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.
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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.

Read an AI generated ghost story

I gave MS Copilot the following prompt, which is not complex and you can see where problems arose.. Please write a ghost story in the style ...