Posts

Showing posts from 2012

'The Queen of Spades'

Image
Farewell to 2012, and a Happy New Year to all our readers for 2013. Here's a stylish radio drama for the turning of the year, based on a classic weird tale from Russian literature. And the moral of the story is - do not wager anything on the turn of a card. As if you would.

'The Haunted Dolls' House'

The Haunted Dolls House from Stephen Gray on Vimeo . Excellent zero-budget adaptation of a classic. Check out Stephen Gray's M.R. James site .

Nights of the Round Table

Image
The Christmas season is traditionally a time for tales of the supernatural, and this year I took advantage of some time away from the distractions of blogging and Facebookery to re-read one of the true classics of the genre. Margery Lawrence  came to prominence in the decade after the Great War as an author of shorts stories, most of them weird or ghostly in nature. Her first collection, Nights of the Round Table, was reprinted in the Nineties by Ash-Tree Press in 1998. Richard Dalby edited and introduced the volume, heaping praise upon Lawrence for the diversity and originality of her work. The dozen stories in the collection purport to be those told to the author by members of a select club that meets once a month. Thus January's tale is the first to be told, while December's is the last. Lawrence is in fact a bit erratic about the introductory matter, offering quite a build-up in some cases, while in others she plunges straight into the narrative. There's a slight touc

Christmas Spookitude

Image
Thanks to Sam Dawson for the excellent image.

The 5.6.7.8's - Rock and Roll Santa

Image

Review: Selected Stories, by Mark Valentine

The stories gathered here have all been published before, but many appeared in hard-to-obtain volumes. The unifying theme is the collapse of empires in the wake of the Great War. Europe, once 'the mighty continent', has been torn apart by years of brutal conflict. The vast majority of people found their lives disrupted, sometimes fatally, but often in bizarrely unpredictable ways. This much is fact. What Mark Valentine adds is his remarkable erudition as he offers us glimpses of the lives of aristocrats, villagers, aesthetes, and wandering visionaries (or charlatans), during a time when that fabulous phenomenon called balance of power is swinging wildly this way or that. Indeed, the first story is entitled 'A Certain Power', and takes us among the various social classes and factions of Petrograd during the doomed attempt by the Western Allies to assist the White Russian cause. But the power in question is not an earthly one, and its emissaries have a most unusual mis

The Bells (1926)

Image
In my informal list of 'weird films to watch at Christmas', why not try this screen adaptation of the play that made Sir Henry Irving the first theatrical knight? The original play in which Irving became a Victorian sensation was by Erckmann-Chatrian, one of the great writing teams in horror/supernatural fiction. The film was made by a rather small firm and might have vanished without trace. We're lucky it's still around, because it's a fascinating historical time capsule, and quite entertaining in itself. Set during a bad winter in 1868, the story concerns Mathias, a leading citizen of a small town in the mountains of southern Alsace. Mathias harbours ambitions to become burgomaster, and is thus keen to extend credit to the customers of his tavern and his flour mill. This upsets his wife, but does indeed guarantee him the support of the townsfolk. Unfortunately for Mathias, he is no position to be generous - he is deep in debt to an unpleasant local bigwig who w

The Yellow Leaves

Image
A bit of blatant advertising, now, for the noble cause of publishing poetry on that stuff called paper that's still apparently being made somewhere. The Yellow Leaves series offers 'tantalising glimpses of a reality beyond our comprehension', and I'm sure we're all down with that. The third leaflet in the series features work by the excellent Cardinal Cox. And this is what one side of the 'paper' looks like... Click to make it bigger so you can read the various bits. Note the reference to Ambrose Bierce's fictional medium, Bayrolles, who was always sticking his oar in to tie up a few loose plot strands. Also note links etc allowing you to contact D.J. Tyrer, editor of the series, and of course the cardinal himself.

He's making a list...

Image
The Japanese horror movie boom launched a number of TV series that sought - quite reasonably - to cash in. One interesting series, which can be found in fragmentary form on YouTube, is entitled Kazuo Umezu's Horror Theater . Umezu   is a very popular manga writer, and I think the TV adaptations of his work are pretty good. The Diet, in particular, manages to pack a lot of disturbing stuff into a mere sixty-odd minutes. The reason I'm mentioning this in mid-December is simply that one of Mr Omezu's tales is a Christmas number entitled The Present. Here's how it starts - an object lesson in the need to be very careful what you tell children at this time year. I'm also impressed (though of course to the intended audience it would be unremarkable) by the juxtaposition of Shinto images with trad Christmassy stuff.

Christopher Conn Askew

Image
Do you like this sort of thing? Find out more about the artist here .

The Silent House (2010)

Image
I've watched precisely one Uruguayan horror film so far, and I quite enjoyed it. The premise is simple - shy teenager Laura and her amiable old dad, the rather oddly-named Wilson, move into a remote, rather ramshackle house to do some gardening and generally tidy the place up. We first see them approaching the property through fields, climbing through fences and so on, establishing that, yes, it's kilometres from anywhere. At the house they meet the owner, an old friend of dad's, who helps them get settled in and promises to pop back with some food later. So far, so familiar. We are expecting Something Sinister to happen. Sure enough, when Laura and her father settle down for the night, the girl hears someone outside. Her father is already asleep, of course, and when she wakes him up he tells her not to worry - there's nobody about. Then, when he nods off again, she hears someone moving about upstairs. They have been warned not to visit the upstairs rooms because of s

Of a book and its cover

Image
The unexpected arrival of a beautiful book is always pleasant. In this case I know the book's contents will live up to its cover. Or rather, covers. Selected Stories by Mark Valentine, newly published by Swan River Press , has a rather splendid blue and gold dust-jacket, but beneath it we find this: A slightly inept scan, but you get the picture, so to speak.  A much cleverer person would see this beautiful, antique oil lamp as an apt metaphor - one that illuminates the stories gathered in this volume. According to the flyleaf, these stories 'are about individuals caught up in the endings of old empires - and of what comes next'.  This is familiar territory for Valentine, one of the most intellectually accomplished authors of what is loosely termed weird fiction. I've long admired his work. Many authors have tackled the decline into chaos of Europe, once dubbed the mighty continent by someone or other (probably a Frenchman), now apparently far gone in s

'A Recluse'

Image
One of Walter de la Mare's typically subtle stories. Recognise the reader?

Some Weapons-Grade, Gibbering Cosmic Horror

Image

Talent Show

Image

Mr Valentine's Tales

Swan River Press in Dublin is publishing a volume of Selected Stories by the redoubtable Mark Valentine, one of the most erudite and entertaining writers currently producing supernatural fiction. Here is the blurb: In St. Petersburg, amidst an uneasy truce with the revolution, there exists a secret trade in looted ikons. But who are the dark strangers seeking for the Gate of the Archangel? In the small town of Tzern, news arrives of the death of the Emperor; meanwhile a postmaster, a priest, a prophet and a war-wearied soldier watch the dawn for signs of the future. Constantinople: A quest for the lost faiths of the former Ottoman Empire leads a French scholar to believe that the strangest may also be the truest. On the edges of Europe, exiles and idealists meet in a café to talk of their hopes—while sinister forces begin to march. These stories, exquisitely told by Mark Valentine, are about individuals caught up in the endings of old empires—and of what comes next.

Leave Your Sleep

I'm enjoying this collection of R.B. Russell stories from PS Publishing . It has, however, led me once again to ponder the eternal, unanswerable question - what makes a successful supernatural tale? Not all of the stories here could be classed as supernatural in the conventional sense, but they all play fast and loose with the conventions of realistic narrative. But few qualify as ghost stories and some lie outside the roomier bounds of 'weird fiction'. And I can imagine people who insist on having all the plot threads tied up neatly getting rather cross with this book, because in most cases neat solutions are not what the story is about. Instead, the author offers imagery and ideas to stimulate the reader's imagination, much as a poet might do. I can be reasonably sure that Ray Russell is drawing upon Continental or Latin American influences rather than the Anglo-American ghost/horror tradition. For instance, 'A Woman of the Party' is, on the face of it, an a

Crickley Bulletin

Image
I'm still enjoying The Secret of Crickley Hall on the jolly old BBC. With two out of three episodes down I'm beginning to see the light. I noted some familiar James Herbert ingredients, notably some tricksiness over identity, and the tendency of people with psychic powers to get in harm's way, swear off it all, then go and do it all over again. The ugly side of UK history is also a Herbertian trope, and here it's amply illustrated by the 'baddies', with their pro-Nazi sympathies. Oh, and there's sex. For good characters sex is honest and loving, even if prudes and hypocrites disapprove. For bad characters sex is always something furtive and sordid, and linked to some great wrongdoing. That's not always how it goes in a Herbert story, but it's the way to bet. I can also see why Joe Ahearne wanted to adapt and direct. The story offers a powerful mixture of the claustrophobic (people in an isolated house with the ghost of a sadist) with the care

Random Book Dispenser

I'd give it a go.

Ghost Stories on the talking-type wireless

This time of year is traditionally the season when BBC schedulers get out old boxes of stuff, rummage around a bit, and find some spooky stuff. Fortunately, some of this spooky stuff is pretty good. On Radio 4 Extra, for instance, each weekend - just after the stroke of midnight on Saturday - sees the rebroadcast of readings of some of Walter de la Mare's greatest hits . The first, 'All Hallows', is read by Richard E. Grant. The other stories (by various readers) are 'Crewe', 'Seaton's Aunt', 'The Almond Tree', and 'A Recluse'.

The Secret of Crickley Hall

Joe Ahearne, best known to genre fans for his excellent Eighties series Ultraviolet, directs a brand-new adaptation of a James Herbert novel for the BBC. All a bit of a surprise to me, as I'd always assumed that Herbert is not the sort of modern novelist who sets pulses racing at the Beeb. But I have to say that The Secret of Crickley Hall is rather good. At least, the first episode proved sufficiently well-crafted and absorbing to keep me guessing and watching. Telling two linked stories set in the present day and World War 2, the first episode managed to dodge the clichés of the genre yet also captured the authentic atmosphere of the traditional supernatural tale. Put simply, something bad happened to a nice family (no spoilers here) and this terrible event shaped the characters' reactions to strange occurrences at their new home. The cast is strong; David Warner and Douglas Henshall both get to play against type, and its nice to see youngsters like Maisie Williams (Arya i

Casting the Runes: the movie?

From our 'What? Really?' department comes news of a film based on M.R. James 'Casting the Runes', and directed by Joe Dante , famed for such much-loved Eighties fare as The Howling and Explorers. Steve Duffy, one of the top-flight authors who gave early issues of ST a lot of credibility, just drew my attention to this : When up-and-coming actor Jake Harrington inexplicably hurls himself in front of an oncoming subway train, celebrity gossip blogger Mark Dunning smells a story in Harrington's connection to self-help guru Simon Karswell. What Dunning isn't prepared for is the secret behind Karswell's motivational-speaker success: a command of dark occult forces that reveals his following to be more cult than therapy. Harrington had insisted that Karswell had summoned something with tools he called "runes," raising a being that was stalking Harrington with intent to kill. Karswell makes it clear to Dunning that he doesn't want him pursuing the

'Ilona'

Another little trailer for the next issue of ST, no. 23, which is due out by next April (probably). 'Ilona' is a short-short story by leading Queen Victoria impersonator Tina Rath , and concerns the tribulations of a hard-working employee of Britain's famous National Health Service. Like many thousands of others, Ilona has come to England from Eastern Europe to take up a low-paid manual job. Drudgery is the key word, here, as our protagonist cleans corridors, far from the light of day. But what else might be going on in Ilona's mop-centric world? She mopped languidly. She stopped to rest her back. And when the Supervisor reappeared towards the official end of her shift the long corridor was not even half finished.  “Oh, dear!” she exclaimed, with barely concealed pleasure. “ I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to finish this floor before you go off.” Any of the other ladies would have launched into a voluble account of the unpredictability of night bus

Ghost Stories after M.R. James - Part One

Image

The Sea Change & Other Stories

Image
A new book from Swan River press showcases the short fiction of Helen Grant, two of whose stories appeared in early issues of ST. One of those stories, 'The Sea Change', gives its title to the collection; it's a powerful and enigmatic tale of a diver who becomes obsessed with the wreck of an ancient ship, and undergoes a strange and unpleasant tranformation. The contents are as follows: Grauer Hans The Sea Change The Game of Bear Self Catering Nathair Dhubh Alberic de Mauléon The Calvary at Banská Bystrica Two stories, 'The Game of Bear' and 'Alberic de Mauleon', were produced for competitions in the Ghosts & Scholars newsletter, and I can testify to their excellence. Sadly, though, Brian Showers of Swan River tells me this book is unlikely to be out in time for Christmas - however, it will be published early in the New Year. The picture below is the excellent cover by Jason Zerillo.

Review: The Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows

At the end of the last century (which now seems quite a while back) Ghosts & Scholars ceased publication as a fiction magazine and became a twice-yearly newsletter dedicated to topics M.R. Jamesian. Over the last couple of years, however, editor Ro Pardoe has published a number of short stories, after inviting readers to finish off or flesh out ideas (such as the mysterious 'game of bear') that James abandoned or never got round to fleshing out. The best stories were published in the newsletter and proved very popular. So successful were these competitions that - to write entirely new prequels or sequels to any of M.R. James' published tales. A dozen of these new stories were selected by Ro Pardoe for publication by Robert Morgan's Sarob Press in a fine edition with an excellent cover by Paul Lowe, showing the thing of ''Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You My Lad'' wafting its way up the shingle. The stories gathered here fall into two obvious

A fact or two about the next ST

At the moment I'm sort of working on ST#23, due out next spring (i.e. before April). One of the authors in what is frankly a galaxy of talent is Iain Rowan. A thriller writer who dabbles in horror and the supernatural,  Iain has undertaken the distinctly challenging task of writing one very short story for every week of the year. He does this by the perfectly simple method of picking a song, then writing a story to fit the song in some way. The results are here . The story that Iain submitted to ST, and which you'll be able to read next year, is entitled 'The Singing', and it doesn't seem to require any proofing because he's one of those careful writers who takes punctuation and such very seriously. Also, it's a good story. In fact, it's the sort of eerie fantasy that might have been written by any really good short story writer in the middle years of the last century. Set on an unnamed but probably Hebridean island at some unspecified time (but prob

Nunkie News

Image
Nunkie Productions , fronted by the excellent Robert Lloyd Parry, is on the road again with a 'Black Pilgrimage' of M.R. James shows. This autumn Robert is offering the waiting masses 'Count Magnus' and 'Oh Whistle...'. By the magic of Facebook, I also have news of next year's shows. Let me hand you over to Roger: For those of you who live in or near London, Nunkie is making a rare trip within the M25 in early 2013 - the 18, 19 and 20th January will see 'Count Magnus' and 'A Warning to the Curious' performed at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington, a really nice theatre above a really nice pub. You can book tickets here http://www.rosemarybranch.co.uk/#/count-magnus/4570308970 please spread the word... There'll also be a run in The Brewery Theatre, Bristol in February - contact me for now if you need more details. Also 3 nights at the Leper Chapel in Cambridge in January - again, reservations for the time being can be made by emai

Various bits of Stokerism...

Image
Well, obviously there's all that stuff about Dracula... But there's also The Jewel of the Seven Stars (aka Curse of the Blood from the Mummy's Tomb Doom Sort of Thing ) And there's Dracula (working under an assumed name)... Then there's The Lair of the White Worm , which was weird till Ken Russell got his mitts on it, whereupon it became delightfully loopy... Ooh, look, it's Hugh Grant! So, Happy Birthday, Bram Stoker. 

Bram Stoker´s 165th Birthday - Dracula Google Doodle

Image

His Last Case

I like to bring you updates of what ST authors are up/down/sideways to these days. Stone Franks (yes, it's a nom de plume ) wrote a tale of lycanthropy for ST#14, and has now published a tale of detection for the Kindle. Not sure what His Last Case is about, but from the blurb I detect a hint of Sherlock Holmes spoofery: Fresh from the Case of the Forced Coprophagia-By-Proxy Protagonist, Snowdonia Browne -Amateur Detective investigates mysterious and baffling slayings in a coastal resort. Has the gentleman sleuth met his match this time? Only snuff, eastern mysticism, and cunning gadgetry will decide.

Call for Submissions - Tartarus Press

I mentioned last month that World Fantasy Award-winning Tartarus are calling for submissions to a special profits-go-to-charity anthology  called Dark World . Well, let me add that Tartarus are also seeking submissions for the latest volume in their regular anthology series, Strange Tales IV . So here are two opportunities for you writer types. For the Dark World anthology, which is being edited by Tim (scion of the house of Ray and Rosalie), the details are as follows: Subject matter and style : Tim would like to receive previously unpublished ghost stories (fiction) suitable for a general audience. Although stories should offer more than a "pleasing terror", they should not contain anything too graphic or gratuitous. Word count: Stories should be between 2,000 and 7,000 words.Closing date for submissions: 31st December, 2012. Payment: Authors will receive two copies of the published book. Copyright remains with the author.   Electronic submissions should be sent to Q

Competition Time!

For no particular reason, here's an extract from a very well-known ghost story of yesteryear/yore. Published a long time ago, anyway, and much anthologised since. Name that story and the author! I supposed my Hermes, as he led me to the lower regions, had had a little grog, but I said nothing, and followed him.

Swan River Press - cover art competition

I'm sorry, this one passed me by a bit and now you've only got till the 10th Nov to submit your cover art. Will it be enough? I don't know. If you name is something like Giotto or Leonardo you might be able to do a quick sketch. Anyway, the facts are here : The winner's artwork will adorn the cover of the Sampler for first half of 2013. Artwork dimensions should be 198 mm x 129 mm (oriented portrait, as opposed to landscape), and in keeping with the Swan River Press aesthetic.

Congratulations!

Tartarus Press , one of the best-known and most respected small press outfits in the UK, has won a World Fantasy Award. It's about time, too, as they've been producing excellent books since the Nineties. More news of awards here . It's also worth noting that Alan Garner ( The Owl Service , among others) and George R.R. Martin ( Game of Thrones ) received Lifetime Achievement Awards. Both writers rose to prominence when I was a lad, so it's rather heartening to see them achieve official Grand Old Man status, especially since both are still producing new works.

The Shining - Sweded

Image

October Dreams

Image
Enjoy Michael Kelly's splendidly atmospheric vignette from the latest issue. Music by Tony Tooke, reading by yours truly. Shades of Bradbury and the Twilight Zone on All Hallows' Eve.

Online seance

Image
'Tis nearly the Witching Hour, by Greenwich Mean Time anyway, so I offer you, my insomniac or differently-time-zoned reader, a special treat. An online psychic reading! The spirits move through me, and thanks to them I can reveal your inmost secrets... Do you have a name beginning with a letter of the alphabet? Yes, I know, it's spooky, but stay with it... Have you ever been really disappointed? Did it involve love, money, or possibly something else? Is the colour blue, the number three, or a large watermelon important in your life? What's that crawling up your leg? Perhaps I should end this psychic session now, lest I go too far. And I must stress that psychic powers are not to be meddled with by the uninitiated. Check out Mr Nude...

Call for submissions

Tartarus Press are seeking stories for a special anthology of ghost stories. It's entitled Dark World and details can be found on the TP website here . Publication is scheduled for February, so get a wiggle on, authors!

Halloween Horror Films to Watch Drunk With Friends

Image
Sometimes you watch a film sober. Sometimes you watch a film drunk, preferably with friends. With the latter viewing experience in mind, here are a few ideas for viewing 'pleasure' that might make this Halloween special. It all depends on your definition of special. 1. Planet of the Vampires (1965) A fairly bad Italian sci-fi caper that, oddly enough, seems to foreshadow Ridley Scott's Alien . It's notable as an early effort by legendary giallo nutcase Mario Bava. It's about this planet, and when they land on it, there are vampires or maybe zombies. Some stuff happens, but really it's more a series of incidents held together with variable acting and interesting costume choices. I quite like the spaceship. 2. Deathline (1973) Also knows as Raw Meat, this is the one about cannibals on the London Underground. I'm not really giving much away because it's obvious quite early on that we're dealing with the degenerate survivors of a Victorian tunnel

Edith Nesbit's ghostly tales

Image
After going on about M.R. James (admittedly in his 150th anniversary year) it's only fair to mention other fine ghost story writers of the early 20th century. One of the leading ladies of the era was E. Nesbit , who is deservedly famous for her children's books. However, she also wrote some cracking weird tales, and dramatised versions of five of them can be heard on Radio 4 Extra next week. The stories are 'The Violet Car', 'John Charrington's Wedding', 'Man-Size in Marble', 'The Shadow', and 'The Ebony Frame'. And a link to the Edith Nesbit Society? You're welcome.

Farewell, stately ash?

Image
M.R. James' 'The Ash-Tree' is one of my favourite ghost stories, not least because of the weirdly nasty pay-off  I mean, who'd have thought that she would have... you know... Deeply disturbing ideas. But it seems that the ash tree in the English countryside might soon be a thing of the past . "Thousands and thousands" of ash trees could die at a nature reserve where symptoms of Chalara dieback have been seen, Suffolk Wildlife Trust has said.  The disease was reported to have wiped out 90% of ash trees in Denmark and earlier in the week was confirmed at Pound Farm, near Great Glemham.  The trust said symptoms had now been found at its Arger Fen and Spouse's Vale reserve, near Sudbury.  A spokesperson for Suffolk Wildlife Trust said they were "very concerned". And where is 'The Ash-Tree' set? 'Castringham Hall in Suffolk'. It may be that, in a few years' time, the story will seem markedly more dated, more emphat

The Witches Maze

Image
... might be a good title for a story, but is in fact very much a real thing . It's a memorial to 11 witches who were legally killed in Scotland in 1662. According to the BBC report: The castle was once home to William Halliday and his son John who held court over the 'covens' in the village.  Lord Moncrieff, who now owns Tullibole, commissioned the maze as there is no memorial in Crook of Devon.  In 1662 the court sat five times and resulted in the death of 11 suspected witches.  Those who survived the trials were taken to a small mound near the current village hall and strangled by the common hangman and their bodies thrown on a fire.    The central pillar of the maze (commenced on the orders of Lord Moncrieff in 2003) bears the names of the victims on its five sides. You can find out more about the background to the trials and the victims here . The pillar was carved by Gillian Forbes. The maze naturally made me think of M.R. James' story 'Mr Humphr

Egyptian Interlude - Terrors of the Nile?

Image
Interesting comment from Sam on my Halloween Movie post 'Blood from the Mummy's Tomb'. What scared at that age was its Ancient Egyptian-ess, in that I didn't know any remedies against anything that came from that era. I vaguely knew about how to avoid/fight vampires, witches and WW2 German and Japanese soldiers, but not what to do about that culture... I can see how that might have been worrying. But, oddly enough, my own response was the exact opposite. To me there was never anything intrinsically scary about Ancient Egypt except for the mummies, which were magically reanimated corpses. All the other stuff was too alien to be worrying. And the more I found out about Egypt the more non-threatening it seemed. Here was a culture that valued life so much that its people wanted another go, so to speak, anticipating an afterlife full of the pleasures of this world. They enjoyed food, drink, music, love and friendship, and the good things in general. Their world was sunl

Leave Your Sleep

Image
Ray Russell tells me that he has a new book out. The collection, from PS Publishing, is available in hard cover and runs to over 200 pages. Here's the blurb from PS Publishing. Following on from Literary Remains, R.B. Russell’s previous collection for PS Publishing, the twelve stories of Leave Your Sleep concern sex and death, love and loss. Russell allows his characters to disappear, slip into alternate realities, or re-write their own histories. They find they are able to do the most extraordinary things, even though they may not immediately realise it. And who is in control of their actions, or those around them? If you want to know more, here is a link to PS. As you can see from the cover, it's a rather classy book. Incidentally, Leave Your Sleep includes Ray's sexy story 'The Dress', which was published in ST under a cunning pseudonym. Which raises the question - are any other famous persons publishing under assumed names? You never know.

Halloween Movie 9. The Fog (1980)

Image
Yes, I know it's an obvious choice, but have you watched it lately? It's tremendous fun and chock-full of goodies, from the deliberate slowness of the opening half hour or so to the gradual accumulation of strange and disturbing details as the ghost-infested fog draws in. Absurd though it may be in some respects, for me The Fog is one of the great ghost stories on film. Nautical spooks are fun, nemesis always provides a good plot motor, and the idea of supernatural forces wreaking wild vengeance on a community is now a time-honoured classic, thanks in part to Carpenter. While Halloween was vastly more successful, for me this is the quintessential story for the last days of October - it has the authentic chill of the sea about it.

Halloween Movie 8. Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971)

Image
Based on Bram Stoker's not-easily-read novel  The Jewel of the Seven Stars , this is a Hammer film that, with the benefit of hindsight, represents almost the last hurrah for the traditional 'lots of old furniture and people shouting' school. I've always had a weakness for Egyptian spookery, and this one comes closet to capturing the (admittedly very silly) idea that the curse of the pharaohs might represent a truly existential  threat to modern civilization. The excellent cast includes James Villiers as a posh baddie of the old school, Andrew Keir of Quatermass fame, and the curvaceous Valerie Leon, who featured heavily in the publicity campaign for the film. This one deserves a respectful remake, I feel - modern effects could work well witthin the framework of a looming psychic onslaught. Also, today they'd make a much better job of the snake, the cat, the wandering severed hand... Anyway, there's a  nice 'making of' feature here .

Halloween Movie Interlude - 'The Lost Will of Dr. Rant'

Image
It's a condensed (or, if you like, mercifully short) adaptation of an M.R. James classic - starring Leslie Nielsen! And don't call me Shirley!

Halloween Movie Interlude - 'A Warning to the Curious'

Image
This throbbingly spooky film was made by author Helen Grant and her two children.

Not sure if M.R. James would approve

Image

The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Shadows

Image
My review copy is here... If you click on the image it will magically embiggen itself so you can read the list of authors etc. But by the time I actually review it, it will be sold out I suspect. So instead of waiting for my opinion (yes, I know you want to) why not mosey on over to Sarob Press and order a copy?

Halloween Movies 6. & 7. Fleshy Waxy Screamy Double Bill!

Image
Two classics from the early Thirties, next, with The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and Doctor X  (1932). Both films star Lionel Atwill and Fray 'Eek!' Wray, and both were directed by Michael Curtiz . Both are bonkers but engaging, and I have to admit that I found myself warming to Mr Atwill and Miss Wray. What's more, the brilliant Curtiz makes both films look better, with pre-war technology, than 99 per cent of the stuff produced nowadays. Curtiz's gifts are particularly evident in Doctor X, an absurdly-plotted story that feels a bit like a wildly improbable Sherlock Holmes mystery, but only if Conan Doyle had chronicled the great detective's dreams under the influence of powerful drugs. The film was produced before the notorious Hays Code severely restricted the range of violence, sex and general depravity that film-makers could include. This might explain why, for all its period charm, it has a distinctly grisly plot and some weirdly disturbing scenes.

Halloween Movie 5. The Haunted Palace (1963)

Image
Roger Corman successfully emulated the Hammer horror model in America, adapting stories of Edgar Allan Poe for the big screen. Unfortunately the number of Poe stories that make halfway decent movies isn't that great, and Corman's production line approach got through them rather quickly. So he tried his hand at an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward . The result is a film originally billed, with typical Hollywood accuracy, as 'Edgar Allan Poe's Haunted Palace'. On one level, it's all ludicrous. In 1765 warlock Joseph Curwen is burned by the usual angry mob, but for some reason his castle (imported to New England from Europe, stone by stone - like London Bridge, I suppose) is left standing. Not only that, but his ghoulish retainer/disciple, played by Lon Chaney Jnr., is still looking after the place when Charles Dexter Ward and his new bride Anne arrive to take possession of the ancestral pile. Vincent Price plays Ward and Curwen,

Halloween Movie 4. Night of the Eagle (1962)

Image
Based on the novel Conjure Wife by US author Fritz Leiber, this relatively low-budget British film is notable for strong central performances, some good dialogue, and a plot that holds us rather well. (One major theme is the idea of sexual exploitation of vulnerable young women by older men in positions of power.) The black and white starkness of many scenes gives NotE a 'classic' feel, and the setting - a British university - is well evoked. Leiber's basic premise is very simple - magic is real, and women are often witches who use spells to advance their menfolk's careers. When psychology professor Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) discovers that his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) has been putting magical protective items around their home, he sternly reminds her that - as a social scientist - he can have no truck with such superstition. But when he dispenses with the 'trash' his life takes a turn for the worse. Director Sidney Hayers handles Taylor's descent fr

Halloween Movie 3. The Reptile (1966)

Image
The Reptile is one of Hammer's odder ventures. By the mid-Sixties the studio, which had done so well from reviving Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, and the Mummy, mid-Sixties Hammer was struggling a bit. But they had to keep churning 'em out for their American distributors, so producer Anthony Hinds (under the name John Elder) bashed out this low-budget drama about colonial curses. This is one of those films in which a sensible chap takes his new bride to a country cottage in a neighbourhood where people die horribly for no readily apparent reason  It's not difficult to figure out what's going on, but the nature of the horror is interesting. In a way it inverts the conventional vampire theme, with the monster of the title arguably as great a victim as any of the hapless folk found frothing in the foliage. There's a distinct touch of Conan Doyle about some plot developments, and an interesting subtext about Victorian attitudes to women as well as a more obvious

Halloween Movie 2. Night of the Demon (1957)

Image
As this one has been praised to death by almost everyone, I won't bang on again  about how good it is. So here's something a bit different - a taste of the excellent score, that is often overlooked, adds immensely to the enjoyment.

Halloween Movie 1. Dead of Night (1945)

Image
I know it's a bit obvious, but this British classic offering weird tales-within-a-tale seems the obvious place to begin my very personal (i.e. totally unreasonable) survey of things to watch in the run up to the Spookiest Time of the Year. It's great fun and it can be found in its entirety on YouTube . Opinions vary on the different stories, but one thing is obvious - DoN set the template for many later portmanteau horror films from Amicus . The last story, the ventriloquist's dummy, is truly disturbing and leads into the finale with its nightmare twist. Michael Redgrave is brilliant and the sheer violence (bloodless thought it may be) of the denouement is still disturbing. I'm surprised they were allowed to get away with it back in the days of powdered eggs and Mrs Mopp. WARNING: This clip is essentially one humongous spoiler, but I couldn't find a better (i.e. less humongously spoilerish) one.

Halloween Fun at a London Lido

I'm not in London, so I can't go to this. But it looks good. To celebrate the launch of the third Kindle installment of scary stories from another London there will be a night of scary South London songs and stories 29th October Brockwell Park Lido Café 7.30 for an 8pm start. (9.30 finish) Chris Roberts, London Dreamtime and others present: Full Moon Brockwell Lido. Crafty rats, Lido mermaids, the dead boxer of Denmark Hill and other songs and stories from another London. There will be music, surprises and the chance to play a few hands of that popular cemetery focused card game Boneyard Brag. Entry is free and dress code absorbent underwear. See www.thelidocafe.co.uk for details nearer time

YouTube world...

If you haven't already noticed the Video Bar over to the right, it leads to the YouTube channel of me, David Longhorn, editor of Supernatural Tales. I wasn't sure if there was any actual point to uploading purely audio files to YT. My original intention was simply to put mp3 files on this blog, but it turned out to be a process more complex than organising a mission to Mars, or very nearly. Why Blogger makes audio stuff hard to promote I don't know, but there it is. You can upload movies easily, but not audio. Anyway, the number of hits on my forty-odd videos (i.e. audios with still slideshows of still photos) is approaching the 2,000 mark, which isn't bad for a channel that started in April and caters to a relatively narrow niche. Of all the things I've posted so far, as of this morning, the most popular ones are as follows:

Spireclaw

Huw Langridge, whose story 'Last Train to Tassenmere' appeared in ST#15 some three millennia ago, has a new book out. Spireclaw is a novel about coincidences, a fascinating subject that's formed the basis of a lot of good weird fiction. Here's a bit o' blurb... When Kieran Whyteleafe starts to see little coincidences happening around him he decides to investigate their meaning. The coincidences seem to centre around the word Spireclaw. Why does the word keep appearing in places only meant for Kieran's eyes? Is it connected to the suicide of his old school friend? And what is the significance of the archive boxes that turn up mysteriously at his work? Questions, questions... The book is available to download free as a PDF, as an audiobook, or as a paperback, which seems pretty comprehensive.

Mucky Old Books

Image
If you like filth, you'll love author Helen Grant's blog , where she's been exploring our ancestors' rather interesting attitudes towards witchcraft and related matters. Here latest post concerns the fairly famous Discovery (or Discoverie) of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot (or Scott) . The guy's spelling was all over the place, but he knew a good story when he read one in some other bloke's book: There was (saith he) a noble Gentlewoman at Lions, that being in bed with a lover of hers, suddenly in the night arose up, and lighted a candle: and when she had done, she took a box of ointment, wherewith she annointed her body; and after a few words spoken, she was carried away. Her bed-fellow seeing the order hereof, leapt out of his bed, took the candle in his hand, and sought for the Lady round about the chamber, and in every corner thereof; But though he could not find her, yet did he find her box of ointment; and being desirous to know the vertue thereof, be

For National Poetry Day

The Way Through the Woods by Rudyard Kipling THEY shut the road through the woods Seventy years ago. Weather and rain have undone it again, And now you would never know There was once a road through the woods Before they planted the trees. It is underneath the coppice and heath, And the thin anemones. Only the keeper sees That, where the ring-dove broods, And the badgers roll at ease, There was once a road through the woods. Yet, if you enter the woods Of a summer evening late, When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools Where the otter whistles his mate, (They fear not men in the woods, Because they see so few.) You will hear the beat of a horse's feet, And the swish of a skirt in the dew, Steadily cantering through The misty solitudes, As though they perfectly knew The old lost road through the woods. But there is no road through the woods.

'October Dreams' by Michael Kelly

Image
A short sample from the latest issue. Music and effects by Tony Tooke , who can be found on Twitter and elsewhere.

Nightfall - an essay by Adam Golaski

No, not here - here it is . Adam writes with great insight about the (to me) obscure Canadian radio drama series that produced some of the best weird fiction to be broadcast in my lifetime. While radio drama virtually died in the USA it survived with the 'BBC ethos' of CBC and as a result Nightfall (and other good series, such as Vanishing Point ) had respectable runs. Adam's essay begins with his own personal response (as a lad) to Nightfall's adaptation of Aickman's 'Ringing the Changes'. He concludes by pondering the series' demise - perhaps they simply ran out of stories, or maybe angry complaints about it being too scary played a part? Whatever the facts, Nightfall remains an anomaly - a Canadian show from the television era that recalls the post-war golden age of American radio drama.