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Showing posts from 2018

Death Makes Strangers of Us All

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This collection from The Swan River Press contains ten well-crafted stories by R. B. Russell, better known to many of us as Ray Russell, co-founder of Tartarus Press. The tales here qualify as weird, strange, sometimes ghostly, and occasionally horrific. They are hard to classify in more specific terms, but all offer a perspective on our mortal condition. The first story, 'Night Porter', concerns a young woman in need of a job who accepts a post at a somewhat dodgy hotel. Marianne is disturbed by a strange client, Miss Fisher, who is in the habit of renting a room for herself and various drunken men. Odd things happen, terrible stains are found, an old man with a hypodermic needle appears briefly. Marianne's position as an apparently innocent observer is somewhat subverted by the ending, which suggests that she is in fact involved in something deeply wrong. 'At the End of the World' is the first-person narrative of a man with a wayward brother called Paul. Paul

'The Fall of the House of Usher' read by Basil Rathbone

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A bit of old school Gothic for the dark, strange time between Christmas and New Year.

Reviews

I have a big backlog of books I hope to review at some point in 2018. Please, publishers and authors, don't send me any more. I have less free time to read than before, and I don't think I could really do justice to new fiction until things settle down a bit.

The Dead Room

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Spoiler alert, darling! 'The Dead Room', Mark Gatiss' first original TV ghost story for Christmas, deserves to be the first of many. Yes, I would love to see more M.R. James adaptations. I would love to see an anthology of classic tales, with dramas based on works by Benson, Burrage, Le Fanu, Wakefield, all the usual suspects. But, as the nearest writer we have to a modern Nigel Kneale, I feel Gatiss should be given the freedom to create new stuff, while nodding respectfully to the Old Guard. Because 'The Dead Room' offered the best of both worlds - a new, modern ghostly tale that has the structure and feel of a classic. The BBC clearly threw the usual handful of loose change at the production, as it traditionally does with horror and suchlike, but this was turned to excellent effect. Everything took place in a few rooms, an old radio studio where Simon Callow's fruity luvvie, Aubrey Judd, is recording a distressingly modern ghost story. His contempt for a

"Smee" by A.M. Burrage

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A nice little tale for Christmas. By the way, don't forget to v ote for your favourite story in issue 39.

Nigel Kneale - Murrain

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A bit of that ol' Seventies British folk horror. By the way, don't forget to v ote for your favourite story in issue 39.

Sixty years ago today...

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... that the first episode of Nigel Kneale's greatest sci-fi horror serial was broadcast. In those days the BBC certainly didn't balk at spooky, cutting edge stuff over Christmas. If you haven't seen it, the TV version has everything - folk horror, psychic powers, aliens, militarism, media nonsense, and plucky heroics. The Hammer film adaptation is almost as good, certainly first-rate as British horror movies go. The sound effects were amazing, too. Well before the famous Radiophonic Workshop, the BBC basically had a couple of blokes mucking about with sound equipment. And they came up with this.

Mister Antiquary

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The work of writer Lawrence Miles.

The Reformation of St. Jules (1949) | BFI National Archive

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'The Whistling Room' - an early TV adaptation!

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William Hope Hodgson on the telly? Apparently. A bit of fun, not great but an interesting curiosity.

M.R. James - Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You - Classic radio adaptation,...

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Neat version, old-school radio. Professor Parkins gets the wind up at a surplice, then explains why. By the way, don't forget to v ote for your favourite story in issue 39.

The Green Book!

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So it was in the morning of the world that a certain person received his complementary copies of a magnificent  Swan River Press periodica l. And Lo! He was much impressed by it all. For, as was not foretold, or if it was he forgot, it turned out that his piece on Conor McPherson was in it. And upon re-reading it, David of the Ill-Cleaned Spectacles found it quite informative, as he had long since forgotten most of the stuff in it. The Green Book is replete with information about Irish Gothic/supernatural/fantasy writers. These range from C.S. Lewis to Louis MacNeice - quite a spread. As you would expect with Brian Showers at the editorial helm, these are concise, detailed, and entertaining. And, something I always look for in any scholarly work, there are pieces on writers I know nothing about, but clearly should.

It's still Poll Time!

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Go here to vote for your favourite story/stories in Supernatural Tales #39. As of today (12th Dec) only nine readers have voted. Perhaps only nine people have read the magazine? Maybe they're all caught up in the Christmas rush. But whatever the reason, I hope more people avail themselves of this opportunity to encourage writers.  Believe me, writers appreciate it when you appreciate them.  Joan is too busy to vote at the moment. What's your excuse?

The Judderman

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'Not the Immortal Count You're Thinking Of'

Over at the Tor.com site two Lovercraft enthusiasts have been looking at writers who influenced Howie. Monty James naturally comes up, and there's an interesting article on 'Count Magnus' - the only MRJ story with a tentacle. After a detailed synopsis of the story the authors look at the ways MRJ impressed Lovecraft (tentacle) and the ways in which the authors differ. Much of the appeal of the story, of course, lies in the motive for the count's behaviour. Unlike Lovecraft, Monty James offered a nightmarish approach where what happens is far more important than the whys and wherefores. Of Count Magnus: He’s a voyeur and hence perhaps a connoisseur of fear and agony, living on the rich (final) emotions and sensations of his victims, just like in the good old days when he used to execute ungrateful peasants and whip his tenants. But what are his laws of existence? What’s with the padlocks–three because of the time-honored trope of summoning evil by calling or wishing

Apologies...

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For the dearth of posts on this here blog. A family crisis has been taking up much of my time and lesser matters have been neglected. I would also like to apologise to publishers who have sent me review copies in recent weeks. I am unlikely to get round to any more reviews for a while. Sorry, events beyond my control and all that. Let me just mention two books on my 'to review' pile. Secret Europe from Tartarus Press is a new themed collection by Mark Valentine and John Howard. '... an astonishing work of fiction that effortlessly displaces the world we know with the world created on the pages we read. By virtue of strong, character-based storytelling, subtle prose and genuinely inventive strangeness, Valentine and Howard create a version of Europe that is not ours, but partakes of that which we know in such a manner as to be more powerful than what is real.' Rick Kleffel, The Agony Column Also on the bedside pile is Charles Wilkinson's  Splendid in Ash

Joss Ackland Reads Some Ghost Stories

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The British actor Joss Ackland has been a favourite of mine for many years. He has a rich, sonorous voice well-suited to short story readings, and handles eerie material well. At the moment, over at the BBC iPlayer , you can hear a series of 'Ghost Stories' Ackland recorded in 1986. The selection is interesting, because it is strongly biased toward modern (by Eighties standards) writers, using a broad definition of the genre. The oldest story is 'Midnight Express' by Alfred Noyes, which first appeared in 1935. (Noyes is an interesting character in his own right, not least for his role in the scandal over Roger Casement's diaries.) The other stories I've heard thus far are Ray Bradbury's 'The Crowd', 'Laura' by Robert Aickman, and 'A Little Place Off the Edgeware Road' by Graham Greene. Coming up this weekend is 'The Tower' by Marghanita Laski. All are post-war stories, and all stretch the definition of ghost story. Greene&

Don't forget to vote!

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Please, if you can, vote for your favourite story/stories in ST #39. It may not seem like much, but it gives a tremendous boost to the authors to know that people care about their work.  Also, the winner of the online poll gets the almost unimaginable sum of £25. It's not much, but it's obviously better than a poke in the eye or similar.  So please, go here and vote.  And if you have yet to actually buy the magazine, you can go here to find links to sites that will sell it to you! Emmeline Pankhurst - keen on voting

'The Golden Hour'

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The final story in Uncertainties III is by Rosanne Rabinowitz. The golden hour is that time around dawn when the quality of light erases imperfections and 'infuses shabbiness with beauty'. Set in London, the story concerns friendship, time, and the possibility of eternity that the golden hour hints at. The narrator sees a tower block radiating golden light. This triggers her search for Sheila, a photographer with whom she once collaborated on a book of photographs. Sheila became obsessed with light, with mirrors, with the idea of escaping into the golden hour forever. The story is strange, and rather wonderful, but it is rooted in the sheer oddness of friendship - how people come together, how they drift apart. Friendship is more mysterious than love, in some respects, and the author explores this mystery while conjuring up a London as numinous as anything in Machen. The end of the story is a reunion and a revelation. There is no horror here, but an undeniable sense of

Nicolas Roeg 1928-2018

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'Ashes to Ashes'

Scott West's story in Uncertainties III proves to be eerily timely. It is set in a town that has been largely abandoned due to wildfires. The protagonist, Ben, has stayed behind, despite intense heat and smoke-filled air. Ash rains down as he goes about what at first seems to be a bit of looting and general survivalism. But then it emerges that Ben has some urgent work to do. Spoilers ahead, be warned. A town about to be engulfed by flames seems an ideal place to hide the body of a murder victim. But Ben is determined to give the woman he killed a proper burial, so he trundles her corpse through the ash-rain to the cemetery, where he has prepared a casket. Much of the story consists of the detailed description of how the murderer goes about his task. It is, in a way, a reversal of the old trope of the killer being unable to dispose of the body. Here disposal is trivially easy - where better to hide a corpse than in a burning town? Ben is, arguably, another prime example of t

'TallDarkAnd'

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Here we have another story from the excellent anthology Uncertainties III , edited by Lynda E. Rucker. The authors, Julia Rust and David Surface, take as their starting point a classic fictional setup. Eleanor is a (possibly) unattractive young woman whose roommate Rebecca is sexy and glamorous. The names, I suspect, were not chosen at random. Eleanor Lance from The Haunting of Hill House and the first chatelaine of Manderley are present in spirit, I think. One day Eleanor sneakily takes a look at the dating site Rebecca has been using, via Rebecca's laptop. Able to pose as someone else, Rebecca gets a tremendous thrill and starts to converse with various suitors. When Rebecca returns, Eleanor waits for discovery and the inevitable meltdown. But it seems she has gotten away with splashing around in Rebecca's dating pool. Eleanor takes to using the laptop to engage in what are romantic but also disturbing, slightly off-kilter online discussions. One guy, using the name Tall

Poll Time!

Best Story in Issue 39? 'A Tiny Mirror' - Eloise C.C. Shepherd 'A Family Affair' - Margaret Karmazin 'Burnt Heart, Bound Feet' - Danielle Davis 'Like the Absence...' - Chloe N. Clark 'The Moor' - Rosalie Parker 'By the Hungry Sea' - Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin 'The Figure in the Scene' - Jon Barron Created with QuizMaker

Issue 39 now available

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Go here for the print-on-demand issue. New stories by Eloise C.C. Shepherd, Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin, Margaret Karmazin, Jon Barron, Chloe N.Clark, Rosalie Parker, and Danielle Davis. Cover photo by Sam Dawson.

'The Woman in the Moon'

Tracy Fahey's story in Uncertainties III is a poetic, powerful account of what may be a mental breakdown. Certainly the final lines imply that the female narrator has suffered so much, lost so much, that she has been driven to extreme measures. But along the way the story is beautifully told, blending various ideas about the power of moonlight with a poignant account of very human loss. I continue to be impressed by the sheer diversity of the stories Lynda E. Rucker has selected. Here is a tale that might be classed as fantasy, horror, or even 'straight' crime. But what makes it work is that it's a good story regardless of genre, packing a lot of effective imagery into a handful of pages. Every paragraph seems shot through with the colourless light of the moon, haunting and strange. More from this anthology soon, I hope.

'It Could Be Cancer'

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"Sorry about your balls." Not a line you will find in the works of Montague Rhodes James, but pithy and effective. Ralph Robert Moore's contribution to Uncertainties III is a remarkable story of what's sometimes termed the crisis of masculinity. It begins with Philip, a regular guy, taking a piss and discovering a lump on the side of one ball. This leads indirectly to him punching a housemate in the face, having to move out and live alone, and then encountering his dead daughter. The nameless little girl, who offers some adult insights with a suitably grow-up vocabulary, cheers up Philip with a silly dance - her version of the Twist. Philip does not question her presence, perhaps because he is already punch-drunk from his cancer scare. Instead he talks to her, and listens to her. This is obviously not a conventional ghost story. I have no real idea about the nature of the little girl who enlivens Philip's bleak and troubled existence, except that only he c

Older than Dracula?

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Over at The Conversation is an interesting item on English vampires. Or, more precisely, genuine folk belief (with some official endorsement) in the undead. As we know, however, when people claim that 'vampires' exist anywhere, definitions become a bit baggy. The author, literature lecturer Sam George, draws the usual link between Byron and Polidori's story 'The Vampyre'. What she does not say, unfortunately, is that this led to a string of imitative penny dreadful vampire storie, often published anonymously (as Polidori's story was, originally). Among these tales was ''Varney the Vampire: or, The Feast of Blood', serialised 1845-7.  In 1894 Augustus Hare published an account of a supposedly real vampire occurrence. The Vampire of Croglin Grange is cited in the Conversation piece, though the dates seem to differ with other accounts. And, as people have pointed out, it does read like a pastiche of earlier vampire fictions, particularly a scen

'Voices in the Night'

Veteran sf and horror writer Lisa Tuttle's contribution to  Uncertainties III is an interesting blend of old and new. The migrant experience, the sense of being alone in an uncaring society, is combined with an ancient myth known to most of us. Katya is an immigrant who comes to an unnamed city seeking work. She finds it hard to get a place to stay, and settles for a room in a shabby hotel in a run-down area. Her sleep is interrupted by loud voices nearby, not in her building, but apparently emanating from a disused factory. At first she thinks it is a party, but there is no music. She investigates, and finds that the factory yard seems to be a gathering point for a disparate group of rather odd people. As the story unfolds it becomes clear (to some extent) what is happening. What makes it enjoyable is the way that Katya, like many a protagonist before her, is gradually drawn into an ever-stranger situation. Soon she finds herself at the river, where boats call for the wanderi

Dead of Night (1945)

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The last of my Hallowe'en fuelled nostalgia binge is the first horror movie made in Britain after World War 2. What's more, it was made by Ealing Studios, now renowned for its classic comedies of the Fifties. Dead of Night, however, has only one overtly comedic episode, and the overall tone of the film shifts from light to darkness. One of the most influential anthology/portmanteau horror films, Dead of Night consists of four weird tales linked by a framing story. Architect Walter Craig, played by Mervyn Johns, travels down to a country house he has never seen - except in a recurring nightmare. The guests at the house are also people from the dream, which he tells them ends in violence and terror. One of the guests is a psychiatrist, Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk) who naturally rationalises away Craig's fears. But the other members of the house party object, each one telling a tale of the supernatural. Each segment has a different director and is adapted from works

'Before I Walked Away'

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The shortest story in Uncertainties III edited by Lynda E. Rucker (Swan River Press) is by R.S. Knightley. 'Before I Walked Away' is a poetic, powerful vignette, written in the first person. It's star is Kat, a student in a black negligee and fishnets, and brandishing a whip. The narrator, Helen, is arguably in love with Kat, but something is wrong with this relationship. They are close, but between them falls a shadow. A silly argument has apparently led to tragic consequences. But for whom? This story packs a lot into a few pages. As a ghost story, I think it works. As a story that might not involve a ghost, it's just as effective. As a portrait of youth, love, and loss, it is painfully good.

The Haunting (1963)

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I was disappointed by the recent Netflix adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel, for many reasons.* But fortunately we have Robert Wise's excellent black and white film to show what a real adaptation looks like. It's a remarkable variation on the traditional Gothic themes. All of the characters are not-quite-stereotypes of figures familiar from the works of Le Fanu, Wilkie Collins and others. Eleanor Lance is the timid, virginal young woman lured to the sinister house - but she wants to go. Doctor Markway is the suave, intellectual older man who manipulates events - but he is a decent man who wants to protect Eleanor. Theo is the clever, attractive woman who often serves as sidekick/mistress to the villain - but she too has essentially good motives. Luke is the handsome young heir who might rescue the heroine - but has no interest in doing so and is quite ineffectual. The absence of visible ghosts - they are always audible or tactile - also has a Victorian feel. In som

Hallowe'en Horror Movies - The Fog (1980)

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John Carpenter's best movie, for some, certainly one of the classic American horror movies. Also the best movie to feature undead lepers. The Fog is one of those films I can watch any number of times and not feel jaded, despite knowing exactly what's going to happen next. Perhaps that's the measure of a work of art, or just proof that I first saw it at an impressionable age. The Fog is all the more remarkable because it shouldn't work. It contains enough plot-holes and blunders to sink a lesser effort. We have Father Malone (the excellent Hal Holbrook) who is a Catholic priest at Antonio Bay. What's more, his grandfather was a Catholic priest, too... Yes, I know a married man with kids can be ordained a priest, but it's a stretch, to say the least. Then there's the whole malarkey about the treasure, which was the sole motive for the horrific crime that leads to supernatural vengeance. Getting Blake's gold allowed the construction of the church and

'Bobbo'

I continue my running review of Uncertainties III with a very British story. Rob Shearman does a superb job here of combining realism with bizarre horror in a first-person tale about a horror writer. The author in question has a rather low opinion of Robert Aickman, the Bobbo of the title. All the usual criticism appear - pretentious, obscure, boring and so forth. But then our author goes away for a short break to work on an old-school werewolf story (for an anthology called Scary and Hairy ), and odd things begin to happen. Staying a hotel Shearman's narrator finds an inscribed copy of Aickman's first solo collection, Dark Entries . The book - worth quite a bit, of courses - it simply shoved among the airport paperbacks on the shelves of the hotel dining room. Not surprisingly our hero offers to buy it. It's not for sale, so he tells a pack of lies about being a relative of Aickman to get the book for nothing. Then the hotel owner visit the author in his room and begins

Happy Hallowe'en All

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Hallowe'en Horror Movies - Films That Scared Me

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I am not a wuss, as a certain president might have said. Well, okay, I am a bit of a wuss, to be honest. But I've seen so many horror films (as least twelvety at the last count) that most of the conventional horror gimmicks don't faze me. I'm not going to list the big-money, major franchise horror flicks that have not impressed me lately. But there are a lot of them. However... Some films give me the willies, the chills, possibly even the screaming ab-dabs. Why? I don't know, to be honest. But it is undeniably the case. So here goes with some movies that, for whatever reason, gave me a few sleepless hours. 1. The Mothman Prophecies I've tried to work out why this not particularly film scared me so much. There is little violence, none of your body horror stuff, and the actual monster (if it is a monster, in the true sense) is never clearly seen. But oh dear me, the Mothman is never far away. Zooming out of the night, red eyes a-glow, to cause a car crash.

'Wanting'

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The fourth story in this anthology  is a novella by Joyce Carol Oates. Such a contribution inevitably comes freighted - or fraught - with the highest expectations. Fortunately, the story lives up to any hype that might exist in the reader's head. The first part of the story consists of three lines. Badly she wants a man. Or, she wants a man badly. Or, she wants a man. Badly. A woman we know only as L.K. returns to Detroit to visit a friend who is terminally ill. L.K. is reluctant to see her friend, keener to see the city she once lived in. As the tale unfolds we learn more about the woman, who is no longer young. Her recollections include ferocious racial violence that racked the city in the Sixties. During a night-time walk she encounters an artist, Vann, who invites her to visit his studio apartment in a building she once knew. This is very unwise, and much of the story consists of L.K.'s inner struggles between need and reason. The story is delivered in

'The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar' read by Basil Rathbone

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Spoooooky! Obviously.

The Locations Of 'A Warning To The Curious' (1972 BBC Ghost Story For Ch...

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Actual details are in the notes under the video, if you click on it to view on YouTube. Rather nice survey.

'Wyrd'

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The third story in Uncertainties III is very different from either tale that precedes it. Adam L. G. Nevill's approach is radical in that it offers no protagonist, no dialogue, no characterisation at all. Instead it gives the reader a drone's eye view of a coastal landscape, before zeroing in on a site where Something has Happened. A circle of tents surrounds mysterious stone rings. And outside the tents, a circle of animal sacrifices.  'These are lambs. Black lambs. Slaughtered and arranged in a circle, like the symbols on some strange clock...' It is not just the lambs that were sacrificed. Gradually a variation on a familiar theme becomes apparent, as Neville's careful prose exposes just enough of the scene. 'Wyrd' is a tour-de-force, showing that a horror story can be dynamic without depicting action, disturbing without showing any explicit violence.  So, another winner, which bodes well for the rest of the tales selected by Lynda Rucker in w

'Warner's Errand'

The second story in Uncertainties III is by S.P. Miskowksi. Warner is a retiree whose wife, Marianne, keeps him on his toes with her eccentric, incessant demands. The story begins with Warner leaving his house to try and buy his missus a 'bumpy wooden-handled thing' that might be a back-scratcher from a failing general store. They live in a desert town, and the description of the blazing heat has a Ballardian feel. The story's realism and humour carry the reader along as poor Warner tries to accomplish his task. We know he won't. Along the way we learn about his life, the way in which an old man eventually gives up on modernity, becomes exhausted by the futility of keeping up with change. Warner had 'retired to avoid being one of those maligned old men, mocked behind their backs, creaking around the office trying to pick up the slang of managers half their age'. Miskowski excels in clear, thoughtful insights into supposedly ordinary lives. Warner is one o

Uncertainties: Volume III - Running Review

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Here we go again with a nifty new anthology, this time from Swan River Press. Uncertainties III is doubly (or perhaps triply) interesting because it is edited by Lynda E. Rucker, a name familiar to ST readers. Here are the details . It is, of course, a nicely-produced volume with a stylish, monochrome theme to the dustjacket and covers. What, then, of the contents? In her introduction Rucker explains that the theme of the series is relatively broad, as the title suggests. Uncertainties means just that - the moments when we are unsure if we have glimpsed a 'little slip of the veil', exposing us to something that may be supernatural, or at least unknown. The first story is 'Monica in the Hall of Moths' by Matthew M. Bartlett. This is a moving account of bereavement, or so I thought at first. The narrator talks of Monica, his love for her, and her sudden, shocking death. His grieving process is bound up with a strange children's book that he recalls, but which

Hallowe'en Board Games

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Yes, we made our own entertainment in those days. We bought something from a shop, and then we conjured up dark forces with dice, and then Annoying Tommy from No. 11 was sacrificed...

Hallowe'en Horror Movies - Yet To Be Made!

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Yes, I'm cheating like buggery by listing just a few classics of weird fiction that I would like to see given the big-screen treatment. Or even the small screen treatment, I'm not that fussed. 1. The House on the Borderland Yes, William Hope Hodgson's proto-cosmic horror novel might need a bit of tweaking. But there's enough good stuff in there to permit a genuinely strange and wonderful movie to emerge, shaking its clotted wings. Modern effects would certainly not have problems giving us spiffing Swine Things, and the visionary passages would be splendid - if handled correctly. The Irish landscape plus period detail offers potential for rather lovely scenes at the beginning and end. And how many other films offer a director the chance to depict the end of the world, and more? 2. Nights of the Round Table We all like a good portmanteau movie, and Margery Allingham's 1926 collection has enough cracking tales to fill up a good ninety minutes. The frami

Hallowe'en Horror Movies - Cat People (1942)

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The earliest of my viewing choices, influenced by the fact that this classic and it's sequel happen to be on the BBC iPlayer - so, if you can access it from where you are, you can watch it. It's another short feature, too, running at just 70 mins. Director Jacques Tourneur certainly packs enough into this one to make you feel you've had a genuine odyssey into another, parallel world. Kent Smith as Oliver Reed (!) provides the anchor here, playing a very sensible and clean-cut American naval architect. At the zoo, by the black panther cage, her meets and flirts with fashion artist Irena, a Serbian who seems  alone in New York. Irena lives in an extraordinary apartment building, thanks to sets left over from Orson Welles' abortive project, The Magnificent Ambersons. Soon the young couple are married. But Irena had already confided in Oliver that in her village there is a legend of a tribe of witches who, in the throes of anger or passion, transformed into cats. She

Hallowe'en Horror Movies - A Few Suggestions

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Here's a few rambling, random thoughts on types of film I have yet to cover, and a little tribute to some lesser-known gems. Let's begin in the fairly mysterious East... A Tale of Two Sisters is a 2003 Korean horror movie with shocks aplenty. It has rightly been praised for combining classic ghost story elements with a psycho-thriller plot that hangs together well and offers a startling twist. Director Kim Jee-woon created the biggest-selling Korean movie of all time, and the first to be screened in American cinemas. Next up, more Lovecraft! Though you might not think so at first glance. After doing a few Poes, Roger Corman settled on 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward' for his next costume Gothic. Scripted by Charles Beaumont, the film keeps some of the original story but deviates so strongly from it in key ways that it is almost an original plot. Vincent Price plays Ward and his ancestor Curwen, and there is a great cameo from Lon Chaney Jr. Debra Paget, objec

Hallowe'en Horror Movies - The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

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Since my last HHM was a low-budget silent film, why not have another one? The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has a well-deserved reputation for high-quality audio adaptations of Lovecraft's tales. It was bold, to say the least, of this group of amateurs to make a film of one of ol' Howie's more cerebral tales. It was also quite clever, though, when you think about it. There are only two big scenes - the swamp cultists, and the confrontation between the sailors and Big C himself/itself. The rest is a very traditional narrative, the 'piecing together' of a story too vast and terrifying to be more than glimpsed. What the Society team do is use humour, some clever techniques, nice set-dressing, and a bit of good location work to give the film a classy feel. We are sometimes in Providence, R.I, mostly on Hollywood sound stages, and we get good model work with split-screen and stop-motion. It's the kind of adaptation an early film maker might have attempted i

The Tell Tale Heart - 1953 narrated by James Mason

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Hallowe'en Horror - Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2002)

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If I tell you there's a Canadian ballet version of Dracula, you may feel that it's not for you. This, I think, would be a pity. Director Guy Maddin's take on the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's adaptation is not only very entertaining to the non-ballet type (such as me) but also stays remarkably faithful to Stoker's novel. It's not for everyone, but what is? As horror goes this is as un-generic, yet truly Gothic, as you can get. The story begins with Lucy Westenra (the statuesque Tara Birtwhistle) and her three suitors. Her decision to wed the English milord coincides with the scream of Renfield at the nearby Whitby asylum - the Master is coming! With minimal ado Dracula (Zhang Wei-Quiang) appears and pounces on Lucy. Maddin's monochrome, silent movie approach allows some clever technical tricks, such as highlighting the puncture wounds in red. Lucy's behaviour becomes a bit strange, and Van Helsing is summoned. Cue the garlic and the (amazingly reckless, fo

Hallowe'en Horror Movies - Bram Stoker's Dracula

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It's really Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, and Stoker might have had a fit if he'd seen it. This is also a film that managed, in 1992, to demonstrate that casting Americans in a British story can work very well (Tom Waits as Renfield) or very badly (Keanu Reeves and Wynona Ryder as Jonathan and Mina). It also showed that Gary Oldman can play any role with style and energy, even under a ton of latex gunge and/or silly wigs. The film is visually brilliant, full of stunning images and old-school effects, with not a digital gimmick in sight. It would be tempted to watch it with the sound turned off, but the score by  Wojciech Kilar is also rather wonderful. Costumes by  Eiko Ishioka  are also superb, ditching the dusty cape for a range of aristocratic garb. The big budget went onto the screen. Sets are hyper-lavish, backdrops splendid. The film also moves at a reasonably fast pace - it's two hours might have seemed long in the last century, but compared to much rece

Hallowe'en Horror Movies - It Follows

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As others have pointed out, this one has a lot in common with Night of the Demon/'Casting the Runes'. We even begin with an incident that makes it clear we are dealing with an unusual menace, and a terrifying one, before we meet the main characters. While we do not see the demon, we get a moment of pure body horror. The film lays down a marker - whatever s' going on is real. Having said that, It Follows (2014) is nothing like a Jamesian ghost story in tone. Its characters are a group of young people enjoying their summer break, and finding it hard at first to grasp what is menacing one of their number. The basic premise is simple - a sexually transmitted curse. If you pass it on you can escape, possibly. If you don't, it follows and will get you eventually. As the victim of a cruel deceit, Maika Monroe is convincingly confused, frightened, and ultimately courageous. The supporting cast are good to excellent, proving that a 'teen horror' doesn't have to

Hallowe'en Horror Movies - Tales of Terror

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A bit of good old harmful fun with Roger Corman and his pals, this time. Nothing too serious, here, but horror does not have to be modern, gritty, or especially realistic to work. Having adapted three of Poe's best--known tales, Corman moved on in 1962 to produce a portmanteau of three short stories. Here you will find fairly free adaptations of 'The Black Cat', 'Morella', and 'The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar'. The stars are Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price, each turning in full-blooded performances. Old-school costume Gothic has seen something of a revival lately, so it's worth noting that, along with Hammer, Corman was responsible for the first post-war horror movies in  glorious 'color'. Each story is distinctly different from the original text. 'Morella', a very brief tale, becomes a distinctly Freudian and very weird drama. Vincent Price's daughter Lenora visits her old dad and finds him living in perpetu

Nigel Kneale's 'The Road' - Resurfaced

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Over here you can read an interview with the writer/actor/presenter Toby Hadoke about 'The Road'. This is widely considered to be a lost TV masterpiece by the legendary Nigel Kneale. A script still exists, but sometime after the show was broadcast in 1963 the BBC wiped the videotape. Now a radio adaptation of this unusual ghost story will be broadcast this coming Saturday on Radio 4. It will of course be available on the BBC iPlayer shortly after premiering at 2.30 pm. And here are the cast, including (third from right) Hattie Moraghan, whose father directed the original TV version. And apparently an archivist found some of the original Radiophonic Workshop effects, which have been re-used in the radio play. Spiffing! I have decided not to include spoilers in this little item, as 'The Road' is one of those 'ah, now I get it' twist ending stories. Set in the 18th century (aka the Age of Reason) it concerns a haunting in a forest that is believed to be rela

Hallowe'en Horror Movies - The Eye (2002)

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Hong Kong horror is a sub-genre that was somewhat overshadowed by the J-Horror boom that began at the turn of the century. However, with this clever variation on the theme of the ghost-seer the Pang Brothers showed that HK is not to be ignored. The film is based on an urban legend - a woman with corneal grafts who begins to see strange ghosts. This kind of  'transplant ghost story' is nothing new. But what The Eye does is spin the idea into everything the horror fan might want - jump scares, strange dreams, diverse and disturbing ghosts, and even a happy ending. Of sorts. Mun (played by Malaysian Chinese actor Lee Sin-je) is a young woman who has been blind since she was two. After corneas become available she undergoes surgery, and is put in the care of psychologist Wah (Laurence Chou). When Mun starts to see odd things Wah draws the conclusion that her mind is struggling to make sense of new sensations. But Mun, and the audience, know better. She is simply seeing more tha

Gormenghast Castle Automata

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Hallowe'en Horror Movies - The Orphanage

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What will I be watching over the spooky season? Since I watch new horror movies all year round, I try to rewatch the ones I really love over Hallowe'en. An exercise in nostalgia? Of course! First up is a very modern film with a strong Gothic sensibility. The Orphanage/El Orfanato,is one of the most effective screen ghost stories to come out of Spain. The film works in part because the story is itself extremely good. A couple with a seriously ill child buy an old orphanage and convert it into a special home. But the lingering spirit of a little boy who suffered a terrible fate in the house disrupts their lives forever. The film, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, manages to make many conventional haunted house tropes work perfectly. The son's imaginary friends, the lighthouse on the headland, a strange encounter in the sea caves - all combine to produce a sense of mystery, and gradually escalating menace. The use of children's games, the arrival of a disturbing and distu

A Ghosts & Scholars Book of Folk Horror - Review Part 2

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We round off our review of the latest Sarob volume with the new stories selected by Ro Pardoe for this impressive new anthology . First up Gail-Nina Anderson with 'Variant Versions', a story drawing on the author's background in academia and her interest in folklore. A chance encounter at the launch of a new book reveals the story behind an almost-forgotten article on an obscure ballad. The narrator ventures to the village where the ballad was recorded, and discovers that the version in the book is incomplete. The author deftly juggles complex and interesting themes, such as feminist interpretations of folk tales, while the verse at the heart of the story has an authentic ring. There is a nicely Jamesian feel to the way in which we glimpse the supernatural at second hand, but with great intensity. Helen Grant's contribution, 'The Valley of Achor' (I looked it up, it's interesting), is set in Perthshire in February. She perfectly evokes the bleakness o