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Showing posts from 2013

A Very Monty Christmas

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Well, Mark Gatiss certainly pulled off the big one, to steal a phrase from the realms of football commentary. Not only did he manage to get his dramatisation of an M.R. James story on the box on Christmas Day, but also presented an excellent documentary on Monty to follow it up. The Tractate Middoth  was extremely well-handled and very entertaining. As Gatiss' directorial debut, it bodes extremely well. I admit it's not one of my top ten Monty stories. But Gatiss chose cleverly, I think, by selecting a story that's just right for the 35 minute slot allocated. A bit more complex, a few more characters, and the result would have been a slightly garbled effort, whereas one of the slighter tales - such as 'An Evening's Entertainment' - might have wilted under the glare of the camera. As it is, though, the antics of naughty Dr Rant proved to be just the thing. From the start the drama pays tribute to the great Lawrence Gordon Clarke adaptations of the Seventies.

In Dulce Jubilo

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I was going to sing this myself, but felt that the dress clashed with my beard. Merry Christmas! And a Cool Yule.

The Phantom Coach

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Think I've posted this before, but it's worth seeing again - and Christmas is a time for repeats! Anyway, this is a spiffing adaptation of a ghost story by Amelia B. Edwards .

Stigma (1977 BBC Christmas Ghost Story)

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A ropey YouTube upload from what is obviously not a commercial videotape. This one is an original story rather than an adaptation, so I thought you might find it interesting. I think that - as modern efforts go - it's rather well done. Nice to see Peter Bowles, a very good actor best known for To the Manor Born, getting into a serious role.

Yuletide Old Movie Spot - The Evil Mind (aka The Clairvoyant)

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The holidays were a time for old films when I was a lad. Nowadays it's all fancy blockbusters and the like, but I prefer obscure stuff in black and white when I'm a bit drunk and full of pudding.  Anyway , here's a little gem I stumbled across earlier this week. It's Claude 'Weather Report' Rains and screen beauty Fay Wray in a British (maybe a 'quota quickie'?) film that neatly tackles the perennial question - What if someone really could see the future? Does this mean they can help avert disaster, or do their prophecies actually shape events? And was three hundred pounds a week really an unthinkably vast wage back then? (Yes, it was.) It's fascinating to see two big-name stars in a relatively cheap and cheerful horror movie (albeit one without actual monsters). But it's good stuff, from the opening when the 'Great Maximus' finds his act going wrong due to simple human error to the big trial scene at the end. Some nice visua

The Heaven Tree & Other Stories

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It's been a good year for collections and anthologies. The rude health of the supernatural tale is a bit surprising, but heartening. Here we are at the end of 2013 and I'm surrounded by excellent new stuff. The Heaven Tree is a case in point. New from Sarob Press, it's the first collection of stories by an author who has been writing for many years. Why it took so long for Christopher Harman's work to get between hard covers, I don't know. Writing has always been a chancy business, I suppose. The book consists of five long-ish stories, all offering Harman's dense, impressionistic prose. Some authors sketch in pencil, but Harman lays on thick layers of pigment in dark, surprising colours. His work is slightly reminiscent of Ramsey Campbell in this regard. But his prose also reminds me of Mervyn Peake's fantasies - it is artistic and poetic, shaping language beautifully rather than merely using it for an obvious purpose. It is a somewhat cinematic approa

Byzantium (2012) & Dean Spanley (2008)

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In a recent post I praised the way the Anglo-Irish film  The Daisy Chain offers a straight take on the idea of fairy changelings, because the central idea - no matter quaint it may seem - is inherently horrific. Well, it so happens that I watched another couple of films the in weeks following that also take old-school supernatural notions seriously - albeit in very different ways. First up, Byzantium . This is director Neil Jordan's third venture in shadowy realms. I wasn't too impressed with Interview With the Vampire , and can't remember if I've seen High Spirits . Third time seems to be the charm, though, as Byzantium is a remarkable film, combining an authentic Gothic feel with an absorbing contemporary thriller, and finding time to tackle a bit of ill-starred romance. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan star as (apparently) sisters Clare and Eleanor. The opening sequence leaves us in no doubt that they are not ordinary young women, and that some form of '

Seventeen Stories

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'There are those who make it a principle not to like anything that is popular, out of a mistrust of mass taste. Those who have never caught on are their preserve. They look with disdain on all the rest.' This passage (from 'Without Instruments') sums up, to some extent, the outlook of Mark Valentine. His tales seldom deal with the obvious, the commonplace, the clich├ęd. Instead his characters seek out the rare, the baffling, the downright impossible - often learning something to their great disadvantage in the process. Instead of the monsters and menaces of conventional horror fiction, they encounter stranger and perhaps more credible terrors. There is also a fair leavening of humour. Indeed, lack of humour in a Valentine character is a warning sign that something less than delightful could soon befall them. All but one of Seventeen Stories have been published before, and indeed I've mentioned some in earlier reviews. But a lot of the tales gathered here are

Obsessive authors!

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Omnium Gatherum press is publishing a collection of stories, including several from writers whose tales have graced the pages of ST. Little Visible Delight is a collection of eleven tales of obsession, and among those revealing their deepest, darkest yearnings are Lynda E. Rucker, S.P. Miskowski, James Everington, and Steve Duffy. Anyway, here be the blurb. Often the most powerful and moving stories are generated by writers who return time and again to a particular idea, theme, or image. Obsession in a writer's imagination can lead to accomplishment or to self-destruction. Consider Poe and his pale, dead bride; his fascination with confinement and mortality; his illness and premature death. Or Flannery O'Connor's far less soul-crushing fondness for peacocks. Some writers pay a high price for their obsessions, while others maintain a crucial distance. Whichever the case, obsessions can produce compelling fiction. Little Visible Delight is an anthology of original stori

Building a Spooky Library - Robert Westall

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Robert Atkinson Westall (1929-1993) was one of the most prolific ghost story authors of all time. He is probably the best-known British ghost story writer of the 20th century - I'd wager more people have heard of him than M.R. James. Yet his status within the genre has always been problematic, because he was a children's author. For some this consigns his work to second class status - they seem to think that only books for adults deal with 'serious' themes and ideas. For me this is a short-sighted and wrong-headed viewpoint. In writing for children, who are notoriously exacting critics, Westall had to focus on plot, character, and ideas, and do a competent job - no loose ends, no rambling digressions, and no self-indulgent 'fine writing'. Technically, Westall only wrote one collection of ghost stories for adults - the excellent  Antique Dust . But in fact most of his work is entertaining for readers of all ages, and much of what he wrote for young readers is s

'The Tractate Middoth' - BBC Christmas Ghost Story

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It's been announced that Mark Gatiss' adaptation of M.R. James' classic ghost story will be screened on BBC 2 on Christmas Day. The one-off play will run from 9.30 to 10.05, a running time that seems about right to me. The cast includes Sacha Dhawan, John Castle, Louise Jameson, and Una Stubbs. Judging from the photo on the BBC site, it's a period piece - or is it fashionable for young chaps to wear braces that hoist  their trousers to the navel? I'm so out of touch. But I'm guessing it will be set roughly 'between the wars', which doesn't really count as an updating. *Update! I am reliably informed by Ro Pardoe that it's set in the Fifties. (Well, I was close-ish. Similar trousers.) And location filming took place at Stonyhurst College, a Catholic boarding school in Lancashire. You can see some behind the scenes shots  here .

Messing With Old Stuff

One of the biggest No-No's in the history of supernatural fiction is stealing very old books. So the police can at least eliminate ghost story enthusiasts from their enquiries concerning the theft of - wait for it - a 16th century Bible. It was stolen from a Welsh church. No doubt it is worth a lot of money. But if roughly 15,000 stories, plus approximately 250 feature films and TV dramas are anything to go by, the thieves are in serious trouble. Even now, the eerie sense of their being someone just outside the old field of vision, a figure that can never be more than glimpsed, might be wreaking havoc on their nerves. Oh, and there's this: 'As well as leaving no fingerprints the thieves also went to the trouble of putting a copy of the Good News Bible in place of the one they had taken.' That's what is known as adding insult to injury. I dread to think what will happen to Fingers McNulty, The Prof, Dutch Steve, and the rest of the gang. Nothing nice, I'll w

The Daisy Chain

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This 2008 horror movie is unusual on several counts. Firstly, it takes fairies seriously, possibly for the first time since J.M. Barrie. Secondly, it's set on the west coast of Ireland - an excellent location for many reasons, but well off the usual horror film path. Thirdly, it's a co-production between several worthy agencies, made with the support of the BBC and its Irish counterpart, RTE. Fourthly, both writer and director are female. Given these facts, you would expect something a little different from the average gore flick, and you'd be right. The premise is simple. A young Anglo-Irish couple return to the husband's home village because life in London has become unbearable following the death of their daughter two years' earlier. Samantha Morton's character, Martha, is now heavily pregnant again. She and Tomas (Steven Mackintosh) move into a house outside the village, near the cliffs, and discover they have some rather odd neighbours. There's Sean

RIP Joel Lane

I was shocked and saddened this evening to read that Joel Lane died in his sleep last night. I never met him, but we did correspond by email on the occasions when he submitted stories to ST. The stories were excellent, but he was quite modest about them. I never had the courage to ask him why he'd submitted his work to an amateur editor who couldn't even afford to pay him.  It's hard to believe Joel Lane's no longer around. His continuing presence as a major British talent was for many of us simply a given - a writer of real insight and impressive intellect. He was classed as a horror writer, but his short stories can bear comparison with those of any contemporary writer regardless of genre. A tribute from Mark Valentine can be read here . I'm sure there will be many more in the days to come. From some of my Facebook friends, I culled the following comments: Joel Lane was one of the most phenomenal and underappreciated writers of his generation, one of the

The Incredible Robert Baldick? Really?

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This is a failed pilot  that aired on the BBC in 1972. It stars Robert Hardy as Sir Robert Baldick - a name taken from a real person , who happened to die in 1972. So, it's a name culled from an obituary by writer Terry Nation . So far as I know this is the only attempt at supernatural fiction by Nation, who is of course best known for creating the Daleks and thus boosting Doctor Who from obscure kids' show to global telly phenomenon. Given this, I don't think it's entirely a coincidence that Sir Robert likes to be addressed as 'Doctor' while he's solving weird mysteries with the aid of his loyal companions. It's also notable that he travels around in an unusual conveyance (in this case a private train, not a space-time machine). A few things to look out for: the girl who's been 'killed' in the opening bit is clearly breathing; there are enough stick-on whiskers here to make a convincing Bigfoot video; and I think there's a neat bi

Get it Down, and Other Weird Stories

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Martin Hayes featured in ST#17 with '13 Nassau Street', a sort of ghost-story-with-a-twist. It seems slightly out of place here, as most of the tales on offer in this collection  are outright horror and tend to have a sci-fi vibe. The shadow of Lovecraft falls across some of the most interesting stories. Luckily, Hayes isn't one of those who assumes that references to the Necronomicon and so forth make a Mythos tale work. Instead he takes Lovecraft's basic premise - ancient, terrible beings lurk out there, or down there, or somewhere - and runs with it in some interesting directions.  Thus in 'Me Am Petri' a meteorite brings an alien entity into the ideal location - a scientist's laboratory. Unfortunately for our would-be invader, certain aspects of modern human society prove far more monstrous than it is. More serious and altogether darker is 'Beneath the Cold Black Sea', detailing a confrontation with the Deep Ones in an American coast

The Moon Will Look Strange

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Lynda E. Rucker's debut collection from Karoshi Books  includes eleven stories that all fall within the broad category of weird fiction. They are also united by a common sensibility - a feel for loss, and loneliness, that at times makes the the lives of Rucker's protagonists almost unbearable. Most stories about solitary folk having strange experiences fall into one of three categories. There are fictions in which a lonely individual never makes a connection with another human being - or at least, not a healthy, natural one. Then there are Jamesian tales in which scholarly bachelors seem quite happy in their solitude, until something happens to seriously discommode them. Finally, and most familiarly in the modern American horror story, there is the situation most of Rucker's characters find themselves in - that of suffering loss and being unable to face it squarely, or deal with it in other ways. Thus in the impressive title story Colin, scarred by the accidental de

Movie Posters - How Many Have You Seen?

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Some good, some... not so good. But all good fun, I feel.

The Torygraph on fantasy and such

The writer Anne Billson has a good piece in the Telegraph about the recent World Fantasy Convention. It's familiar stuff, by and large, as we already knew genre fiction is not a load of old tat. But I daresay it's a revelation to some that there is a long tradition of good writing sheltering under the fantasy brolly. And I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more about one particular author next year. This year's convention coincided with the 150th anniversary of the birth of Arthur Machen, the Welsh fantasy author of The Great God Pan, which Stephen King has called "one of the best horror stories ever written". Perhaps nowadays Machen is best known as the writer of The Bowmen, a short story in which ghostly archers from the Battle of Agincourt help defeat a company of Germans in the First World War.  The author never intended it as anything other than fiction, but it somehow became accepted in many quarters as an account of actual events, and ended up cont

Pulp Art - Joseph Eberle

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I think I've seen a fair bit of Eberle's work in my time, as I've thumbed through plenty of old magazines (I had an uncle with a vast collection of pulp stuff). I think these illustrations owe something to Virgil Finlay, but I could be wrong. Maybe the influence went the other way? Leah Bodine Drake at least has a Wikipedia entry. Best known as an editor, poet, and critic, she only wrote two stories for Weird Tales (in 1953/4), but they clearly merited pretty good artwork.

Pulp Art - The Wendigo

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The excellent horror/fantasy/sf author Mark Fuller Dillon has been sharing images from old pulp magazines with his Facebook pals, so I thought I'd share some of them with you. Most of them are sf illustrations, but some fall into the supernatural horror/fantasy category. This one by Matt Fox, is from Famous Fantastic Mysteries , June 1944. Click to enlarge.

Nunkie's Nice Nordic Pair

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To the Lit and Phil in Newcastle, last night, to see the redoubtable Robert Lloyd Parry of Nunkie Theatre perform two more classic M.R. James stories. The choice of tales is interesting, pairing as it does the relatively mild but fun 'Number 13' with the much darker 'Count Magnus'. The link is of course that they are both tales of Nordic lands - the first set in the Danish city of Viborg, the second set mainly in rural Sweden. 'Number 13' makes a good opening feature, so to speak, because there are quite a few unforced laughs to be had with Mr Anderson's attempts to communicate in Danish. The most obvious bit of humour - Mr A's somewhat forced concoction of a poem in mock-Gothic style - was omitted. I think that's a sensible edit as it's perhaps a bit too silly, and it allows the story to be tightened up. And, as always, in hearing the tale performed I noticed a few things that I'd forgotten. Anderson catching sight of a bit of the undead

Closed to Submissions

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ST is now closed to submissions for this year. I've received a lot of stories, many of them good, some of them excellent. I'm still reading 'em, but I'm sure I have enough for at least the next two issues. I'll be inviting submissions again sometime in the New Year. If you sent me a story and haven't heard from me, please be patient - I'm thinking!

The Green Book - Issue 2

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The second issue of Brian J. Showers' excellent journal of writings on 'Irish Gothic, Supernatural, and Fantastic Literature' is pretty splendid. It's always good to see Richard Dalby's name because he's one of he most knowledgeable experts on the ghost story tradition. In this issue he contributes a fascinating account of the life and works of Mervyn Wall , an author who has eluded me till now. He seems like a fascinating chap and I think I'll seek out his books, especially his mediaeval fantasies concerning an unfortunate monk. Equally erudite is Albert Power, whose long essay 'Towards an Irish Gothic' reaches the high Romantic era and offers quite a few insights. I particularly like Power's learned but often humorous approach. Thus the author Regina Roche's novel Children of the Abbey 'displays a loose-limbed flakiness', a phrase as amusing as it is useful in genre criticism. The big surprise of the issue (for me) was an art

25 And Not Out!

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Issue 25 of ST is now available as a POD magazine or as a very cheaply-priced PDF. Click on the link over to the right to access the product page. I think this issue is pretty darn good, though I say so myself. For a start, we have a splendid range of fiction. Peter Bell's 'The Refurbishment' is a cracking 'traditional' ghost story, with a contemporary setting - the author's native Liverpool. Totally different is Mike Chislett's 'The Middle Park', a reality-distorting tale in which he continues to explore the London of his imagination, a city so bizarre it might almost be real. That's in marked contrast to Chloe N. Clark's story 'Who Walks Beside You', a study in alienation that ponders the nameless things that may lie behind the most commonplace of lives. Very different again is 'Some Houses - A Rumination', in which Brian J. Showers visits an address in Dublin with a very odd, and slightly scorched, reputation. Gillian

Hallowe'en Film Quiz 2. Name the Character!

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Yes, another quiz - no cheating wjth that Google machine on the intertrons, now. Thirteen classic movies (or at least, favourites of mine), and thirteen memorable horror movie villains, heroes, ghosts, victims... Just name names, and we'll let you off with a caution. Oh, and I've mixed some non-supernatural movies in this time (though definitions vary, and some are certainly genre-benders). 1. Nice easy one to start... 2. Off on one of my predictable excursions to the Orient. 3. And while we're in Japan... 4. Now here's a classic that I love. 5. And here's a non-classic by any standard - as a movie. We're looking for the girl in the dress, not the guy who's probably lost his deposit on that suit. 6. Time for another legendary actor chappie. Remember, it's the character we want. 7. Lawks, they don't get much classier than this bloke. But who's he playing? 8. Two names needed, here. 9. And two names nee

Quiz Answers!

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The almost unbearable excitement of the Rapidly-Approaching-Hallowe'en Movie Quiz had literally several people trying to name the films in question. So, in case you were wondering who was right about what, here are the answers. 1. Tales from the Crypt (UK 1972) Yes, it's Joan Collins discovering that when you're naughty, Santa is mightily displeased. 2. A Tale of Two Sisters (Korea 2003)  A twisty plot recounting the very bizarre and bloody events of one fateful day, with a truly horrific finale. 3. The Asphyx (UK 1973) Robert Stephens and Robert Powell battle death itself! Guess who wins? 4. Night/Curse of the Demon (UK 1957) Brian Wilde , aka Foggy Dewhirst, does not go downhill in an old bathtub on wheels. 5. Dead of Night (UK 1945) Golf really is a good walk spoiled in this fairly jolly interlude. 6. The Haunting (UK/US 1963) The ultimate Gothic haunted house movie, for my money. Has it been bettered? 7. Kuroneko (J