Monday, 26 January 2015

Hayley is a Ghost!

I belong to a literary society dedicated to the tradition of the ghost story. This society, quite logically, consists of a group of people who meet up to chat about ghost stories, visit places associated with authors like M.R. James, Sheridan Le Fanu etcetera, and lof course get drunk. But every time we check into a venue as A Ghostly Company, or simply tell people that we're into ghost stories, there's one guaranteed reaction. People start telling you their ghost stories, or that the pub is haunted, or that you'll have to pay for the carpets.

There's no doubt that the literary ghost story is a pale, orphan cousin of the 'real thing', the supposedly verified and valid account of a haunting. Millions of people are in no doubt that there are ghosts and that ghosts are, in some respect, the spirits of the dead. I remain very sceptical about such accounts, for a variety of reasons. While discounting the possibility of the so-called paranormal, I think most 'true' accounts of ghosts can be attributed to true believers seeing what they want. As with UFOs, ghosts are usually seen not by level-headed folk who 'never believed in that sort of thing till now', but by those who really, really wanted to see them all along.

Which is why I'm linking this blog to Hayley is a Ghost, the blog of sceptical investigator Hayley M. Stevens. Like me, she's fascinated by the paranormal but described herself as at 'the Scully end' of the belief spectrum. Her blog is a fascinating, frequently updated account of the antics of professional ghost hunters and the UK tabloid (an unholy alliance is ever there was one), and also looks at the unscientific, gadget-heavy approach we've so often see in films. (Had you heard of the Stone Tape 
Projector? I certainly hadn't.)

Anyway, it's a good blog, and I recommend it as a fascinating read.





Saturday, 24 January 2015

Haunter (2013)

Stephen King's Groundhog Day - how does that grab you? If you'd rather not be grabbed, this might not be the film for you. But Haunter, which I mentioned last year and recently re-watched, strikes me as one of several rather good recent movies that take the classic ghost story as their point of departure from predictable horror.

In some films the twist is that 'Hey! They were all dead all along!' In this film that's a given. We begin on Sunday morning, when Lisa Johnson (Abigail Breslin) is woken by her little brother telling her, via toy walkie-talkie, that he and Edgar have found the pirate cave and will be spending all morning in it. Come and play! The problem is, every morning is Sunday morning for Lisa. Every day is the same day in 1986, the day before Lisa's sixteenth birthday. The day when she, her little brother, and her parents all died.

What makes the first half hour or so of the film absorbing is Breslin's perfect portrayal of a sulky, Gothy Eighties teenager. (She spends most of the movie in a Siouxsie and the Banshees tee-shirt.) Lisa's insistence that she did  the washing yesterday, her mouthing of the script of the recurring episode of Murder She Wrote, her refusal to touch her mac and cheese all fit perfectly with the teen angst theme. The use of Peter and the Wolf as a recurring motif is also effective (Lisa has clarinet lessons).

Things start to go slightly awry when Lisa begins to hear voices. With help of a toy ouija board she attempts to make contact with whoever is calling. Instead she starts to experience more bizarre and disturbing events as other members of the family awaken from their grim version of the American Dream. Oh, and Edgar turns out to be far from imaginary. What Robert Westall called 'the metabolism' of the haunting is gradually revealed as Lisa, alternately bold and frightened, resourceful and baffled, explores the house she thought she knew. Suffice to say that this is a horror movie, and while not graphically violent there is much to disturb.

Haunter is a film that combines serious themes with playful use of ghost story conventions. Here we have a haunted house seen from the 'inside', a ghost from the past called into the contemporary world, and a take on the afterlife that recalls the best of The Twilight Zone. There is also a hint of Nigel Kneale in the notion that haunted houses are places that somehow trap the dead in recurring cycles of suffering. Suffice to say that - as in The Orphanage, an otherwise very different film - I find myself saying 'Alas! Poor ghost', but applauding the decision to provide an upbeat ending. Any teenager can be cynical.

I noticed that some YouTubers commenting on the trailer below didn't understand the plot. This is surprising, as what could be a confusing situation is spelled out pretty clearly to the observant viewer. Well, I figured it out, so anybody can.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Lands of Dracula

A documentary about Stoker's classic novel was made to commemorate his (death) anniversary in 2012. It's very good, but has yet to be shown on TV. However, the rough cut is on YouTube and you can watch it free of charge! I've decided to upload the third segment, firstly because each bit pretty much can stand alone (if you know the novel), but mainly because it features Tina Rath, PhD, renowned vampire expert, Queen Victoria lookalike, and sometime contributor to ST. Tina appears at around 8'30.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The First Ghost Story Awards Are Looming...

Yes, folks, 2015 is the year in which we will see the first Ghost Story Awards given for best ghost story and best collection/anthology published in 2014. Here's a reminder of the rules.

To vote, you must be a member of A Ghostly Company or a subscriber to the Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter or Supernatural Tales.

You may send your vote by email to; markl.valentine@btinternet.com. (The fifth character in the email address is a lower case L for Lima, not i or a number 1.)

Your vote must arrive by midnight on February 28th [2015].

You may vote for up to three ghost stories and up to three ghost story collections or anthologies. You do not have to put your votes in any order: they will be treated as of equal weight. You also do not have to give three titles in either category: you may if you prefer give only one or two.

Remember that the story or book must have been first published in English in print and paper format in 2014. The term “ghost story” will be interpreted broadly to refer to work about any supernatural entity and to allow for ambiguity.

You should head your email or letter GHOST STORY AWARDS and follow this format:

Your Name 

List (up to) three ghost story collections or anthologies: Title/Author or Editor/Publisher
(Please do not include other correspondence, although of course this may be sent separately).

State AGC/G&S/ST (to show which qualifies you to vote)

List (up to) three ghost stories: Title/Author/Publisher

The X-Files to Return?

I'm a huge fan of The X-Files, a show that - along with Buffy - proved that the Nineties did not absolutely suck if you love weird fiction. So I'm naturally pleased at the prospect of Mulder and Scully being re-united in the 21st century (the future!) to do some more paranormal crime-busting. Well, not so much busting as turning up when things are well under way and coming up with a theory that he likes, she doesn't, and which in any case has little material effect on the outcome, usually.

That was one of the great mysteries of The X-Files. Week after week they would comprehensively fail to make a case that could stand up in any court, but they were never sacked. It's been suggested that Mulder was insane and Scully was his minder, assigned by the Bureau to keep an eye on the once-promising son of a truly great agent. While this seems unlikely, it's not odder than the 'against the grain' readings of some literary works.

There is of course one caveat. I couldn't be doing with all the UFO crap. It was a confusing shambles, almost from the start. (Indeed, it would only make 'sense' if Mulder were insane and most of this stuff was happening in his head.) So I hope that, if a new series goes ahead, they'll go easy on the alien abduction/conspiracy stuff and focus more on stand-alone tales of the paranormal and generally bonkers.

Oh, and I really hope Mark Snow does the soundtrack...

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Leap in the Dark - 'The Mind's Eye' (1977)

Leap in the Dark, a British TV series of the Seventies, was a documentary that tackled paranormal and generally weird themes. The format was docu-drama. In this episode, presented by Colin Wilson, we hear the strange tale of an evil clergyman, his sexy accomplice, a drunken sailor, and a haunting. Gorblimey, it was an 'orrible murder and no mistake, guv'nor! But is everything what it seems? The appearance of Jilly Cooper at one point certainly suggests otherwise...

Trigger warnings - Seventies fashion, British television acting.