Sunday 27 May 2018

Pari: Not a Fairytale (2018)

Well, this one got distinctly cold reviews from Indian critics, but I enjoyed it a lot. It's a relatively simple tale with interesting twists and turns, told with the help of flashbacks. It begins with shy, nerdy Arnab having a painful time with prospective bride Piyali, a beautiful and confident nurse. On the drive home with his parents Arnab insists that if Piyali turns him down he doesn't want any more matchmaking, thanks very much. A bit of a row begins, eyes are taken off the road, and in the monsoon rain they run down and kill a woman who is crossing the road.

The woman, it turns out, is a Muslim who lives in a hut in the woods and for some reason collects stray dogs, Further investigation reveals that a young woman, Rukhsana, chained by her ankles to a post in the hut. She can barely speak, is illiterate, and seems to have been kept in total isolation from the outside world. Arnab feels sorry for her and helps her with funeral arrangements. Oddly, when the traditional mourners arrive, Rukhsana reacts badly to the smell of incense.

Meanwhile one of the mortuary workers has noticed that the dead woman bears a brand on her arm. He immediately alerts Professor Ali, a Van Helsing figure with one eye. References to a Doomsday Cult and baby skulls come thick and fast as Ali gathers his forces. Rukhsana flees when Ali arrives at her hut and seeks refuge with Anab, who decides to find her a home in a local hostel. But she becomes attached to him, and he find himself falling for her.

Flashbacks make it clear that Rukhsana is not simply a lost girl, but something else. As in the film Spring, we see her inhuman side manifest itself in various ways. She must keep clipping her nails, for instance (as in Aickman's story 'No Stronger Than A Flower'). Rukhsana is a pari, a kind of fairy of Muslim folk tradition. Her mother was one of many used and abused by demon-worshippers, which led to impregnation by an Ifrit (or 'afreet' of our own Gothic tradition). Thus Rukhsana is a hybrid creature, possessed of human and supernatural abilities. She's also a bit of a complication when Piyali decided she will marry Anab...

Ali closes in on the pari, who becomes increasingly dangerous as her demonic side develops. She produces a deadly poison and must use it at regular intervals or die herself. Suffice to say this is not a film for animal lovers. Ali and his goon squad eventually catch up with Rukhsana, but not before she has become pregnant by Anab. In a parallel story Piyali reveals a truth about herself that dovetails neatly (perhaps too neatly) with the main plot. I won't give away any more, except to say that the ending is a mite predictable, but director Prosit Roy still gets there with considerable aplomb.

Image result for pari movie

One of the film's virtues is solid direction, which makes full use of urban India's shabby-genteel areas. It also has fine lead performances, particularly Anushka Sharma in the title role and Rajat Kapoor as Ali. This is one of those films where the 'good guys' are so sadistic you inevitably want the forces of evil to get a fair go.

Saturday 19 May 2018

Codex Shub-Niggurath - Review

How quickly things go when you're getting older. One minute you're wondering who would win in a fight between the Cybermen and the Autons, and the next minute you've got dodgy knees.

Which is an odd way to introduce another poetry pamphlet from Pete 'Cardinal' Cox, Peterborough's Bard of the Bizarre. As you'll have gleaned from the title, this is another in his series of musings on Lovecraftian weirdies, and this time it's the turn of the Goat With A Thousand Young. Just the sort of benefit tourist the op-ed writers of the Daily Mail have nightmares over.

As always, the poems themselves are pithy, concise explorations of Lovecraftian ideas and related notions. Just as good are the notes that Cox adds, weaving yet more strands in his alternative history of this world, and others. It's a bit steampunk, a bit conspiracist (in a good, fun way, not a mad racist way), and erudite as all get-out.

First up is 'Chimaera of Lydia', the weird hybrid monster of the land that worshipped 'many-breasted Artemis'. There's a sense of Pan-ic and mystery in this one that bodes well, what with 'split-hoof prints/Embedded in high places'. In the note Cox asks if Shub-Niggurath' cult lies behind goat-deities of the classical world.

'Ram of Mendes' follows, logically enough, and a dash of Herodotus. Egypt and nearby areas were rammed with rams, of course. The bleat 'Baa' becomes Baal. This leads us to 'St John of Patmos' Lamb', as who better to spot beings that transcend time and space than a great visionary? I'm really impressed by the way these poems skip from pagan to Christian mythology. 'Vegetable Lamb', the fourth short verse, takes us to Tartary and the fascinating travellers' tale of the plant that was also an animal. A seemingly minor oddity, it serves as a warning that 'Other creations can take place/That could wipe us from planet's face'.

A change of pace and style for the next poem. 'Verses Discovered in a Seventeenth Century Broadside' is an account of a Civil  War army that encounters a giant ram '100 yards tall, sir'. This links the huge, spectral ram with witchery, and the mad trials of that era. The kicker is that the whole unbelievable tale might well be... not true at all.

Still on military themes, 'Baa'fometz' looks at the alleged Templar worship of a hermaphrodite idol and the link with Eliphas Levi's famous 'Horned God of the Witches'. Very timely in these gender-wobbly times.

'Ya-Te-Veo' surprised me by being about a plant that captures small animals. This takes us away from 'pure' Lovecraft, if memory serves, but is just as much fun. I had not heard of this particular killer vegetable, but what follows is 'Dawn of the Triffid', a stark example of concrete poetry with a literal sting in the tail. Or frond. Whatever.

Finally 'The Nonahedron Ritual' adds a little more to the vast apocryphal lore and addresses the reader directly on tolerance. 'Three times three forms of sexual variety' seems about right for now, but just wait til the sexbots arrive in force. The note ends thusly: 'Do not confuse with the Nonahedron Order, an eccentric organisation that combines Satanism, skinhead politics, and Star Trek'. Well, quite.

All in all, a jolly good pamphlet, and yet again I have Learned Something. Several Somethings, in fact.

If you would like a copy send a C5 SAE to:

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Horror Babble!

Right then, I'm doing various things. Writing my sixteenth book for Scare Street - that's quite a lot of books. Working on ST #38, which is shaping up nicely - more on that soon, I hope. And I'm also girding up my ageing loins for a collaborative project with Ro Pardoe's Haunted Library - exciting stuff!

"But Dave, how do you relax amid this whirl of activity?"

Glad you asked me that, made-up anonymous person. I often listen to audio versions of favourite stories, especially ghostly and weird fiction. Which brings me to Horror Babble, a substantial YouTube contributor that posts readings of mostly old horror. I think the team, led by Ian Gordon, do an excellent job.

What's on Horror Babble? A lot of Lovecraft, if that floats your boat. Some M.R. James, a fair bit of Robert Bloch, a big chunk of Robert E. Howard, and a major dollop of Clark Ashton Smith. The complete Carnacki stories by William Hope Hodgson are also there, which is a plus, and there are  Algernon Blackwood's 'greatest hits' as well. There's also some new fiction from various writers, including Creepypastas (i.e. demonic lasagne, ghostly macaroni, etc).

So, if you like listening to horror that's well-chosen and well-read, you might want to give Horror Babble a go.

Tuesday 8 May 2018

'Picnic at Bluebell Wood'

The last story in Kate Haynes' collection Waiting in the Shadows is a tale of Mean Girls. Or is it? Moyra is a new girl at school, and feels her life would be complete if she could join the elite group of clever, fashionable girls. So when they invite her for a picnic she is ecstatic. Even more wonderful is the fact that the boy she fancies will be there.

Of course, as the date of the outing approaches Moyra begins to wonder if she is being set up. Maybe the group is going to ruin her life, as mean girls tend to do? And sure enough, when she arrives at Bluebell Wood with her bag stuffed full of nosh, there is no sign of the cool girls. An upset Moyra decides to have a picnic by herself - that'll show 'em. But then she encounters a weird presence - pink of face and somewhat Jamesian - that prompts her to flee.

At this point the mean girls scenario is twisted into something else. Moyra is entitled to join the elite group, but membership comes at a very high price. Far from being a stepping stone to something better, Bluebell Wood turns out to be the focus of everything. There are worse things than being an outsider, it seems.

And so the book ends with a suitably dark tale. Overall this collection offers an entertaining canter through a world that overlaps with those of many genre greats. Any ghost story fan would, I think, enjoy it.

That ends my running review. More to come soon! There are all these books...

Monday 7 May 2018

'The Mirror of the House'

The penultimate story in Waiting in the Shadows is close to mainstream horror, with overtones of classic Gothic tales.

Patsy has had a nervous breakdown thanks to marital problems. When she is released from hospital her husband takes her to their new home, a large Victorian affair that she does not like. Just to make things a bit worse, hubby also installs a housekeeper-cum-warder to watch over Patsy. There are shades of 'The Yellow Wallpaper' in this setup, but things work out rather differently.

One room in the house is a bit weird. A large mirror conceals a door, and behind it lurk inhuman creatures seeking a way into our world. Patsy's misery and confusion serves as their admission. At first it seems as if the creatures are Patsy's ally, but things are not quite so clear-cut.

A tale that could have formed one of the darker episodes of The Twilight Zone, here, and all the better for it. Next time I'll round off this review. Are there still copies of this book to be had? Check out the link above and see.

Thursday 3 May 2018

'Magicians and Moonlight'

This story in Katherine Haynes' collection Waiting in the Shadows is a sequel to 'The Folded Hands', reviewed earlier on this here blog. 

In the first story the evil Mr Jones destroys the magician, Gontarsky, and in the second he tries to steal one of the latter's greatest secrets. This is revealed to be something like the alchemist's concept of the homunculus. However, Jones has to summon the ghost of Gontarsky to get the magic formula, so to speak, and this causes him difficulties. 

When Jones does succeed in creating a being it is not the gentle, harmless creature Gontarsky imagined. Instead it is a variation on the Welsh legend of a woman made of flowers. The creature proves dangerous, to say the least. But then Jones encounters someone whose own arcane knowledge is at least as significant as his own...

This is a neat tale with a sexy subtext. The theme has been under-explored, but in these days of sex robots it certainly strikes a cultural nerve. Perhaps I should go and have a lie down with the curtains closed and resume this running review later...

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...