Saturday 30 December 2017

Happy Birthday, Barbara Steele

Image result for barbara steele

The queen of Italian horror cinema, British actress Barbara Steele, is eighty today! Raise a glass of something suitably dark, rich, and red to her.

Image result for barbara steele

Image result for barbara steele

Friday 29 December 2017

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

The Autopsy of Jane Doe.jpegThis American film co-stars Scotland's finest, Brian Cox (the original movie Hannibal Lecter), so for that reason I thought I'd give it a go. I'm glad I did. I've been disappointed by the quality of a lot of US horror lately, and while far from perfect TAOJD is pretty good.

The story begins with a crime scene, and the usual palaver - little markers around a blood-soaked small-town home, photographer flashing away. The sheriff is baffled by a multiple homicide in a house where there is no sign of breaking and entering. It's almost as if the victims were trying to get out. Then, in the basement, the cops find something even stranger - the half-buried body of a young woman. They cannot identify her, and there is no sign of violence.

Jane Doe is taken to the local morgue, run by father and son team Tommy and Austin Tilden. Tommy (Cox) is under pressure to find the cause of death, and Austin (Emile Hirsch) postpones a date with girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) to help his dad. There's a little morgue humour, of course, but as the autopsy proceeds things take a turn for the weird. This is very much a supernatural horror film, rooted in American folklore and history. The first clue as to JD's true identity is the unusual narrowness of her waist. I was kicking myself for not getting that until much later.

While not excessively gory TAOJD is about, well, cutting up a body, so it might not be to some people's taste. The ending is also a little wonky, and inevitably it does rely on scares of a familiar kind. But the premise is nicely executed and does tackle an issue that was also central to one of the BBC's Ghost Stories from Christmas, many moons again. I will say no more!

Friday 22 December 2017

Ghost Stories For Christmas

'The Trial for Murder'

Christmas is traditional a time for etcetera. We all know the drill. But which ghost stories are best for the festive season? There are lots of lists out there, so I thought I'd scrutinise a few and see just what the trend young folk* are pushing as suitable Yuletide fare.

First, there's an item from the Independent about the tradition of telling ghost stories are Christmas. The author, Keith Lee Morris, ranged rather widely, putting the gang at the Villa Deodati into the tradition. Admittedly 1816 had a miserable summer, but their stories were written in June. And nobody will ever call 'Frankenstein' a Christmas ghost story, will they? Still, it's an interesting piece.

Onward to the lists. Here The Paris Review lists '5 Forgotten Christmas Ghost Stories'. The stories are: 'Between the Lights' by E.F. Benson; 'The Kit-Bag' by Algernon Blackwood; 'A Strange Christmas Game' by J.H. Riddell; 'Christmas Re-union' by Sir Andrew Caldecott; and 'Smee' by A.M Burrage. Well, they're not really forgotten, are they? Tales by Burrage, Blackwood, and Benson are all quite well-known to ghost story fans. The other two are found in quite a few collections of Victorian supernatural fiction. The Riddell story has just been released as part of a Christmas special by the audio-book publisher Audible, in fact, narrated by Simon Callow and Sally Phillips. But it's a nice list, nonetheless.

Interesting Literature has a list of ten Victorian ghost stories, and I have no quibble with the quality of their selection. 'Lost Hearts' by M.R. James squeaks in under the line, dating from 1895. Charlotte Riddell's 'The Open Door' rubs shoulders with works by Le Fanu, Stevenson, and Kipling (though I doubt that 'The End of the Passage' is really a ghost story). Another good list, but inevitably leaving out some excellent 20th century pieces.

Finally, here's a list of the seven best ghost stories by Dickens - not including 'A Christmas Carol'. Again there are some interesting ones here, reminding us that Dickens was prolific and perennially obsessed with the macabre. Guess which story is rated No. 1? Sadly, I can offer no prizes for the correct answer...

Image result for the signalman charles dickens

So that's a short list of lists. I will be reading and watching a lot of ghost stories in the dark weeks to come, of course.

*People who makes lists of stuff on the internet

Old Grey Whistlefest

Over at the BFI website you can see an item about a 1956 adaptation of an M.R. James classic. No, not the Miller one with Michael Hordern, the amateur one that's just been brought to light. It's rather nice and of course quite seasonal in its way.

The title screen of the 1956 version

There's even a sheet with an actual face.Not bad for post-war enthusiasts on a zero budget.

The ghostly bed sheet in the 1956 version

There's a link in the article that takes you to the 1956 film, which is free to watch and lasts 10 mins. 

Wednesday 20 December 2017


The next story in the Women in Horror Annual 2 is by Kathleen Danielson. It's set on Halloween, and a group of youngsters decide to test out an urban legend. Apparently you can summon something nasty if you say a particular rhyme while looking into a mirror. Of course, a great deal of scepticism is expressed about this. So the characters decide to draw straws to see who gets to conduct the inevitable experiment.

If that very sounds familiar, it is. However, the author offers a twist. This is a world where werewolves (here termed 'lycans') co-exist with ovine humanoids. I must admit this threw me a little, but it's all clearly meant in fun. I was slightly surprised to find two werewolf stories in succession, but perhaps that's part of a cunning plan. A nice enough story, 'Red', but it didn't do a lot for me.

More from this running review soon.

Christmas Spookery on the BBC

I wish the BBC would go back to producing a new 'Ghost Story for Christmas' every year, but I suspect that phantom ship has sailed. But it's good to see that Auntie has decided to wheel out her back-list of ghostly dramas. 

On  Christmas Eve Mark Gatiss' adaptation of 'The Tractate Middoth' will be shown, preceded by the short documentary 'M.R. James: Ghost Writer'. It will be followed by 'No. 13: A Ghost Story' (not brilliant, but okay), then 'The Signalman'. Christopher Lee's readings of two MRJ ghost stories will follow at midnight, and then at 1pm there will be 'A View from a Hill', which I quite like. It's a very visual story and I think it works rather well. Haunted binoculars!

Monday 18 December 2017

The White Road - Review

Sarob Press has answered the prayers of a host of bibliophiles by publishing a lavish collection of Ron Weighell's stories. The original Ghost Story Press edition of The White Road has long been a collector's item, and it's easy to see why. This is a book that deserves to be dubbed a classic of supernatural fiction. It contains two dozen stories ranging in quality from good to excellent, and is very much in the British weird tradition.

The Sarob volume is illustrated by Nick Maloret. As well as a superb dustjacket, there are remarkable end-paper and cover art. I am a terrible photographer, but I thought I would try to capture them regardless.

See? Told you I was rubbish at taking pictures, but at least you get some idea of the quality of Maloret's work. The overall feel of the book is luxurious, of course, and proclaims it a genuine collector's item. But what of the stories themselves?

Saturday 16 December 2017

More Audio Spookery

Want some more weird and wonderful stuff to listen to in the run-up to Yuletide? Here are some readings of classic tales, beginning with E.F. Benson's story of dire doings in a quaint little place not unlike 'Tilling'. It's as if Miss Mapp had gone a bit feral.

Now for a bit of Walter de la Mare. This is a Sixties US radio adaptation of one of Walt's best-known stories, and I think it comes across well.

If you liked that, you'll probably like this. The Black Mass adapted an M.R. James story that, while nobody's absolute favourite, is enigmatic and interesting. What were they up to? And what happened on that final, fateful night?

A Canadian radio show, next - Nightfall, which ran from 1980-83. This is their adaptation of a classic tale of girl-on-girl vampirism, which in the early Seventies spawned several films featuring young women in anachronistic nighties.

Finally, we're back to Montyworld and a reading of 'Casting the Runes' by Michael Hordern.

'Backseat Driver'

'I stir the thick red generic alphabet spaghetti, all the while eyeing the rat poison looming tantalisingly within arms reach.'

Thus begins Nicky Peacock's contribution to Women in Horror Annual 2. This is a more playful work that the two preceding tales. It begins with a portrait of a dysfunctional marriage in which the wife is also acting as mother to an overgrown adolescent - a man obsessed with conspiracy theories and the like.

When we join her she resolves to leave him, taking her trusty old dog, and just driving off into the night. Unfortunately she strays off the highway onto a country road, where she finds a hit-and-run victim of a rather unusual kind. This is the first of a series of encounters that come straight from the realms of urban legend-based horror movies.

I found this one enjoyable enough, though - paradoxically, given the content - a bit bloodless. Running review continues, though I suspect I won't get finished until the New Year.

Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Behind the Music'

The second story in the Women in Horror Annual 2 (see below) is by Madison McSweeney. It begins with a couple of cops discussing a badly injured woman who has fallen from a hotel balcony. The room in question belongs to a rock singer, Silas Oddside, and obvious conclusions are drawn. We then flashback to a young lady called Cherry who blags her way backstage at a rock concert to try and get jiggy with her favourite singer.

The story unfolds as the cops gradually discover just how strange Cherry's encounter with Oddside was. The revelation is foreshadowed, and it's quite neatly done, though I did wonder exactly how a career in rock music could be balanced with Oddside's unusual habits. Hey, it's only a story, right? A story set in 1987, as it happens. This was during the horror boom, and 'Behind the Music' does have an Eighties vibe - a time when the genre was shaking off some of its more cumbersome Gothic baggage, but also becoming more self-consciously trendy.

So, an okay story with some good moments, but nothing special. Stay tuned for more takes on WHA 2.

Women in Horror Annual 2 - Running Review

Yes, it's time for more of my so-called opinions on stories, in this case collected by Canadian editor C. Rachel Katz. Here is the blurbette about the book.
The Women in Horror Annual 2 is the second volume of an anthology of horror fiction and nonfiction written by women. WHA promotes and celebrates female voices in horror, and the stories and papers contained within represent a diverse group of writers, each with their own unique vision. Ranging from supernatural tales of horror to quotidian terror, and touching on themes of empowerment, insanity, and freedom, the stories herein run the gamut from melancholic to darkly humorous. As was the case with the first volume, WHA 2 is further proof that horror has something for everyone.
So, let's get started with the first story. 'Rumspringa' by Melissa Burkley presented me with a new word, right there in the title! I looked it up - 'Rumspringa, or “running around”, is the term used to describe the period of adolescence Amish experience starting at around age 16.' Lovely word.

In this story a girl called Constance is sent out into the world of the Outsiders for her Rumpringa. Equipped with strange modern clothes, an emergency whistle, and a credit card she leaves her insular community and ends up at a cheap hotel near a truck stop. There she befriends a hooker, enjoys junk food, and discovers the hard way that she can never really fit in with modern Americans. There are a lot of dangerous people out there. And other things.

Now, I've read a lot of horror and I did guess the twist to this one. That said, I enjoyed the way Constance comes to terms with her strange heritage in a story that has a whiff of The X-Files about it. So, a good start. More about WHA 2 very soon!

Women in Horror Annual 2 (WHA) by [Katz, C. Rachel]

Mark Gatiss reads E.F. Benson

Random House Audio has produced a nice audio collection of some of Benson's 'greatest hits' in the ghost story genre. Mark Gatiss does an excellent job of reading 'em. Need I say more? Oh all right then...

The stories in the collection are: 'The Bus Conductor', 'Negotium Perambulans', ''...And No Birds Sing'', 'Spinach', 'Mrs Amworth', 'In the Tube','The Room in the Tower', 'Caterpillars', and 'The Man Who Went Too Far'. I would have preferred 'How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery' to 'Spinach', which is lightweight stuff, but perhaps the former was a bit too long?

Gatiss, a fan of the Mapp and Lucia books, adopts a relatively light touch with the characters and settings here, emphasising the pleasant rural atmosphere in 'Mrs Amworth'. In 'Spinach', a comic tale', he has fun with the slightly preposterous society psychics. The climactic moments of genuine horror are well delivered, though. Overall it's a very relaxing listen at bedtime. Unless you're the sort of person who can't sleep after hearing about someone attacked by a giant spectral slug.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Don't forget to vote!

Supernatural Tales 36Fans of ST, if you've read the latest issue - which you can order here, along with back issues - why not give your verdict on  which story is best? The poll is over to the right, top of the page. It's easy - just point and click in a mousey fashion. You can pick more than one if you can't settle on a clear favourite.

Saturday 9 December 2017

'Narrative of the Ghost of a Hand'

Superficially simple but in fact deeply disturbing story by Le Fanu. A case of a Victorian ghostly tale in which little is explained but much can be imagined. Some lovely scenes - especially when the sceptical paterfamilias decides to open the front door...

'The Lodestone'

My favourite of Sheila Hodgson's plays based featuring M.R. James as a kind of psychic sleuth.

Wednesday 6 December 2017

'The Sundial' by R.H. Malden

A fine ghost story of the old school by an author much influenced by M.R. James. Malden only wrote one collection of tales - a not-uncommon situation with authors of ghost stories. There's an excellent essay on Malden by the Roger Johnson here. Unlike James, who was never ordained, Malden was an Anglican clergyman and rose to become Dean of Wells Cathedral.

Tuesday 5 December 2017

'The Midnight House'

Image result for hogarth credulity

The Hogarth engraving above is a little masterpiece of bonkersness, giving the lie to the notion that the so-called Age of Reason was anything of the sort. Check out the link explaining all the cases of withcraft and possession the artist depicts.

Which leads us nicely onto the play, 'The Midnight House'. It is obviously derived from M.R. James' 'The Mezzotint', but is I think an excellent variation on the theme rather than an adaptation. And it's  all about a picture by Hogarth that, while apparently devoid of supernatural imagery, is in fact downright evil...

Seasonal Spookery

The first of many readings and links to things that I hope to post as Yuletide approaches. It's the time of year for strange tales, ghostly occurrences, and general malarkey of that sort. I thought I'd start with a bit of Poe, and who better to read it than Basil Rathbone? His voice is, I think, perfect for the precise yet florid Gothic prose of this and similar stories.

Wednesday 29 November 2017


Image result for eatanswill election
Democracy in action, and all that

Vote for the best story in the latest issue of ST by mouse-clicking on the poll at the side. It should be over to the right somewhere. You know the score by now, old-timers. And you can vote for more than one story! Heck, you can even vote for ALL of them - rendering your contribution meaningless, but still, its a choice!

Remember, the winning author gets the princely sum of £25! Imagine the luxuries they could buy with that. Two and a half pints of beer in London, say. But there's also the kudos of being more popular than several other people. And you can't put a price on that.

Image result for mrs pankhurst
Mrs Pankhurst explains the concept of Ladyvoting

Monday 27 November 2017

'The Upper Berth'

upper_berth_idea2Over at the M.R. James podcast those wacky dudes have moved on from the ghost stories of Monty James - because they ran out of them, basically. They are now probing away at classic ghostly tales of the MRJ era. The latest podcast is on F. Marion Crawford's 'The Upper Berth'.

''The Upper Berth' was originally published in “The Broken Shaft: Tales in Mid-Ocean”, an anthology of tales told by passengers on a stranded ocean liner.'

The excellent Mansfield Dark has produced an animated short version of the story here.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

'Virtually Famous'

The final story in Imposter Syndrome is by Phil Sloman. It's the tale of a celebrity, a big star whose face is known to millions. He is the subject of a virtual reality 'game' in which people get to live his life. Unfortunately, the internet being what it is, people soon start killing him. In fact he gets killed in ever more bizarre and inventive ways. Then he decides to play the game, and kill himself.  Virtually, of course. Will his long-suffering fixer be able to fix the resulting mess?

'Virtually Famous' is slightly reminiscent of Seventies sci-f of the sort of promoted by Harlan Ellison in his Dangerous Visions anthologies. There's a paranoid feel to it that combines elements of sci-fi, psychological horror, and noir crime fiction. It also - inevitably - holds a dark mirror up to our own era of instant, meaningless celebrity and grotesque self-indulgence. It's an appropriate ending to an anthology that explores so many different aspects of identity, and the ways in which our sense of identity can be undermined.

Imposter Syndrome is a very good read. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the many facets of what is termed horror (or weird) fiction these days. Judging by the contents of this book the field is in fine fettle.

(I received pdf of the book for review.)

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Issue 36 Available Now

Supernatural Tales 36

It's out! The magazine, that is. Issue 36, that's the three dozenth release from the mighty Supernatural Tales franchise. So, if you want to sample the new issue in print form, you can mosey on over to the POD page and order at least one copy. Possibly several. Or you can wait a wee while until the Kindle ebook becomes available. Further news of that later in the week.

But what's in the magazine, eh? That's what you're asking. So let's have a peek at the opening sentences of some stories. I think you may detect a whiff of old-school ghost story, a soupcon of modern horror, and a general Gothicky tone here and there.

'The Templar Cup' by Paul Lewis

Rain fell on London as I hurried into the station; that persistent drizzle which clings to the clothes and the hair so that one remains unpleasantly damp long after reaching shelter...

'The Chiromancer' by Tom Johnstone

“Penny arcades not your thing, Willy?” asked Bertie, affecting an air of innocence, breaking the uneasy hush that had fallen in the smoking room of the Regina Club.

'Sacred Ground' by Nancy Cole Silverman

The highway from L.A. to Vegas is like a long strip of cement spaghetti, and in the brutal hot summer sun, buried beneath the surface of a desert mirage, it appeared to undulate like the fan of a Vegas stripper teasing its patrons.

'In the Rigging' by Jane Jakeman

“Very valuable, they were. Worth a mint of money,” said the old sailor sitting in the corner of the bar.

'The Tidier' by Gary Fry

Until it happened again, Gardner thought the first time had been a hallucination.

'The Subliminals' (Part 2) by Michael Chislett

Given Lant’s avocation, there was always a hazard from unwanted company, of a certain kind, seeking him out.

'Long-Haired and Sickly Beautiful' by Malcolm Laughton

Rob doubted the interviewee would even turn up. There had been no known motive, no blood, blade or body, just a missing husband on a honeymoon.

Thursday 16 November 2017

'Little Heart'

Georgia Bruce - a writer new to me - contributes a remarkable story to the Impostor Syndrome anthology It's not easy to summarise. The first sentence is 'This woman liked to break things', and the theme of things being broken, and the damage caused by the debris, runs through the tale.

Anna's mother was a famous film actress in black and white cinema days, and her most famous performance was in a rather Gothic production. Shown the film as a little girl Anna struggles to reconcile the on-screen woman - 'the wrong mother' - with the mother she knows. On screen her mother shatters glass, cuts her feet walking on the shards. This image is central to Anna's development as an artist, and what may be her eventually mental breakdown.

A thread of confusion and doubt runs through a precisely-written story that has intensely cinematic qualities. The power of the projected image, the curious nature of mirrors, and the incursions of a terrifying bird-like entity almost cry out for screen adaptation. And yet the exploration of Anna's inner life would be impossible off the page. The author's prose is cool, but like a piece of broken glass in the hand it draws blood.

And that almost completes this running review. One more story to go!

Monday 13 November 2017

Cabaret Sadako

It had to happen. The by-now rather tired horror movie trope of the long-hair Asian girl creeping about the place and pouncing on people has moved into mainstream showbiz.
Riana’s gimmick is definitely a reference to The Ring’s Sadako and similarly scary female spirits, with her long hair falling in front of her face and schoolgirl-like outfit, while her doll calls to mind Annabelle from The Conjuring. Her ability to totally stay in character while still lending her trick a touch humor (and keeping it creepy) shows The Sacred Riana is quite a talented performer.

The Sacred Riana did not appear out of thin air on the set of Asia’s Got Talent. Her real name is Marie Antoinette Riana Graharani and she’s been performing in Indonesia, at magic shows and in numerous TV performances, for a few years now. 

Marie Antoinette? This just gets better.

Friday 10 November 2017

'The Wrong House'

Tracey Fahey's contribution to Impostor Syndrome is compact and straightforward, but still manages a cruel twist.

A man becomes convinced that his wife, daughter, and home are all spurious - this is not the family he remembers, not the home he used to wake up to. He goes to work, feeling relieved when he escapes 'the wrong house' - but when he gets to work it seems that he is on extended leave. Confusion. A colleague's remarks hint at something wrong, and a medical appointment leads to a revelation that cannot be borne.

 I found 'The Wrong House' moving, a story that is humane and decent while avoiding any sentimentality. In a way it's a tale of everyday horror, the stuff of news reports that we barely notice most of the time. Here there is no malice, only the terrible weight of the truth that so many of us struggle to bear.

Only two more stories to go in this review. Remember to check out the link above for details about the book!

The Sound of Horror

What is the sound of horror? 'Ker-thunk!'? 'Eeek!'? 'Squelchy-squelchy!'? Possibly. But it is also a radio show down in Brighton and Hove, where Tom Johnston discusses the genre and introduces readings by Thana Niveau. But let the blurb for the show tell you more...
The Sound of Horror. Local writer Tom Johnstone discusses the importance of sound in horror, drawing from radio, film and music he will examine his favourite subject for Halloween. As an example of radio-based horror fiction, we'll hear an extract from Thana Niveau's terrifying short story 'Two Five Seven', about numbers stations. if listeners want to find out what happens in the remainder of 'Two Five Seven', they'll need to buy a copy of The Eleventh Black Book of Horror from Mortbury Press...& More info about the author at
We'll also hear one of Tom's supernatural stories, 'The Apotheosis of Jenny Swallow'
More info at US editor Ellen Datlow has tipped him as a 'name to watch' in contemporary horror fiction.
Music from Scott Walker, David Bowie, John Carpenter, The Kinks, Grinderman and more. Listen and learn
First broadcast on
Some pretty good music, there, and of course the Carpenter movie themes create the ideal ambience. Great stuff. Follow the link to listen - if you dare!

You probably dare. I was just being a bit rhetorical.

Thursday 9 November 2017

'Hold My Hand and I'll Take You There'

This story in Impostor Syndrome left me a tad puzzled. What is it about, and where does the imposture occur? Ralph Robert Moore's tale is a moving, clinically precise account of two lives that could, should, and perhaps did in some sense intersect. It is arguably a story about the What Ifs of life, and in this case love. The title, I think, is a clue. It's a beautiful song, but it is sung by star-crossed lovers parted by death. The story told here is (in its way) beautiful but death casts its shadow over all.

We begin with Noah, a small boy who gets seriously ill. As we're in America his parents have to pay vast sums for his leukaemia treatment, but it seems to be failing. Noah's illness drives his parents apart, adding to his suffering. Meanwhile a young woman called Audrey is suffering from increasingly severe mental illness, one that isolates and almost destroys her. But one day, undergoing yet another bout of treatment, Audrey sees a TV news item about Noah...

Does Noah survive, grow up to become a caring, strong person? Does he meet and marry Audrey? Is there marriage long, difficult, and yet the best - in its way - that either could have hoped for? Or is their life together a kind of hybrid fantasy of two people adrift on the wilder shores of reality? I've no idea, but it's a damn good piece of writing. I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually. Almost sure.

Approaching the end of the anthology! So far I have not disliked a single story. Will I get to the end of this running review with nothing serious to complain about? Watch this space, don't touch that dial, and so forth.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

'Other People's Dreams'

Stephen Bacon's story in Impostor Syndrome nods to Edgar Allan Poe, among other Gothicists, despite a thoroughly realistic setting and premise. The first-person narrator is the amnesiac survivor of a terrorist bombing in Nuremberg. Why Nuremberg? Well, in part because of Kaspar Hauser, whose mysterious appearance and equally mysterious and violent death continue to intrigue many.

The nameless survivor - who seems to be British but has no ID - is plagued by nightmares that he comes to believe are someone else's dreams. When he catches sight of a man who seems to be his double he develops a plan that will allow him to return to normality. This is a tricksy tale, in that I was left uncertain as to whether the supposed doppelganger ever existed. This is not a failing, for me, as unnerving confusion is a very acceptable horror ingredient.

I'm past the halfway point in this anthology and am well satisfied with the standard thus far. More to come soon.

Tuesday 7 November 2017

The Similars (2015)

Imagine a horror movie so strange that it resists easy categorisation. Imagine a Mexican film set in 1968, in a bus station. Imagine a plot that defies logic but has a remorseless, dream-like coherence. Imagine me writing an entire review like this. But it's difficult to stop, because this slightly ropy Rod Serling-style intro is just what The Similars offers. Among other things.

The Similars is one of those films that I watch all the way through because I'm genuinely intrigued. What on earth, I ask myself, is going to happen next? Superficially it's a tale of sci-fi horror, as a group of disparate individuals end up in a bus station some distance from Mexico City in a torrential storm. The rain is so bad that it's made road travel impossible. This is bad news for Ulises, a man whose wife is giving birth in a city hospital. He can't get to her, and is understandably stressed out by the unhelpful attitude of the sleazy old station manager, Martin.

Martin spends more time reading girly mags than attending to his duties. There's another occupant of the station, a Native American woman who apparently can't speak Spanish but seems intent on conducting rituals and issuing warnings in her native tongue. She clearly Knows Something. Enter a pregnant woman, Irene, who is desperate to escape a violent relationship. In the washroom Irene encounters the other member of staff, the slightly barmy Roberta. Another arrival, medical student Alvaro, looks remarkably like a groovy Peter Sellers, which I probably found more amusing than I should have done. Alvaro is apparently on his way to a big anti-government protest.. Last come a sick child, Ignacio, and his mother Gertrudis. The continued absence of buses cause stress, then come radio announcements suggesting that the rain is not normal. It seems to be causing strange transformations in people exposed to it, unspecified but shocking...

I won't spoil it by telling you what happens. Suffice to say it's a genuinely weird tale, as if Rod Serling roughed out an episode of the X-Files in partnership with Philip K. Dick. Sci-fi, sort of, horror quite definitely, but arguably it's also supernatural too. And it's a retro piece, replete with Sixties fashions and attitudes, especially in the clashes between the student and authority figures. It also has a period look. Apparently writer-director Isaac Ezban wanted to make it a black and white film, but settled for washed-out colours. All in all, this is a major change from anyone's usual fare.

Image result for the similars

Saturday 4 November 2017

'The Insider'

Continuing my running review of Impostor Syndrome we come to Neil Williamson's tale of psychological horror.

It strikes me that all of the stories thus far have been timely, in that they deal with ideas or themes that are in the air. Folk horror, identity theft, the contentious history of empire and colonisation. 'The Insider' is also bang up to date with its subject of a Twitter troll who appears to have stolen the identity of an amiable company guy who never seems to get the promotions he deserves. But things are, as they say, not quite what they seem.

This is a concise, economical tale that pulls no punches in its depiction of what's become known as toxic masculinity. We see the self-assessed 'nice guy' who bigoted online from both sides. It's implicit that the modern corporate environment, and by extension the world is creates, is a swamp of resentment, fear, and dishonesty. Within this, Williamson implies, only the dark side of our natures can flourish. The better angels of our natures get clobbered every time. Well, that's what I took away from it.

So, another good one. This anthology is looking like one of the best I've seen this year. I wouldn't be surprised if award nominations and Best Of... inclusions follow in its wake. More soon.

Friday 3 November 2017

'What's Yours Is Mine'

Holly Ice's contribution to Impostor Syndrome is, in some respects, the most straightforward story so far. Sophie visits her mother who is suffering from early onset dementia. A friend of the family reveals a secret that's been  kept from Sophie since early childhood - she has an older sister, Isabelle. The scar on Sophie's arm was not from a cycling accident. Isabelle is confined to a hospital and her mother has been visiting her regularly for decades.

Understandably staggered by this revelation Sophie decides to go and meet Isabelle, only to encounter a woman who looks uncannily like her. Things then take a nightmarish twist, one that is arguably a little too predictable. However, the story's ending has a genuine modern Gothic feel, as Sophie discovers just how dangerous Isabelle is.

'What's Yours Is Mine' is a well-written tale of existential horror, suggesting - quite rightly - that even the most ordinary-seeming family can harbour strange secrets.

Thursday 2 November 2017

'Who Is That On the Other Side of You?'

The third story in the Impostor Syndrome anthology is an ambitious tale by Timothy J. Jarvis. The title is taken from The Waste Land, which is apt given that the setting is (mostly) Antarctica. This is the white continent of Captain Scott and his great rival Amundsen. Scott and other members of his expedition feature in the narrative, albeit peripherally. 

The focus is on two unlikely anti-heroes who arrive in the Antarctic at the same time in pursuit of a portal into the hollow earth. The two men are uncannily similar despite being unrelated - doubles who seem like identical twins. Their adventures are strange, violent, at times disturbing. The world the author creates is that of the Gilded Age, the US after the Civil War when robber barons prevailed. The author throws in magic (with even a passing reference to Aleister Crowley), to create a rich stew of decadence and vaulting ambition.

The main problem with the story is that the quest at its heart either leads into the hollow earth, or it doesn't - both are bound to be anticlimactic to some degree. Sure enough, I felt that this one did not so much end as peter out, leaving lurid splashes of colour against a bleak, white background. An interesting failure by an ambitious writer, but a failure nonetheless.

This running review will continue in a day or two. Stay tuned, and so forth.

Tuesday 31 October 2017

Anthology of Anthology Horror!

Yes, someone has compiled clips from a lot of anthology horror films, thus providing a handy Hallowe'en sampler.
If the horror anthology film has a weakness, the equivalent of a wooden stake or an overbearing (and decapitated) mother, it’s that they are almost always, by their very nature, uneven. Whether one director is in charge or the stories have been divvied up among a group, the result is still usually a mixed bag...
Here's a bit I hadn't seen, from the Italian movie Black Sabbath. I didn't know there were Italian horror movies.

And here's one of the nastier bits of the Amicus classic Tales from the Crypt. A brutal ex-army officer has taken over a home for the blind and begun mistreating the residents. Needless to say...

Finallly, here's a clip from a French antho film I should have mentioned earlier - Fears of the Dark.

Don't have nightmares!

Friday 27 October 2017

Impostor Syndrome - 'In the Marrow'

Laura Mauro's contribution to the Impostor Syndrome anthology draws on Irish folklore and modern medical science to produce a remarkable story. Is it a coming-of-age tale? Not exactly, though it concerns pre-teen twins at a time of great change in their lives.

At twelve confident Hazel is developing faster than quiet, uncertain Tara. Despite this new distance between them the twins still share a secret life, heading out after school for the lough near their home, where they set traps for faeries. Not that they believe in faeries, not really. They're no longer little kids. But their custom is belief of a kind, and becomes crucial when Tara collapses and is diagnosed with leukaemia.

The mysteries and terrors of childhood illness are perfectly described, here, with an added weird touch. Hazel becomes convinced that Tara is not, in fact, her sister at all, but a changeling. She is of course trying to rationalise away the unbearable truth that her sister is dying. Or is she? No spoilers here. I'll just say that the story is excellent, and could not have been more artfully completed.

More impostors (real or imagined) in due course.

Thursday 26 October 2017

Impostor Syndrome - New Anthology

Doubles, doppelgangers, people who impersonate minor celebrities for a living - two of those are weird. No, make that all three. The excellent James Everington has co-edited, with Dan Howarth, a selection of stories based on the disturbing notion that, out there, is somebody who looks exactly like you. Or me. Possibly both. The point is that Impostor Syndrome will soon be published by Dark Minds Press, and you can find details here.

I have received a PDF of the book from James and will be doing one of my running reviews over the next fortnight or so. The contents page is interesting, offering what I like best - a mix of authors whose work I know and like, and some who I have not encountered before.

First up is a story by Gary McMahon. 'I Know What They Look Like' is a gritty tale of modern urban horror which (I suspect) nods towards Taxi Driver and the sub-genre of the urban vigilante thriller. A cab driver takes a fare who is his double - or is the driver deluded, insane? Violence in the name of justice, or vengeance, occurs - but is the protagonist a hero, however deluded, or a villain? This is a punchy start, perhaps deliberately so, to emphasise that the theme of the double is not just a quaint, olde worlde notion. It is a valid in the context of modern, increasingly brutalised Britain as anywhere else.

So, a good start. Stay tuned for more doppelgangers!

Ghost Impersonators

Have you ever wondered when people started going around in sheets pretending to be ghosts, possibly shouting 'Woo! WOOOO!' during the process? Neither had it, but it has been drawn to my attention that the tradition is as old as it is silly. And it could get you killed. The story of the Hammersmith Ghost is new to me, and one well worth retelling, given the sheer number of ghost impersonators of all sizes liable to descend upon us very soon.
The Hammersmith Ghost.
Ghost or not, there was undoubtedly a public menace in Hammersmith, and people wanted it gone. A bounty of 10 pounds would be awarded to anybody who caught it.
The story is also told here on a legal blog. 
In December 1803, villagers claimed a ghost, covered in a white shroud, was confronting travelers and, in some cases, physically attacking them.
There were lots of other cases, as it seems our ancestors were both very credulous and amply supplied with linen etc. But there was a very serious side to the dressing up,  especially in the days before organised police forces and adequate street lighting.
Like many other pastimes in 19th century Britain, ghost impersonating was a gendered activity: Women, especially young female servants, were often restricted to mimicking poltergeist activity indoors—rapping on doors, moving furniture, throwing rocks at windows—while the sheet-wearing hijinks were reserved for young men who, far too often, had scuzzy intentions.
All in all, fascinating reads. I'm indebted to author Steve Duffy for drawing my attention to this interesting corner of social history.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Hallowe'en Movies - The Mysterious East

Apart from a handful of movies like KWAIDAN relatively few East Asian horror movies were on my white Western radar. Then along came THE RING and suddenly I was immersed in dark-haired ghosts lurking in the attic, emerging from the telly, chasing kids up and down corridors, and just generally misbehaving. Great stuff. But which J-Horror, K-Horror, and just general E-Horror are best for Hallowe'en?

JU-ON/THE GRUDGE - Arguably the most terrifying of the lot. It works well on all the levels you want - scary ghost,  haunted house, curse, neatly knitted plot. It's also one of those films that offers no real escape or restitution, just a remorseless working out of fate. There is a series of Ju-On movies but, oddly, the first to be released in cinemas was the third. 

DARK WATER - A milder dose of horror than the Ju-On movies, with a more traditional ghostly feel. This is a character-drive supernatural drama in a rainy, bleak Japan that has its own offbeat beauty. When a mother and daughter move to a run-down apartment a tragedy is slowly revealed, and a sacrifice must be made.

HANSEL AND GRETEL - A dark fantasy based on the Grimm fairy tale, but with a twist. In this version was man who crashes his car on a lonely road meets a little girl in the woods. She takes him to a warm, friendly house among the trees where three children and their doting parents seem to live an idyllic life. But the truth is very different...

Monday 23 October 2017

Hallowe'en Movies - Anthology Horror

Or, if you like, portmanteau horror. Horror films with lots of stories in them, that's the point. It's a genre that was invented in Britain and perhaps the best examples were produced here. But there are some cracking examples from overseas. So, here goes...

DEAD OF NIGHT - Made immediately after World War II by Ealing Studios (far better known for comedy) as a bit of pure entertainment. Horror was explicitly banned during the war in Britain, so DOF represented a return to normality for the film industry. It was also an opportunity to showcase acting and directorial talent. The stories are variable in terms of chills, but all have their virtues. The adaptation of E.F. Benson's 'The Bus Conductor' is pretty good, the comedy interlude based on Wells' 'The Inexperienced Ghost' is pleasant. Those two old faithfuls, the country house ghost and the haunted mirror, are both handled well. But of course the most memorable sequence concerns Micheal Redgrave's ventriloquist that stands out, especially as it leads to a rather good pseudo-twist ending.

KWAIDAN/KAIDAN - Very different from Dead of Night in almost every way, but undeniably an anthology horror movie based on tales by Lafacadio Hearn. The title means 'ghost story' and all four tales are supernatural. 'Black Hair' is an effective start, a tale of the samurai who abandons his faithful wife, then returns to her years later only to find her apparently unchanged. 'The Woman of the Snows' is my personal favourite, a cruel tale of a simple man who encounters a kind of vampire. 'Hoichi the Earless' is steeped in folklore and bloody Japanese history. The tricky vignette 'In a Cup of Tea' offers a playful conclusion.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT - No list of anthology horror films would be complete without an Amicus production. While ASYLUM, VAULT OF HORROR, and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE are very enjoyable, this one is arguably the best of the bunch. Yes, it's the one with Joan Collins. Also Roy Dotrice, Ian Hendry, Peter Cushing, and no lesser thesp than Ralph Richardson as the Crypt Keeper. It's wondrous hokum, with five strangers getting lost on a tour of Somewhere Spooky and being told that their futures are to be reviewed. Guess what? None of them are going to live to a ripe old age, and one of them is going to be done in by Santa.

Sunday 22 October 2017

Hallowe'en Movies - Folk Horror

Here are some folk horror movies that aren't THE WICKER MAN, BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW, or WITCHFINDER GENERAL. Such strange entities do exist. Perhaps the best examples were created for British TV in the Seventies, but there are a few films out there that use folkloric ideas and/or imagery.

ABSENTIA - A relatively low-budget chiller with the premise that monsters lurk in dark places, waiting to ensnare unwary travellers. In this case the lair of the entity is an underpass near the home of a woman whose husband vanished seven years before the film begins. While low key for most of its length, this one has at least one moment of visceral horror.

THALE - A Norwegian tale of huldras, mysterious forest-dwelling entities. The film begins when a clean-up crew go to the house of an apparent suicide and find a secret basement room, complete with weird equipment. They also discover what seems to be a beautiful young woman, Thale, who soon turns out to have strange powers. It''s pretty good for a low-budget film and offers a new take on the old question, 'Who are the real monsters here?'

NIGHT OF THE DEMON - Well, why not? Here we have a witch-cult active in rural England, complete with rituals, symbols, horrific deaths. The very idea of casting the runes is rooted in magical tradition. All of the adaptations of M.R. James stories are to some extent folk horror because they are rooted in landscape and rural beliefs in a way that most Gothic fiction is not.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Hallowen'en Movies - Lovecraftiana!

Yes, old Howard P. has inspired a shedload of movies, some good, some bad, some a bit meh. Here are a few that range from respectful adaptation to thematic homage to... well, silly but fun.

THE CALL OF CTHULHU - A silent film by the HPL Historical Society, this is a spiffing effort. It succeeds in recreating the essence of early Hollywood, complete with stop-motion effects and old-school studio-based action sequences. A faithful adaptation, and a fun one, this is a labour of love that works damn near perfectly.

SPRING - About as different from the above as you can imagine, yet still replete with Lovecraftian themes. Like tentacles, ancient secrets, and weird miscegenation. Overall it's not so much a horror film as an offbeat love story with a whacking great obstacle for our hero. It's also rather beautiful - it's Italian setting is about as far from HPL's Vermont as you could get, but it works, not least when the star-crossed lovers visit Pompeii.

DIE FARBE (THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE) - This German film tackles the obvious problem with the original story - how to show a new colour on screen? The solution is simple - make it a black and white movie, have 'normal' colour represent the cosmic tint. The German setting works well and the acting is never less than passable. No tentacles, though.

DAGON - Here's a contentious one. For some this Spanish-set version of 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth' is just plain wrong. For me it's a fun version of a tale that is obviously pulpy in more than one sense. Stuart Gordon is good value and the overall 'feel' is right - the Spanish fishing port has a dank grimness that is pure Innsmouth. Plus, we get a veritable ton o' tentacles!

Friday 20 October 2017

Halloween Movies - A Mixed Bag

Here are a few suggestions for viewing over the spooky season. I'll probably think of some more in due course. I'm like that.

CITY OF THE DEAD - aka HORROR HOTEL, a cheap and cheerful movie starring Christopher Lee. It sets out to create an atmosphere for witchiness, or witchitude, in a New England town in the post-war era. It succeeds, despite its tiny budget. Lee is excellent, of course, but the cast is rather good overall. Splendidly atmospheric.

GHOST STORY - as recommended to me by no lesser authority than award-winning author Steve Duffy. A starry adaptation of Peter Straub's novel, this is again an atmospheric small-town America story. Here the supernatural force is not something conjured up deliberately but created as an avenging force by wrongdoing of a very familiar kind. This theme plus excellent performance by the young Alice Krige makes it a far from simple tale of good v. evil.

CARNIVAL OF SOULS - cheap and cheerful amateur production, this is the sort of film Ed Wood thought he was making. The moment when the star emerges from the river (three hours after the car she's in goes under water, oo-er) is splendid. It hovers somewhere between B-movie and art-house.

STATIC - not everyone's cup of tea, I admit. This one offers a twist on the conventional ghost story and, for me, does it quite well. It is, on the face of it, a tale of a bickering couple who take in a strange woman who claims to be lost. But her story has holes, and her behaviour is disruptive and just plain odd. Who are the strange masked figures lurking around the house? Why can't the besieged couple get help to combat what appears to be a home invasion?

HALLOWEEN - well I could hardly ignore it. Any of John Carpenter's early figures are of course great fun, but this one is inevitable. And it is rather good, you know - far less conventional than you might think. The definitive slasher movie is not just a slasher movie. Also, Jamie Lee Curtis is allowed to be a warm, believable character - the definitive 'final girl'.

All the Rage

Thursday 12 October 2017

The White Road

One of the great rarities of modern weird fiction is The White Road by Ron Weighell, It was published in 1997 by Ghost Story Press. Many enthusiasts have tried in vain to obtain a copy. And now Sarob Press is bringing out a new edition of the book! Details are on the Sarob blog here. This is a major event by any standard. The striking cover (see above) is by Nick Maloret,  and here's a hint of what is in store for the eager multitude.
This 384pp (approx) hardcover containing 24 stories and 2 novellas has been a massive undertaking by the author, the artist and by Sarob Press ... a true labour of love. The original stories have mostly only minor revisions/corrections etc and appear in the author’s preferred order ... and the overall feel and concept of this new volume is wholly different to the GSP edition.

Friday 6 October 2017

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories is a nice, on-the-nose title for a film, is it not? This particular British portmanteau film was adapted by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson from the hit stage show of the same name. There's a very good, detailed review here in the Guardian.
It’s not a film that wants to be subtle – and, as I say, its unsubtler flourishes and jump scares may have been more potent in the theatre, like outrageously startling but cleverly managed stage illusions. But there’s a tremendous atmosphere to this picture, a dream-like oddness and offness to everything. Nyman and Dyson have created a weird world of menace, despair and decay.

All good fun, then. And impressive that they've got hot property Martin Freeman as one of the leads. I look forward to this, as Jeremy Dyson is a huge fan of classic horror movies, as he explains here.
This was one genre in particular that we in this country seemed to do well. A disproportionate number of the finest examples of the supernatural horror film were British productions (although sometimes, as in the case of The Haunting and Night of the Demon, with American directors). This expertise accords with the written ghost story, many of whose finest exponents have been British, too. Maybe it’s something to do with our climate - fog and rain and long winter nights are effective stimulants to the fantastic imagination.

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Readers Poll - Issue 35

Image result for victoryWell it's a triumph and a half for Andrew Alford, whose story 'A Russian Nesting Demon' ran away with the poll.

Congratulations to Andrew, who will be receiving the almost unimaginable sum of £25 British pounds as a prize. (I know, it's a puny sum really, but I can't help currency fluctuations.)

Thanks to everyone who voted, and commiserations with all the runners up. I was pleased to see that nobody failed to trouble to the poll-ometer. If you want to check out the issue and have not yet obtained a copy, well, you can do so here. And there are back issues, too. It's a veritable cornucopia of stuff.

Tuesday 3 October 2017

The Innkeepers (2011)

What makes a good ghost story on film? Setting, characters, central idea, basic plot - lots of things, in fact. The Innkeepers is an interesting example of a film that seems to have everything going for it, but somehow failed to win over this ghost story lover. Why? It just lacks clout.
Image result

The setup is good. The Yankee Pedlar Inn (a real hotel in Torrington, Connecticut) is closing down because it's losing money. It's a quaint old place, allegedly haunted, and in its final days under the care of Luke and Claire. Luke (Pat Healy) is a classic pretentious dropout type who has set up a website cataloguing supposed paranormal events at the hotel. Claire (Sara Paxton) is young, perky, not quite sure what she's going to do with her life. When the film begins there are only a handful of guests and the innkeepers are planning a long weekend of ghost-hunting. They are seeking to contact the ghost of tragic Madeline O'Malley, who hanged herself after being jilted on her wedding night.

The setting looks good, the premise is fine, the lead actors are more than competent. Luke and Claire have a slightly spiky chemistry and - as the film goes on - it becomes clear that he has more than friendly feelings for her. During her night shift Claire has a series of strange experiences, including the old 'piano playing itself' gimmick. This is nicely done but nothing special. Conventional methods such as EVP recordings are used but not to any great effect. In fact we do not hear most of the really weird stuff, which seems an odd choice by writer-director Ti West.

The arrival of Leanne, a faded TV star (played by Kelly McGillis) who is now a spiritual healer, throws another ingredient into the mix. Luke is contemptuous of Leanne but Claire asks for her help. The resulting quasi-seance foreshadows later tragedy. Things move towards a climax, but not at any great pace or with much conviction. There are shocks, now and again, but most of the time there is a lack of energy, a sense that we've seen it all before. At times I felt The Innkeepers might be a tribute to old-school TV movies of the Seventies, which were low-budget and seldom high concept. West's The House of the Devil was, after all, a homage to early Eighties horror.

Without giving too much away, I was left thinking 'Is that it?' The Innkeepers is too thin for a feature film and might have worked better as an episode in a TV series. It also contains too many hackneyed ideas, especially the 'Oh I'll just go down into the spooky dark place for no good reason' moment. It is a film that promises a reasonable quantity of unpretentious chills and fails to deliver. It's a flat-footed attempt to do something old-fashioned well. It passes the time. It's not too bad.

Saturday 30 September 2017

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace - A Forgotten Classic

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is available on demand for anyone willing to sign up to Channel 4. It's free! Rewatching these shows made me regret that there are so few of them, but accept that it's not easy to do horror comedy that's at once so entertaining and so knowing. If you don't know Darkplace, here's Marenghi himself, plus his all-star cast.

Matthew Holness, Matt Berry, Alice Lowe, and Richard Ayoade are rather brilliant. The guest stars are also great fun, especially Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. Each episode of Darkplace is dotted with cast interviews, in which the fascinating opinions of the creative team are shared. And Darkplace tackles some of the most vital issues of our time. I mean, cop a load of this from .

If this isn't enough to convince you that GMD is worth your while, listen to the author/actor himself read a sample of one of his bestsellers.

Now that's horror.

Friday 29 September 2017

As They Grow Older: Running Review 4.

As they grow older - Cover revised.png

The next three stories in Stephen Cashmore's collection of children's stories all have a slightly familiar ring to me.

The innocuously-titled 'Teddies' has the familiar theme of children's toys that come to life. Oddly enough I always found this idea scary as a kid, and I'm pleased to say that the story has the right nightmarish feel.

'Wings' is an old-school framed narrative, in which granddad tells the sprog about something strange that happened on holiday many years ago. This one has a good menacing entity - a flying entity that attacks the family car in a manner that might be mistaken for a hailstorm. This one brought back memories of my own family holidays in Scotland.

Finally there is 'Doctor MacGregor', who lives on Witch Street next to the derelict old school There's a slight touch of Salem's Lot here, as local children fall victim to a mysterious disorder. Eventually the doctor realises that's going on, and a showdown is in order.

It's important to bear in mind that these are 'spooky stories to be read aloud'. This means brevity, and relative simplicity. Most effective ghost stories do work as spoken performances, and I think the tales in As They Grow Older have the authentic touch.

Friday 22 September 2017


The world has been waiting for...

Image may contain: text

Of course, there are some seriously Lovecraftian overtones to this canine crime noir series.

Image may contain: text

Image may contain: 2 people

Borkchito has a Facebook page. Also Etsy.

I suppose an occult cat detective would be a tad counter-intuitive, what with cats generally being horror shorthand for Spooky Stuff Ahead. However, Robert Westall did write a cracking story about a vampiric entity being defeated by a brave cat - 'The Creatures in the House'. Just thought I'd include that for balance.

Thursday 21 September 2017

Psychic Vampire Repellent

Yes! It's that time of year again, when Hallowe'en looms and all things ghostly, ghoul-y, and moderately long-legged and beastly return from their summer holidays. Of course we are all terrified of being haunted, throttled, disembowelled, or otherwise messed up by creatures of darkness. So it's good to know that, for the smallest of fortunes, one can at least ward off one category of evil entities.

Yes, it's a bottle of squirty perfume that 'uses a combination of gem healing and deeply aromatic therapeutic oils, reported to banish bad vibes (and shield you from the people who may be causing them). Fans spray generously around their heads to safeguard their auras.'

You can find it on Gwyneth Patrow's Goop site. A snip at thirty US dollars, for which you get a 3.4 oz bottle.

Purchasers may be away with the fairies. (See previous post.)

Away With the Fairies

When I was young and just staring into space - probably imagining myself on a voyage to the Moon, or the Earth's core - grown-ups would remark that I was 'away with the fairies'. I don't know if people still say it nowadays, but the meaning is clear. Fairies, the Good Folk, the Little People, or whatever you call 'em, could enchant people. They might steal you bodily, or just nick your soul. But they were always out there, watching, waiting...

Image result for faerie

Yes, you can spell it that way if you like. No, I'm not being all grumpy.

Fairies don't feature strongly in modern supernatural fiction for obvious reasons. The Victorian conception of the fairie-folk was twee and harmless. Shakespeare's Ariel and Puck were both powerful beings of a normal-ish size. But once supernatural beings get to be tiny and cute (sort of) any potential for unease is banished. Garden gnomes are scarier than 19th century fairies.

Image result for fairies victorian

Your basic Victorian fairies, here, escaping from a children's book to be photographed for the benefit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, before all those sentimental authors and artists got their hands on the Little People, they were a bit bigger and more menacing. Which beings me to something I was vaguely aware of before, but which popped up on Twitter today, as part of #folklorethursday. I refer to the legendary Fairy Flag of Clan MacLeod.
It’s not clear how the flag got into the MacLeods’ possession – either a gift from the fairies to an infant chieftain, a gift to a chief from a departing fairy-lover, or a reward for defeating an evil spirit. But the flag likely originated somewhere far away from Scotland, potentially even in the Middle East.

The story about gift from a lover underlines the point that old-time fairies must have been somewhat larger than, say, Tinkerbell. Another aspect of the legend is that the flag can be waved three times to summon magical help for the clan, but will then be borne away, along with the standard bearer. All evocative stuff. Makes you wonder...

Image result for away with the fairies

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...