traditional ghost story. The world of 'spooks' meets real ghosts, in other words. Cowan and his old friend Benson, who tries to provide reassurance, are convincing, rounded characters - men who have done questionable things but see themselves as patriots, decent blokes. As Cowan encounters more phantoms from his past we share his anxious, boxed-in feeling, and when Benson is drawn into the weird 'conspiracy' it feels right.

Fans of old-school ghost stories might not like this one so much as its predecessors, as it probes old wounds many of us have tried to forget. But it's a memorable story, as unrelenting as history itself. And that almost brings us to the end of the book, but I shall return soon with my view of one more tale.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

'The Black Dog of Zero'



The third story in the Sarob anthology Darkly Haunting is by the Welsh surrealist Rhys Hughes. It concerns Colin, who we meet in the pub with his mates, counting down to his twentieth birthday. Due to a mix-up Colin's friends go on to a club without him, and he can't find them. Yet they remain convinced that he was with them. What might this have to do with the black dog Colin encounters on his futile, drunken quest?

We move on to Colin's thirtieth, and this time thing seem set to go well. He is on a winter holiday with his girlfriend. But again a glimpse of a mysterious black dog coincides with confusion, loss, a sense of failure and betrayal. And so the pattern repeats itself as the protagonist reaches forty, and fifty, as the black dog of zero returns to blight Colin's landmark birthdays.

A black dog is an ambiguous creature in folklore, sometimes hostile, occasionally benevolent. Here the creature embodies the obsession anyone might feel as they close another decade having not achieved what they hoped to. Eventually, when he reaches sixty, Colin decides to wait for the dog with a loaded shotgun. But the confrontation does not go as one might expect. An enigmatic tale about growing old, then, and of a man haunted by the familiar 'What if...?'

That's all for now. More from this running review in due course. Just two more tales to go!

Medium (1985)



Image result for film polish medium 1985I stumbled across this Polish film on Amazon Prime and started to watch it. I then kept watching it until the end - my usual approach to films. Medium is pretty good, not least because it defies most of the expectations of a Western horror fan.

The story is set in Sopot in 1933. Sopot is, I have since learned, on the 'Polish riviera' and is part of a tri-city complex with Gdansk and Gdynia. It certainly makes a beautiful and fascinating setting. In 1933 it was part of East Prussia, and Hitler had just seized absolute power. The film leaves no doubt about this, with a regular diet of posters and Brownshirts.

A female medium and her astrologer brother are attempting to detect a rival psychic. All they know is that he is controlling a group of seemingly random individuals. A bearded man in a hat and trench-coat wakes up on a beach. A dapper man arriving by train seems to be in a trance. An attractive teacher abandons her pupils and goes to a museum to steal a red dress.

It's all very Eastern European  cinema, dear me yes. But interesting. And all the action revolves around a suitably spooky old house. This one, in fact.

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It emerges that the man on the beach is a boozy detective called Selin. His deputy, Krank, has gone full Nazi and is out to replace his boss. The local gauleiter needs substantial evidence for this, but Selin seems determined to provide it as he experiences a to of missing time. Selin and Krank slowly put some of the pieces together and link weird occurrences to Orwicz, the owner of an aquarium. Orwicz, as a small boy, witnessed the murder of his parents. He is apparently using his extraordinary powers to re-enact the crime. But why?

Suffice to say that Orwicz, who spends the entire movie in a diabetic coma, has come up with a truly remarkable plan. The film's climax includes sex, violence, more Nazis, and a not-entirely-satisfactory conclusion. I struggled to interpret the final scenes as some kind of metaphor, given the historical setting, but higher meaning eluded me. Suffice to say this film is absorbing, unconventional, and successfully merges horror with police procedural and art-house cinema. The acting and direction are first-rate. If you're a subtitle-capable person you should enjoy this one.




Wednesday, 30 August 2017

'Bluebells I'll Gather'



The second contribution to Darkly Haunting is by Colin Insole, a remarkable author whose approach is difficult to categorise. He is intensely realistic at times, yet his work is saturated with symbolism and dream imagery. He usually baffles me, but in a good way. Suffice to say that 'Bluebells I'll Gather' is one of his best yet.

The story begins with a striking prose-poem to Blitzed London, a 'city of the dead'. The very first line gives a precise date - Sunday, May 11th 1941. There is no Dad's Army muddling through here - the bleakness, the terrible inhumanity of war, are perfectly evoked. 'At times the city seemed like a corpse left too long in its shroud.' It is almost a relief when characters are introduced, yet the introduction has a strange richness.

The story's cast might have been culled from a Merchant Ivory film, but with a significant twist. Foremost is a doctor, working for the SOE and haunted by memories of the First World War and what preceded it. The doctor recalls an idyllic moment when he flirted with a young governess after he was bowled out in a village cricket match. The lord of the manor who presided over that event is still alive, but in reduced circumstances, all his sons killed in action. Then there is a stern matron dealing with bomb victims, some of whom experience strange reveries during weeks or months of unconsciousness.

Where is the ghost here? Who is still alive? Or is the entire world one of phantoms? I think I grasped the thrust of the plot, but more importantly I shared the author's artistic vision. There is a painterly quality to Insole's work that almost - but not quite - defies conventional narrative.

And on that thought, I will leave this running review for now. More to come soon.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

As They Grow Older - Running Review 2.


As they grow older - Cover revised.png

Stephen Cashmore's first collection of Halloween and Christmas ghost stories consists of tales written for his children over a long period of time. Its only natural that they grow gradually more complex and somewhat darker over time. It's also useful to have short introductions by the author explaining the circumstances leading to each story. That said, as they were written to be read aloud these stories all have a refreshing directness in common. No stylistic trickery or fancy long words here.

Thus with 'Wheelybins' it was, in part, the introduction of the now-familiar garbage disposal containers. Back in the Nineties they were rather novel, I recall, and replaced the old-school cylindrical dustbin, now as dead as the dodo. The wheelybins in this tale have minds of their own and a little girl thinks it wise to befriend them, as they are quite able to deal with troublemakers.

Next up is 'Halloween Stories' is a story about people telling stories, which is a story of a fairly familiar type. It works well as each member of the family gathered round the fire tries to outdo the others with a spooky tale. The final story-within-the story is a compelling one, and overall this works nicely.

Third up today is 'Trouble With Gus', a doggy tale. This takes us into the realms of family holidays in an old car, and the odd habits of Gus, the amiable pooch. Gus becomes a bit peculiar when the family get a new car, though, and this leads to the unravelling of a mystery. Dad figures out what's going on and manages to exorcise (in a way) a spectral presence. There's even a slight Jamesian touch in the finale on a beach.

More from this enjoyable read later!

Monday, 28 August 2017

Cartulary Fun in a Monty Kind of Way

The Department of Manuscripts Students’ Room in the British Museum (photo from the departmental archives).



Talking of M.R. James (and who isn't, I'd like to know?) here is an excellent blog item on the inspiration behind one of his stories. 'Casting the Runes' sees the hapless victim of sorcery handed a paper in the British Museum's reading room. The Museum was so pleased with the tale that it bought the MS in 1936.

In the item you can take a look at the document - a cartulary, i.e. a collection of medieval charters - that poor Alfred Dunning is studying.

Darkly Haunting - 'Early Stages'



Over at Sarob Press we find an anthology of new stories by leading authors in the field of weird/ghostly fiction. I have received a review copy and will proceed with the usual running review over the next week or two. There are five long-ish stories, here, so there's plenty to get my yellowed, broken teeth into.

(Yes, I know that means I'm reading two books at once. I have done this before, it's not as hard as some believe.)

First, the cover - see left. It's another excellent dust jacket by Paul Lowe, complete with archetypal haunted house and a cat with glowing eyes. It's clearly intended to evoke the ghost story tradition, which is a pretty broad one, ranging as it does from Le Fanu to Hammer Productions, and from the Romantic poets to Nigel Kneale.

The first story is 'Early Stages' by James Doig. This is a solid, M.R. Jamesian tale of scholarly types biting off more than they can chew. It's also a multi-layered story in which the narrator sets off to deliver a lecture in the provinces on early English theatre. This is a fascinating subject, and Doig gives a good overview of ideas concerning the evolution of ritual into drama.

The story moves from poorly-attended lectures to a country estate with a strange folly in the grounds. A BBC radio producer plans to use the excellent acoustics in the odd temple for recordings. Things go badly wrong. Efforts to understand the nature of the problem lead to further revelations. Does English drama have its roots in something distinctly un-Christian? Here Doig uses a device familiar to horror movie fans, and the story - much to my delight - melds Jamesian and Lovecraftian elements. We end as we began in ambiguity, but with the suggestion that unwise decisions have moved us closer to some final, catastrophic, discovery.

All in all, 'Early Stages' is a great start. I'l

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Reader Poll Hots Up! Shots Not Fired, Bribes Not Offered, Some Tea Consumed


I'm especially peeved about the absence of bribes. You'd think the Masons, ZOG, Bilberberg, Soros, Atlanteans at the Earth's Core, and of course the New World Order would want to manipulate the outcome of an obscure poll on ghost stories. But no. Apparently they're too busy covering up the fact that the Earth is flat. (The Atlanteans seem especially keen on that one, for some reason.) So we just have to continue with actual democracy.


Supernatural Tales 35Over to the right and up a bit you'll see that, while Andrew Alford's story about an extremely gammy leg is still in the lead, Mat Joiner's tale of library-based weirdness is coming up on the inside. And nobody has failed to garner any votes, which is a relief.

Will one of the current peloton (if that's the word) make a break? Will Mat overtake Andrew? Or will Andrew scoop the almost unimaginable fortune of £25 - that's about 25 Euros, or $25.

So, if you haven't voted, please do! You can vote for more than one story, y'know. And if you haven't read issue 35...

Words fail me. They really do. I thought we were pals 'n' that.

Friday, 25 August 2017

The Watcher in the Woods

Disney movies used to be a bit scary, a bit action-y, a bit Out There. It's arguable that the House of Mouse lost its way after Walt's cerebral cortex (allegedly) went into liquid nitrogen storage. For whatever reason the late Sixties saw the Disney Corporation start to experiment with live action movies that tackled more adult matter. Nothing too sexy or violent, of course, but still. There was sci-fi such as Return to Witch Mountain, Vernian adventure in Island at the Top of the World, and your actual horror in The Watcher in the Woods (1980). I mean horror in the sense that any kid watching it (like me) was bound to be a bit scared.



The film has an excellent cast - as well as Bette Davis there's the excellent Scottish actor Ian Bannen. The main problem with the movie is that it can never quite decide if it's going to be supernatural or sci-fi, and as a result the ending seems a little botched. The movie also seems to have signalled the end of Disney's experiment with more grown-up family fare. But now there's a remake on the way.



I await the new version with interest. It's notable that in both cases the British setting is deemed to give a touch of class to the ominous Gothic tone. Quite an old-fashioned concept, and an odd one to me, as Poe, Hawthorne, and Bierce are at the heart of a strong US Gothic tradition. But, hey, Limeyland is kind of exotic, I guess.


As They Grow Older - Running Review 1.

Stephen Cashmore, who for his sins a previous life proofreads ST, has written a collection of ghost stories for children. Jolly interesting they are, too, as examples of the genre - they were all written to be read aloud. I will review As They Grow Older in bits over the next few days. You can find the book here. It is illustrated - rather nicely - by S.J. Thiel and from each sale £1 goes to cancer research.

In his introduction Stephen explains that he began writing stories when his first three children were aged four to eight. By the time he finished they were sixteen to twenty, so the stories had to grow more mature over time.

Not surprisingly the first tale, 'The Toyman' is a simple spooky shocker. Written for Hallowe'en, it is a cautionary tale of children who leave their toys lying all over the place. Their parents warn them that this untidiness risks summoning the eponymous bogey. So they tidy up nicely for the first time ages. But did they miss something? Oh yes.

'Nearly Nine', the second story, is very short and amounts to a meditation on a child's imagination. It reminded me of my own childhood, particularly the way in which a wakeful boy's racing imagination can conjure up anything in the dark. And, in this case, it succeeds in spades.

'Christmas Wishes' falls into the broad class of gentler, Yuletide ghost stories - at least at first. Sarah writes a note to Santa with a typical list of wishes for presents. Then she becomes convinced that there is Something on the roof, and that it will reach down the chimney and grab Dad's hands as he puts the note on the fire. Of course, that's silly... But something even worse happens. There's a touch of 'The Monkey's Paw' about this one, as well as a heartwarming twist ending.

'The Grumpy Browns' takes us back to the Hallowe'en tale and the typical case of folk who do not like this 'trick or treat' malarkey. Mr and Mrs Brown devise a nasty little trick to scare children who have the temerity to knock on their door. But what is supposed to be a fake haunting backfires in a story with a whiff of early Ray Bradbury about it.

And that's the first batch from this new review. Stay tuned for more!