Saturday 31 October 2020

Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight (2020)


Poland's first slasher film! And it's on Netflix, so if you haven't got access to it, apologies. However, if you do this new, unpretentious horror movie might be for you. It's premise is quite clever - a special camp for kids who are addicted to the online world of gaming, Instagram, Tik-Tok and all that malarkey. So, of course, the first thing they have to do is surrender all their web capable devices. Then they set off in little groups to do some healthy outdoor stuff - like getting killed and eaten by deformed cannibals.

This is a neat little film that might be too heavy on gore for some, but if you like the lurking slasher genre it's enjoyable enough. The group of teens are the usual mix, with the sexy girl and the jock coming to not-unexpected ends. The sensitive boy, who is gay, does a little better, while the nerd and the troubled girl team up. There are a few pointed comments on Polish social issues, notably a scene involving a creepy priest, and some nice twists. 

There is, of course, the basic problem of what enormous, deformed cannibals are doing in the wilds of Poland, or anywhere else for that matter. The back story (which the character who narrates it could not possibly have known in such detail, by the way) involves a meteorite that oozes some kind of sentient black oil and possesses yokels. It's a Lovecraftian twist on the old Hills Have Eyes/Chainsaw Massacre thing. 

"God, I wish something exciting would happen..."

So, there you have it. Poland joins the list of countries to avoid if you want to keep yourself intact and uneaten. If you like your horror uncomplicated and - at times - jokey as well as gory, this is worth a look. 

'The Daedalus Equations' by Bruce Stewart

Friday 30 October 2020

Combined Hallowe'en/Birthday Card!


Hellebore 3

A nice surprise on my birthday - another issue of Hellebore, the zine that probes folk horror and related matters. No. 3 is 'The Malefice Issue', and here is the cover.

Conjure Wives? I look inside and, sure enough, there's an item by Rebecca Baumann which begins with a quote from Leiber's novel, Conjure Wife. These people are on my wavelength. Check out the contents.

Splendid reading for Hallowe'en. You can order your copy and subscribe to their newsletter here.

Wednesday 28 October 2020

Hallowe'en Movies - Carpenter Country

John Carpenter is one of those directors who prove a basic rule about the horror film - a love of storytelling counts for more than gore. Or indeed budget, or big name stars. Carpenter's classics are, by modern standards, restrained and rather low-key in many ways. He takes time with his characters and settings, making sure we get into the zone. And yet he never wastes time, because we are always finding out about the people, the setup, the basic idea that will give us the shocking moments, and that satisfying feeling that we've been entertained by one of the good guys. 

Halloween is good viewing for the last night in October, obviously. If you've not seen it the plot sounds like a massive cliché nowadays. A teenager agrees to babysit on the very night the town maniac, Michael Myers, returns to the scene of his childhood killings. What surprises now, I think, is how little actual killing there is. The plot builds and builds so that when we finally see what Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is up against, we care and share her terror. 

'The Follower' by Cynthia Asquith

A spooky reading for Hallowe'en! 

An upper class writer and socialite, Lady Cynthia Asquith (1887-1960) was married to the son of the Liberal Prime Minister H.H. Asquith. She became known for editing The Ghost Book, an anthology series that included work by the most distinguished writers of supernatural fiction.

Spine Chillers 1980 The Red Room told by Freddie Jones

Monday 12 October 2020

Children of the Stones

The BBC has pulled out a Hallowe'en surprise in the form of a podcast adaptation of the classic 1977 ITV series. Not having heard it yet I can't review it, but the trailer sounds promising. 

Saturday 10 October 2020

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Well, here's a thing - a horror movie starring and aimed at young Americans that I really enjoyed. I had no great hopes for this one but it's on Amazon Prime and I was a bit stuck for ideas before bedtime. So I started watching what I assumed would be a cheesy, derivative story about dumb kids meddling with a spooky book and getting bumped off one by one. Oddly enough, that's almost an accurate description. But there is an ingredient that makes all the difference - talent. This is lovely little Hallowe'en movie and I would recommend it to anyone. 

Scary Stories comes with the endorsement of senior producer Guillermo del Torro, who also had a hand in the screenplay, and it shows. Adapted from books by Alvin Schwartz (1927-92) the film is a loving homage to the horror tradition as represented by Ray Bradbury, horror comics, and urban legends. Schwartz, who I'd never heard of until now, was immensely popular. Wikipedia tells us of Scary stories that: 'The series was America's most frequently challenged book (or book series) for library inclusion of 1990-1999'. My kind of writer!

The story takes place in the small town of Millville in 1968. This is not just a generic Sixties setting but a very specific time period. The presidential campaign is underway during Hallow'en and later we glimpse a TV news report of Nixon's victory. Vietnam is under way and the film theme is 'Season of the Witch', with a distinctly hippie vibe. However, as October 31st arrives, Stella - an aspiring writer - and her pals Chuck and Augie are focusing on revenge upon local jocks who keeps nicking their candy swag. Unfortunately, the revenge stunt backfires and the teen pals flee to a drive-in, which is showing Night the Living Dead. The gang clamber into a random stranger's car, and so meet Ramon, a handsome drifter with a secret. The thuggish jocks are seen off, and there's a spark between Ramon and Stella that leads her to invite him to see the local haunted house - the Bellows House.

The legend of the Bellows family concerns a deformed daughter who was locked in the cellar and while away her time telling scary stories to local kids through the wall. The gang, in Scoobyish style, discover the secret room and Sarah's handwritten book of tales. Stella takes the book, which proves to be a mistake, as Sarah resents this and is quite able to tell more stories - tales drawn from each person's innermost terrors. As each new story appears on the pages of the book, written in blood, Stella's friends suffer various spooky fates. It's a portmanteau horror tales with a strong linking story. Each horror is based on illustrations in the original books. 

Finally, of course, the evil must be dealt with, aided by some proper, old-school research involving wax cylinder recordings and microfiche news items. The climax is clever stuff and there's a coda that has great charm and, yes, optimism. For all the horrors this is an upbeat view of youth, friendship, and the power of storytelling. 

So, if you get the chance, set aside less than two hours of your time for this stylish supernatural feast. I don't think you will regret it.

Thursday 8 October 2020

What Happened to Japanese Horror?

Lots of good stuff about horror on YouTube, and this essay is very interesting. J-horror fizzled while Korean cinema forged ahead. But I suspect we have not seen the last of the long-haired female ghost...

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Halloween (1978) Trailer

A bit obvious, but you can hardly get through October without at least thinking of this Carpenter classic.

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Hallowe'en Films - Haunter (2013)

This reverse ghost story is a kind of supernatural Groundhog Day. Abigail Breslin stars as a dead girl in a haunted house, who has go through the same day over and over again. She knows she's a ghost but the rest of her family don't, which makes for difficult dinners. Then something causes her to break the cycle and uncover the truth about her life and death. Not a great film, but a good one that's very much in the spirit of the season.

Monday 5 October 2020

Hallowe'en Films - Dead of Night 1945

A variable buffet from this Ealing feature, but an undeniably brilliant effort for 1945. Horror films had been banned in Britain during World War 2, frowned upon for their supposedly negative impact on morale. The final sequence is justifiably famous, but it's watchable all the way through. The H.G. Wells story is a little disappointing as it's light relief before the Evil Dummy, but considered as a whole this is more than just a period piece. It has charm, intelligence, and looks pretty darn good at times. Also, try to get anyone under forty to listen to the cut glass accents and record their reaction.

Saturday 3 October 2020

Friday 2 October 2020

The Spiritualist Who Beat the Nazis

My last post was typically frivolous in its attitude towards the whole psychic thing. By way of balance, here's a fascinating item from Psychic News about Air Vice-Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding. He was in charge of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, the first battle fought entirely by air forces. Dowding was victorious over Goering's Luftwaffe and thus inflicted the first major setback upon Hitler's war machine. And Dowding was a spiritualist. 

Churchill treated Dowding shabbily, forcibly 'retiring' him after the battle and denying him a well-deserved promotion. However, in 1943 Dowding got a peerage. During this time he also tried to contact some of the young airmen who perished in the conflict. His last public appearance (in a wheelchair due to arthritis) was in 1969 at the premiere of the film Battle of Britain, in which Dowding was played by Laurence Olivier. He died shortly after and was buried in Westminster Abbey, deservedly resting close by England's kings.

Lord Dowding’s ashes were buried just beneath a hole pierced through the wall of the abbey by a fragment of a German bomb towards the end of the battle and just a few feet away from those of Lord Trenchard, founder of the RAF.

There's a fascinating film or TV drama to be made about this man, I suspect. His wife, incidentally, was an opponent of animal testing and founded the cosmetic firm Beauty Without Cruelty. 

Thursday 1 October 2020

Deadly as a Poundshop Ouija Board!

 From the Hull Daily Mail:

"All hell could break loose if the demon attached itself to anyone and follow them around. Nasty spirits can scratch and attack people and should not be messed with as people could get seriously hurt. So I was gobsmacked when I saw that Poundland were selling these Ouija boards and was profoundly shocked and just fuming really."  
Mr Marsters, who has been a paranormal investigator for seven years, says that many people in his field have spoken of their anger that such devices are being sold for all.
He says that he could not see an age limit on the product, but Poundland say that the sale of the product is restricted to over 18s. (...) Poundland have said that the "spirit boards" are being marketed to adults only and have sold out due to their popularity.

h/t Steve Duffy for the story

Is it wrong that I suddenly want a Ouija board? I've never even seen one in real life, but I've seen a hundred in films and TV shows. Including ones used in cultures where they don't have an alphabet, like this one from Japan. Apparently it was popular in the Seventies when people (teens, mostly) tried to summon a spirit called Mr Kokkuri. Read more here.

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...