Showing posts from June, 2015

The Jersey Devil

Here's a fascinating article about a piece of folklore that has genuine staying power. The Jersey Devil said to haunt the Pine Barrens of New Jersey has been sort-of around for far longer than Nessie (who was first reported in the Thirties and then given a retrospective, thoroughly bogus 'history'). There's something comical about the idea of a monster, of course - when you're not alone in a forest or indeed sitting at home in the dark. Apparently it was in 1909 that the old legend gained new life from a series of rather Fortean news items, and the Jersey Devil has been going great guns ever since. The papers called the beast a "Woozlebug" and a "Jabberwock" as it tore across the Jersey countryside. The Times of Trenton printed cartoon panels showing the devil floating over a drunk waking from a bender. The legend of the Jersey Devil is central the excellent, low-budget film The Last Broadcast , which I've watched several times. It&#

Spring (2014)

'A young man in a personal tailspin flees the US to Italy, where he sparks up a romance with a woman harboring a dark, primordial secret.' So says IMDb, and it's a fair summary of a film that tries to redefine the modern horror shocker. It does it, quite sensibly, by going back to the roots of the genre and paying tribute to some of the classics. At the same time, Spring is original and enjoyable enough to hold the interest of even a jaded viewer like me. While it's not perfect, it's as close as we're likely to get.  The film begins with Lou Taylor Pucci's Evan, an American twenty-something whose life is not going well. We first see him sitting by his mother's deathbed. He then loses his job in a bar after punching an obnoxious customer, which gets him into trouble with the law, so on impulse he goes to Italy. There Evan falls in with a couple of drunken, foul-mouthed Brits who take a road trip to the south. The latter are, unfortunately, quite

Sparkly Solstice Fairies

From the 1935 Max Reinhardt production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.

This Will Not End (Wailing) Well

There's a rather good comic strip version of 'Wailing Well' here . It's well-drawn and reminds me of the more 'sensible' comics of my youth, such as the Victor, and all those Commando stories of the world wars. The artist, Anna Sahrling-Hamm, is to be commended for taking the story and treating it so well. It's not quite a scene-by-scene retelling of M.R. James's tale, but I think the slight changes are rather good.

Smells like pagan spirit

I thought this poster (spotted on Facebook) must a spoof, but it's not - it's a very real show, and looks rather spiffing. Find out more here .

Ghosts on the wireless

BBC Radio 4 Extra is running a decent series of ghost stories by John Connolly. You can get them on the iPlayer here . You can also hear a series of uncanny stories by the Scottish author Dorothy K. Haynes, which are running back to back with the Connollys. They are from the collection Thou Shalt Not Suffer A Witch, first published in 1949 with illustrations by Mervyn Peake - see below.

Strange Tales V - a reading in Brighton

A quick bit of news... If you're in Brighton or its environs tomorrow, you'll be able to hear a reading of one of the stories from the latest Tartarus anthology. Tom Johnstone is reading 'Look for the Place Where the Ivy Rises' from Strange Tales V at Ubu Books, Brighton Open Market, Ditchling Road, at 2 pm, Saturday 13th June. End of public service announcement!

RIP Christopher Lee

A lot of people will rightly associate Christopher Lee with Hammer Films, or Star Wars, or indeed the Lord of the Rings. But let's remember a versatile actor who played a broad range of characters, was kind and modest, and had a great voice. Here he is opposite Alan Arkin in the somewhat overlooked superhero parody, Captain Invincible.

'N' by Stephen King

I don't mention Stephen King very often. I think he's a fine writer of supernatural horror.  but he doesn't really need my help to sell books. However, I recently happened across a novella by King that impressed me as a prime example of how a writer can pay tribute to his influences while writing an original story. 'N.' is a nested story-within-a-story concerning a psychiatrist who tries to help a patient, referred to as N in the former's notes. N is obsessive-compulsive, which means that his life is dominated by the ritualised counting of words and objects. Not surprisingly, OCD is ruining the man's life. But there is of course more to it than that, as Dr. John Bonsaint discovers. In trying to get to the root of his patient's disorder Bonsaint is infected by it.

Hammer v. Amicus

Terry Thomas? Yes, Terry Thomas. An interesting half-hour radio documentary is available on the BBC iPlayer right now. Matthew Sweet, a knowledgeable chap, presents Houses of Horror, which looks at the success of Hammer and the way it prompted a smaller rival, Amicus, to dump the Gothic costume horror and go for something a bit more raw. Lots of interesting contributions, not least from League of Gentlemen chaps, but also from Brit horror stars. Ingrid Pitt in The House That Dripped Blood. Guess what she's supposed to be? It all started, apparently, because Milton Subotsky was frozen out by Hammer and created a rival production firm in a fit of pique. The result was the distinctive Amicus approach - portmanteau horror with a contemporary British setting and often using top Hammer stars like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Ingrid Pitt. The House That Dripped Blood! Asylum! Tales from the Crypt! All very bonkers, and all great fun. Among the contributors, Stephanie Be

Oh My God!


Knight Moves

When I was but a humble undergraduate (at Sunderland Poly in the mid-Eighties, thank you for asking) I studied Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I wrote an essay on it, which I probably can't find. But I'm glad that I'm not the only person who finds the plot a tad confusing .  GREEN KNIGHT : let’s play a game you hit me today and i’ll hit you a year from now GAWAIN : it’s Christmas GREEN KNIGHT : fine hit me today and i’ll hit you a year and a day from now happy? GAWAIN : I don’t understand the rules of this game or the prize what is the end goal here

Romances of the White Day: Stories in the Tradition of Arthur Machen

The three long stories in this new collection from Sarob pay tribute to Arthur Machen in part by simply reminding the reader just how complex and versatile a writer he was. The author of The Three Impostors (which provided the rough template for this book) was happy to play literary games with the reader and conjure up truly weird horrors. But he was also a nature mystic while remaining a Christian, and a man steeped in classic learning while owing a profound debt to his own Celtic heritage. Indeed, it may be easier to say what is not 'Machenesque', given the range and depth of his fiction. Fortunately that's outside my remit. So, on with the stories.

The Presence (2010)

Well, here's a supernatural horror movie I'd never heard of. Judging by its star ratings (2 on IMDb, 1 on Rotten Tomatoes) it hasn't exactly won over an audience since it was released. According to its Wikipedia entry The Presence is a 'darkly romantic ghost story'. According to one Amazon reviewer it's 'eerie and beautiful'. Indeed, one obvious disparity with its online ratings is the fact that Amazon customers seem to like it a lot more than others.  So, what's it about? The story is very simple. A woman, played by Mira Sorvino, goes to a remote cabin on a lake island to do some unspecified work - the latter is the usual remote cabin movie stuff involving reading books and making notes. From the start, however, it's clear that the cabin is haunted. This is because we see the ghost (Shane West) standing right there in the cabin from the start, a silent, melancholy presence. The Woman (that is the credit listing for Sorvino's charact

Horror Movie Map of the USA

I love maps and lists. I may have some sort of condition, who knows? The point is, maps combined with lists make life interesting for me, so I'm grateful to author and raconteur Steve Duffy for pointing me at this . It's a big map with a long list, and I was intrigued to see some interesting trends emerging. Early horror movies of the Fifties were of course often shot on studio sets. Apart from that, one would expect California to do rather well and so it does. The Fog, The Lost Boys, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Howling, Poltergeist, and The Birds are a pretty strong hand.  That said, though, I feel New England, considered as a whole, racks up a very impressive panoply of blood-soaked mania and general weirdness. Rhode Island, for instance, offers Dead and Buried (1981), a neglected little gem for my money. Pennsylvania does rather well, with a list featuring Night of the Living Dead, The Sixth Sense, and The Blob.  In between I was surprised (prob