Showing posts from October, 2015

In the City of Ghosts - Review

Full disclosure - I received an inscribed copy of this book from the author, who was also kind enough to dedicate it to me. That means a lot, and I am very grateful. I only hope I can maintain a stiff upper lip in the course of this review. The book consists of 13 stories, of which seven originally appeared in Supernatural Tales . There are also two new stories (one of novella length), one from The Silent Companion (journal of the literary society A Ghostly Company) and three from  Ghosts & Scholars . And, of course, there's an excellent Paul Lowe cover. The novella 'The Changelings' strikes me as a central piece, a summation of the author's interests and obsessions. The setting is contemporary, a London council estate where people live in soulless flats, the lifts break down, and residents rely on booze and sex to break the monotony. A group of friends, one of whom is into the occult, hold a seance. Something is conjured up and people start to disappear. Th

Hallowe'en Montyfest

M.R. James is the central figure in the development of the British ghost story, influencing writers as diverse as Ramsey Campbell, Robert Westall, H.P. Lovecraft, and Susan Hill. Put another way, if Monty James hadn't existed, ghost stories and by extension modern horror fiction would be very different. So here are a few dramatised examples of his work, and works influenced by him. We begin with the Christmas 2013 Mark Gatiss adaptation of 'The Tractate Middoth'. Time-shifted to the inter-war years, the story works well and it's good to see Monty's usual mix of scary incident and light, comedic interludes used to such good effect. Excellent cast, too.

Hallowe'en Reads - the Best of British

Everyone in the world, even people Scooby Doo onesies, are recommending ghost stories, so I might as well have a go. As it's a bit late to recommend that you zoom off and buy copies of this or that book, I've decided to link to texts that are readily available online. In some cases there are readings or dramatisations on YouTube. So, click on the title to go to the text. Algernon Blackwood - 'Ancient Sorceries' Blackwood's story from the case-book of the psychic detective John Silence is one of my favourite witchcraft tales, and goes way beyond the usual rigmarole. It's a must for cat-lovers and anyone who wants their story to have a sense of place as well as acute characterisation. The American radio version from the series Suspense is good for its time, but watch out for an interesting take on 'Welsh' accents.

The First Ghost Story Awards... Awarded!

Here they are - on the left is Brian Showers of The Swan River Press (Best Collection), and in the middle is D.P. Watt. (Best Story). Interesting that there's room for someone/thing on the right, too, but we can't actually see 'em... Anyway, Brian Showers received the award for the Le Fanu tribute anthology, Dreams of Shadows and Smoke , while D.P. Watt won best story for 'Shallaballah', an M.R. James 'sequel' published in the Ghosts & Scholars newsletter. Congratulations to them both, again, and remember - as a reader of modern ghost stories you can vote for next year's winners. And here's a reminder of the rules: You can vote for supernatural fiction published in this calendar year, 2015. 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 a

Hallowe'en Radio Fun

I like radio shows. It's been said many times, but the best medium for suspense is audio. I'm currently enjoying the sci-fi mystery/horror series Limetown , which has a Stephen King meets Nigel Kneale vibe. And talking of Kneale, I'm looking forward to the BBC's Sunday night reboot of The Stone Tape as a radio drama. There used to be a lot of more ghost stories and weird tales on the wireless, especially in the form of American shows produced by big networks. You can find a list that provides a good sample here . And, ahem, I have uploaded a few examples to ST's YouTube channel. (Yes, there is one.) The same channel has links to lots of radio and some TV dramas. Here is a little sampler.

M.R. James in The New Yorker

'The name of Montague Rhodes James is not widely recognized in America, and there will be little fellow-feeling for the world he chose to inhabit.' So begins an essay  by Anthony Lane, which sums up the appeal of the Jamesian ghost story rather neatly. He offers New Yorker readers a decent potted biography of MRJ and extracts from some of the most famous stories. And Robert Lloyd Parry's performances get a mention - can transatlantic fame be far behind? I like Lane's way with words: 'What truly provoked him, and what filtered into the underground strata of the stories, was not so much misogyny as a more basic, mortal panic at gazing into the face—or, heaven preserve him, below the waist—of the unknown.'

Ghost Story Award - Awarded!

Mark Valentine sends this modern, digital daguerreotype from Nottingham, where he's just presented Brian J. Showers of Swan River Press with the GSW for an excellent Le Fanu tribute volume. Well done, Brian! And kudos to all the contributors, of course.

Stealing Sheep - Apparition

A clever little film that looks as if a very strange old postcard had come to life. The village is Turville in Bucks, apparently. More info here .


This short film from BBC Earth gives a fascinating insight into Icelandic folklore. Icelanders sort-of believe that their landscape is inhabited by hundreds of trolls. They are key figures in a national story, and seem to be discussed much as soap opera characters are by urban Brits. Like fairies in rural Ireland, trolls have their places and their ways, and to cross them invites bad luck. The film is full of beautiful images of a fascinating place, and it's easy to see why the legend of the trolls took root on an island that manages to be cold and stark yet oddly welcoming. Icelandic trolls come across as fairly pleasant, rustic types. Norwegian trolls, though, seem to be just plain badass.

A Spooky Poem, by Cardinal Cox

The Bloodless Nun About the House wanders shade of a nun Walks straight through one solid-brick garden wall It’s six centuries since she felt the sun Tales are told of what evil had been done Winter does not force her into a shawl About the House wanders shade of a nun Seduced, ‘tis said, by squire’s wastrel son Most mournful is her circuit round the Hall It’s six centuries since she felt the sun And so through ages her doomed fate has run She once interrupted a county ball About the House wanders shade of a nun She’s seen in late mist at dawn of Whitsun And in an attic scratches a scrawl It’s six centuries since she felt the sun Sin, tears and suicide this curse began Responds to chapel bell funeral call About the House wanders shade of a nun It’s six centuries since she felt the sun

Portmanteau or Anthology? More Hallowe'en movies

I'm not sure if there's a major difference between portmanteau horror films and anthology etceteras. So far as I can make out the terms are interchangeable. The point is that I like the format - it's good to know what, as a film begins, you're going to see the work of different writers/actors/directors. So, what would be ideal Hallowe'en viewing? In no particular order, here are some memorable examples. Dr. Terror's House of Horrors Peter Cushing. That should be enough for you, but if not, this 1965 effort from Amicus is sure-fire beer and pizza viewing. There are far scarier films, there are far funnier films, and there are many other horror films you can make witty(?) remarks about, but for me this one has the lot. Cushing plays a strange chap who offers five train passengers a chance to see their future in his deck of Tarot cards. No prizes for guessing which card turns up quite frequently. It seems that nobody's future involves a win on the Prem

Cursed Paintings - The Art of Fear!

Here's a link to an excellent article about paintings that, for whatever reason, give people the willies, or wiggins. I was surprised to find that there really are such things. Having read dozens of weird tales about haunted pictures and so forth, I'd always assumed they were just a convenient fictional device. But no, there really are paintings that upset people so much they have be hidden away. Edwin Landseer’s 1864 “Man Proposes, God Disposes” has creeped people out since its debut with its dual polar bears scavenging at the wreckage of the ill-fated Franklin expedition to the Northwest Passage. One creature has a human rib bone rapturously clenched in its fangs; the other lunges at a scrap of fabric drenched in a blood-red color. William Michael Rossetti mourned it as the “saddest of membra disjecta.” The widowed Lady Franklin was unsurprisingly dismayed, and some even asked if Landseer, known for his noble dogs , was getting a bit unhinged. The painting is so weir

In the City of Ghosts

The first ever hardback collection of Michael Chislett stories has arrived! In the City of Ghosts is a splendid book from Sarob Press, and I'm not just saying this because it's dedicated to me. Yes, for only the second time in human history, an author much-published in ST has been kind enough to put my rather odd name on that priceless page. I am moved. I will of course be providing a review of the book in due course, but given the dedication and the fact that most of the stories here appeared in ST first I think it's fairly certain that I will approve. And check out this rather splendid Paul Lowe cover. The image on the right is 'The Waif', a story from the very first issue of ST. (The left, I think, is from 'Not Stopping At Mabbs End'.) It really has been too long, but I hope this book proves the first of many Chislett volumes. The guy has an awesome amount of fiction just waiting to be collected by discerning publishers.

Hallow'en Radio!

Lest we forget, much spookiness was once heard on the wireless. It's often claimed that radio is a better medium for horror than TV because you the former engages the imagination more. I think the jury is out, but radio has the edge when it comes to atmosphere. However, radio drama has obviously been superseded by the visual media (for now), so most of the shows on this list are older than me. The latest dates from 1979. I've heard most of 'em, and they are of course variable as to sound quality, and indeed script quality. But I particularly recommend Orson Welles in his Mercury Theatre's version of Dracula , plus Ronald Colman in The Dunwich Horror . Other classics include 'Casting the Runes', 'Carmilla', 'The Wendigo', and 'The Horla' with the great Peter Lorre. A special mention is due to 'Three Skeleton Key', a non-supernatural tale that has a simple, horrifying premise and was dramatised for radio several times.

Halllowe'en Movies

What's the best kind of Hallowe'en movie, I wonder? For me there has to be an element of traditional horror - whether it be a touch of the Gothic, a bit of ghostliness, or (in science fiction) a laboratory where things Clearly Got A Bit Out of Hand. But it's very difficult to define a rock-solid Hallowe'en film in simple terms, because sometimes the best horror jumps out at you from behind a cliché or something even more innocuous. There are lots of obvious choices for late October viewing, and some of the best films are the most readily available, The early work of John Carpenter, the best of the early slasher movies, classic ghostly tales like The Innocents and The Haunting. So what about something a little different, perhaps as an appetiser before the main event? 1. Tucker and Dale v. Evil This is one of those horror spoofs that de-constructs the genre in a way that's genuinely affectionate rather than smart-alecky. Tucker and Dale are just two regular coun

Skeletons (2010)

Here's another one of those films with a supernatural theme that quite passed me by when it appeared. Skeletons stars Andrew Buckely and Ed Gaughan as two suits, Bennett and Davis, whose job consists of using a combination of natural psychic ability and esoteric gadgets to exorcise the (figurative) skeletons in other peoples' cupboards. Their boss is The Colonel (Jason Isaacs), who is considering the team for promotion. No more domestics, they could be dealing with politicians and royalty - as in the case of 'Thatcher-Mitterand'. Unfortunately (this being drama and all) things are not going swimmingly with the team. Bennett is troubled by the way they just crash into people's lives, reveal their darkest secrets, and leave with a sheaf of forms. Davis - the one with the major talent - is a solitary weirdo obsessed with reliving one perfect moment from his childhood. When the team are detailed to try and find the lost husband of the lovely Jane Baron (Paprika Steen

'The Way Through the Woods'

THEY shut the road through the woods Seventy years ago. Weather and rain have undone it again, And now you would never know There was once a road through the woods Before they planted the trees. It is underneath the coppice and heath, And the thin anemones. Only the keeper sees That, where the ring-dove broods, And the badgers roll at ease, There was once a road through the woods. Yet, if you enter the woods Of a summer evening late, When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools Where the otter whistles his mate, (They fear not men in the woods, Because they see so few.) You will hear the beat of a horse's feet, And the swish of a skirt in the dew, Steadily cantering through The misty solitudes, As though they perfectly knew The old lost road through the woods. But there is no road through the woods. KIPLING For National Poetry Day

Mark Gatiss Speaks!

Well, he spoke to the excellent Shadows at the Door , where you can find a substantial interview. I like interviews that cover a lot of ground, and that's certainly the case here. The obvious question, following the success of his adaptation of 'The Tractate Middoth', is whether the BBC is going to do more ghost stories for Christmas? The only trouble is that I’d love to do it every year but they haven’t asked! (laughs) But I would love for there to be a broader field for others like Sheridan Le Fanu, who was James’ great hero, and all the people who came after him. James was the best, but it was would be nice to mix it up a bit. If only there were more of them, a Ghost Story for Christmas… Well, we could do with an anthology series really. We could indeed. I was pleased to see that MG would like to do 'Count Magnus'. He also talks about another great writer, H.G. Wells, and I was delighted to learn that Graham Duff - another genre fan with his roots in comedy -

Worst Horror Films Of All Time?

Hard to believe that anyone sat through all of these, but there's  a list on the internet so it must be true... And, to be honest, I like the look of some of these efforts. We all know in our heart of hearts that most horror films are forgettable, derivative tosh. So truly bad ones at least stand out in some way. Read at your own risk. Among the choice titles on offer here are:

The Phantasmagorical Imperative: and Other Fabrications, by D.P Watt

Please note, this is a review of the pdf of a beautifully-produced book from Egaeus Press . It has a wonderful cover and copious internal illustrations, photographs, and so on. It's very much a collector's item - see below... (I'm not one of those collecting it, though, as I asked for a pdf to review.) In her introduction to this collection of  strange tales Victoria Nelson notes that D,P. Watt's protagonists tend to be 'a cross between M.R. James's buttoned-down antiquarians and H.P. Lovecraft's high-strung, slightly hysterical misfits'. That's a good summation of the kind of person we encounter in this collection of somewhat surreal weird tales, which take place in a twilight zone between mainstream British horror and the Kafkaesque provinces of European literature. The title story deftly evokes the oddness of the sort of small village that we've seen in quite a few horror films. But the theme here is not so much horror as strangeness.