Showing posts from December, 2013

A Very Monty Christmas

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

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

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)

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)

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

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)

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

'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!

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

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

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