Saturday 30 May 2020

A Dark Song - Review

This is a punishingly intense film about the occult. The debut feature by writer/director Liam Gavin, it's set in an isolated house in Wales where two people spend months occupied with complex rituals. A bereaved mother seeks to contact her dead child, via angelic intercession. But purity is essential to success, and neither the magician nor his sponsor are pure in spirit. The demons are never far away...

Ironic that I watched this during lockdown as the drawn-out, tedious nature of 'real' magic is central to the film's power. There is nothing glamorous about magic, here, and much that is vile and grubby and petty. Joseph Solomon (the excellent Steve Oram) convinces as an occultist thoroughly sick of his strange trade and longing to become 'invisible' to a higher reality he can't bear to keep facing. Like Solomon, Sophia (an amazing performance by Catherine Walker) is damaged and not at first very sympathetic. But as their personal demons gave way to the genuine article, I came to care about them enough to be disturbed by what happens as the ritual proceeds.

This film deserved an extra star at the very least, and it's low profile does not reflect well on horror movie fans. This is supernatural fiction that draws on the world known to Machen, Blackwood, and Monty James - they all had different views of it, but all would recognise much of the texts and invocations, I suspect. It's as if The Devil Rides Out had been remade as a gritty thriller by someone who knew his Testament of Solomon from his Kabbalah.

Recommended. But not for the faint-hearted or easily shocked.

Friday 29 May 2020

Hillbilly Horror Show

"Well, I just done and gone shot my own toe off in excitement at this here anthology series of rootin', tootin'..."

No I can't type an entire review like this. Suffice to say that Hillbilly Horror Show, like so much else in our world, looks cheap and terrible and sometimes isn't. To explain: it's an anthology TV series, currently on Amazon Prime, that showcases short horror movies by aspiring directors. Good idea, right? Like an anthology efforts, the quality is variable, but every edition of HHS has at least one excellent film and at most one stinker out of four or five. There are four hour-long episodes, so you get a lot of viewing time.

Hillbilly Horror Show – Neatline FX

Why is it called Hillbilly Horror Show? Well, that's the premise that links the whole thing together. At the beginning of part 1 were are welcomed to the spacious trailer of the garrulous Bo, his mumbling brother Cephus (who worked for NASA, if only for one day), and their scantily-class 'kissing cousin' Lulu. Bo explains that they found a whole bag of DVDs and are happy to kick back and watch then with us. It's all good-humoured and very American and these days we all have a fast forward function. Mind you, I did find the Kim-Jong Un sub plot funny. Here's Lulu with a signed portrait of the Dear Leader.

HorrorMoviesUncut — BYO blood and beer 'Hillbilly Horror Show' Vol ...

What of the films themselves? They're a refreshing mixture of regular stuff - zombies, anyone? - and homages to the Twilight Zone/Outer Limits school of quirky fantasy/horror/sci-fi. There are killer bees, vampire-killing angels, serial killing as a tedious office job, and very persistent little girls trying to sell cookies for a good cause. One of my favourites is a British, stop-motion version of Little Bo Beep, which is basically full-on ultra-violence and oddly reminiscent of M.R. James' nightmare sequences. 

So, there you have it. A mixed bag, hit-and-miss horror treat that I found diverting in these difficult times. A classic case of something you can dip into and sample, and which doesn't require any great commitment of time and effort. Just don't sample their chilli. Oh, and at the time of posting you can find the gang on YouTube, not just Prime. Look for Kings of Horror. 

Super ghost story, you say?

Officially Devil Ship is out on 1st June. But early preview reader feedback is good.

My stuff for Scare Street is here.

Thursday 28 May 2020

The Moth, by H G Wells

Lovely ghost story with a distinct touch of Poe and Victorian Gothic, but still distinctly Wellsian in its sparkle and lightly-worn erudition.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Monday 11 May 2020

'Feeding the Peat' by Claire Dean - Running Review of Uncertainties IV

And so we reach the end. This excellent anthology has, for me, illustrated yet again the broad range of Gothic fiction, and more than hints at a genre revival in this century far more impressive than anything in the last. Perhaps this is because, like the Victorian era, ours is one of uncertain peace, irrational fads, scientific progress, and deeply unstable societies that are mirrored in confused personal identities and relationships. And people still like spooky stuff a lot. 

'Feeding the Peat' is very close to all those folk horror tales that appeared on our TV screens in the Seventies (if you're British). I'm thinking of 'Robin Redbreast', Nigel Kneale's 'Baby', 'Children of the Stones', and of course the near-legendary 'Penda's Fen'. Claire Dean's story sees Kath, single mother of two fractious children, go to her great-aunt's house to clear the place out, as the old lady has to go into a home. Feeding the peat is an old tradition - it involves milk - and the children become oddly fixated on it. The locals are unfriendly, and a visit to the confused old lady in hospital hints at something dark in her youth. Then Kath discovers something hidden between the fridge and the kitchen wall...

This is a clever story that skirts the boundary between the supernatural and psychological realism, never quite letting the reader be sure where it lies. The same can be said of most of the tales in Uncertainties IV, and it's a tribute to editor Timothy J. Jarvis that he has managed to offer readers such variety, and maintain a consistently high standard.

Saturday 9 May 2020

'Primal' by D.P. Watt - Running Review of Uncertainties IV

Gothic horror - what are its vital components? Mystery, fear, death, but above all - arguably - the inability to ever truly know another's essential self. And self-discovery, that too should be in there somehow. The penultimate story in Uncertainties IV fits these criteria.

A British student meets and falls in love with a beautiful, intelligent Irish student called (among other things) Jo. There is drinking and dancing and discussion of Kafka, and lovemaking. It gradually emerges that Jo has had a hard life, not least because her parents joined a bizarre cult dedicated to primate screaming. The Screamers collapsed when there shared house burned down - and the reason why is revealed as the story unfolds with effortless realism.

This is one of those tales that offers twists without gimmicks, and I enjoyed it tremendously. The moment when the narrator hears something strange emanating from the sleeping Jo's throat has a whiff of Aickman and Poe. The story offers a denouement that is all the more disturbing because it shuns flamboyant violence in favour of something far more menacing.

So, nearly finished this remarkable anthology, It's taken me a while - reading seems harder, not easier, during this lockdown. No idea why. But stay tuned, and we'll meet the last story very soon.

Wednesday 6 May 2020

'Some Girls Wander by Mistake' by Nadia Bulkin - Running Review of Uncertainties IV

The Gothic is a literature of obsession, and ours is an obsessive age. Many of the stories chosen by Timothy J. Jarvis for Uncertainties IV reflect this, none more so than Nadia Bulkin's elegant, chilly tale.

A young woman goes missing in small town America. The police issue a description, and so forth. One young woman living in a nearby city becomes fixated on the disappearance and talks of nothing else, spends hours online, and becomes convinced she saw the woman's ghost. The disappearance consumes her life. During a call her mother reveals that a tendency to wander may run in the family.

She boards up the windows of her apartment, tries to convince the police to dig up a construction site, sees the ghost of the missing girl again, and eventually drives out into the country as the snow starts to fall... The story has a fine symmetry, and offers many interpretations. But what lingers in the memory is the way that one loss leads to another with a kind of wild, lurching fatalism. As well as obsession, the Gothic offers extreme isolation, emotional and/or physical. A faint light in the woods is often all we have to steer by.

More from this running review very soon, if I don't go astray.

The Stranglers : 'WaltzinBlack' - RIP Dave Greenfield

Monday 4 May 2020

'These Words, Rising From Stone' by Charles Wilkinson - Running Review of Uncertainties IV

It's often been said that, in the academic world, rivalries are all the more vicious not because the stakes are high, but because they are so low. A little money, a little prestige, fame and glory within a narrow cabal unknown to the wider public. Squabbling over scraps is unseemly and perhaps this adds to the nastiness. The same might be said for poetry, genre fiction, or indeed any area of creative endeavour. Which brings me to a tale of poets and the occult.

In Charles Wilkinson's nicely-judged tale, the organiser of an English provincial literary festival fails to invite a local celebrity, a female poet whose work is mystical and occult in nature. The story is told not from the viewpoint of the organiser, but from a rival poet who also runs a small press and wants to avoid her for reasons that will be apparent to anyone familiar with that world. He catches glimpses of the formidable Frances Slater around the venue, and strenuously avoids her. But then he learns something that suggests the poetess may be seeking more than a new publisher.

The story works well, and we experience the slide into weirdness of someone who eventually fulfils Frances Slater's ambition in a terrible, inevitable way. Another good choice from editor Timothy J. Jarvis. More from this running review of Uncertainties IV very soon, I hope.

Saturday 2 May 2020

Lulu returns, sort of triumphant

After giving me grey hairs, for days on end, is now functioning again. All print-on-demand issues are now available from here.

Not sure if I will continue to use Lulu after this fiasco. Some pondering to do.

Supernatural Tales 43

Supernatural Tales 42

Supernatural Tales 41

Supernatural Tales 40

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 ...