Saturday 22 August 2015

Jordskott (2015)

Imagine a TV show that combines the format of the Nordic crime serial with The X-Files. Well, you'd end up with something very like Jordskott, a co-production between Sweden's STV and ITV (a British commercial broadcaster and long-time rival to the BBC). Jordskott was shown in Britain this summer. At the time of writing it's not clear if a second serial will be commissioned, but on the strength of the first one it should be.

Into the Woods...

The story has all the ingredients fans of the Danish/Swedish crime genre go for - secrets, conspiracies, detectives of conflicting dispositions, a cast of civilians ranging from the stiffly orthodox to the total misfit, and a fair amount of violence, much of it committed in the shadows. What creator Henrik Björn has added to the mix is the paranormal, and I think he got the proportions more or less right - no mean feat over ten hour-long episodes.

The story begins with detective Eva Thörnblad (Moa Gammel) facing down a man who's about to kill his estranged wife in front of their small daughter. Eva is shot, but survives thanks to a bulletproof vest. The scene might seem gratuitous but, as with many incidents, it becomes relevant later. Eva then has to return to her home town in wilds of northern Sweden to attend her father's funeral and settle his affairs. When she arrives she discovers that a child has vanished without trace - just as Eva's daughter Josefine did seven years earlier. Suddenly Josefine reappears, not just older but strangely transformed. The girl is suffering from a mysterious ailment caused by a parasite. The final scene of the first episode makes it clear that this is no ordinary infection, and we're into the weird zone.

Unconventional Medicine

Friday 21 August 2015

A Short, Whispered History of Quiet Horror

I use the term 'quiet horror' to suggest, hint, or otherwise gesture at the general kind of story I like to publish in ST. But what does it mean? A quick Google reveals references to Shirley Jackson, Charles L. Grant, Susan Hill, Phil Rickman, and quite a few others. Also, vegetarianism is mentioned, meaning that quiet horror offers no raw, bleeding flesh. This is fair enough, but is quiet horror something relatively new, or does it in fact have its roots firmly in the same Gothic tradition as the noisy/garish stuff?

Nathaniel Hawthorne

I think so. I recently re-read Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1836 story 'The Minister's Black Veil'. It is of course a moralising fable (you could only stop Hawthorne moralising by stuffing socks down his throat), but the driving motor of the tale is horror. It is well worth a read. The story is simple, A kindly but ineffectual New England preacher one day adopts a black veil, consisting of a simple fold of crepe that covers his upper face. This transforms him into a powerful force in the Puritan community; sermons that were once seen as innocuous become terrifying simply because of the Black Veil:
The subject had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them. A subtle power was breathed into his words. Each member of the congregation, the most innocent girl, and the man of hardened breast, felt as if the preacher had crept upon them, behind his awful veil, and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought. Many spread their clasped hands on their bosoms. There was nothing terrible in what Mr. Hooper said, at least, no violence; and yet, with every tremor of his melancholy voice, the hearers quaked. An unsought pathos came hand in hand with awe.

Sunday 16 August 2015

Short Horror Films

Here is a list of ten short horror films (all under 5 minutes). And here's one of them with a spooky, very simple premise.

If you know of any horror short-shorts that aren't listed, let me know in the comments.

Saturday 15 August 2015

Vote, Vote, Vote for (Insert Name Here)!

Someone just voted Adam Golaski's story 'Wild Dogs' as the best in (sort of) epoch-making issue 30. In writing this fact down I rendered the title 'Wild Gods'. I suspect I may have hit upon a fundamental truth, there.

There's still time to vote for your favourite story in ST#29, btw - I'll be announcing the winner in the Winter issue, due out in November. Please at least think about voting, or sending feedback about ST's content. It really does help and I can pass on fulsome praise to the authors.

Writers so often work in isolation, poverty, paranoia, and their underwear. Let's send them a little ray of sunshine, shall we?

This had better be brilliant,...

Friday 7 August 2015

Partners in Fun

This is just an anecdote culled from the internet - somebody put it on Facebook. I can't find an original link, but I'd like to believe it.

"In the early 90s I worked for Hammer Films and was asked to
organise a voiceover recording for a Hammer Films documentary.
Both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee had agreed to work together
one last time. Christopher Lee had asked me to organise one
thing: a television and a VHS player in a private room and to
have some alone time with Peter. 
"After the recording, I cleared the studio and left Peter and
Christopher alone with the TV. They hadn't noticed that I was
still at the mixing desk so I waited to see what they were
going to be watching. I saw Count Dooku and Grand Moff Tarkin
sat watching Looney Tunes cartoons - each doing perfect
impersonations of Sylvester the Cat and Tweety Pie
– all line perfect! 
"I can't remember exactly - but I think Christopher Lee was
Tweety Pie and Peter Cushing was Sylvester."

I'd have guessed that Lee would play Sylvester, what with Cushing's lighter voice, but it's even funnier the other way round. And, being a pedant, I must note what this person really witnessed was Dracula and Van Helsing watching Looney Tunes and doing the voices. Or the Monster and Baron Frankenstein. Or the Duc de Richelieu and Winston Smith, with a side order of the Mummy and Doctor Who*. All of 'em, in one room. Wonderful stuff.

I tought I taw a puddy tat!

Thufferin' Thoccotash!

*Yes, I know, but in the Dalexploitation films Cushing's character is definitely called Doctor Who. 

Wednesday 5 August 2015

A Positive Review of Supernatural Tales 30

Over at Goodreads, S.P. Miskowski has some well-chosen words of praise for the latest issue.

There are no bad issues of Supernatural Tales, edited by David Longhorn. But some issues are a special treat, and #30 is one of them. I first discovered the magazine in the publication listings for The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror edited by Stephen Jones. ST is still one of the three or four magazines you must read if you like strange fiction. And if you write or aspire to write strange or weird fiction or horror, you ought to read the magazine and submit work to it. You’ll know you’re onto something good if your work is accepted. Because ST only publishes exceptional writing.

Big News from Sarob!

Sarob Press is publishing the first ever collection of stories by Michael Chislett. In the City of Ghosts will contain thirteen stories. Here is the list:

“Not Stopping at Mabbs End” 
“The Changelings” 
“The Middle Park” 
“Off the Map” 
“Deceased Effects” 
“The Friends of Faustina” 
“The Waif” 
“The True Bride” 
“A Name in the Dark” 
“Infernal Combustion” 
“You’ll Never Walk Alone” 
“Held in Common” 
“The Old Geezers”

As always, there's a splendid Paul Lowe cover illustration.

I suspect pre-orders for this one will mount up very quickly, so if you're interested I'd move quickly to bag a copy.

Saturday 1 August 2015

New Genre - Issue Seven

As an author, Adam Golaski treads the blurred frontier between sourly-witty social realism and the weirdly surreal (or surreally weird). An an editor, he has taken New Genre magazine on a voyage through strange seas of fantasy, horror, and science-fiction, mapping out improbable shores along the way. Well, that sort of thing, anyway.

The latest issue contains five stories, ranging from a space war mini-epic to a haunted house tale. If there's a common idea here it's the way that ideas long rooted not merely in genre fiction but in popular culture can be reworked, evolved, or otherwise mutated into something new and interesting.

Thus in 'Parents of the Apocalypse' Geordie Williams Flantz uses the Dos Passos montage approach to recount the end of the world as we know it. Enright, 'a serious amateur astronomer', spots mysterious glowing flakes falling to the Earth from space. Other characters survive and endure the onslaught by chance, by cunning, and perhaps by sheer lunacy. The enigmatic invaders transform humans into zombie-like creatures as part of their destructive life-cycles. I was slightly reminded of Thomas Disch's novel The Genocides, in that the cosmic incursion is so devastating that only an idiot would expect things to ever return to normal. And, sure enough, things can't. Keep watching the skies, by all means, but that can never be enough. 

Another traditional sf trope is explored by Matthew Pendleton in his extraordinary novella 'Work Planet Welt Space'. If Robert Heinlein had been intoxicated by the works of James Joyce he might just have produced something a bit like this. The story tells of Hum, recruited from his rust-belt world to become a very minor player in a grand conflict that makes little or no sense, as is often the way of history. It's sobering (for an old fart like me, at least) to reflect that, while Pendleton's quite modest stylistic and formal experiments are familiar, they would still be unwelcome to most sf readers today, just as they were during the New Wave period. This is a pity, not least because he has a genius for word play, as when brutally cyborgised space infantry are officially termed Rotund Chums. 

Or maybe I read just too much in the Seventies. I certainly got a James Tiptree Jnr. vibe from 'The Middle-Manager of Pachnout' by G. Carl Purcell. Here is another alien invasion tale, but with the twist that the aliens are a. into progressive rock, big time and b. exude pheromones that wreck our society by making men their idiot slaves and women seriously ill. After our world has been plundered of  all its Yes albums (on vinyl, natch) a grim reckoning takes place. Well, it makes a change from them pinching our water, and the riff on clunky, safe alien occupation tales is a neat one.

Moving on to the maybe-supernatural. we find unreliable narrators. 'The Room is Fire' by Jennifer Claus is set in horror movie territory, and nods to Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson. A little girl called Alexandra witnesses a bizarre disappearance, and nobody believes her story, though her parents are 'too perplexed to question its veracity'. She grows to adolescence and remains fascinated by the spot where the incident occurred. Eventually she is transformed in a manner familiar to students of myth.

'After the Storm' by John Cotter is a haunted house story told in lyrical prose. An elderly couple are awakened by what may be an intruder. The husband investigates and encounters a ghost - or at least, something that might credibly be termed one. In terms of simple incident this is a slight tale, but Cotter skilfully includes a novel's worth of characterisation, beautifully evoking the haunted nature of old age and the difficulty that even the most contented of couples can have over simple communication. 

New Genre 7 is, in brief, another excellent mini-anthology of remarkable new writing. I'd recommend it to anyone who takes their literature neat. 

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...