Thursday 24 September 2015

Horror on the Radio!

I loved radio horror. I love readings, and dramas, and dramatised readings, and if there are readingised dramas I'd probably love them too.

Which brings me to Radio 4, the BBC's main conduit for comedy, drama, and factual programming. There are not one but two classic adaptation of supernatural horror stories coming up.

On Hallowe'en ( which falls on a Saturday, this year, so be warned), the BBC is broadcasting an adaptation of Nigel Kneale's classic TV ghost story The Stone Tape. It stars Romola Garai, Julian 'Mighty Boosh' Barratt, and Julian Rhind-Tutt, which is a stellar cast. There's a gallery at the web page, with the actors standing around in a haunted house. Well, that sort of thing. It is a location recording, which should add to the atmosphere.

The Stone Tape: Julian Barratt
Julian Barratt in a serious hat

And that's not all. In a thread cunningly titled Fright Night, Radio 4 follows The Stone Tape with an adaptation of Ring, the novel by Koji Suzuki that became the film that triggered the Asian horror boom and so forth. Judging from the cast, adapter Anita Sullivan has drawn on the US version of the movie by including Western characters, while retaining the Japanese setting. The key role of the investigator is played by Eve 'Torchwood' Myles.

Eve Myles is serious without a hat
The Stone Tape begins at 10 pm on 31st October, followed at 11 pm by Ring.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Don't Forget the Ghost Story Awards! (As if you would)


To vote, you must be a member of A Ghostly Company, or a reader of the Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter, or of Supernatural Tales.

You may send your vote by email to; (The fifth character in the email address is a lower case L for Lima, not i or a number 1.)

Your vote must arrive by midnight on February 28th, 2016.

You may vote for up to three ghost stories and up to three ghost story collections or anthologies. You do not have to put your votes in any order: they will be treated as of equal weight. You also do not have to give three titles in either category: you may if you prefer give only one or two.

Remember that the story or book must have been first published in English in print and paper format in 2015. The term “ghost story” will be interpreted broadly to refer to work about any supernatural entity and to allow for ambiguity.

You should head your email or letter GHOST STORY AWARDS and follow this format:

Your Name

State AGC/G&S/ST (to show which qualifies you to vote)

List (up to) three ghost story collections or anthologies: Title/Author or Editor/Publisher

List (up to) three ghost stories: Title/Author/Publisher

(Please do not include other correspondence, although of course this may be sent separately).

Monday 21 September 2015


Legendary editor Ellen Datlow has a recommended list of horror from 2014. Guess which plucky little magazine is well represented? It is of course a very long list, but it's good to see ST represented at all in the teeth of such heavyweight competition. Thank you, gentle reader, for supporting the magazine! Here are the mentions:

Oldknow, Antony “Ruelle des Martyrs,” Supernatural Tales 26.

Logan, Sean “The Tagalong,” Supernatural Tales 27.

Greenwood, John “The House Warming,” Supernatural Tales 27..

Jakeman, Jane “Quarry Hogs,” Supernatural Tales 27.

Wandless, William H. “Doorways,” Supernatural Tales 28.

King on Sloane

Over at the New York Review of Books, Stephen King extols the achievement of the little-known American author William M. Sloane. Many years ago the ghost story writer David G. Rowlands told me about Sloane's novel To Walk the Night, and I sought it out. Believe me, it's worth finding, as is Sloane's second horror novel The Edge of Running Water.

I say horror, but as King observes, Sloane was a genre-spanning author. My copy of To Walk the Night blurbs it as 'A terrifying novel of death and the supernatural', but contains a discussion of Einsteinian space-time. And I recall Brian Stableford listing Sloane's horror novels as 'scientific romances', putting them in a tradition that began with H.G. Wells. This is quite reasonable - both stories deal with scientific concerns, but also go over the line into unconventional theorising. They are also notably devoid of 'pulpy' elements in style or content, instead offering careful, understated characterisation and watertight plotting. Writing in the late Thirties, was a man of his time in a good way. He took contemporary and gave them a timeless fictional power.
It’s interesting to note that in 1937 he met Carl Jung and was amazed to discover that the great psychotherapist had read To Walk the Night (in its earlier form, as a play), and felt that the book’s central conceit, of a “traveling mind,” fit perfectly with his, Jung’s, idea of the anima as a free-floating and quasi-supernatural archetype of the unconscious mind. At that same memorable luncheon, Sloane met another idol whose ideas are reflected in his novels: J.B. Rhine, inventor of the famous Rhine ESP cards and pioneer (at Duke University) in the study of extrasensory perception.
One point where I disagree with King is that To Walk the Night is not as good as The Edge of Running Water. I'd say they are both excellent, but that the earlier book is better at evoking the strange, the unearthy, and the unknowable. (It was one of Robert Bloch's favourite horror novels.)

I was going to try and summarise the plots of these excellent novels, but now I think that would be wrong. I'd rather give people the chance to discover them, as I did. Suffice to agree with King that it's a pity Sloane didn't write more, as 'he might have become a master of the genre, or created an entirely new one'.

William Sloane, looking authorial

Saturday 19 September 2015

The Borderlands (2013)

The Borderlands 2013 film poster.jpgFound footage. What does that mean to you? To me it often means, 'Oh, come on, they'd have dropped the bloody camera by now.' Not that found footage horror isn't bad, but it has - just like old-school Gothic horror or sci-fi - generated quite a few lousy movies. What's worse, though, is it's produced a lot of forgettable movies that are okay, pass the time, but are nothing special. I have seen almost all of these, or feel that I have.

Fortunately, The Borderlands is something special. According to DVD Extra interviews, Metrodome gave writer-director Elliot Goldner the task of producing a good found footage horror movie with a fairly traditional setting and plot. He delivered a tale that draws on the classic ghost story tradition while having a very contemporary feel.

The film begins with Brazilian police investigating a church in the company of Deacon, a Vatican investigator charged with debunking alleged miracles. Something very unpleasant has happened (or is happening). Then we cut to Deacon's meeting with Gray (Robin Hill), a techie type who is setting up cameras in a country cottage. They are two-thirds of a team from 'the Congregation', tasked with probing alleged miracles at a re-opened Catholic church with a charismatic priest. The leader, Mark (Aidan McArdle), is a rigid sceptic and most resistant to all suggestions of the paranormal.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

'The Strange Case of Edgar Allan Poe'

I've probably posted this before, but what the heck. For me radio drama is an excellent format for more thoughtful explorations of weird fiction, or - as in this case - those who create it. Click away to hear Poe's own creation, the proto-Sherlock C. Auguste Dupin, consider the strange case of the writer's murky fate.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

'Philately will get you...'

When I was a lad I collected stamps, albeit only for about twenty minutes. I think I realised that, unless I was an utter fanatic, I wouldn't get very far in the world of philately. And  couldn't really afford to take all that time off from reading Biggles and watching Doctor Who. So my small stamp collection, which was sort of half-stuck into an album, ended up at the back of the wardrobe and has long since been chucked out.

In a way, this is a pity. It seems that stamps have just been getting ever-spookier since I gave up on them. For instance, there's this latest creation from our Canadian cousins.

Citadel Grey Lady stamp

Apparently the woman with the bouquet above is the Grey Lady of Halifax Citadel. Canada's postal service has produced a range of spooky stamps this year based on 'true' ghost stories, and they're not the first set by any means. Last year unsuspecting folk were faced with this ghost bride.

Ghost Bride stamp

Saturday 12 September 2015

'Narrative of the Ghost of a Hand'

On ST's YouTube channel you will find videos of various things, but mostly audio stuff with pictures. Among them is this one. It's often seen as a lesser Le Fanu tale, compared to 'Carmilla' or 'Green Tea', say. But I think it stands up remarkably well, and shows how a Victorian Gothic novelist anticipated the subtle 'quiet horror' ending so widely used by modern writers.

Thursday 10 September 2015

The Fourth Man

Some consider me well read, but I've learned in nearly fifty years of reading that I'm woefully ignorant of the works of many fine writers. The same goes for film - I keep discovering gems of supernatural cinema that I should really have known about. For instance, Paul Verhoeven's 1983 film The Fourth Man should have been on my radar for years, as it was released on DVD in 2005, but I just stumbled across it the other day.

Mind you, apart from describing it as a cult thriller, none of the summaries give you much idea what's on offer. IMDb says: 'A writer (Jeroen Krabbe) suspects that his lover (Renée Soutendijk), a woman widowed three times, may be responsible for her husbands' deaths.' True, but that sounds more improbable than fascinating. 

Meanwhile, on Wikipedia we learn: 'The title refers to Krabbé's position as the fourth man whom Soutendijk seduces, after she presumably has dispatched her first three husbands. The film is sexually explicit and, like many of Verhoeven's other films, shows graphic violence and gore.' Better, but again it misses the point.

Rotten Tomatoes, can you help? 'This stylish erotic thriller gained a cult following for its frank treatment of bisexuality, bizarre visuals, and an extremely sexy performance by Renee Soutendijk as a woman who may or may not have killed her three previous husbands.'

Hmm. Well, let's get one thing clear - The Fourth Man is a clever supernatural horror film that manages by turns to be disturbing, intriguing, and downright funny. Well, I laughed. There are indeed sexy and gory scenes, not least one moment (in a dream sequence) where a pair of scissors are deployed to horrific effect. 

But what really needs saying is that the core of  this drama is pure Gothic, complete with sudden bolts of lightning, key scenes played out in graveyards, and a locked closet revealing a terrible secret. As if to underline the point, the opening credits are almost a straight lift from Roger Corman's The Haunted Palace. If you haven't seen the latter, it means arachnophobes should steer clear. The idea of a spider devouring her mate is carefully-placed, along with the witch's mark, and the very familiar concept of prophetic dreams warning the protagonist. 

The film's plot is refreshingly simple, albeit with murky undertones. A Dutch writer, Gerard Reve, travels from Amsterdam to Flushing to deliver a talk. He is, like most professional writers, skint. He is also a boozer who lives with a younger man. Gerard is not a nice person; at the station he tries to pick up a hunk who is openly perusing porn in the newsagent (remember, it's Amsterdam). The young man evades Gerard and vanished on a train to Cologne, leaving our not-much-of-a-hero to embark for the coast.

The train journey is marred by the arrival of a young mother of a somewhat fractious baby, who has an accident that interrupts Gerard's reverie about a picture on the carriage wall. Arriving at the station he looks about for someone who is supposed to meet him, but instead encounters a funeral. For a disturbing moment he thinks the deceased has his name, but is (apparently) mistaken. Arriving at the venue he encounters Christine, a young woman who films him for the local literary society, and then offers him a bed for the night. 

Thus begins a relationship that is driven by selfishness and dishonesty of Gerard's part, and fuelled by a key coincidence (no spoilers) that would be absurd in a Hollywood thriller but works rather well here. Gerard, a boozy and boorish individual, is an improbable hero, and for much of the movie it seems Christine is just what she seems - an attractive, intelligent, but rather vulnerable businesswoman who's been unlucky in love.

When Gerard discovers Christine's stash of home movies things become more complex. Christine has been married three times, and each of her husbands died in very unfortunate mishaps. If I mention fishing, parachuting, and a visit to a safari park you'll get some idea of how unlikely these deaths are, and there's more than a touch of dark humour - fans of The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville will chuckle, I'm sure. Gerard becomes convinced that Christine is a witch who destroys men, but as he's a drunken liar this doesn't get a lot of traction with the locals. 

All the various threads and images are gathered up in a climax that is indeed gory (and may well have influenced the makers of the British horror film The Descent). As in the film's sexual imagery (gay and straight) Verhoeven doesn't pull punches, and this seems appropriate given the subject matter. The film tackles the basic premise that witches not only exist, but can only be thwarted by traditional faith. In this case Gerard, a professed Catholic, gets a lot of help from head office, so to speak.

Overall, I'd recommend The Fourth Man to anyone who wants something a little different in the supernatural horror line. While you may not love it, you definitely won't have seen a dozen other horror films like it.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Review - The Anniversary of Never

The Anniversary of Never

The Swan River Press has published the first posthumous collection of Joel Lane's fiction. It is, of course, a very good book, but the fact that the unifying theme is the afterlife naturally prompts mixed feelings. It is a tragedy for those of us who enjoy good short stories that Lane will produce no more. But it is heartening to realise that the body of work he produced was substantial, and a definitive collected edition will one day be with us one day.

I owe a lot to Joel Lane, who supported ST in its early years, and wish I could have known him well. In the meantime this excellent book, with a moving introduction by Nicholas Royle and wonderful cover art by Polly Rose Morris, is a literary memorial service I can attend.

Of the fourteen stories here, three are original to this collection. The rest appeared in anthologies and magazines, with a roll-call of editors such as Andy Cox, Ellen Datlow, Peter Crowther, and D.F. Lewis. Joel Lane's range as a writer was far greater than some of us realised. I certainly associated him, at first, with a particular sub-genre of Brit horror often called 'miserablist'. But in fact, as this book quietly demonstrates, his approach ranged from science fiction horror to the subtleties of modern ghost story. His interests were as broad as his creative imagination was profound.

Thus the first tale, 'Sight Unseen', is a Lovecraftian work with echoes of Stephen King's 'I Am the Doorway', A man learns that his estranged father has died, and tries to make sense of the apparent madness that gripped the man. A journey back to Manchester is also an expedition to the wilder shores of his father's imagination. As in all Lane's work, the visionary and the mundane are combined to powerful but understated effect.

Supernatural Tales 56 - contents

The next issue - due out in the autumn - will see a mixture of familiar names and some newbies. I hope, as always, that the stories find fav...