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Showing posts from October, 2018

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

Monster Puns

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If you like monster movies and truly dreadful puns, the spoof film posters at this site will probably tickle your tickleable regions. Seriously, sometimes I think incessant punning should be either a criminal offence or a notifiable disease. But I know a lot of people love 'em, so... (There's a film called the Hudsucker Proxy. You're welcome.) Now that is quite funny. Very niche market, but I'm sold.

Auntie has another stab at Dracula

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At the BBC Media Centre you can read all about it, but here are a few bits. BBC One has commissioned Dracula from the co-creators of multi-award-winning hit BBC drama Sherlock. It will be produced by Hartswood Films and is a co-production between BBC One and Netflix.  The 3x90’ mini-series is written and created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss and inspired by Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Three feature length episodes will re-introduce the world to Dracula, the vampire who made evil sexy. In Transylvania in 1897, the blood-drinking Count is drawing his plans against Victorian London. And be warned: the dead travel fast. I thought the vampire who made evil sexy was Carmilla, but that's press releases for you. The series will premiere on BBC One in the UK and on Netflix outside of the UK, and China where the service is not available. BBC Studios Distribution, who brokered the deal with Netflix for Hartswood Films, is the international distributor. Interesting times. Who will

Issue 39 - a sneaky peek

The next issue of ST should be out next month, with a bit of luck. I'm aiming for the 'sweet slot' between Hallowe'en and Christmas, when ghostly manifestations are in everyone's mind. As well as shopping. I think it's an excellent issue (of course) not least because of the sheer number of new writers. Only two have appeared in ST before! Most, however, are recognised as rising or established talents on this or the other side of the pond. So, without further ado, here are the contributors, plus first sentences to tickle the readerly palate. 'I heard this story on a night flight back from Dubai.' 'A Tiny Mirror' by Eloise C.C. Shepherd  'The bastard pulled the dump-her-in-a-restaurant trick, a coward's way out. 'A Family Affair' by Margaret Karmazin 'They knocked on his door at ten of ten.' 'Burnt Heart, Bound Feet' by Danielle Davis 'Fifteen years later, on the bus, I ran into a girl who'

Death and the Maiden

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Over at Dangerous Minds you can see  some peculiar old photos. Like this one. Yes, it's a bunch of women posing with skeletons. And some of the ladies are in a start of undress. According to the article: Some of these pictures were intended as, well, shall we say, “educational erotica” giving the viewer a frisson of arousal while at the same time battering them on the head with the salutary warning that the wrong kind of boner could lead to disease and death. Something those Decadent artists used to bang (ahem) on about in their paintings. Fair enough, but some just seem to be a bit kinky, to be honest.

Post--Mortem Comedy - TV review

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I've been watching not one but two critically-acclaimed comedies involving the afterlife. What this says about me, I'm not sure. What it says about our society, well, a lot of things I suppose. But first, the facts! And, needless to say, some massive, honking great spoilers. The Good Place is an NBC series, available in the UK via Netflix (I got a gift subscription). The premise of the series is simple. Here, let the trailer explain it: Yes, Ted Danson is in charge. As Michael, an angelic being, he is responsible for keeping The Good Place running smoothly. The arrival of Eleanor (Kristin Bell) messes things up because her bad vibes destabilise everything. Eleanor attempts to correct her moral flaws by getting actual lessons in ethics from Chidi, a former professor of moral philosophy. But things only seem to get worse. And then a series of revelations occurs that overturns everything Eleanor thought she knew. The Good Place is a chirpy, smart comedy with a very tight s

Esoteric meme time

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A Ghosts & Scholars Book of Folk Horror - Review Part 1.

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The title says it all - or at least, tells most of it. This is a collection of folk horror tales edited by noted M.R. James expert Ro Pardoe. Published by Sarob Press , it represents one of those collector's items that comes along rather infrequently. The first half of the book (roughly speaking) consists of stories previously published, while the second contains entirely new fiction. This makes for an interesting range of authors, styles, and ingredients. There is also an introduction in which the editor points out that, though it's definitely out there, folk horror is hard to define. She also lists those ghost stories by James that fit the folk horror definition. It's a long list. The first story Michael Chislett's 'Meeting Mr. Ketchum'. This is a good start, as it's a tale with a contemporary setting and believably modern characters. When a young couple on holiday venture into a field containing a mysterious mound, they encounter a man who seems a

Coming soon...

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In glorious skull-vision.

'Beneath the Skin' and 'Rootless'

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We reach the end of Figurhead by Carly Holmes with two flash fiction pieces that, taken together, sum up the book rather well. In 'Beneath the Skin' we follow a woman who feeds a beast, one that lurks on the fringes of a comfortable community. The woman takes meat to what is arguably a werewolf, and also offers him her body. But there is something ambiguous about this apparent sacrifice, a suggestion of complicity in the way she feeds the beast just enough to keep him coming back for more. 'The bargain struck those years ago has become something else. But you don't think about that.' 'Rootless' is a grisly magic-realist reworking of a familiar fairytale, literally. Fairies are real, and they collect teeth. The protagonist is targeted by the little folk throughout her life, and with each tooth they obtain, part of her essential self is torn away. 'I'd sold myself over and over, for a handful of pennies.' In these and other stories Holmes

'A Small Life'

A lonely man living in a small community by a river joins a rowing club. Rowing gives the man a feeling of belonging and contentment, so much so that he becomes dependent on the short voyages up and downstream. Then a young woman arrives, sister of the boat's cox, and the man becomes uncomfortable, resentful. His unwillingness to accept the young woman culminates in the emergence of a strange entity from the riverside vegetation. The being may or may not be real. The story depends on the reader not being entirely sure. The man, who has a drink problem, could be a violent, dangerous individual. Or he could be faced with an impossible situation, and handling it as best he can. I don't know. This story is apparently simple, but hard to analyse. What is clear is how desperate for some kind of connection many of us are. The man in this story finds a life worth living simply by rowing with a few acquaintances. The woman, Jess, seems to need more. And I can't say any more abou

'Woodside Close'

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Another story from Figurehead by Carly Holmes, one of the best collections by a new (to me) writer I've read in years. 'The young mother at number 32 was the first to notice.' What she notices is that the wood is not longer alongside the close, but is rapidly reclaiming the land stolen from it. The story follows the responses of various residents as an apparently magical event takes place. Not only do regular living trees flourish at an unnatural pace. Even wooden objects supposedly dead begin to sprout thorns, leaves, roots. Soon the Close is cut off, and a kind of survivalist philosophy takes hold among some. Others form a coven and revive some of the old ways. Then a little girl called Gretel emerges from the forest. Shortly after comes a girl in a red hooded cloak... The detached, ironic tone of this story reminded me a little of Margaret Atwood, as did the theme. Atwood's tutor, the Canadian critic Northrop Frye, stressed the transformative nature of the w

New Books Alert!

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I have so many books to review that I will not get through them all by the end of the year, I fear. So I thought I would announce them here so that people on the lookout for new reading matter can check them out before I start chuntering on about them. First up, Tartarus Press have a new collection of stories by Mark Valentine and John Howard. This is a two-author collection and seems rather timely. I like the art deco lettering and the stamp. But let us find out a little more! 'In an East Prussian manor house, a Bohemian library, a Bulgarian railway station; in a Venetian citadel, a Breton harbour, a city in the Caucasus, characters encounter not only the vicissitudes of history but also the subtle influences of the uncanny. 'As they face war, revolution and upheaval, or the quieter encroachments of decay, these haunted figures must find their way both in a changed world and in mysterious overlapping otherworlds.' Sounds good to me! Judging by previous volumes, t

Small Horror Stories

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Go here for tiny tales of unease and terror from Irish artist Brian Coldrick. Most are brief animations, but this static pic gives you an idea of how good they are. A touch of 'Number 13' for the Monty James fans.