Wednesday 30 October 2013

25 And Not Out!

Supernatural Tales 25

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 Bennett offers a comedy of mediumistic manners with a rather nasty twist in 'Murder, Lamentation, and the Guild of Ghosts'. And the longest story here is also, arguably, the most disturbing of all; Christopher Harman leads us underground for a ghost train ride in 'Dark Tracks'.

If you survive all that, there's also a review section in which I, your humble editor, poke about in the realms of Nineties horror television, and try to maintain a straight face. I also take a gander at a new DVD from Robert Lloyd Parry, and new books by two authors whose work has often graced ST, Tina Rath and Chico Kidd. The cover, by Sam Dawson, is suitably old school for this time of year. Cowled figure in a ruined abbey by moonlight? We got 'im.

All in all, there's a lot enjoy here, so why not explore an assortment of weird realms in the company of highly qualified guides? Bring your mittens and a hot water bottle, though, as it may turn a little chilly.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Hallowe'en Film Quiz 2. Name the Character!

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 needed here, as it happens.

10.  Use a bit of lateral thinking...

11. We all know the film, but what was the given name of the baddie/monster?

12. Skip Martin is the actor, playing a Poe character - sort of.

13. And finally, a great moment from one of the best Hammer films. But who is the hapless visionary?

Saturday 26 October 2013

Quiz Answers!

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 (Japan 1968)
Sexy and stylish tale of supernatural vengeance.

8. Kwaidan (Japan 1964)
Anthology of old folk tales retold by Lafcadio Hearn - wonderful stuff.

9. The Orphanage (Spain 2007)
Very effective and ultimately moving tale. 'Alas! Poor ghosts...'

10. The Devil Rides Out (UK 1968)
'We meet again Mr Bond... No, hang on a minute...'

11. The Eye (Hong Kong 2002)
Memorable ghosts in a film that takes itself just seriously enough to work superbly.

12. The Fog (US 1980)
Avoid rich lepers with swords would seem to be the moral of this story.

13. The Reptile (UK 1966)
The lovely Jacqueline Pearce in a Hammer classic.

Well, they're certainly clustering around two periods. There's that 'films I saw on late-night telly when I was young' period - the mid-to-late Seventies. Then there are the Asian horror movies I got into about fifteen years ago. Surprising dearth of American movies, I notice. 

Friday 25 October 2013

'A Pleasant Terror' in N1

Some of my readers presumably live in or near That London, aka The Smoke, and so may be able to go and see Robert Lloyd Parry perform at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. Robert is doing 'A Pleasing Terror' at 7pm and 'Oh Whistle...' at 9pm every night from 21st to 23rd November.

There are two shows, consisting of two stories each. The first (and perhaps more suitable for younger folk) offers'Canon Alberic...' and 'The Mezzotint'. The second consists of 'Oh Whistle...' (of course) and 'The Ash-Tree'. Having seen both shows separately I can testify to their high entertainment value, and the fact that they are true to the spirit of M.R. James's original storytelling sessions with his trendy young friends.

Here's a clip from one of RLP's videos, as sold by Nunkie.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Haunted (1995)

Well, here's a thing. I scour Lovefilm on a regular basis for supernatural horror movies, and I kept meaning to watch this one for quite a while. I finally got round to it and... was not massively disappointed.

Haunted is a bit of an oddity, in that it's based on a James Herbert novel but eschews Herbert's modern horror approach in favour of period drama. I'm not sure it entirely works, but it is at least interesting, not least thanks to an impressive cast and some solid production values.

The setup is familiar. Two young children are playing in the grounds of an English country house in 1905. The little girl suffers a terrible accident and dies. The surviving little boy grows up to be academic and renowned sceptic David Ash, an Anglo-American researcher who publishes a book debunking ghosts. The role is taken by Aiden Quinn, an actor who is not really suited to the role and who doesn't look too comfortable in it. In fact, much of the time he looks a bit concussed. But I suppose the logic - as in many a British movie - was that a US name was needed.

Anyway, Dr Ash demonstrates his sceptical credentials by taking part in a seance that exposes a fake medium. However, the apparent charlatan does offer a couple of baffling statements that - in due course - become significant. Then we cut a steam train pulling in at a rural station, because David Ash is off to Edbrook House to investigate an alleged haunting. This is at the behest of an elderly lady, Miss Webb (Anna Massey), who has been writing to our hero at regular intervals, and is seemingly becoming more and more disturbed.

When Ash arrives at Edbrook station, however, he is met Christina Mariell (Kate Beckinsale), who offers him a lift in a Bentley. Arriving at the hall Ash is surprised to find that 'Nanny Tess', as Miss Webb does not seem pleased to see him. He can get little sense out of her, whereas Christina and her brothers Robert and Simon (Anthony Andrews and Alex Lowe) seem the perfect hosts.

Strange things occur on Ash's first night at Edbrook. He puts these down to pranks, probably played by the boyish, easily-bored Robert. Anyway, the presence of the lovely Christina more than compensates for a bit of tomfoolery. But what is the matter with Miss Webb? Even the arrival  of the kindly old family doctor (John Gielgud) can't seem to calm her down. And is Ash hallucinating when he thinks he glimpses his dead sister, Juliet, in and around the house?

Suffice to say that nothing is what it seems - not even the lovely furniture. And that, I think, is part of the problem. We are now used to the idea of 'real people' being ghosts, and vice-versa, so to say that this is a key aspect of Haunted doesn't give much away. All that really counts is the revelation of what happened to create the situation at Edbrook. The journey to this discovery is entertaining enough, especially if you want to look at Kate Beckinsale's body double, but there are few genuine scares and quite a bit of padding.

Almost fatally for a ghost story, though, is that attempts to show supernatural events seem rather inept, if not laughable. It's almost as if the seasoned director, Lewis Gilbert (who also gets a script credit), didn't give much thought as to how it should be done. All in all, I'd say The Awakening is a far better film on what is essentially the same theme.

Tartarus Interviewed!

Well, more precisely it's an interview with Ray Russell, who founded TP way back in the 20th century - remember that? Anyway, it's interesting and heartening stuff. Here's a short extract:

At heart we are book lovers, and nothing can replace the enjoyment of reading great fiction in a well-made book. As soon as I started to understand book production, I wanted to produce beautiful editions that I would want to keep and read myself. It was tempting to try and print books letter-press, and have more bound by hand, but we didn’t want to make them unaffordable. I hope we have a good compromise.

But realising that our limited edition hardbacks are still perceived as expensive by some readers, paperbacks have been introduced for reprints. We still try and make them as elegant and nicely-produced as possible.

Ebooks are less enjoyable to produce. We know, though, that for some people they are very convenient. It has very hard to sacrifice so much design work to create ebooks, but we make them as well as we can.

Monday 21 October 2013

Rapidly-Approaching-Hallowe'en Movie Quiz

Everyone loves a quiz (yes they do, quiet at the back), so here are 13 images from movies that are eminently watchable at this time of year. Or indeed, any time of year. I've tried to make the hard ones easy and the easy ones hard, if you see what I mean. But I suspect that anyone who likes a bit of supernatural horror will know most of them straight away. So, let's get started...













Thursday 17 October 2013

What would you put on the telly?

Someone on Facebook (it was Paul Finch) came up with a good idea, which I am course stealing. He suggested a list of six classic stories and six contemporary stories that would make good TV shows for a late night horror slot. And his choices for the classics were pretty good, I'd say:
1 The Room In The Tower – E.F. Benson
2. Squire Toby’s Will – Sheridan Le Fanu
3 The Two Vaynes – L.P. Hartley
4 The Mezzotint – M.R. James
5 Mansize In Marble - E. Nesbitt
6 Thurnley Abbey – Perceval Landon
Interesting that they're all supernatural (or at least, I think the Hartley is, it's a long time since I've read it). I've been pondering some supernatural tales that might make good television. A lot depends on the script, direction, actors etc, so it's hard to say whether they would work. A story that leaps off the page might well resist adaptation. But for me these would be worth doing. 

1. 'Count Magnus' - M.R. James
2. 'Ancient Sorceries' - Algernon Blackwood
3. 'Blackham's Wimpey' - Robert Westall
4. 'Ringing the Changes' - Robert Aickman
5. 'The Mark of the Beast' - Rudyard Kipling
6. 'Carmilla' - Sheridan Le Fanu

What do you think? What stories, old or new, would you really like to see adapted for television?

A Visit to 'Seaburgh'

Those crazy guys at the M.R. James podcast have been to Aldeburgh to check out the locations that inspired M.R. James's story 'A Warning to the Curious'.

You'll note the White Lion pub and the Martello Tower. When I visited Aldeburgh with A Ghostly Company a few years back we walked to the tower, only to be caught in a horrendous North Sea downpour. Thoroughly soaked, I tried to dry my socks in the Gents of the White Lion before having a reviving bowl of soup. Sorry for the damp patches on the furniture.

Oh, and check out the grave of Mrs Mothersole (more than one, in fact) at Great Livermere churchyard, which Monty J. knew so well as a lad.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Robert Westall on Cats, and Writing

I must do a post on Robert Westall's books for the Spooky Library series, not least because he remains one of the most successful post-war ghost story authors. In the meantime here he is, cunningly disguised as Bob Westall, in a clip from a children's TV show - the voice-over is surely the late and much-missed Brian Glover. I assume this was recorded when Blitzcat was published in 1989.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Building a Spooky Library - Pulpitations

In a certain type of horror film, a troubled but basically normal chap turns out to have a deformed, lunatic brother living in the attic of his country house. It's not difficult to see the pulp horror tradition as the maniac bashing about in the attic of the traditional ghost story, causing untold embarrassment and much distaste, but also generating some much-needed excitement at times.

Supernatural fiction of various kinds was of course the life-blood of many of the pulp magazines that appeared between the wars in the US. Weird Tales is the best-known example but there were dozens of other titles. Pop over to the Pulp Magazines Project for a look - it's fascinating stuff. You can check out interiors as well as the covers. The pulps are of course associated with early science fiction and thrillers of the 'hard-boiled' school, but they published a goodly number of ghost stories, plus stuff about vampires, werewolves, and all things spooky. What's more, they brought much late Victorian popular fiction to the attention of younger readers - pulps often reprinted H.G. Wells's stories, for instance.

Of all the pulp writers who emerged during that pre-WW2 period I find Fritz Leiber by far the best. He stands alone, for my money, as the only writer of his day to have produced first rate works of science fiction, fantasy, and supernatural fiction. His books deserve a place on anyone's shelves. In Conjure Wife and Our Lady of Darkness he managed to pull off the very difficult feat of sustaining a supernatural tale to novel length. In You're All Alone he tackled the kind of paranoia found in the Matrix movies long before it became fashionable (and CGI tedious).

Among Leiber's many short stories, I recommend 'The Black Gondolier', 'Smoke Ghost', 'The Dreams of Albert Moreland', 'Four Ghosts in Hamlet', and 'A Bit of the Dark World'. There are a lot of others worth reading, though. One of the great virtues of an author who excelled across a range of genres is that sometimes you can't be sure what you're getting - for me, a good thing. Sadly, Leiber's short stories don't seem to be collected in a reasonably-priced volume (or two), and selections are a bit of a lottery. But all of these stories are out there.

Leiber was an unusually thoughtful writer, for my money. His theories about the nature of the supernatural give already effective stories an extra dimension of interest. In the classic 'Smoke Ghost' (1941) a normal wage slave (with the intriguing name of Catesby Wran) finds his attention drawn to a particular object on a roof that is visible from New York's elevated railway. The object may just be a dirty old sack or a bundle of rags. But Wran begins to speculate that this thing might be a dangerous entity produced by the combined energies of the city - a ghost, but of a very different kind to those envisaged by the Victorians. For a story driven by ideas this one is pretty disturbing. You can read the story in its original pulp magazine form here.

Having stressed how scary his stuff can be, I should add that Leiber brings urbane wit and warmth to his fiction. I always feel better after reading one of his stories, even if it has a bleak ending (and many do), because I feel I've been in touch, at some level, with a very decent human being. I get a similar reaction - though perhaps not so strongly - with the second of our pulpsters, Robert Bloch.

Bloch wrote Psycho, and his reputation will always be bound up with that of Hitchcock's film. But Bloch's long career saw him churn out a great many novels and stories, quite a few of which ended up on screen in one form or another. Focusing on his supernatural stories, he managed to produce a classic of the genre quite early in 'Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper', which offered what was then a genuinely new twist on the subject. The idea, that the Ripper was seeking some kind of supernatural power from his crimes, has become hackneyed, but Bloch was the first to use it and he did a good job. (He went on to use the Ripper in a Star Trek episode, and a story for Harlan Ellison's famous anthology Dangerous Visions.)

Bloch's work for film and television was considerable. He either scripted or had stories adapted for the films Asylum, The House that Dripped Blood, Torture Garden, and The Skull, while he contributed to the Rod Serling's Night Gallery and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, among many other series. Some of us still remember quite fondly two made-for-TV movies from the Seventies - The Cat Creature and The Dead Don't Die. Bloch had a low opinion of both.

It isn't easy to get a decent collection of Bloch's short fiction. His early stories, much influenced by Lovecraft, appeared in The Opener of The Way, from Arkham House. However, there was a cheap paperback edition from Panther and copies seem to crop up regularly here and there. The Best of Robert Bloch is another good paperback, with stories selected by the author. A second hand copy can be reasonably priced.

At its best Bloch's fiction bears comparison with that of Ray Bradbury, another writer who started his career contributing to the pulps. I'm not sure a lot needs to be said about so famous a name, except that The October Country is a collection that surely belongs in our spooky library. It contains some of the most distinctive of the author's early tales - 'The Wind', 'The Jar', 'The Man Upstairs', and 'The Jar' all helped establish Bradbury as a worthy successor to Poe. A great American fabulist, he wrote few if any ghost stories in the ordinary sense, but his characters are often haunted - or indeed hunted - by stranger things.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Slight Correction

Sam Dawson felt that the scan he sent me of the illo for ST#25 wasn't quite up to snuff, so he sent me another. And here's the (slightly revised) cover. What this sort-of reveals is that someone with bad eyesight, like me, is not ideally qualified to design anything, let alone a magazine cover...

I ought to add that, in reality the blue looks much darker. To me, at any rate. So it might be pink...

Right, I'm changing it again because for some reason I couldn't get the scan to look right in the format above. So instead the front cover will look (more or less) like this:

Supernatural Tales 25

And the back cover will consist of the full size illustration.

Monday 7 October 2013

Supernatural Tales 25 - preliminaries

Well, ST is about to become a thrice-yearly production, with a Winter 2013/14 issue. I'll have more on that later, but in the meantime, two facts. One, it will be posted out to subscribers between Halloween and Christmas, in time to avoid the inevitable postal mayhem. Two, the cover will look something like this.

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...