Tuesday, 10 May 2022

CANDYMAN - 2021 Dir. Nia DaCosta

The original Candyman (1992) was based on 'The Forbidden', a story by British author Clive Barker. Writer-director Bernard Rose took Barker's original tale, which is set in Liverpool, and transferred it to the impoverished, crime-ridden Chicago neighbourhood of Cabrini Green. Barker's theme focused on the British class system. Rose shifted the emphasis to American racial politics, making a horrific lynching the triggering factor in the creation of a unique creature of (fictional) folklore. And, yes, bees are involved. Among other things.


The plot of the first movie concerns a white graduate student investigating the urban legend of Candyman. Say his name five times in a mirror and he will appear - and kill you with his hook hand. The student, played by Virginia Madsen, becomes increasingly obsessed by the legend and eventually descends into apparent insanity. The film did well at the box office and spawned a couple of less well-regarded sequels.



The new Candyman is a direct sequel to the original movie, set in contemporary Cabrini Green. The area has been gentrified, and the protagonist is a black artist, Antony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen IIwho has just moved into an upscale apartment with his girlfriend, Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris). The legend of Candyman is front and centre from the start - Brianna's brother tells the story, or at least part of it. Because the spectral killer is in fact a combination of many victims of injustice, all still raging against the bigotry that killed them.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

THROUGH THE STORM by Rosalie Parker (PS Publishing Ltd 2021)

 

This handsome collection of stories ranges quite widely through genres, with one tale venturing into X-Files territory, complete with aliens. However, the vast majority of the works collected here fall into the broad category of weird fiction - stories that, while they may not have an overtly supernatural content, do challenge the reader's conception of what is real. 

First up is 'The Moor', originally published in ST #39. It is set in the author's home county of Yorkshire, which serves the same artistic purpose as the Welsh borders in the fiction of Arthur Machen. Here is an ancient landscape inhabited by superficially practical, down-to-earth people. But one only needs scratch the surface to find strangeness and mysticism, not to mention menace, beneath.

Some tales are light-hearted. In 'Village Life' some young incomers interview old inhabitants, and the latter invent a series of increasingly bizarre and disturbing tales of orgies and Black Masses in the chapel. As a way of making rural property more affordable, it certainly has its merits. 'Showtime' is also fairly frivolous, at first at least, as a shy author faces the discomfort of having to be outgoing during the inevitable round of signings and other personal appearances. It takes an unusual twist, to say the least.

At the more serious end of the spectrum is 'The Dreaming', in which a sensitive man leaves a mainstream career to become a kind of psychic consultant, or modern shaman. He helps people at the cost of his own well-being, facing a world from which the beauty has been leached out. But there is at least a hint of some mystical escape at the end.

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

A VANISHED HAND by Clotilde Graves (Swan River Press 2021)

 

This handsome volume collects some of the weird tales of a remarkable woman who first enjoyed success in the theatre, only later moving on to become a short story writer and novelist. Clotilde 'Clo' Graves (1863-1932) was born in Cork but spent much of her working life in England. In her forties adopted the pen-name Richard Dehan and also followed the fashion of quite a few literary and artistic ladies by adopting male attire. For the last few years of her life she lived in retirement in a Middlesex convent. 

It's interesting to note that her first work for the stage was entitled Nitocris. The Egyptian queen who bumped off her enemies was also the anti-heroine of the first short story by another playwright, Tennesse Williams. And, before she gained a reputation for gothic and ghostly fiction, she had helped adapt Rider Haggard's She for the stage. Haggard may have been one of the major influences on her work.

The stories in this collection certainly include a few examples of what is termed 'Empire Gothic', accounts of British colonial doings that trigger strange and occult events. This is particularly true of 'The Mother of Turquoise', in which a British expedition finds a rich vein of the eponymous stone near a temple of the Egyptian goddess Hathor. The story developes into a lurid tale of human sacrifice and mystical shenanigans. A central figure, an aged African witch woman, is very similar to Gagool in King Solomon's Mines. 

'Bosworth Summit Pound' by L.T.C. Rolt

Invalid

I've been ill for over a week with a presumed virus that, according to several LFTs, is not Covid but certainly feels like it. Apparently, there is 'something going round'. Anyone wondering why I haven't posted anything in a while, that's why. I am on the mend but still mentally foggy and very tired.

Thursday, 7 April 2022

The Innocents (1961)

The first great ghost story movie made in my lifetime (sort of) is also arguably the best. 


Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw' is rightly considered a landmark in the genre, but it is also tricky to dramatise because relatively little happens - at least in the way of action. Much that is crucial occurs in the mind of the young governess, who is forced to confront some terrible truths about this world and the next. What's more, the constraints of his own artistic sensibility - not to mention the actual laws of the day - made it difficult for James to convey just how depraved the children in the story become under the paranormal influence of Peter Quint and his abused lover, Miss Jessel. 

And yet Jack Clayton's film manages to tackle all of these problems and emerge triumphantly - in just over 90 minutes there is never a dull moment and some scenes are intensely disturbing. This is in part due to excellent casting. Megs Jenkins as the housekeeper is - as always - wonderfully watchable. Deborah Kerr's governess is excellent, recalling the put-upon ladies of Victorian melodrama and reminding us that Henry James (like that other James, Montague Rhodes) admired Le Fanu. 


The script might have been a problem. The opening credits first mention John Mortimer for 'additional scenes and dialogue', then Truman Capote and William Archibald. That kind of thing often signals a troubled production, but here there are few signs of revision or general tinkering. The odd Americanism does creep in but that's about it. The script was based on Archibald's 1950 stage play - hence some additional bits and bobs. 

This is a film of the seen and unseen, heard and unheard. It is just barely possible that there are no ghosts and that Myles and Flora are simply lonely, troubled children. Their parents are dead, after all, and their only close relative (Michael Redgrave, as good as you'd expect) rejects them in all but a financial sense. But we can't disbelieve the governess, or at least not completely. This is a story in which belief in supernatural evil is actually more comforting than the alternative. 

It seems that major creative differences were the driving force for much of the film's ambiguous power. Clayton and Archibald differed on whether the governess was just imagining it all. Archibald took the traditional view and, to his credit, Clayton favouring a more Freudian interpretation didn't stop him from including a long, dream-like scene that hints at the opposite. 

At just over ninety minutes, The Innocents manages to deal with every aspect of the traditional, Victorian ghost story and still be a compelling 20th-century drama. It stands up remarkably well today. Indeed, there has been a modest revival in period Gothic lately. A good time to seek out the House of Bly if you don't know it, or return for a visit if you do. 





Tuesday, 22 March 2022

'The Cat Returns' by L.T.C. Rolt


One of several stories by Rolt that I read on my YouTube channel. Click through and you'll find the playlist! More to follow, probably. 

Thursday, 17 March 2022

The Count's Mochaccino?

 



Someone remarked that this cover - half of a drawing that covers both front and back of the mag - might be Dracula's cup at Starbucks. 

Once seen, it can't be unseen...

Sunday, 13 March 2022

Sales...

 


Some figures to give you some idea of how it goes - this is fairly typical when a new issue comes out. Sales tail off naturally after a few weeks of modest interest. But there's a steady 'background noise' of POD and e-zine purchases. Overall, I manage to break even, but it's not easy. 



Friday, 11 March 2022

Issue 49

I'm posting out copies to contributors now, then I will start on the subscribers. Print-on-demand copies should soon be available - check out the link above at 'Buy Supernatural Tales'.

I will get the e-zine sorted at Lulu and on Amazon over the next few days.

Sunday, 20 February 2022

Issue 49 Coming Soon!

I thought I'd list the contributors and throw in little samples from their stories, too.


“It’s a decent little engagement, what with the world situation.” That was how Gerald Stackpoole’s agent, the lugubrious Raymond Duck, had sold the summer season on Hemsby pier, back in March. “I admit, it’s not the Palladium, but it gives you a chance to feather the nest in case…” and he’d waved his hand vaguely, sketching the multiplicity of unknowns that 1939 might hold in store. And in that poky office four floors up on the Charing Cross Road, it had seemed like a sound enough strategy. In Hemsby, however, at the wrong end of August, Gerald had his doubts.
'The Woofle Dust' by Steve Duffy


To kick off, I’ll have to admit how much I loved to watch Gregory sitting so elegantly in his office chair, his slim legs crossed, that charming smile on his face, talking the good talk. It was easy to admire his fatal facility, the knack of being able to speak well on almost any subject, to entertain, inform or divert attention from an awkward question. It’s a skill I all too obviously lack. I’ve never had any charm or elegance myself. I’m good with facts and figures, that’s all, and I like to think I can recognise talent when I see it.
'All Talk' by Rosalie Parker


The rain had stopped by the time the tour had ended. Robert, the eldest of the siblings, surged ahead of the others and proceeded deeper into the carefully manicured gardens, evidently glad to be outside, despite the damp that still hung in the air and clung to everything like a second skin. His brother and sister squealed loudly and chased after him. An elderly couple admiring an intricate display of peonies moved out of the way just in time.
'Another One to Love Them' by David Buchan


I learned of Candler’s death and coming funeral by way of a small, black-bordered card that lacked both envelope and stamp. It fell free as I gathered up my post from the communal mat, and at first I took it for an advert for a taxi company, since they often leave such cards, but then I saw my name, and that of Candler, and read on.
'Candler's Ceremony' by Sam Hicks

Thursday, 3 February 2022

King Satyr by Ron Weighell (Sarob 2021) - Review Part 2

I paused in my reading of this fascinating book to make a note of this remark by one key character:

"When Hegel called Giordano Bruno 'Bacchantic' he didn't mean it as a compliment."

This is not a conventional horror novel. The speaker is Aridela, a beautiful woman who becomes the lover and 'perfect Priestess' of Cyrus. The latter's quest to discover the truth about the long-vanished artist Gaunt takes him into the realm of a group of wealthy cultists, to which Aridela belongs. At first, it seems he has found his spiritual home. This is despite the fact that Cyrus is working-class and lacks formal education. But then the actual Bacchantic ritual of the Pan worshippers takes place, and things become rather unpleasant. Weighell handles the transition from erudite table talk to extreme violence with consummate skill.

Cyrus, appalled by what he has seen, breaks up with Aridela and returns to the grim round of dead-end jobs and solitary questing after arcane truths. Eventually, this takes him to a seaside town where he attempts to question Westfall, a sick old man who knows something of ritual magic. At first, Westfall seems harmless enough, but Cyrus soon comes to realise that he has strayed into a very dangerous presence. He makes the mistake of being too flippant with Westfall and suffers for it. Without going into details, our hero narrowly avoids falling victim to a very well-realised supernatural menace.

Sunday, 30 January 2022

Archive 81 (Netflix 2022)

Netflix, to be fair, has something of a reputation when it comes to genre stuff. Those of us who love sci-fi and horror have come to regard the fanfare surrounding a new series or movie with great scepticism. Netflix has let us down too often with a great opener followed by a decline into rambling dullness or just plain idiocy. Fortunately, when the streaming guys get it right the results can be remarkable. Last year we had Midnight Mass. And 2022 kicked off with Archive 81, a very satisfying serial based on a hit podcast.



Archive 81 is intelligent horror that nods to Lovecraft, among others, with a tale that manages to combine elements of sci-fi, black magic, and conspiracy theory. It has a good cast, the performances are fine to excellent, and every episode is solidly entertaining. There is very little excess fat here, but the pace is relatively slow. It builds, in each episode, to a climactic revelation that takes us further down to the road to full-on craziness.

Sunday, 23 January 2022

KING SATYR by Ron Weighell (Sarob 2021) - Review Part 1

The last book by renowned author Ron Weighell had to be a major event. King Satyr is a novel - albeit a fairly short one - that includes major elements of autobiography, quite a few characters based on real people, and some excellent set-pieces. But we all know the unspoken (or sometimes spoken) question whenever a posthumous work by a much-loved writer appears. Does it disappoint? 


Saturday, 8 January 2022

EYES OF TERROR and other Dark Adventures by L.T. Meade (Swan River Press 2021)

This very handsome volume has lovely cover art by Brian Coldrick, which gives a pretty good idea of the content. Sinister veiled lady , hypodermic, whacking great snake, revolver, chap in a top hat! Might we be in the realms of weird Victorian fiction? Good Lord, yes. 


L.T. Meade was an Irish-born contemporary of H.G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and enjoyed comparable popularity in the 1890s, when she was one of the top writers for The Strand magazine. Her reputation has not lasted so well, though, in part because her brand of weird mystery/crime fiction straddles the marshy ground between Conan Doyle's 'pure' detective fiction and Wells' proto-sf.  As a result the stories in this book ofter read like uneasy hybrids. She was also extraordinarily prolific and her girls' school stories became immensely popular, throwing the rest of her work into the shade. It is better to succeed than to fail, of course, but spare a thought for the prolific and versatile writer whose best work is almost forgotten thanks to remarkable success in one narrow field.

Sunday, 2 January 2022

'The Fourth Presence' by S.A. Rennie

The final story in Terror Tales of the Scottish Lowlands takes us to St Andrews and its environs - and also the Antarctic. It's a fine example of a period piece, drawing on the long and noble tradition of polar horror, where the killer cold and weird light conspire to remove characters from anything resembling normality. Lovecraft handled it well, of course, as did Conan Doye, and Mary Shelley's anti-hero set off into polar realms to pursue his hapless creation. Then of course there is 'The Waste Land', which I think the title refers to, in which Eliot draws on the idea of an additional presence that haunted Shackleton and two of his comrades. Some have interpreted this fourth presence as a guardian angel...


S.A. Rennie's story begins with the funeral of a celebrated - and notorious - explorer, whose body is interred beneath a Scottish chapel. The brother of the deceased returns to the family home where his sister welcomes him and shares some disturbing information. Suffice to say that their dead brother left behind conventional scientific notions in favour of disturbing, mystical notions about the hollow earth and stranger things. This is a nice nod to Poe - both 'MS Found in a Bottle' with its 'hole at the pole' and the incomplete saga of Arthur Gordon Pym. The latter ends with a vast, white figure looming out of a blizzard.

As more troubling information is revealed, it becomes clear that the arrogant, hubristic explorer sought out and found something powerful and dangerous in the Antarctic. What's more, he seems to have somehow brought it back. Intense cold manifests itself in and around the family home, and the climax of the tale is a tour de force of old-school weirdness, just explicit enough to work on several levels. Editor Paul Finch picked the right story to end the volume, one that lingers in the mind with its vistas of snow-bound wastes and monstrous presences.

And that brings to an end my running review of this excellent paperback. Get over to Telos books - link above- and buy a copy! Not only will you get hours of reading pleasure from the fiction, Paul Finch has also provided excellent capsule accounts of Scottish folk tales and true-life horror as 'palate cleansers' between each story. 

CANDYMAN - 2021 Dir. Nia DaCosta

The original Candyman (1992) was based on 'The Forbidden', a story by British author Clive Barker. Writer-director Bernard Rose took...