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Showing posts from April, 2016

M.R. James Games!

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Do you like games? I like games, so long as they're not too noisy, like Twister or that Russian one with the gun. Over at Pleasing Terror Games there are games for fans of the Jamesian ghost story, with one currently in development that you can offer feedback on. Cards for the Curious is a dice-rolling, story-telling game. Play the leading role in a series of chilling ghost stories from the canon of M. R. James. Embark on a terrifying journey of the imagination, as you try to survive the nameless dread that hunts you, with either your life or your sanity intact. Relive all the main drama of the actual tale, but, with a host of other encounters thrown in the mix, no story will ever be told the same way twice. Sounds brilliant, and the illustrations by Richard Svensson are great.

Dissonant Intervals

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Side Real Press (an excellent small press based just over the river from ST in Newcastle) has published a new collection of stories by Louis Marvick. Among them are two tales Louis wrote for ST - 'Pockets of Emptiness' and 'Is for Ilinx'. As always, the book is superbly produced and an instant collector's item.

M.R. James locations

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It's that time of year when people who live in the UK, or nearby, plan excursions to places mentioned in tales to chill the blood. Well, maybe. It's certainly a thought, as many of M.R. James locations are famously based on real churches, towns, and country houses. So here are just a few places you might consider visiting, not just in England but in Western Europe. Well, okay, not that one. 'Lost Hearts' is out because Aswarby Hall is one of England's 'lost' country houses. Tsk. Moving swiftly along...

In which I receive an item of electronic mail!

David, I have supernatural tales 1 to 8 and enjoyed them very much. Do you know of someone wanting to complete their collection and is both desperate and deserving of such a gift? Paul   Well, do I? If so get in touch and I will put you in touch with Paul. He's a generous chap!

Beltane

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  In the conservative and generally somewhat Catholic-leaning Daily Telegraph is an account  of the revival of native British customs. Sort of. In our peripatetic, deeply temporal, modern society, why would anyone choose to spend a long night marking the passing of Winter and greeting Summer? You can sit at home with a boxed set of The Killing and a Waitrose ready meal. Who celebrates change – apart from the Coalition? Actually, it emerges, increasing numbers of Britons – old, young, and of worldwide origin – still do. In Edinburgh, thousands will celebrate the 25th Beltane (the name is probably derived from a Gaelic word meaning bright fire) Fire Festival this year. In Yorkshire, Thornborough Henge will see its eighth annual event. Butser Ancient Farm has been building and burning its wicker man for more than a decade. Events have sprung up from Devon to Peebles, Cardiff to Ireland (where the festival is connected to the legends of Tara). All have seen annual attendance and

This Rough Magic

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Nerds Victorious

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There's an article in the New York Times about the moral panic over Dungeons & Dragons in the Eighties. I only played it a few times, and I remember that I sort of enjoyed it, but it never became part of my life. I just wasn't that sociable a nerd and preferred to read sci-fi by myself. Also, D&D came in when I was already in my early twenties, and I think you had to catch the bug in your mid-teens or thereabouts. Anyway, the D&D panic never really spread to Britain, perhaps because fundamentalist Christians have never had much clout since the 19th century (in England, at any rate). We've been lucky in that respect.  Anyway, the story behind the D&D panic is the usual nonsense - the association of various real and imaginary Bad Things with a Strange Activity adults don't get. 'Fred plays this game, now Fred is dead - the game somehow killed Fred'. One can of course correlate teen suicide quite easily with walking, bathing, or wearing trousers,

Supernatural Shakespeare

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The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania, 1847 - Sir Joseph Noel Paton I went to a talk at Newcastle's Lit and Phil given by the excellent Dr Gail-Nina Anderson , one of our greatest regional treasures. Her subject was art inspired by Shakespeare, and there's a lot of it. However, not a single illustration of any of the Bard's work appeared in his lifetime, or for generations after. It was in the 18th century, with the rise of the cult of Shakespeare as England's national poet, that the artists started illustrating scenes from his plays. During the Romantic era, things got very strange. I hadn't realised quite how much artists tended to use supernatural incidents in the plays. Here are just a few of the pictures the good doctor discussed. We begin with Fuseli, and Macbeth. Lady Macbeth with the Daggers

Review of ST 32

Not a great one for blowing my own trumpet (or indeed horn) but this  generous review by Jose Cruz is too good to let pass unnoticed. Major fanfare, please, for a discerning reader! Since “the beginning of this century,” editor David Longhorn has been compiling the magazine Supernatural Tales. In that time the series has amassed stories from a cornucopia of authors who were or have become household names within the fields of dark and strange fiction, among them Lynda E. Rucker, Simon Strantzas, Nina Allan, Steve Rasnic Tem, Rosalie Parker, Joel Lane, S. P. Miskowski, Gary McMahon, and Mark Valentine. It is an impressive assemblage of talent working in Longhorn’s preferred mode of the whispery tale of chilling dread, ensuring that the rich lineage of subtlety and restraint in horror remains as vibrant and vital as ever.  In this, the thirty-second issue, Longhorn has published six stories that also work in this mode and, though some prove more successful than others, the overall m

Codex New England

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'Dunwich Jazz Festival'. There, that should be argument enough for any decent person to read the poems of Cardinal Cox. Just that title, right there. But if you need more persuading, here goes. 'Codex New England' is the tenth pamphlet of Lovecraftian poetry produced by the former Poet Laureate of Peterborough. The poems here offer a whistle-stop tour of Lovecraft's settings and landscapes - or dreamscapes. In 'Circling New York' the description of the city in 'He' is in the mind of a traveller nearing JFK. A'fter those 'black cyclopaean towers' we move on to 'Boston Subway Memorial', with no mention of Pickman but a clear nod to the source of his inspiration. 'Bus From Newburyport' takes us you-know-where along 'reptile skinned road'. Innsmouth never looked so inviting. And this is a recurring theme, as we all know that Lovecraft's imaginary places are rather attractive. 'The Gilman House' and

Lovecraft on the British Stage, No Less!

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They're on tour. Here's their schedule . Thanks to the redoubtable Cardinal Cox for sending me the flyer, which accompanied his latest poetry pamphlet. More on these new Lovecraftian emanations very soon!

Gareth Thomas (1945-2016)

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The Welsh actor Gareth Thomas , who died on Wednesday, was best known for his starring role in the sci-fi adventure series Blake's 7. However, he also appeared in Children of the Stones, a very good supernatural serial. Children of the Stones was an ITV children's drama that was distinguished by a very strong cast - as well as Gareth Thomas it featured Iain Cuthbertson and Freddie Jones. Filmed in Avebury, it concerns a scientist, played by Thomas, who arrives in the village with his teenage son to survey the stone circle. It quickly emerges that the village is not a normal place, and that some kind of influence linked to the stones is exerted by the local squire, a maverick scientist played by Cuthbertson. For a children's show CotS is remarkably intelligent, well-acted, and absorbing. It may be the scariest example of its kind, too. It combines ideas from modern science with mythology, and has a clever twist ending. The theme of ordinary people being brainwashed by

All Souls' Night

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Valancourt Books , which publishes quality paperbacks, is bringing out a new edition of Hugh Walpole's collection All Souls' Nigh t. Here is the blurb: Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) was one of the most popular and prolific English authors of his time, best known for his historical fiction and novels for boys. But it was in the field of the macabre and supernatural that Walpole was at his best, and this collection of sixteen tales contains many of his finest, including the classic werewolf story ‘Tarnhelm’; the oft-anthologized ‘The Little Ghost’; ‘The Snow’, a chilling story of vengeance from beyond the grave; and perhaps the highlight of the collection, ‘The Silver Mask’, which one critic has called ‘a masterpiece, a classic example of how a tale can be truly terrible and ghostly with no ghost and only the wispiest hint of the supernatural.’  This new edition, which reprints the unabridged text of the 1933 first edition and includes a new introduction by John Howard, will

Goths Up the Amazon

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The title of this post may suggest that a Germanic tribe got lost sometime in the fourth century AD and ended up crossing the Atlantic to be discovered centuries later by Doug McClure etcetera. Come to think of it, that's a brilliant film scenario, and I would very much like to be paid lots of money for it. But no, this post is about Goths in Manaos, which is a city (with a famous opera house) in Brazil's steamy interior. It's not easy being a Goth there . It's very warm. Not easy being pale in Brazil, so kudos for trying But if you're a Goth up the Amazon, you're a proper Goth. 'Basically, the city's climate functions like a natural selection system – filtering out those who don't take the lifestyle seriously.'  

Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghost Bonkers

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Here's a feature  about two women who tried to have sex with ghosts. I'll just leave it here for your perusal. Katie: My room is generally pretty clean, so I didn’t have to do much to tidy up. I lit a red candle that I’d bought from a witchcraft shop (red for sex), closed my curtain, and lay down on top of my bed, fully clothed. Everyone knows that ghosts can go through things, so in my mind, that shouldn’t matter. Also, it was too cold to get naked.  Arianna: I, too, was clothed because of the temperature of my apartment but, to be fair, could have probably chosen a sexier outfit than my Mickey Mouse sweatshirt and BuzzFeed sweatpants. You may think they didn't take it entirely seriously. I couldn't possibly comment. There are a few ghost stories that feature what our American cousins call bumping uglies. The obvious one is 'The Amorous Ghost' by Enid Bagnold, which isn't bad. There's also Gordon Honeycombe's novel Neither the Sea Nor th

Study for 'The Unknown' (1912) by John Charles Dollman

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Here's the second in my series of what is, essentially, an artistic ignoramus peering at weird/supernatural pictures on display at Newcastle's Laing Art Gallery. This one is a bit of a mystery, as it seems to relate to no known story. Click to enlarge. The finished painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy, so Dollman was clearly not some bonkers maverick. Perhaps he was just keen on apes and half-naked girls. But there is something distinctly odd about a bunch of chimps being reproved, enchanted, or lectured by a topless witch, or something. Is it an evolutionary parable? Does the woman represent enlightenment, language, religion, or just someone who's trying to teach them basic fire-related health and safety procedures? And is she kneeling down or standing in a hole? The fact that one chimp has given upon the whole thing and is shuffling away in the background only adds to the mystery. Dollman illustrated Kipling, so it's tempting to see it as some sort of

Devils of Darkness (1965)

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The mid-Sixties saw a dip in horror movie quality - after the Hammer/Corman boom that began in the late Fifties the genre started to look a little tired. But the films kept coming, sometimes in more subtle forms - The Innocents, The Haunting, The Witches, and a few others with the definite article in the title - and sometimes as variations on familiar themes. Devils of Darkness is classed as a British film, though like many of its ilk it has an American star, the craggy William Sylvester, and much of it supposedly takes place on the continent. It concerns a group of tourists who visit a French village that we know, thanks to the pre-title sequence, is the domain of a vampire, Count Sinistre. No, really, that's what he's called. Anyway, the village is the home of a secret vampire cult, and only the gypsies try to warn the visitors to beware, and so forth. Two people die in odd circumstances and the authorities are unhelpful, because they're in on it. The cult itself is a

Laus Veneris (1873-5)

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I'm lucky to live near Newcastle, where the Laing Art Gallery offers a small but excellent collection of paintings and other artworks. There are a few that tackle supernatural themes, or at least fall in the general horror/fantasy zone. I thought I'd post an occasional series about paintings I've enjoyed and do my bit for tourism, culture, dead artists etc. Let's start with Edward Burne-Jones and Algernon Charles Swinburne - that's full-on Victorian, dude. Click to enlarge Laus Veneris . According to the Victorian Web, the painting is based closely on Swinburne's poem, which is a typically sensuous re-telling of the legend of Tannhauser. The latter was a German knight who was lured by Venus into her underground lair (was she a super-villain?), where they enjoyed many years of purely physical pleasure. Lucky bastard. Eventually, being a goodly Christian knight, old Tanners felt a bit guilty and went to Rome to try and get absolved. The Pope told him that

The Old Parallel Universe Trick

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A man from Edinburgh believes he spotted Bigfoot near Fife .  “I can remember a forest and I looked to my left to see a tall dark shape standing 20 feet away in the trees.  “At first I thought it was a man but then it came towards me.  “He must have been huge, some eight to ten feet tall, and really wide." The man in question was driving by at 60 mph, and therefore not in a position to give a more detailed description. A rationalist/sourpuss might remark that judging the size of anything briefly glimpsed in the dark is tricky, which is why we keep hearing about mysterious big cats. But let's assume that an eight-to-ten feet tall entity is out there, near Fife. What might it be? Well, if it's straining credulity to believe there's a Beast of Bodmin, or a Surrey Panther, the Bigfoot of Tayside really can't be credited. At least, not as a legitimate species of primate. But what if it's a visitor from a parallel universe? This was the view advanced by Jo

RIP Erik Bauersfeld - Voice of The Black Mass

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The BBC announcement is here . Erik Bauersfeld achieved an indirect kind of stardom by voicing a minor Star Wars character who exclaimed: 'It's a trap!' What few people realised is that he'd already established a reputation as a splendid voice actor on radio. The Black Mass remains a splendid example of a low-budget, high-quality radio series that tackled literary horror tales and did a fine job. Authors whose works were adapted range from Nigel Kneale to Edgar Allan Poe, and from H.P. Lovecraft to Walter de la Mare. Here are some examples of Bauersfeld's artistry. You can access all the radio shows as MP3 downloads here .

The Debate Rages! Well, not really...

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The votes for the best story in ST 31 are not exactly flooding in. Still plenty of time to vote, but let me remind you that the magazine can be had nice and cheaply for Kindle or other e-reader. The price is 99p, in English money, which is in the region of $1.50. (I set the price to the lowest allowed by Amazon.) So if you're interested, pop along to the Buy Supernatural Tales page, where you can also get print copies on demand. And vote for your favourite story!

Ghosts & Scholars

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It seems a long time since I last mentioned Ghosts & Scholars, which is both a fascinating website and a regular journal of goodies pertaining to all things M.R. Jamesian. The original magazine was dedicated to scholarship, reviews, and fiction in roughly equal amounts. At the end of the century, after two decades of flawless editorial, Ro Pardoe decided to scale things down to a regular newsletter, without the fiction.  A lot of people missed the regular diet of excellent stories, of course, but fortunately over the last few years Ro has taken to publishing a small number of stories per issue. Why, yes, some of them are mine, why do you ask? Oh, all right, I have a story in the latest issue and some people think it's good. The point is that if you go the link above you will find yourself in Monty James heaven, with access to a huge amount of fact and fiction of excellent quality. 

Mythical Beast Wars

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I've always been fascinated by mythical or apocryphal creatures, whether they're the stuff of serious literature (as in Borges' B ook of Imaginary Beings ) or in the movies of Ray Harryhausen. Now there's a site that I'm sure will appeal to folk like me. Mythical Beast Wars sees artists create drawings of various unlikely creatures, then pits them against each other.  It's easier when the combatants have something in common. Like chickenosity... Baba Yaga I'd heard of, but not Pollo Maligno, a giant jungle chicken from Colombia that lures in hunters and eats them. I'm not sure how it does the luring, but I inevitably thought of this scene from a favourite film. Hobgoblins, elves, and the automatons of Hephaestus (rather classy) all feature in Mythical Beast Wars. If I had a tithe of artistic ability I'd join in myself. It's also a good site to test your knowledge of cryptozoology, because there are quite a few supposedly real c

Cursed (2004) - The Little Convenience Store of Horrors

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A film recommended by writer Steve Duffy , this title came at the end of the remarkable J-Horror boom, following such renowned classics as Ring , The Grudge , Audition , and Dark Water . It was therefore bound to be overshadowed by its illustrious predecessors, which is a pity. It's a very good take on the idea of the 'evil place' ghost story, and as such complements rather than slavishly imitates the kind of horror produced in Japan around the millennium. It doesn't help that Cursed is an unimaginative title, and one that was in fact used by a Wes Craven werewolf film released the following year. The Japanese title is translated as  Extremely Scary Story A: Dark Crow . I can't help feeling A Dark Crow might have been better, although crows don't play a very big part in the film. Cursed begins with shock horror, as two schoolgirls get off a bus and head off to a (presumably fun) rendezvous, phones in hand. One suggests that they go into the store, call

Pagan Triptych - a tribute to Algernon Blackwood

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Over at the Sarob Press blog you'll find details of a new book. The authors who wrote the excellent Machen tribute, Romances of the White Day , have produced three new stories. Ron Weighell ... THE LETTER KILLETH ... a tale of ancient secrets, a book of shadows and dark magic John Howard ... IN THE CLEARING ... the mystery of trees, new beginnings and the truth of things Mark Valentine ... THE FIG GARDEN ... a childhood game, strange rituals and pagan worship And there's an excellent Paul Lowe cover.

Is Comedy Horror Dead?

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I recently had the pleasure (?) of watching two comedy horror movies that made me wonder if the genre (or sub-genre) is dead, or at least not feeling very well. The films were Stung and Detention of the Dead, both recent movies using well-worn horror concepts. They weren't terrible - there were some good performances, nicely-done scenes, amusing lines, that sort of thing. But the tone, in both cases, was all over the place. Detention of the Dead (2012): 'A group of oddball high school students find themselves trapped in detention with their classmates having turned into a horde of Zombies.' So it's a lot like Buffy but nobody has superpowers, and sure enough we have the familiar American high school cast of late teens - there's a Goth girl who likes the nerd, whose into the cheerleader, who in turn is giving blow-jobs to the bully, who has a jock friend who's buying from the stoner. They're in detention when a zombie outbreak occurs, and they're pic