Sunday 30 November 2008


I seem to have wiped my link list, which was foolish in the extreme. Never mind, it'll be restored to a pristine condition in due course. Fear not, all shall be well.

Saturday 29 November 2008

The Red Shoes

I've just watched a Korean horror movie that is 1. half an hour too long and 2. visually stunning while seriously lacking in originality. It's not to be confused with the 1948 British ballet movie The Red Shoes, with Moira Shearer. This 2005 shocker is typical East Asian horror, lifting ideas from most of its illustrious predecessors. Thus we get the vengeful ghost (Ring, Phone), the curse (Ring, The Grudge), the troubled mother-daughter relationship (Dark Water), the seriously twisted twist ending (A Tale of Two Sisters, Shutter), the normal bloke who falls for the strange woman (Audition), and the long haired female apparition (almost all of 'em, really). 

That said, The Red Shoes is not bad as entertainment if you don't expect too much. I could have done without the explicit horror - too much blood, gallons of it in fact. But I enjoyed the symbolism of the red shoes, which appear mysteriously on or near a subway in Seoul. They are linked, we gradually learn through a series of flashbacks and the usual detective work, to a very nasty incident that occurred during World War 2 when Korea was part of the Japanese empire. Indeed, these glimpses of Korean history are among the best bits of the film. I could have done with more of the ballet sequence, supposedly dating from 1944, in which dancers depict the inevitable triumph of the rising sun.

Anyway, there's a very good review here that says everything I want to say. By all means rent this one, but don't expect too much. Some good performances, certainly, but don't get your hopes up. East Asian horror really is a triumph of recycling nowadays. When it's visually good, it's watchable, but I'm not sure whether the same old angry ghosts can be trotted out indefinitely. Also, the use of elevators, flickering flourescent tubes, stupidly dark apartments/corridors and women with hair hanging over their faces has now become as cliched as the Gothic romance conventions of flickering candles, wicked uncles, comical ladies' maids, sudden thunderstorms and castles with secret passages. Enough, already. Here's a trailer.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Bad Ghosts!

Yes, those bad ghosts - they're so... bad, aren't they? What with their persistent 'woo' noises, their habit of moving your things around when you leave the room (incredibly painful), and their insistence that you avenge their untimely deaths. Anyway, there's a website dedicated to Bad Ghosts. Actually it's not about 'real' spectres, but all those ridiculous TV shows called 'Britain's Most Haunted Abbatoirs', and so forth. Quite light-hearted and cheerful, but scholarly too, as you'll see. The chap in charge has the right sceptical attitude to all things ectoplasmic.

Here's a clip of the debunkulator at work. Not particularly spooky. I mean, if a ghost were to balance a Challenger 2 main battle tank on its edge, the Madame Arcates might have a case. But a bottle? If it was a ghost I'd give it about three out of ten for spookiness.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

I receive an electronic mail message!

Brian J. Showers, an American in Dublin (which should be a musical) was moved to contact me re: the classic movie I mentioned earlier, downstairs on this blog. 


I recently rewatched KWAIDAN as well for my annual Halloween film list. Here's my short write up:

"3. KWAIDAN, Directed by Masaki Kobayashi, Japan, 1964

"Kwaidan is a portmanteau featuring four folkloric ghost stories: In 'The Black Hair' a samurai attempts to return to his faithful wife whom he has deserted for power and fortune. 'The Woman of the Snow' tells the story of a young woodcutter who meets a mysterious woman who 
commands him not to speak a word of her existence to anyone. In 'Hoichi the Earless' a blind bard sings a song of an epic naval battle to the ghosts of the dead soldiers who fought in it. And finally, 'In a Cup of Tea' is a tale about a man who is visited by ghostly stranger whose image he keeps seeing in a teacup.

"At the time it was produced in 1964, Kwaidan was the most expensive movie made by a Japanese studio: the supernatural genre was shown genuine reverence and given a budget to match. These tales, based on adaptations of Japanese folklore by Lafcadio Hearn, are simple ghost stories. And director Masaki Kobayashi tells them with sombre beauty, a languid style and a jarringly minimal soundtrack. Kwaidan is three hours long and given the stories' narrative simplicities, has a tendency to drag. But nevertheless it remains a rewarding and haunting piece of cinema for those who are patient enough to investigate."

I hadn't realised Hearn was nearly blind. Until I noticed that in most photographs of him, he nearly always has his head half turned. In some where he is facing more straight on than in most, you can see that one of his eyes seems to protrude slightly.Apparently Hearn was injured as a child during some school sport. I've always wondered if he was tended by Sir William Wilde, who was a practicing ophthalmologist in Dublin at the time!

I have a biography of Hearn written by my friend Paul Murray. It's apparently hard to come by. I haven't read it yet, but it's on The Big Pile.

Incidentally, I live a few footsteps away from Hearn's childhood home here in Dublin when he was raised by his great aunt.


Sunday 23 November 2008


I'm trying to add links to the not-very-long list to the write. First phase is to bung in some more writers whose work appears in ST. Any writers want me to put a link to their site or blog in? Let me know, for I am an obliging fella.

Saturday 22 November 2008


I loaned my copy of Kwaidan to a friend some time ago and had completely forgotten about it. But she brought it back this week, along with the latest DVD of Battlestar Galactica. I'm glad to say that my intelligent young friend and her partner enjoyed Kwaidan, which has been described as one of the most beautiful films ever made. This is ironic, given its origins. Kwaidan is based on four Japanese ghost stories that were written, in English, by the Irish author Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn, a great Japanophile, was almost blind. His life was unusual, to say the least. He was clearly a man out of sympathy with his own culture, and you can see why. Because his parents were married in the Orthodox faith, those sons of fun in the Irish Protestant Church considered young Lafcadio illegitimate. When he grew up he became a journalist in America, but made the cardinal error of marrying a black woman - which was a crime. Unbelievable. Japan must have seemed a haven of sanity after his experiences in Western 'civilization'.

The subject matter is exotic, but the form of Kwaidan is familiar. It's a portmanteau film, telling four ghost stories that are thematically linked, to some small extent. Thus the first story, 'The Black Hair', is about love and betrayal among the samurai class in feudal Japan. The second tale, 'The Woman of the Snow', also deals with love and betrayal, but this time among the rural peasantry, where a woodcutter encounters a strange, icy vampire who warns him never to tell anyone he has seen her. Needless to say, our man blabs. 'Hoichi the Earless' is also about a burden imposed on a mortal man by spectral beings. It contains some wonderful scenes and a nasty plot twist. The final story, 'In a Cup of Tea', is a short vignette, but still quite effective.

In all, Kwaidan is three hours long, very lavish, and strangely compelling. Some might find its odd mixture of fantasy and formalism unappealing at first, but try and stay with it. This extract gives you some idea of how stunning it looks.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Put the flags out, possibly

Good newsingtons indeed, my multitudinous followers. British actor, writer and all-round smartydrawers Mark Gatiss is filming a three-part ghost story for Christmas. Gatiss is what we experts (and/or posers) call the genuine article - he knows his stuff. So the news that Mr G has penned an original tale, entitled Crooked House, is as good as getting stuck into a very juicy pear on a scorching hot day in the Cotswolds. Possibly better.

From the BBC press release:

In addition to writing and co-producing the drama, Gatiss takes the role of a museum curator with an in-depth knowledge of the fictional Geap Manor, stretching through Tudor, Georgian, the Twenties and contemporary times.
When school teacher Ben unearths an old door knocker in the garden of his new home, the curator suggests it may come from the now-demolished house. A house reputed to be haunted...

Intrigued, Ben prompts the curator to tell him some of stories about the house and so begins a journey through time.

A corrupt Georgian businessman finds something unexpected in the woodwork of his new home.

In the Twenties, a young couple's happy engagement party is spoiled by the spectre of a ghostly bride.

And, back in the present day, Ben soon finds himself in darker, more dangerous waters than he could possibly have foreseen...

Gor blimey, that sounds well spooky and no mistake. Not unlike those portmanteau horror films that were so common around 1970. Or indeed like the Brit classic Dead of Night. Even better, Jean Marsh is in it! She was Rose in Upstairs Downstairs (and created the series, as it happens). Well, that's something to look forward to over Christmas week. Ghosts and lots of pudding. Hic.

Killed to death...

I enjoyed the original Omen movie, not least because it was so absurdly over the top. I'm not sure what someone who genuinely believes in Satan, the Antichrist and all that stuff would make of it. But over at the amusing Scaryduck blog, what do I find but a condensed version of the movie? Even better, it's EXACTLY as I remember it. Ah, and that reference to the 2nd Doctor Who - was Patrick Troughton our most underrated thesp ever?

Saturday 15 November 2008

Cardinal Cox is at it again...

Cardinal Cox was appointed Poet Laureate of Peterborough in 2003. The Friends of Broadway Cemetery in the city has released a pamphlet of poems by the Cardinal to tie-in with a brief exhibition at the city council chambers. I can report with some satisfaction that the Cardinal's collection, Memento Mori, is very good; the poems are allusive, witty, well-crafted and set all sort of images ricocheting inside the sensitive noggin. As my thoughts were very much on Remembrance lately I was drawn to a poem about a ceremony in a city park:

'They gather in the sunken garden
Flags hanging still to the staff
With silence in the service
A silence for all that died'

Other poems deal with burial customs from prehistory, the distinguished visitors who passed through Peterborough at various speeds, and the general themes of loss and memory. Not exactly ghost stories, these poems, but they are haunted by spirits of the past and certainly haunt the reader.

You can obtain a copy of Memento Mori from the Friends - send them a cheque for one pound fifty, and a C5 SAE. Their address is:

53 Huntley Grove
Peterborough PE1 2QW

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Explore a Gothic Portal

No, that it not an invitation to anything kinky. Well, maybe it is. The point is someone asked me to link to a sort of Goth megasite, so I have. It's over there, on the right - links are in alphabetical order for the benefit of cultured types.

I'm not a Goth myself but I like the whole thing, and I'm sure that if I'm reincarnated as somebody a bit cooler and who needs a less powerful ophthalmic prescription I would wear more black.

That said, the original proto-Goths didn't wear black all the time, if at all.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

About Bloody Time!

Right, they've arrived. There are a few logistical problems, because they sort of arrived in the wrong place. But I am going to be posting out copies of ST14 over the next few days. All you vain, preening authors, expect your complementary copies jolly soon, so you can leave them casually on the coffee table when that Someone Special pops round.

'What? Oh that, it's nothing, a mere bagatelle - some little chap published a short story of mine. Yes, I write, purely for my own amusement of course. Angsty, tortured genius, feels things profoundly, sensitive lover, yes that about covers it. Another large glass of Australian plonk?'

I know what these literary types are like.

Also people who actually paid for the flippin' thing will get it too. I will get a wiggle on and make sure that subscribers around this big blue marble we call a world get their ST14 before the mad evil Christmas postal meltdown. Dear me yes.

ATARASHII GAKKO! - HANAKO (Official Music Video)

'Hanako of the Toilet' is a famous Japanese urban myth of a girl ghost that haunts... well, you can work it out for yourself.  (I th...