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Showing posts from November, 2011

The Eclipse

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This film passed me by completely last year, and so far as I can tell isn't yet out on DVD. However, I watched it online at Lovefilm last night and enjoyed it. It's not a classic, but it is an interesting and at times moving variation on the theme of the ghost story. Suffice to say that it concerns an apparition of the living, which appears to a man while he is helping to run an Irish literary festival where he meets a ghost story writer. the performances are very good. The co-writer and director is Conor McPherson, and the wonder that is Jim Norton appears in a cameo role.

RIP Ken Russell

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Bizarre coincidence corner - last week I found myself explaining the old County Durham legend of the Lambton Worm to a bunch of non-natives in the pub. This was because someone mentioned The Lair of the White Worm , and Hugh Grant's role therein. Now comes news  that Brit movie legend Ken Russell, who directed a very free adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, has died at the age of 84. Farewell, Mr Russell - you were a truly original artist, and I think your films were a lot of fun. 

Straw Bears and Parallel Universes

The redoubtable and indefatigable Cardinal Cox (Poet Laureate of Peterborough) has sent me two more pamphlets. Both are rather spiffing, so let me try to sum up their appeal. Firstly there's Rocket to Ruritania , which lives up to its title. It's the third in a trilogy of collections on the subject of parallel universes, offering the poetic history of a British Empire that embarked upon interplanetary conquest (thanks to Cavorite) but also had some trouble with paranormal doings. The conclusion of the saga tackles alternate Britain's troubled relations with its rebellious colonies in North America. I particularly liked the defeat of US forces by Tecumseh , legendary chief of the Shawnee, giving the opportunity for the creation of an independent kingdom of Louisiana, 'under the house of Valois'. 'The Grand Orient Lodge of New Orleans' offers a fascinating glimpse of one aspect of this might-have-been nation. Depths of swamps we raise pyramids of gold

Beyond the Sea

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I've got too much time on my hands, and among the various box sets I'm rediscovering is The X-Files . Many episodes concern ghosts and the supernatural, of course, but some of the best appear in season one (there are nine seasons, plus two feature films). And one of these, 'Beyond the Sea', has enough contents for a feature film, never mind 46 minutes of TV. The basic premise is simple - a condemned serial killer called Boggs (played by the wonderful Brad Dourif, above) offers to cut a deal with the authorities. He has supposedly acquired psychic abilities due to a near-death experience (literally, as he was in the gas chamber when he got a stay of execution). Boggs offers to help save the lives of two students who've been kidnapped by another killer who - we learn - was almost certainly Boggs' accomplice. This is okay so far as it goes, but the spin put on the story makes it unusually powerful. Instead of beginning with the crime, we first see agent Dan

Imitation is the sincerest etcetera

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All those movies about long-haired girls popping up in a spooky fashion - such imagery is grist to the mill of advertising. Predictably, some people are complaining that this is too scary. Hah! Check out this public information film, as in made by the UK government, specifically for children. It dates from 1973.

The Orphan Palace

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'Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. is a thunderous scribe of dark fiction. His poetry slams into you, cracking through flesh and bone to the real meat beneath.' Simon Strantzas. The Orphan Palace is an extraordinary novel, or rather a novel-length poem, offering fractured and disturbing glimpses of a dark odyssey across the modern US in search of... something. To be honest, I had a lot of trouble with this one. It reads something like a deranged hybrid of Thomas Ligotti and William Burroughs, and that's tough going for an old gent like myself. However, a few things are clear.  The protagonist, the intriguingly-named Cardigan (because he's coming unravelled? Because he's leading a charge into the Valley of Death?), sets off on his journey to Zimms, the 'orphan palace' where he was raised to be a far from model citizen. Along the way he encounters various characters, making this a bit of a picaresque adventure. An internal migrant, Cardigan journeys back to confro

The Awakening

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I heartily recommend this film. See it if you can. Some critics have been sniffy or dismissive - ignore them and see for yourself. Firstly, it's a very powerful and moving drama that happens to have a supernatural core. Secondly, it's well-acted, visually superb, and genuinely surprising. The central premise - as you can see from the trailer - is a simple one. After the Great War and the influenza epidemic killed millions, there was an upsurge in Spiritualism. Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is a tenacious debunker of false mediums, hauntings and all things spooky - indeed, by her strictly rationalistic definition, all mediums are false and all ghosts must be hoaxes. And she's got the trip-wire cameras, differential thermometers and EM field detectors to prove it. The action begins with a good recreation of a seance and shows just how astute Florence is. Enter a history teacher (Dominic West), inviting the brilliant Miss Cathcart to a boarding school in the wilds

In the Night - In the Dark

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The title of  Roger Johnson's new collection of ghostly and weird stories  is taken from the script of that excellent Robert Wise movie The Haunting. Fans will recall that when Eleanor Lance arrives at Hill House the far-from-jolly housekeeper, Mrs Dudley, emphasises that she will only be present by day. Nobody from town will come out to Hill House in the night - in the dark. And that sums up much of the appeal of these stories, in which the sinister and unearthly is often foreshadowed by the most commonplace remarks and observations. Roger Johnson is a native of Chelmsford in Essex, and his love for that corner of England (and the wider region of East Anglia) shines through in these stories. It is indeed a lovely part of the world, and one that provided much inspiration to Dr Montague Rhodes James. Roger Johnson is a writer in the Jamesian tradition, certainly in terms of setting - here are village inns, little churches, country houses and the like. But the author is his o

Scary Girl

Scary Girl with Chloe Moretz from Chloe Moretz      

On general release - a ghost story

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Co-written by Stephen 'Ghostwatch' Volk, this promises to be a good 'un. I'll certainly be going to see it. So there.

For Remembrance Day

Corporal Stare Back from the line one night in June, I gave a dinner at Bethune— Seven courses, the most gorgeous meal Money could buy or batman steal. Five hungry lads welcomed the fish With shouts that nearly cracked the dish; Asparagus came with tender tops, Strawberries in cream, and mutton chops. Said Jenkins, as my hand he shook, “They’ll put this in the history book.” We bawled Church anthems in choro Of Bethlehem and Hermon snow, With drinking songs, a jolly sound To help the good red Pommard round. Stories and laughter interspersed, We drowned a long La Bassée thirst— Trenches in June make throats damned dry. Then through the window suddenly, Badge, stripes and medals all complete, We saw him swagger up the street, Just like a live man—Corporal Stare! Stare! Killed last May at Festubert. Caught on patrol near the Boche wire, Torn horribly by machine-gun fire! He paused, saluted smartly, grinned, Then passed away like a puff of wind,

Victorian Spirit Photography

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Spooky British magazine covers

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An excellent site, Visco , has lots of pulp sf, adventure and mystery magazine covers. Phantom magazine is a new title on me, but it's interesting to note that somebody once tried to produce a British equivalent to Weird Tales, and even used some WT content. It ran for 16 issues in 1957-8 and was published successively by Vernon Publcations, Dalrow publications and Pennine Publications though, as these were all based in Bolton, Lancs, it is likely that they were connected. It had as sister publications the Creasey Mystery Magazine (later, under different ownership, John Creasey Mystery Magazine) and Combat, bizarrely advertised inside the cover of one issue of Phantom as the GOOD War Story Magazine. It isn't clear whether the wars were good, or the stories.

M.R. James again

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At the Daily Telegraph site, a good review of the OUP edition of MRJ's Collected Ghost Stories. It's an intelligent appreciation of the Jamesian canon. Often imitated but never bettered, they have in the ensuing century proved themselves to be some of the most influential supernatural fiction in English. If H P Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe stand at the root of one enduring tradition — the American weird tale, with its madness and horrors, its alien gods, science-fictional conceits and agonised lunatic protagonists — James’s work set the benchmark for that rarer and more haunting form: the English ghost story.  If the weird tale aims to horrify or astound, the ghost story aims to haunt. Perhaps James’s greatest contribution to the form was to discard the overwrought psycho religious chiaroscuro of the Gothic horror tale and to coax the starkest of supernatural horrors from everyday settings and props. But such writing depends to a great degree on form, and, as subsequent

Roger Johnson's New Book!

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I've just received a review copy of the splendid new pb collection of stories (and poems) by Roger Johnson. It's available from MX Publishing . The price is £13.99. I've met Roger a few times and had the pleasure of hearing him read 'A Vignette' in the church at Great Livermere, when we were among the M.R. James enthusiasts attending the dedication of a plaque to the great ghost story writer. There are many good ghost story writers, I'm glad to say, but I think Roger has been rather overlooked as a worthy successor and disciple of James. There's a balance of erudition, humour, action and characterisation in a first-rate ghost story. The fact that an editor as distinguished as the late Karl Edward Wagner chose three of Roger's stories for anthologies tells you how good they are. I ought to add that Roger Johnson is emphatically not an M.R. James pastiche-merchant. There's a whole section of stories here that are very much in the tradition of

Tell Tale Heart Animation

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Nunkie Fun

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Went to Belsay Hall on Saturday, Sunday and Monday evenings to hear Robert Lloyd Parry perform six ghost stories by M.R. James . As a friend remarked when I first attended a Nunkie Theatre production last year at the Lit and Phil in Newcastle, this is as close as you can get to hearing Monty James himself read his stories. Or is it? As another friend remarked last night, James may not have been such a good reader of his own work. Anyway, the point is that Belsay Hall is, in theory, the ideal place for ghost story readings, but in fact is somewhat deficient as a setting. This is because the hall is a fine old house, but is completely unfurnished, the interior having been gutted a long time ago. So RLP performed in the library before a fireplace, but there were no books, no fire, and indeed no carpet, just a few rows of wooden seats arranged in semicircles. Given this far from ideal atmosphere, he did extremely well. The whole long weekend was billed as The M.R. James Trilogy, a

Be told!

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Edgar Wright's tribute to the trailers we all recall.

The Monkey Mirror & Other Stories

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There's a long tradition of supernatural stories about animals - by which I mean 'real' animals, not unicorns, dragons, basilisks and what have you. Le Fanu did a good job with a monkey in 'The Familiar', and E.F. Benson's 'Caterpillars' has the authentic chill factor. If we expand our scope to include the Gothic tale we have Poe's domestic horror 'The Black Cat'. Out in the wilds there's 'The Green Wildebeest' by John Buchan, and a few others. However, animal ghosts, or ghostly animals, remain a relative rarity. So Elsa Wallace's collection The Monkey Mirror is a distinct curiosity, as all fourteen stories are about animals. Are animals as scary as people? That's problematic, for me. The traditional ghost story focuses on death and what may survive death. Animals are (again, traditionally) the 'beasts that perish'. But why shouldn't they have souls, or psychic residues, or whatever? The rather facetious