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Showing posts from December, 2010

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

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The Female Ghost

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It's never occurred to me before, but the ghost story as a genre has arguably been welcoming to female writers, certainly when compared to (say) science fiction, where within living memory women writers had to disguise their gender, lest spotty boys be outraged by the presence of girls in the gang. (CL Moore, anyone? How about Leigh Brackett, or James Tiptree Jnr?). Anyway, BBC 7 is doing a series of ghost stories by women. They are 'The Cold Embrace' by Mary Braddon , 'Man Size in Marble' by Edith Nesbit , and ' Afterward' by Edith Wharton . It's a pity there are no more recent efforts, though. I would have chosen 'The Tower' by Marghanita Laski, plus something by Joan Aiken and a Joyce Carol Oates. But there you go - copyright and all that.

It is, too

Smiling Queen Victoria

Whistling in the Dark

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I was disappointed, and so was my mother. While my mother is not an expert in supernatural fiction, when we discussed watching Whistle and I'll Come to You she remarked that it was a terrifying story. And of course you always anticipate good things when John Hurt takes the lead. Unfortunately the BBC's latest 'adaptation' took so many liberties with MR James' story that little of it remained. Admittedly, there is a case for the defence. It's impossible to get a new ghost story commissioned by the BBC, so the only way for a writer and/or producer to explore new ideas is to piggyback them on a classic. I find this unconvincing - it means that what you end up with is not, really, a new story so much as a bastardised version of an old one. Oh well, there's always next year.

Richard III, but not as we know it

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The Haunted Palace

Arguably the one horror writer of distinction to get a raw deal at the movie is HP Lovecraft. Okay, his stuff is densely worded and chock-full of his own concocted mythology, which is harder to explain than the usual 'Oh, so it's a werewolf eating the villagers.' But it's still a pity that so few efforts to put HPL's ideas on screen stand up to more than one watching. Among the best is - perhaps surprisingly - a Roger Corman flick that he made during his Poe period. The Haunted Palace is in fact touted as 'based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe and a story by HP Lovecraft'. This is such a blatant lie that the magnitude is almost admirable. The script by Charles Beaumont is a free but respectful adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward . The Poe bit consists of Vincent Price's voice-over quoting a few lines from 'The Haunted Palace' that aren't even especially apt. What the story loses in the transposition to film it gains in cinematic vi

Weird Winter Tales

This is a guest review from Cardinal Cox. Reading was surrounded in fog and snow as my train chugged from London into its’ station. The Central Library is a modern four-storey affair, reputedly built on the site of an ancient abbey. In the entrance to the second floor reference section musician and author Chris Lambert had created an ambient installation under his Music for Zombies nom-de-tune. For more information go to www.chrislambert.net The event started at noon with Gwilym Games (editor of the Friends of Arthur Machen newsletter Machenalia – www.machensoc.demon.co.uk ) delivering a talk on the importance of libraries in the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Academic and occultist Dr. David Evans then joined Gwilym to discuss the Necronomicon in Lovecraft and the various created versions. I had hoped that Reading’s David Langford might have been present to offer some reminiscences about the George Hay version to which he had contributed a chapter. (I had first heard of the event vi

The Phantom Coach : A ghost story for Christmas

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MRJ Documentary

Revenants

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Daniel Mills' first novel is a remarkable debut. Set on what was the wild frontier of New England in August and October 1689, the story concerns Cold Marsh, a small community of Puritans under the sway of Isaiah Bellringer, a fanatical 'hell-fire and damnation' preacher. Bellringer is growing old, but his sway over the colony remains strong. His chosen successor is Edwin, an intelligent young man betrothed to the lovely Ruth. Scenes in which the couple go courting through the village - being careful to walk four feet apart - are telling. This is a society in which any physical contact between the sexes provides the Devil with an opportunity to instigate lustful deeds. When the novel begins he Devil is also believed to be more active than usual around Cold Marsh - two young women have recently disappeared. One has been found dead from no obvious cause. The other has seemingly vanished forever. It is the villagers' response to the third disappearance that forms the cen

Ghost kicks Vampire ass

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Those lovely and not at all sinister corporate types at Google have devised a new toy called Books Ngram viewer. It lets you graph the number of reference to a particular word or phrase over time in many published works. When I typed in ghost, vampire, zombie and werewolf I found that ghost is way ahead, but vampire put a right old spurt on lately. Teenagers, eh? Poor old zombie and werewolf didn't get a look in. I couldn't include mummy for obvious reasons.

Dr Terror's House of Horrors

WARNING - CONTAINS SPOILERY THINGS! Having just watched this film (on rented DVD) for the first time since the Seventies, I was pretty impressed. It really is one of the best portmanteau horror movies. It doesn't match up to DEAD OF NIGHT, but what could? Indeed, it's interesting to note that, while similar in some ways, the two films do have a radically different approach to storytelling. But first, a ludicrously OTT trailer. DTHH takes the basic format of a group of people thrown together who are told a series of spooky tales by a mysterious stranger (Peter Cushing's eponymous Tarot reader). Milton Subotsky penned the five tales, and their titles show that subtlety was not on his mind. We start with 'Werewolf', move on to 'Creeping Vine', meet the 'Voodoo God', clutch at the 'Disembodied Hand', and finally get in a flap about the 'Vampire'. Lest I sound too facetious, these are all well-done. Even the weakest story, the killer

It's always in the trees

Viewing Jacques Tourneur's classic take on an MR James story for the fourth or fifth time, I'm again impressed by how much is done with relatively little material. The leading man - Dana Andrews - comes across as a drunken lecher, while villain Karswell is far more likeable. The plot development is rather bitty. Then there's Mr Meek. Quite brilliant British silliness suddenly giving way to genuine weirdness.