Monday, 24 April 2017

Poe Power

Image result for poe

The Sunday Times (evil Murdoch paywall, but you can sign up for a couple of free items a week if you like) has an interesting article by Stephen Amidon about the American short story. Amidon argues, quite reasonably, that American authors are often masters (or mistresses?) of short-form fiction. Most British novelists are not. Ireland is another story, but let's stay focused here.

According to Amidon
While the modern short story was probably born in Germany in the early 19th century, with works by writers such as ETA Hoffmann and Heinrich von Kleist, the genre came into its own in the US over the next few decades. The honour of the first great American short story must go to Washington Irving, whose canonical The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was published in 1820. 
It was in May 1842, however, that US pre-eminence was firmly established when Graham’s Magazine of Philadelphia published two pieces by the 33-year-old Edgar Allan Poe. The first was one of his “tales of ratiocination”, The Masque of the Red Death, whose intense narrative concentration and focus on the feverish workings of his protagonist’s inner psychology prefigured much of what was to come.
Quite true. Poe put his tanks (or dragoons, or whatever) on the castle lawns of all those authors of three-decker Gothic novels by showing all their favourite tropes worked better in condensed form. After Poe no US writer needed to feel guilty about writing something shorter than 20,000 words. And, as Amidon astutely points out, the US economy's clout meant that there were always publishers for short fiction willing to pay decent rates.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

'The Keeper' by Alan Garner

This is a half-hour story from the early Eighties TV series Dramarama, produced by Thames for older children. You can find the whole series (in glorious VHS quality) on YouTube, but Garner is the star writer.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Graphic Ghosts

The writer John Reppion, who I had the pleasure to meet all too briefly in Liverpool, and his partner Leah Moore are working on graphic novel versions of M.R. James ghost stories. They're doing a spiffing job IMHO. Check out this link.








Wednesday, 12 April 2017

'Between Me and the Sun'


The third and final novella in From Ancient Ravens is by John Howard. If Ron Weighell's style is Decadent absinthe and Mark Valentine's is nostalgic old English ale, Howard's is a drink of cool water, or perhaps refreshing lemonade.
This is, at first, a relatively simple tale of three boys growing up in rural England. It's told from the viewpoint of David, whose relationship to his long-time friend Clive becomes complex in early adolescence due to the arrival of Iain. Iain is a dreamer, into astronomy, a lover of landscape. Tensions between the three build up at they approach their O-levels - this is late Seventies England, judging by such internal evidence. Eventually bickering and bullying leads to a strange tragedy in a complex of chalk caves.


From Ancient Ravens cover

This story reminded me slightly of 'Death By Landscape' a Margaret Atwood story that also concerns a baffling disappearance. Like Atwood, Howard is keen to explore the far-reaching consequences of seemingly trivial actions, especially when the actors are immature. The weird element of the story is interwoven with exultant passages on the wonders of the universe, which - as an astronomy buff - I found compelling. Another theme, that of a troubled sexual awakening, is subtly counterpointed by images of darkness, things hidden, and subterranean perils.

Overall, From Ancient Ravens is a very diverse and satisfying selection of works by three very different authors. What the three have in common is their knowledge of and reverence for the complex tapestry we call weird fiction. I'm sorry that we will here no more from these Three (New) Impostors, but I think they have bid their admirers a very heartfelt adieu.

'The Asmodeus Fellowship'


From Ancient Ravens cover

I like stories within stories. Ron Weighell's contribution to From Ancient Ravens is a tale-infested tale of a storytelling club in old Budapest. The era is one of Decadence, the characters are larger than life, and the tales they tell are correpondingly extravagant.

First up is 'The Recondite Lives of Giorgio Vasari', a story of Venice. A browser at an antiquarian bookshop becomes acquainted with two mysterious bibliophiles. They offer him the chance to examine one of their unique collection of obscure volumes, but there is catch. He can only read for as long as a lamp burns. The narrator chooses a mysterious volume that seems to be the original, unexpurgated text of Vasari's famous Lives of the Painters. It is replete with odd and disturbing anecdotes of Renaissance Italy many obviously fantastical. Or are they? He comes to suspect that 'The world is full of gods.'

The second tale told is 'The Capriccio', a vignette concerning a sub-genre of sculpture that is new to me. An artist demonstrates her skill by carving an elaborate group of figures out of a single block of stone. This capriccio turns out radiate more than artistic beauty when it is displayed in a particular fashion. The images haunt the storyteller until he realises their hidden significance.

Another vignette, 'The Town Without a Tailor', arguably channels Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany. It is replete with magical powers and monstrous beings, and has the kind of horrific twist that Lovecraft would no doubt have enjoyed.

The fourth and final story is 'The Vanished Library', a Borgesian account of a journalist in Prague who seeks out the bizarre even when ordered to write a simple account of a civil engineering project. This tendency loses him his job, but gains him an invitation to join a select group of bibliophiles. What is the significance of cards found in obscure books bearing the image of a phoenix and the initials ILP? Is it merely an elaborate hoax?

As with all of Ron Weighell's recent work this novella is a feast of arcane knowledge and playful speculation. He delights in puzzles, tricks, and revelations that show the world to be stranger than we already suspected. The style is perhaps too rich for some palates, but there's no denying the craftsmanship that went into this box of dark delights.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Glorious Vote Victory!

Supernatural Tales 34First time author Giselle Leeb has won the popular vote for issue 34! Well done to her, and a princely sum of twenty-five quid will be heading her way shortly. If not sooner!

If you'd like to read Giselle's story, or indeed any of the excellent tales in the latest issue, why not buy a copy? You know it makes sense. Purchasing any issue of ST is remarkably easy. Just go here and then click on your method of choice.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

From Ancient Ravens - 'The Fifth Moon'

Paul Lowe's expressive depiction of the authors' muses at work

The latest volume from Sarob Press is the last in a series - the 'New Impostors', Mark Valentine, Ron Weighell, and John Howard. In the past these three literary scamps have paid tribute to Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. To sign off they have produced a third volume of wholly original novellas. From Ancient Ravens takes its title from Shakespeare. Look it up!

First up is Mark Valentine, with 'The Fifth Moon'. This is the tale of a writer who sets out to produce a popular book about one of the great moments in English history, the loss of King John's treasure in the Wash. (For overseas readers, the Wash is a tidal bay and not a laundry service.) Accompanied by a photographer the first-person narrator sets off for East Anglia to search for local legends about the incident. Inevitably, he finds far more than he bargained for.

This story is set in a period that might be vaguely termed 'between the wars' or 'after the war'. It has the Jamesian slight haze of distance, complete with steam trains and native-born fruit pickers. As always Valentine brings plenty of erudition to the table, offering several takes on the treasure legend. A gallery of well-drawn characters appear, each with a theory of his/her own. Eventually there is a revelation, but it is not the discovery one might expect.

In plot terms, this is a simple tale, but it is rich and complex on an emotional level. The descriptions of rural England are so evocative that they cry out for a film maker to bring them to the screen, or a  gifted artist to paint them. But at the heart of the story is ambiguity. Like King John's reputation, the his treasure will never cease to be a matter of doubt and disputation.

We're off to a great start. I will post the second part of this running review in a day or so.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Shadows

I've probably mentioned this at least once before, but it's a useful pendant to the entry on Folk Horror TV from earlier this month.

Image result for shadows tv series 1975

The Thames TV series Shadows ran from 1975-8 over three seasons. Each season had a different title sequence. You can see them here. There's a distinct whiff of folk horror about them, I feel. The stories vary in quality and of course it was low budget stuff. But the writing was often first rate. Among the authors contributing to the series were Joan Aiken, Fay Weldon, Penelope Lively, and Brian Patten. There's also an adaptation of 'The Other Window' by J.B. Priestley.

As this was a children's series the horror was fairly mild. But Shadows stands up well as an anthology series.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Liverpool

I was in Liverpool at the weekend, without a permit of course. No, I snuck into that fine city to take part in a gathering of A Ghostly Company, the literary society devote to ghost stories.

It was a lovely couple of days, not least because of the various luminaries who contributed. On Friday evening Jim Bryant talked about his research into the correspondence of M.R. James, whose handwriting is even worse than mine. Then Ro Pardoe of Ghosts & Scholars informally discussed her involvement with Jamesian fiction and the so-called 'James Gang', among other things.

On Saturday afternoon we had an excellent talk about Liverpudlian folklore from author John Reppion, followed by a reading of a story by Peter Bell - and a fine story it was, with an unusual theme and setting. There was also a book auction to raise money for the society - an event that always leaves me conflicted as I really mean to go away with fewer books than I bring. I failed, again.

Then in the evening Ramsey Campbell, our guest of honour, came along to read a new story, 'The Bill'. Classic Campbell, I thought, not least in its clever use of a commonplace event in most people's lives. No spoilers.




What is this? It's the tomb of a chap called William MacKenzie, that's what. As  you can see it's a pyramid, and rumour has it that MacKenzie was interred sitting up at a card table. This recalls Dr Rant in 'The Tractate Middoth'. John Reppion, in his talk, pointed out that this is wildly improbable, to say the least. But dead people sitting up in tombs is a recurring theme thanks to such Victorian monuments. I can think of at least two other fictional examples. One is Gilray's Ghost by John Gordon, the other is Hell House (book and film) by Richard Matheson.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

'In Eternity - Two Lines Intersect'

The last story in Written in Darkness is both an ending and a liberation. After taking us through the festering labyrinths of modern corporate culture, Mark Samuels reaches something approaching the Great Good Place. Again, there are overtones of Machen, and of the lesser-known Christian mystic author Charles Williams.

The story begins with the first-person narrator being released from some unspecified place. Doctors have advised him to gradually re-integrate himself into society. He is given pills, sessions with a psychotherapist are arranged. Eventually the nameless man finds a flat he can afford in a run-down area of London. He finds much of the previous occupants' property and comes to feel closer to the vanished scholar, Ambrose Crashaw, than he does to the living. He abandons his modern clothes for an old-fashioned suit, as well as becoming absorbed by Crashaw's collection of rare books. Crashaw's old  radio seems to receive signals from all the outworn cultures of Europe, in many languages. A neo-Gothic church nearby starts to intrigue him, especially when an unearthly light shines from one of its high windows.

This story recaptures some of the awe-inspiring quality in supernatural fiction published around a hundred years ago. There is a touch of Algernon Blackwood in the way that the old radio eventually tunes in to the trees, London's last forests. There is also a reference to Turner, painter of light who was also a mystical poet. The narrator's dreams seem more real than his mundane existence, and he finds physical evidence of this - the page of an unknown book, a chess piece.

The revelation of Ambrose Crashaw's true fate coincides with the discovery of a precious truth, and the story ends with a vision of unity, of broken things made whole and the fallen lifted up. In a way it is the ultimate anti-twist ending,  to tell us that all can be well after fall, despite everything we know and have gone through.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

'My Heretical Existence'

This compact tale starts with a fascinating premise - that there are 'tribes' who never leave certain narrow areas of major cities, and never marry out. Mark Samuels' narrator hears of one such extended family in Sartor Street (a nod towards Thomas Carlyle, perhaps, a sort of heretic?). He is also infatuated with a young woman called Adela who goes to a pub near Sartor Street. He never dares approach her, simply getting drunk in her presence. Then one night he goes off in a random direction and finds himself in unknown territory. He finds a pub, 'The Hourglass Stilled', but when he enters he discovers a clientele far from welcoming.
I could hear the creak of wooden sinews, the flexing of wooden muscles, and the grinding of wooden teeth. Their faces were painted garishly in a motley attempt to convey the human, but oh, the deadly lifelessness of their expressions! Their glass eyes were without lustre, like grey flowers.

Inevitably, Adela is one of the mannequins. Blackout. Our narrator recovers in hospital, and is informed that there is no such place as Sartor Street. Yet he seems to be suffering from a strange ailment that leads to a stiffening of the limbs...

This is fine example of urban horror, with echoes of Fritz Leiber as well as Ligotti and, perhaps, Machen. I'm not quite sure what is 'heretical' about it, but titles are tricky.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

'Outside Interference'

We're back in the ghastly world of modern corporate life. One thing one can't accuse Mark Samuels of avoiding is a unifying theme. Written in Darkness is saying, to coin a phrase, that modern life is rubbish, and fetid rubbish at that. Admittedly he is not presenting any kind of alternative to our interconnected global culture, but it is a not a fiction writer's job to present manifestos. He calls 'em as he sees 'em,

'Outside Interference' is set in a bleak office building somewhere in central/eastern Europe. Not just any old bleak office building, but one being phased out by a crew of soon-to-redundant workers. A viciously cold winter closes in as the hapless crew struggle to shift junk from unheated offices. Things start to go wrong when the lift malfunctions and a member of the team is turned into a kind of zombie (thought the Z-word is never used).

With frantic inevitability attempts to escape or confront the menace that lurks below sub-basement level fail. And then the discarded, the unwanted, the human detritus of modern capitalism, are transformed. The shadows of Ligotti and, arguably, the late Joel Lane fall across this wintry mindscape. I have no idea if the ending is supposed to be downbeat in the strict sense of the word.

In our running review tomorrow a different theme emerges as everyone marches through the factory gates to a stirring rendition of 'Sing As We Go' by Gracie Fields.

No, not really.

Small Screen Folk Horror

King of the Castle: The Complete Series
A tower block harbours mystical secrets

Over here you can see a list of Seventies folk horror TV shows. Folk horror is a somewhat flexible term, but I think the list includes enough examples to give anyone a pretty good idea. We're talking about deep history, mythology, a sense of the past bearing down on the present and shaping it. Throw in demonic, ghostly, or otherwise paranormal phenomena, and you're on the way.

Raven (1977)
Raven

I remember a few of the shows listed, as a Seventies teenage telly viewer. Children of the Stones, Doctor Who - Image of the Fendahl, and the one-off Christmas ghost story 'Stigma' caught my attention. I don't remember the ITV shows King of the Castle or Raven, perhaps because were very much a BBC household. 'A Photograph' in the Play for Today strand is also a new one on me, and it's available to watch on YouTube.

Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl (1977)
Image of the Fendahl

It's interesting to note that Nigel Kneale's Quatermass finale, also made by ITV, had strong folk horror elements. It was all about stone circles and a hippie back-to-nature cult with sinister undertones. However, the overall feel of the show is dystopian sci-fi, so perhaps it's a marginal example.

Monday, 20 March 2017

'My World Has No Memories'

After an 'old dark house by the graveyard' story, another favourite sub-genre gets an outing in Written in Darkness. This time it's the nautical weird tale, exemplified by authors as diverse as Lovecraft, Hodgson, and Conan Doyle.

Mark Samuels' take on the idea is to have his protagonist wake up in the cabin of a sailing vessel. The first person narrator has no memories, and finds himself unable to contact anyone via radio. The GPS is not working either. But there is an odd marine entity in a jar in the cabin. A thing like 'a monstrous flower the size of a grapefruit'. A whiff of the entity's odour conjures strange visions.

The narrator speculates that he set out on this yacht alone to avoid some global cataclysm. This might explain the failure of all technology. But the thing in the jar bothers him, especially as it seems to be trying to communicate telepathically in a way that threaten's the seafarer's sanity. So he throws it overboard. And it comes back. Then bloated human corpses start rising from the deep. Not just any old corpses, either. The narrator has seen that rotting face before, in the mirror.

As you'll have gathered, this is another tale of abject nihilism. The finale does not see the narrator finding himself in Plymouth and getting home in time for tea. Again, then, Samuels insists on the essential inhumanity of the universe, and the inability of a 'normal' man to cope with cosmic reality.

Sleep tight. More soon.


Sunday, 19 March 2017

'Alistair'

Here we are, halfway through Mark Samuels' Written in Darkness and we have our first 'traditional' tale of the supernatural. Well, sort of. It begins with a fine description of Gryme House in Highgate, the ancestral home of Amelia Grymes. Her husband, James, moves into the old house with his wife and small son, Alistair, when Amelia's grandparents die.

James Thorpe is a failed novelist who has moved into biography, and his choices of subjects are interesting: Thomas de Quincey, Anna Kavan, and Count Stenbock. All are in some ways marginal figures who produced interesting work on the margins of major literary movements. Perhaps this is where Samuels sees himself?

Strange things happen at Gryme House, events linked to the overgrown West End of nearby Highgate Cemetery. Alistair goes sleepwalking in his Scooby Doo pyjamas, and has night terrors that only Amelia can quell. James, like many fathers, feels inadequate and somewhat remote from his son. But he is also disturbed by the way Amelia seems to talk to Alistair in an unknown tongue - one that sounds like no human language.

The story consists of three sections, each progressively stranger. There is a touch of Lovecraft in the bizarre ending, which presages a very bad breakup for poor old James. Just as the previous stories reveal politics and business as rotten with cosmic corruption, so family life is here shown to be a grim facade. While a relatively slight tale, 'Alistair' stays in the mind perhaps because it is so economical and unsentimental.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

'The Ruins of Reality'

The fourth story in Mark Samuels' collection Written in Darkness is so bleak it's almost funny. It begins with an account of an economic recession that threatens to bring down Western civilisation, and the appearance of something called the N Factory. The new factory system promises fulfilling employment, but I don't think the reader is supposed to be fooled by that for a minute.

The odd thing is that mass unemployment is not, really, the major problem now - though of course it could be in future. What people are really unhappy about is that so many of those in work are struggling. Perhaps that is too complex a crisis? Because 'The Ruins of Reality' takes a very simple, straight line between the idea of old-school Depression-era poverty and yet another Ligottian take on the futility of existence. A Ligotti collection is even name-checked - the factory is managed by 'Dead Dreamers'.

The story is a kind of prose-poem to misery, ugliness, and despair. It transcends conventional dystopian fiction because the crushing of humanity's hopes leads to a collapse in the natural order. There are parallels with Lovecraft's 'Nyarlathotep', here. A black aurora dominates the sky as a permanent winter grips the globe, and some form of unidentifiable radiation sickness strikes down millions. The N Factory has possibly liberated the dreams of the masses, allowing them to influence reality. It is a 'cosmic blight'.

I am beginning to doubt whether this book contains any whimsical ghost stories about Edwardian gentlemen scholars.

Going Deep



Not strictly supernatural, but I like this kind of thing, especially when Mr. B is involved.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

'An Hourglass of the Soul'

I continue my running review of Written in Darkness by Mark Samuels with a story that harks back to my teenage years. I should hasted to  add that this tale of a corporate software expert who finds himself at a mysterious underground site in the Gobi Desert is more exotic than my schooldays in Sunderland. But in terms of content and approach 'An Hourglass of the Soul' is very like the New Wave science fiction I read as a spotty lad.

The story begins in on thedismal borders of Ligotti territory, with interestingly-named Drax in a state of puzzlement over his role at his new employer, a typically vast and faceless multinational corporation. Things grow even more puzzling when he's told to prepare for a flight to Mongolia at the shortest possible notice. Drax gamely travels thousands of miles by airliner, then by small prop plane, to caverns that house the Library of Gholraqy. This houses 'scrolls of inconceivable antiquity that foretell of the devolution of gods to men'.

One might think ancient wisdom would be of little use to the modern business mentality, and one would be right. The scrolls are ignored, despised relics of merely spiritual value. Instead the caverns are prized for their remoteness, an ideal place to develop a revolutionary new form of data processor. When this mysterious breakthrough is revealed the story ends with a revelation that might have been conceived by Harlan Ellison or Philip K. Dick.

Another bleak tale of an isolated individual put through the wringer of the world machine, then. An overarching theme has not so much emerged by now as jumped out of the page and poked me in the eye. What next, I wonder?

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Two Short Films On Themes I Like



Yes, we are in the realms of Lovecraft for 'Blight', while the second mini-movie, 'Fool's Errand', is set in the Land of the Pharaohs.



Both films were written by Chris Goodman, who also directed 'Fool's Errand' and co-directed 'Blight' with Katie Walshe.

''The Other Tenant'

The second story in Mark Samuels' collection Written in Darkness is very different to the first. Or at least, that's the initial impression. However, a few pages into 'The Other Tenant' is seemed clear to me that it was in many ways a pendant or thematic sequel to the first story.

The tale is simple enough, and might be an example of 'miserablist' sub-genre of British horror that emerged in the Nineties. A man with a chronic, mysterious illness is forced to give up work and moves into a new flat. His neighbour plays the television too loud and seems to watch a never-ending stream of horror films, judging by the sound tracks coming through the wall. When he complains the protagonist is told that the flat next door is in fact empty...

So far, so simple. But the backstory of the invalid Zachary echoes some of the themes of 'A Call to Greatness'.This is another story about the decline of the West. Zachary is left-wing in his views, and an atheist, despising the idea of the soul. Samuels hints strongly that this is the reason why his illness defies medical analysis, because it is spiritual in nature. 'His intrinsic bitterness had been too apparent, even to those who were ideologically in sympathy with him', so he has no friends and is not loved.

The Grand Guignol conclusion when Zachary breaks into the flat next door is a revelation of his own private hell. Conventional in form if not in feel, this tale even ends with another tenant moving into Zachary's flat. Yet again, the telly next door comes 'blaring through the wall'. A bleak take on modernity, then, but all the more convincing for that.

Monday, 13 March 2017

'A Call to Greatness'

I'm restarting my almost-popular practice of running reviews with Written in Darkness by Mark Samuels, forthcoming from Chomu Press. I received a PDF copy for review.

The first story could not be more timely. 'A Call to Greatness' begins with a Eurocrat in Paris who is disillusioned with the current state of the West. Enter a mysterious stranger bearing a story from the Russian civil war that followed the October Revolution of 1917. The story-within-a-story is that of a White Russian cavalry force led by a ferocious Christian mystic, A reporter for a British newspaper sets out to get an interview, and finds himself conscripted by a White commander, the Baron. The Baron is a far from sympathetic character, and his troops slaughter their way across Eurasia until sustained Bolshevik attacks wear them down. Eventually the hapless British reporter is the Baron's only follower, whereupon the anti-hero heads for Tibet in search of wisdom.

In terms of style it's a flawless effort. Samuels has a slightly ironic detachment from his characters. The Baron is a complex figure - a barbaric yet erudite man claiming to be the saviour of civilisation. Is he the lesser of two evils? With the benefit of hindsight perhaps the Whites, for all their brutality, were just that. The Russian angle, which informs a slightly predictable twist ending to the framing narrative, is so prescient that the tale might have been written last week. All in all it's a very promising start to the collection. So this is a 'weird tale', certainly, but one that that at its core is no stranger than many of today's news headlines.

Keep Voting, Guys

Look to windward, or at least to the right. And up a bit, possibly. You can see the poll for most popular story in the latest issue. Have you voted yet?

Notice that it's anybody's victory at the moment, but there's a strong showing by both ST regular Tina Rath and newcomer Giselle Leeb. It's all very exciting. In my opinion.

Just vote, already.


Supernatural Tales 34

Friday, 10 March 2017

Review - Dr Upex and the Great God Ing

Antony Oldknow's recent collection from Dragonfly Press is subtitled 'Fifteen Weird Unexpected Stories'. I think we all have a rough idea what unexpected means, but what weird fiction might be is the subject of a lively and ongoing debate. So, how would I define this genre, or sub-genre?

Characteristics of 'weird fiction'

1. Isolated/misfit characters, from M.R. James to Aickman

2. Dysfunctional, failed, or defunct relationships, with more than a whiff of the erotic

3. Erudite references - strange knowledge - Poe & Lovecraft spring to mind

4. Slightly archaic or otherwise odd language

5. Humour - somewhat rarer, but again Poe has a lot of it

6. Exotic locations - Blackwood is a good example

7. Fatalism - sense of grim inevitability, lack of self-determination (see 1)

If I'm right, the weirdness factor is certainly high in Oldknow's tales. The title story concerns a military doctor recovering from serious injuries sustained in North Africa in 1943. Dr Upex enjoys listening to Gustav Holst's music, and seems to encounter the composer himself. This takes him by a kind of dream-logic to a meeting with Ing, the Nordic God of Becoming, a rather reassuring figure with a broad linguistic influence.

Dysfunctional relationships do not trouble Dr Upex, but are much in evidence elsewhere. Perhaps a more precise term would be 'the femme fatale', though that is not quite accurate. Olknow's characters are often men who become obsessed with mysterious women, often to the point of stalking, but never achieve satisfaction or closure. In 'Ruelle des Martyrs' (from ST #26) a man gives a lift to a woman during a rainstorm and finds himself in a strange house.

The set up is reminiscent of many vampire tales, but here the story develops in another direction. As a poet Oldknow seems to favour imagery over plot, a risky stratagem in the often over-literal world of horror fiction, but he has a high hit rate. What is the secret of the 'Woman With Red Gloves'? Why does she never remove them? I've no idea, but this is probably the point. No revelation could be as strange as the elusive beauty the narrator falls for and then loses.

I'm not sure if femme fatale is the right term for Oldknow's typical woman, as they tend to be more ambiguous than destructive. But a recurring theme is the middle-aged man, often an academic, who becomes fascinated by a woman whose motives are ambiguous, and whose very existence might sometimes be in doubt. Vignettes such as 'Cathedral Woman', 'Bluebells, Lilac, and Chocolate', and 'Bathsheba' are all in their way erotic tales, but each has its own peculiar tone. 'Rachel', an extract from a novel in progress, is a somewhat surreal take on noir fiction, complete with hard-bitten crime reporter and sassy women that smack him in the mouth.

Where more serious violence occurs in these stories it varies from a rather unusual car crash in 'Accident' to the almost comical shark attack that rounds off a (sort of) fishing tale, 'The Catch'. Humour, albeit of a twisted kind, is seldom far from the surface, as in the murder victim Miss Topping in 'Yellow Lines'. 'The Man in the Tree' features a very unreliable narrator of a Poe-esque kind and ends with a surprising twist.

Can a story be too weird? Perhaps. I confess that a few stories here left me baffled, perhaps because the implications of the many ideas in them are never fully realised. But at his best Oldknow is lively, accomplished, and a constant fund of esoteric information. He can offer an excellent window into the over-heated mind of a young veteran of the British Malayan campaign in 'Roll, Rattle, and Shake', yet also play tricky post-modernist games in 'If You Will Believe This'.

Considered all in all this is a demanding, somewhat difficult collection, but one that I think more adventurous readers will find rewarding.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Tatsuya Morino

A Japanese take on Gothic illustration, here, taken from this page. See if you can guess what they are meant to be before you click on the link and find out.

Gothic monster illustration by Tatsuya Morino --

Gothic monster illustration by Tatsuya Morino --


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Frustration!

Our frustration that M.R. James is not as popularly recognised as Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft will never cease.
The above is a Tweet from the Twitter machine, courtesy of the publisher Shadows at the Door. I'm sure a lot of people will agree with it, but others might quibble. I had a bit of a ponder and a few thoughts (or near-thoughts) emerged.

1, I think M.R. James is probably as well known as Lovecraft to bookish British people, perhaps a little more so. He is also fairly familiar to older TV viewers, like me, thanks to the BBC's dramatisations of his work in the Seventies.

2. Lovecraft produced a larger body of work than M.R. James, including several short novels, As an American writer he has a bigger 'pre-sold' audience than MRJ, an English academic whose output of fiction was relative slight.

3. Poe has had a lot longer to build up a head of steam and of course a great many film, TV, and radio adaptations of his work exist. Lovecraft has also done quite well in this area. Again, M.R. James lags behind somewhat, and quite a few adaptations of his work are lost (i.e. those in the ITV Mystery and Imagination series).

4. Poe and Lovecraft have more immediate appeal, especially to adolescent readers, because they are 'on the nose'. Some of their work demonstrates subtlety and restraint, but a lot of their stories say to the novice reader: "Hey, come and see the freaky shit that's going down!" MRJ's lighter, anecdotal approach might seem rather dull to fans of full-on Gothic horror. He is subtle and witty, as well as erudite, and his work takes a bit more effort to appreciate.

5. M.R. James is classed as a ghost story writer, and this is sometimes taken to mean he produced watered-down, genteel stuff that's not very exciting. Untrue, but labels tend to stick.

A lot more might be said on the subject, especially re: Poe and Lovecraft's attitude to science, an area M.R. James did not overtly concern himself with. But, as I said above, these are just a few of my own half-developed notions.

Image result for m.r. james

Friday, 3 March 2017

Codex Zothique

Image result for clark ashton smith

Cardinal Cox, Peterborough's premier poet of the numinous and strange, has published his eleventh pamphlet of Lovecraftian poetry. This collection of seven poems takes its inspiration from the works of Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961).

I have to admit that I never really 'got' CAS, and I suspect I never will. I think he is one of those writers you have to meet at the right time. I first encountered Lovecraft (and M.R. James, and Algernon Blackwood) in my late teens. I also became a huge fan of Jack Vance around that time. Smith I did not encounter till much later, and his blend of heroic fantasy and horror left me cold. Impressed, but cold.

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That said, Codex Zothique is a good read. It could be argued that poetry is a better literary form than the short story when it comes to 'Smithian' ideas. Less is more, and all that. Thus the four stanzas of 'Hyperborea' convey the sense of ancient civilizations falling to be replaced by others more effectively than a long saga. Mu gives way to Lemuria, Lemuria falls and Atlantis rises, only to suffer its well-known fate. 'Last Galley Out of Lephara' focuses on an 'Everyship' seeking a safe port in a world of shifting peoples and few certainties.

'Sing heave the oars - curse your birth
We're bound for the edge of the Earth'

The sense of multi-layered history and playful blending of fable and history informs 'Guns of Averoigne', with the King's Musketeers sent south to investigate reports of monsters. This recalls the Beast of Gevaudan, a genuine (?) werewolf story from 18th century France, The poem is also a neatly-crafted short story, complete with twist ending.

We move into the 20th century with 'Caliphornia', a condensed guide to all the fringe movements of the Western USA. There are quite a few, and Cox links these to both the first Jesuit missionaries and the corresponding societies that Smith and Lovecraft belonged to. 'Captain Volmar's Space War' launched itself playfully into the cosmos, and lists some of my favourite constellations. 'Xiccarph' offers the inevitable, Stapledonian end, with a vision of a decadent interstellar tyrant. Sauron meets Darth Vader.

'Zothique's Deserts' rounds off the collection with an elegy to the dead realm as 'the mill of time' grinds down all its former glories. 'Every aspiration is turned to rust', an apt sentiment for the modern realm of Britain, or so it seems to me. Oops, bit political there.

As always Cardinal Cox provides erudite and witty footnotes to add an extra dimension to his verses. Together with the poems these notes offer a more colourful and inspiring alternate history than the one we are stuck with.

If you'd like a copy of Codex Zothique, send an SAE to:

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay
Peterborough PE2 5RB

Or email cardinalcox1@yahoo.co.uk

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Thursday, 2 March 2017

A Podcast to the Curious

The Familiar - Illustration by M. Grant KellermeyerIt's been a good while since I mentioned the lads over at APttC, who took upon themselves the task of discussing every single story by M.R. James, plus his unfinished work and 'Stories I Have Tried to Write'. A Herculean task - all credit to Will Ross and Mike Taylor for undertaking it.

If you haven't heard their cheerful, unpretentious opinions you should give them a try. You might not always agree with their views, but they always have something intelligent and thought-provoking to say.

They've finished MRJ's fiction and now they've moved on to stories he admired. Not surprisingly Le Fanu features in the latest podcast, and Brian Showers of The Swan River Press is their guest expert. The story they discuss is 'The Familiar'.

Look out, owls! Illustration by M. Grant Kellermeyer of Oldstyle Tales Press, which is also well worth a look.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Poll for Best Story in ST 34!

Supernatural Tales 34Yes, it's polling time, and if you look to the right (and possibly up a bit) you will see an opportunity to vote on your fave story in the latest issue.

Winner will as usual be rewarded with the princely sum of twenty-five quid. What that will actually be worth in dollars by the time the poll ends is another matter, of course.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Peanuts

One Step Beyond!

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Yes, 'One Step Beyond' is the title of an instrumental hit single and an album by much-loved British ska-influeced popsters Madness. But they took that title from a TV series so obscure that, to my shame, I'd never heard of it before it popped up on YouTube. It is not brilliant, but has some good moments and certainly qualifies as an interesting curiosity.

The resemblance to The Twilight Zone is apparent. This is, I think, largely down to the fact that the TV formats of the time were fairly rigid. The host gently ushering the viewer into the story and then offering some thoughts at the end is precisely what Rod Serling didn't want to do in TTZ. Too hackneyed. But he gave in to network pressure and did it, so that now a lot of other guys look as if they copied Serling.

Anyway, here are a couple of supernatural tales that have lasted reasonably well. First up is no less a horror legend than Donald Pleasence, in a British-based episode.



Meanwhile, back  in the states, everyone is talking cool and hep and so forth. Get with the beat, Daddy-O. But the central conceit of 'The Hand' could be straight from the notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne.




Monday, 27 February 2017

Best Haunted House Movies Of All Time? Hmm

Den of Geek has a list. It's a nice list. But is it the best list?



Haunted house movies are rather more tricky to define than you might think. If you confine yourself to ghosts that are confined to a specific house, you narrow the scope a lot. You must exclude The Woman in Black, as the ghost is active (and deadly) outside Eel Marsh House. The same can be said for The Innocents, as in the film (and Henry James 'The Turn of the Screw', of course) the ghosts are seen some distance from the building. One could easily include The Orphanage (El Orfanato) using the same loose criteria, I think. Perhaps this is a quibble too far. But another problem with this list of 'movies' is that it includes two British TV productions, Ghostwatch (1992) and the aforementioned Woman in Black (1989).



Still, both are very well scripted ghost stories. And at least the Den of Geek list includes plenty of older movies, going all the way back to 1944. There are a few more recent movies that might not cut it a decade or so down the line. The Skeleton Key isn't half bad, but one of the best? I haven't seen Crimson Peak, so I can't comment on it. And I'm intrigued by Hausu (19770, as it's a bit of early J-Horror that passed me by. And that's one of the most valuable things a list like this can do, not just stimulate debate about stuff you know, but remind you that there's always more to discover.

Friday, 24 February 2017

The Antiquary and the Crocodile


The Antiquary and the Crocodile: Writings about the stories of M.R.James by [Grant, Helen]
Helen Grant has published an ebook for M.R. James enthusiasts. Having read the essays on the origins and influences of MRJ's tales, I can testify to their quality and liveliness. Here is the blurb.

As she relates in the first of these articles, a move abroad found her living within a short distance of the setting of one of MRJ's tales. She could not resist visiting it, and having visited it, she wrote a piece comparing the fictional and real-life location. She went on to visit other foreign settings of MRJ's stories, and to examine other aspects of their backgrounds, including local folklore. The result is a series of eight articles spanning the period 2004 – 2008, with some later updates. All these articles originally appeared in the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter. This eBook was produced with the aim of collecting the articles in one place for the benefit of anyone with a scholarly interest in the stories of M.R.James.

The book is non-fiction but contains a fiction extra, "The Game of Bear."

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Pulp Covers

I've probably mentioned this before, but the covers of old pulp magazines and paperbacks are an endless source of delight, disbelief, dismay, and some other D-words. There's a site where you can search for specific categories, such as 'ghost stories', and find specific artists. It's great. Here are some samples of pulp bonkersness.



Wednesday, 22 February 2017

'The Speckled God' by Marc Joan



I was sent a novella-length ebook with a request to review it, if I felt so inclined. I have no hesitation in recommending 'The Speckled God', as it's an excellent 'one sitting' read. One reviewer described it thus:
It reads almost like a blend of Rudyard Kipling, H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Aickman with a touch of old-fashioned mystery fiction.
This is fair enough, thought I'm not sure about Aickman. I would suggest Nabokov as an influence on Marc Joan, thanks to the elegant, modernist technique. Kipling is inevitably suggested as this is a supernatural, while the story structure recalls Lovecraft's approach in 'The Call of Cthulhu'.

The story takes place in 1975, but is piece together forty years later by the author from documents and interviews with various people involved. It is, on the face of it, a simple tale. Joki de Souza, an auditor for a tea company based in Bombay, travels to Mancholi in the Tamil region in southern India to visit a remote plantation. Something about the accounts has aroused concern. But what that anomaly might be we never learn (thought there is a hint in a slip of paper).

Joki immediately outrages the locals by running over a snake. It seems that the area is dominated by a serpent cult, and that a five yearly cycle of sacrifices to the goddess Mother Jakkamma. The sacrifices are goats, of course. Or so it is claimed...

The book contains some fine descriptive writing of conditions in India, ranging from the clangour of the Westernised big city to the very different world of jungle and village. There are memorable characters, and a sense that much more remains hidden than has been revealed. All in all, this is subtle weird fiction of the first order.

Monday, 13 February 2017

New Sarob Collection!

Sarob Press, a byword for readable and classy-looking volumes, has just announced a new book. From Ancient Ravens is the third collaborative collection by John Howard, Ron Weighell, and Mark Valentine. The first, Romances of the White Day, was a superb tribute to Arthur Machen. They followed this with the excellent Pagan Tryptych, in homage to Algernon Blackwood. For the third and final collaboration the 'three (new) impostors' are inspired by a Shakespeare quote. And as usual, there's a great Paul Lowe cover.


More information here.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

An Icelandic Reworking of Dracula?

So, was an Icelandic author privy to Bram Stoker's notes on Dracula, and did he create a different - though very similar - story? Was the 1900 Icelandic novel entitled (in translation) Powers of Darkness an early example of fan fiction, taking Stoker's characters and ideas but reworking them in interesting ways? I've no idea, but this bloke makes some interesting claims.
What I eventually discovered turned out to be a story more exciting and elegant than Dracula itself. 
Yes, I said it. Although Dracula received positive reviews in most newspapers of the day—as recently established by John E. Browning—and later inspired hundreds of stage and screen versions, the original novel can be tedious and meandering.
I've no idea if this is legit, but if it's a hoax it's a very detailed and well-crafted one. Borges would approve, I think.


Friday, 10 February 2017

A Twist in the Eye

First, an apology. I intended to provide a running review of this excellent collection of stories by Charles Wilkinson, but things got in the way. Among the things were deadlines, Christmas, and illness. But let me at least round off proceedings by giving a short review of the book.

What struck me most about the book is the combination of a confident authorial voice with a wide variety of themes and ideas. The two stories I published in Supernatural Tales, 'Cold Plate' and 'Hands', fall into the British 'ghost story' tradition. They concern strange things that happen to fairly normal individuals who are  doing fairly conventional things and not seeking out the strange. In 'Cold Plate' a woman falls in love with a mysterious man whose attitude to marriage is somewhat unconventional, yet horrifyingly familiar in some respects. In 'Hands' a lonely man takes a cottage near the sea and finds it haunted, but not by a conventional ghost.

Other stories evoke something like Folk Horror, as it has become known. 'Watchers in the Woods' proclaims its origins in its title - or does it? Because it takes an unexpected direction, yet one that makes sense and is satisfying. I can imagine a Japanese director making a nice vignette of this one. 'A Lesson from the Undergrowth' also involves strange doings in a rural setting, The theme of the son returning to his dead father's home and reconnecting with his boyhood is well handled, and again it offers an ending that surprised me. Both reminded me slightly of A.E. Coppard, a neglected British writer who may have anticipated 'magic realism'.

If Wilkinson has a motif, it is solitary people ending up in problematic houses. 'Choice' and 'An Invitation to Worship' both see individuals hiding out or holing up, and discovering that their place of refuge is no true sanctuary. Hotels also feature prominently, the oddest being in 'The World Without Watercress', which has a whiff of Fawlty Towers on LSD about it. It may in fact be the Hilbert Hotel, a mathematical fiction in which the number of rooms is infinite. Shades of Borges, and yet there is something almost touching in the Britishness of Wilkinson. His characters attempt to muddle through the most bizarre and disturbing situations,

I hope this, along with the previous running reviews in December, have given some impression of this fine volume. It is wrong to judge a book by its cover, of course. But this one is a good to read as it is to look at. And that is saying something.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

An Ethically Questionable Advertisement for Myself

Yeah, Norman Mailer, in yer not-alive face!

I've written six books (and some short stories) for a US publisher. They are classed as 'supernatural suspense', and I thought I'd mention them in case anyone's interested. Here the latest three are, in glorious Technicolor. It's all jolly good fun, featuring hideous monstrous manglings and bizarre medieval occultism. And ghosts.

Oh, be very careful if you click on that link. There is a highly disturbing photo of yours truly.







Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Issue 34 now available!

Supernatural Tales 34

You  can buy print-on-demand issues here. Amazon Kindle users can buy it from the US site here. UK buyers go here.

Stories by: Tina Rath, Jeremy Schliewe, Jeff Seeman, Neil Davies, Giselle Leeb, and Kate Haynes.

Stay tuned for more information!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Aickman On Audible

The Wine Dark Sea | Robert AickmanCold Hand in Mine | Robert AickmanThe Unsettled Dust | Robert Aickman

Some time ago I purchased the audiobooks of Robert Aickman's stories read by Reece Shearsmith. The books are the paperback selections Cold Hand in Mine, The Wine Dark Sea, and The Unsettled Dust. You can find them all on the Audible site here.

So, what do I think of them? Well, as an admirer of Aickman's work I was worried that they might prove difficult as readings. But in fact, as I listened to the stories, I was struck by how straightforward much of Aickman's prose is. Compared to a lot of modern horror writers he is restrained, rather humorous, somewhat elegiac. But not difficult.

Shearsmith, an Aickman fan, resists any temptation there might have been to do 'funny voices' for the many strange and often rather unpleasant characters that populate these stories. Far from it. His approach is restrained and measured, keeping the pace reasonable but not too sedate. He tackles some more complicated sentences effectively and doesn't stumble (so far as I could hear) on a few of the author's more recondite terms.

Listening to a story read well can often alert you to things you had forgotten about it or simply overlooked. In this case the traditional ghost story structure of many stories is striking. We have seen these plots before in various forms, whether it's Clarinda Hartley going to an obscure English village in 'Bind Your Hair' or the lost traveller winding up at 'The Hospice'. The outsider, the eccentric, the misfit, all feature strongly in the ghost story tradition and in these 'strange stories'. Aickman's best efforts almost always involve a setup that is traditional and may seem shopworn, but the subsequent developments are both unexpected and artistically right.

Sometimes things don't hold together well, of course, as is the way of dreams or nightmares. I don't think 'The Wine Dark Sea' is particularly convincing, though it it interesting. But the diversity of the stories here might give Aickman's critics pause for thought - I sometimes get the impression his detractors think of him as a bit of a one-trick pony. This may be true stylistically, but the imagery and characters in his tales are, as they say, many and varied.

If you like Aickman and audiobooks, I don't think you will get a better set of readings.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Valancourt Interview in the Weird Fiction Review

PictureValancourt Books is a small press doing a sterling job of bringing obscure and neglected authors to a wider audience. It publishes good quality paperbacks and I've got more than a few of them. Here's an interview with the co-founders, who explain how they select titles. And it's not easy to get 'em into print again.
There are a ton of obstacles! The most common one is that sometimes it’s difficult — or even impossible — to locate the rights holder. Copyright now lasts 70 years past an author’s death, and it’s quite common to come across an author who died in, say, 1965, and whose work would thus be in copyright until the end of 2035, but the author died unmarried and childless. Who controls the estate?





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Friday, 20 January 2017

Robert Westall Radio Adaptations

I've been feeling distinctly low energy since well before Christmas, so posting here has been desultory. Sorry. I have been listening to a lot of old radio stuff on YouTube, acting like hi-tech fogey. Here are two BBC radio plays based on stories by Robert Westall. Having read them both I can testify to their faithfulness.

'The Wheatstone Pond' is the story of an antique dealer who hopes that the eponymous pond will yield a few interesting items when it is drained. Instead, horrors of the past are dredged up. The story was originally published alongside 'The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral' in a single volume. The latter story is also about ancient horrors striking deep into modern lives, and concerns a steeplejack and a very unpleasant gargoyle.

Both are good winter listens. The poster has added commercials, but I don't think they are overly intrusive.





Saturday, 14 January 2017

Leslie Nielsen plus M.R. James

This has been around on the interwebs for ages but in case you haven't seen it, here it is. This is a Fifties US adaptation of 'The Tractate Middoth' entitled 'The Lost Will of Dr. Rant'. It stars Leslie Nielsen of Naked Gun fame as the hapless librarian. It's part of the series Lights Out, which began on radio and was immensely popular. It routinely featured adaptations of classic tales. Anyway, I think it's rather good for its time. If only more of these rarities survived from the early (and not so early) days of US and UK television.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

'The House Opposite' Wins Readers Poll!

Congratulations to Tim Foley, whose story 'The House Opposite' is the clear winner of the reader poll for issue 33. Well done to Tim, who wins the princely sum of £25.

Supernatural Tales 33

ST 33, with a slew of cracking stories, is still available in print of e-book form. Check out the 'Buy Supernatural Tales' links above.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Phantasms



The latest collection of stories by Peter Bell is published by Sarob Press, and as always comes with a splendid dust-jacket illustrated by Paul Lowe. Subtitled 'Twelve Eerie Stories', this book represents a good investment for anyone who enjoys the traditional ghost story. There are five new stories here, The rest have been published elsewhere and in several cases been praised here.

Many of these stories were published under the auspices of M.R. James expert Ro Pardoe, either in her Ghosts & Scholars newsletter or the Sarob G&S Books of Shadows. So it's not surprising that Monty casts a long shadow over both style and content.

Thus 'Glamour of Madness' (a fine title) takes another look at 'A Vignette', suggesting a convincing and tragic backstory for the haunting. 'The Island of One Sheep' and 'Party Line' offer Jamesian stories against the setting of the Hebrides. Bell, like James, is very good on topography and the byways of local  history, and these are very different but equally satisfying tales.

Of the new stories 'The Books of Balgowrie' takes us into the familiar, more-or-less reassuring world of book dealers and college librarians. There are some nice nods to classic tales as the plot unfurls, with the customary warning and the inevitable transgression leading to dire developments. 'Materials for a Ghost Story', by the same token, looks at A College Mystery by A.P. Barker and offers 'real' documentary evidence for it.

Not all stories are Jamesian, or at not entirely. The Irish story 'Princess on the Highway' was published in Swan River's Le Fanu tribute volume, and stands up well on re-reading. Like other stories such as 'Sands O'Dee' and 'Last of the Line' it takes as its source material the often brutal interaction between the English and their Celtic neighbours.

Not that the English are particularly safe. 'Abide With Me' gives you a strong incentive to avoid remote country churches, while 'Southwold' offers phantoms on the mist-haunted coast near sunken Dunwich. Reading Bell is always an education for the likes of me, as he is so good at conjuring up a spirit of place in an old-fashioned, scholarly style.

Overall, then, this is another excellent collection from Sarob, upholding the tradition of the traditional ghost story that suggests just enough horror to give the reader a pleasant frisson of fear, but never strays into the realms of outright gore. These are tales of things glimpsed, intuited, and suspected. Bell's characters, who are often lonely academic types, often stray into danger through curiosity over a minor scholarly issue. The idlest of whims can have the direct consequences. We must be wary, he seems to say, and even wariness is not always enough.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

'One day I was selling my wears, and I walked past this old creepy castle. And I look at it and think, 'Very old and creepy!'. And then this creature... flies at me! It dragged me back to this dark dungeon. And bit into my neck. And just at the point of death; this creature forced me to suck its foul blood. And then it opened it's wings, like this. And hovered above me. Screeching. 'Now you are vampire.' And it was Petyr. And we're still friends today.'

House sharing is always fun, especially when you all have something in common. Like being vampires. Deacon is the bad boy, but loves knitting. Gentle Viago is in love, but is taking decades to pluck of courage to pop the question. Vladislav is a stylish medieval warlord, but he's never been the same since his clash with The Beast. And in the cellar in 8,000 year old Petyr, who bears a remarkable resemblance to a certain Mr Barlow from the TV adaption of Salem's Lot.

Sometimes a good film slips by you. That certainly happened with this New Zealand vampire mockumentary. WWDITS is very silly, great fun, and pays homage to vampire movies by offering pretty much all of the standard ingredients and imagery. It is intelligent, knowing, but not smug or cynical. If anything, it reaffirms your faith in humanity by pointing out that we can't escape our idiocy and egotism, but that we still need each other. If only to feed on.

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The lead roles are taken by Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords) as Vladislav, Taika Waititi as Viago, and Johnny Brugh as Deacon. In the now-familiar reality show format they have arguments, have fun, and give their individual pieces to camera. Many fascinating details of vampire life are revealed, like the problems caused by inadequate postage on your crate and the terrible consequences of eating chips. Trying to get into a nightclub is a problem, because the doorman just won't invite them in. There's also friction with the local werewolf pack in Wellington, which is led by Jason Hoyte who played Murray in Conchords. As alpha male Julian he is very sensible about the whole tearing people to bits business, and also insists on politeness. 'We're werewolves, not swearwolves!'

Some excellent minor characters cast light on all the bizarre vampire stuff we just take for granted. Deacon's minion is Jackie, a slightly stroppy woman hoping for eternal life, but not in any immediate danger of being bitten. She has to take a lot of bloody clothing to the launderette. Then there's Nick, who is accidentally vampirised by Petyr, and then starts telling everyone about it. This brings a genuine vampire hunter down on the pals. But it also brings Nick's mate Stu, who works in IT and introduces the gang to the joys of the internet. One of the most poignant scenes shows them watching a sunrise online.

The grand climax of the 'story' is a ball at which all the undead and generally occult creatures in the greater Wellington area converge for a knees up. We finally discover the identity of The Beast, and the vampires show themselves to be good blokes who will not let a mate down in a crisis. The whole Nick and Stu business transforms the setup but also allows the housemates to move on to new stages in their none-lives. It's oddly uplifting, perhaps because in a world like this, vampires can't really be seen as too monstrous. Anyway, I enjoyed it. And there's lots of bouncy Balkan music, too,