Wednesday 19 May 2021

Something Big Is Coming...

Something Ominous

Something Strange

Something Dangerous

Stay tuned for further developments!

Wednesday 12 May 2021

The Giant on the Hill

 The National Trust has just found out that one of its rudest attractions is also one of its oldest. The Cerne Abbas chalk giant is almost as old as the kingdom England itself.

Generations have speculated about the age and meaning of the club-brandishing giant hewn into a Dorset hillside. Was he a depiction of the legendary demi-god Hercules, an ancient fertility symbol, or even the soldier and statesman Oliver Cromwell? Another theory holds that the figure was carved around the body of a giant who was slain by local people after he terrorised the countryside. 
Now, after state-of-the art sediment analysis jointly funded by the National Trust, the University of Gloucestershire, Allen Environmental Archaeology and the Pratt Bequest, National Trust archaeologists have concluded the giant was probably first constructed in the late Saxon period.

I always found it rather odd that people thought anyone in the 17th century could construct a huge landscape outline of a club-wielding man with a massive erection. I mean, if it was a jibe at Cromwell as the 'British Hercules', wouldn't that have invited Roundhead retribution? 

But the latest findings also raise questions. Material taken from the deepest layer (1m) yielded a date range of 700-1100AD which suggests the giant was first made by late Saxons.' After all, paganism had pretty much died out by the 10th cent, so why would the monks of nearby Cerne Abbas countenance the creation of a bloke with a big todger? Did they drunk one night and decide it was a good idea? 

Apart from the fact that chalk giants are fascinating and mysterious, the Cerne Abbas giant has direct linked to classic supernatural fiction. In 'An Evening's Entertainment', a folk horror tale by M..R. James, there is a reference to a chalk figure that could be the giant. Two rather dodgy characters arrive in a small English village. Bad things happen and the two are later judged to have 'worshipped the old man on the hill'.

Wednesday 5 May 2021

Ghosts of the Chit-Chat (Swan River Press 2020)

 Now available in paperback!

This is an absorbing collection of stories, poems, and other writings of a supernatural nature by members of the eponymous society. It was established in 1860 and new members had to be elected by the current ones. Like many similar societies it existed for members to read papers on any topic they considered interesting, to be followed by a discussion.  

In an excellent preface, editor Robert Lloyd Parry (of Nunkie Theatre fame) offers a perspective on the clubs most famous member, M.R. James, and the way in which his first two ghost stories were read aloud to members. the first two stories in the book are the original versions of ‘Canon AlbĂ©ric's Scrapbook’ and 'Lost Hearts’. Neither differ much from the versions that appeared in James first collection of ghost stories. 


While Anderson/Dennistoun could be taken as a portrait of the author, Mr Abney in lost heart is the diametrical opposite. And the origins of the story how far from cozy. It was, it seems from a medieval manuscript on the subject of the Jewish blood libel that James seems to have got his idea for the hideous crimes committed in loft hearts perhaps This is why he came to dislike this story in later years. Certainly, as Perry points out, the violent death of a child could not have been the reason why he felt ambivalent towards his story. Wailing well hell is just as gruesome in this regard. 

If M.R. James is the best writer here, who is in the running for second place? The obvious candidate is EF Benson, or Fred as he was known two fellow club members. His story the other bed is for me I saw that example of his work if not his best story. It's a claustrophobic tale of a British gentlemen in Switzerland who is assigned the last available room at a hotel. Benson explores the idea of an act of violence leaving a psychic residue, a common theme well handled. For me the story leaves a slightly unpleasant taste, because of its dated assumptions about mental health and suicide.  

Arthur Benson's 'Basel Netherby' is by contrast the story that has, I think, grown in stature. It inverts a standard ghost story trope, whereby a hearty English Squire encounters a creative individual who is an outsider in a small rural community. Conventionally, it is the sensible chap who represents the forces of goodness and order, while the intellectual is disruptive and chaotic. Here the situation is reversed, as the eponymous composer finds his creative talents corrupted, and his personality gradually usurped, by an amoral and brutal force residing in his superficially pleasant lodgings. 

This twist is perhaps a nod to Thomas Carlyle's accusation, that the English rural Gentry were Barbarians and philistines It's notewoorthy that this story was not published until after Arthur's death when his brother Fred found it among his papers. The ghost stories published in his lifetime, by contrast, are far more conventional in outlook.

So, Arthur beats Fred by a narrow head. It must be said, though, that Parry could have chosen any number of very good EF Benson stories for this volume, while ‘Basil Netherby’ is probably the only work by Arthur that can be described as first rate. Hugh Benson's inclusion, ‘Father Bianchi’s’ tale, is too slight to bear comparison with his brothers' efforts. But it does offer good background atmosphere in its description of rural Italy. 

Among the other writers I found interesting is Maurice Baring. Once a celebrated author, Baring is little-known today. But his story ‘The Ikon’ is an interesting example of what’s been called Imperial Gothic. Its main character is one of those world-weary intellectuals who populate so many ghost stories, a collector all religious artifacts who does not take religion seriously. he makes a gruesome fate when he tries to mix and match the artwork of the title with those of other faiths. 

One pleasure of a thematic collection like this is the discovery of now-obscure writers who, like Baring, are worth seeking out. Robert Carr Bosanquet seems to have been a man of many talents, and might have achieved some literary fame. But he ‘set aside his pen’ to pursue his true vocation of archaeology. He is represented here by two very good poems. One describes the terrible vengeance wrought on a reprobate by the cats of Cambridge. The other is an excellent pastiche of Kipling.  



Tuesday 4 May 2021

Killer Sofa (2019)

It's not a sofa. It's a recliner. One of those chairs that leans back and sticks out a footrest. If you're a fan of Frasier, it's as if Martin's old comfy chair had suddenly become homicidal. In New Zealand. Yes, from the land that gave us that film about killer sheep and that movie and TV show about the silly vampires, comes another horror thing that is absurd. That said, it's not bad. It just doesn't quite live up to its premise. It's as if someone had binge-watched a lot of ridiculous Eighties 'possessed object movies' and tried to pair it up with Edogawa Rampo's famous story about a chair. The result is a right old mess, but an entertaining one.

The story begins with Frederico, a bloke who spends far too much time on the internet talking about horror and the occult. Ahem. Fortunately, when we meet him Frederico is about to be dismembered by a bloke with an electric saw. We see the chair in the background, just in case we missed the misleading title. Then we meet a likeable family of furniture selling folk who retrieve the chair from a storage unit to resell. It ends up in the apartment of Francesca (Pimio Mei), a beautiful dancer who has a lot of trouble with creepy stalkers, of whom Frederico was the creepiest. Now, of course, he's dead. Or is he?

It becomes clear from the start that some complicated malarkey is going on, and writer/director Bernie Rao does a decent job of juggling quite a complex backstory for the killer recliner with some entertaining mayhem. This film is an object lesson in how to make furniture seem quite dangerous. Some of the time. A bit. Assuming the victims are the usual horror movie idiots who don't notice a large chair creeping up on them. A combination of a plucky teen girl and her grandad, a disgraced rabbi (possibly the only one in NZ?) finally thwart the menace before it can do something plush and awful to the lovely Francesca.

Or do they?


But by that point I didn't care very much. I had made it to the end of a horror movie about a recliner. I am not a sadder or a wiser man, but that's showbiz. 

Oh, and Killer Sofa also goes under the title My Lazy Boy, My Lover. Because why not?

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...