Tuesday 31 October 2023

'No Passage Landward' by Steve Duffy

Another modern story with that classic feel by one of the handful of writers who've been contributing to ST from the very first issue. Listen to it at night, in the dark, and enjoy. And don't have nightmares!

Monday 30 October 2023

'High Tide at Fang Rock' written and read by David Longhorn

Thought I'd include an obscure story of my own, with a nautical theme. Well, a lighthouse theme, anyway. Doctor Who fans will know that this is a homage to a classic Tom Baker-era story. 

Sunday 29 October 2023

'New Corner' by L T C Rolt

Another reading by yours truly. A tale that combines motor racing and folk horror, which must be a first - though of course, automotive ghost stories were nothing new in Rolt's day. As with the steam train, it only took a few years for radically new technology to be used in ghost stories. 

Saturday 28 October 2023

'Rats' by M.R. James

My reading of a classic. Hope you think it's up to the mark! I'm pretty sure MRJ didn't read his stories in a (slight?) North East accent but you never know! 

Friday 27 October 2023

'The Wynd' by Helen Grant

A modern story, now, but one with a few classic ingredients - not least, a mysterious church!

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Sadako & The Ring | The Origins & History of a Japanese Horror Phenomenon

Fascinating video about the background to the iconic ghost Sadako and why the various Ring-derived movies are all over the place.

Friday 20 October 2023

Obscure and Odd Movies for Halloween

I've watched a lot of films over the years and - inevitably - think some of them deserve to be better known. Here are a few of them, as reviewed or at least noted by me over the years:

Static - Todd Levin, 2012

A film that plays with some conventional ideas and does a fine job, for me at least. A couple having serious difficulties try to help a mysterious caller - an attractive young woman whose car has broken down. You think you know where this is going, especially when a home invasion begins. But then everything gets flipped. Some violence, here, but mostly this is a psychological/supernatural thriller.

Monday 16 October 2023

JUMP CUT by Helen Grant (2023)

I received a signed copy of this book from the author, whose short stories have been appearing in ST for a good while. Jump Cut concerns a young woman, Theda Garrick, who ventures to rural Scotland and encounters a very unpleasant old lady who is immensely wealthy and lives in a mansion. If that's not Gothic enough for you, Theda is a widow, still suffering after the sudden death of her beloved husband. 

Theda's name reflects her father's fascination with early cinema (Theda Bara being one of the sirens of the silent screen). Theda shares that fascination and jumps at the chance to interview Mary Arden, a 104-year-old British star of the pre-war years. Mary is the only surviving person involved in the making of a lost movie, The Simulacrum. She offers Theda exclusive interviews for a putative book. But it soon transpires that not only is Mary Arden as 24-carat monster, probing Theda's emotional wounds with callous enthusiasm; there is another presence in Garthside House that is even more unsettling than the faded star.

Saturday 14 October 2023

The Orphanage (El Orfanato) - A Children's Game

A film that I rewatch at least once a year because it's one of the best ghost stories of its kind. What kind? The kind that is, in a strange way, life-affirming. Belen Rueda is brilliant, the overall story is superb, the horror is not overdone or too tropey. I defy anyone not to shed a tear at the ending. This is a horror movie for people who might not be that keen on horror movies - another positive. 

I have more to say about it here

Friday 13 October 2023

The Changeling: 40 Years of Terror (Short Documentary)

Another great Halloween watch, which I recently enjoyed for the third or fourth time. A Watergate-era horror movie, in that it pivots on more than a mere haunting, but also looks squarely at the illegitimacy of wealth and power when it is underpinned by lies. And it usually is. 

I wrote about The Changeling here.

Wednesday 11 October 2023

Who's At The Door? - The Fog (1980)

The first of the films I always watch around Halloween. In each case I will use a clip that illustrates how somebody breaks a basic rule of horror. In this case, Don't Open the Door! (Though to be fair, the weather guy didn't know he was in a horror movie. A diploma in meteorology probably doesn't deal with that kind of thing.)

I have of course praised The Fog before, find my words here

Monday 9 October 2023

Spooky Viewing - Comedy Horror

There is a bewhiskered story of an old actor on his deathbed surrounded by relatives and friends. "Oh, this is so hard," said one onlooker. "Nah," said the thesp, "dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Horror comedy is especially hard because the tropes of horror - well-worn as they are - often provoke laughter when they are intended to shock or chill. Most horror comedy is tepid stuff, managing to achieve limited success in either genre. But sometimes they get it right. 

Lately, I watched a couple of horror comedies available on streaming that get it right. They're not perfect, but they work as entertainment and have very contrasting approaches. Let's begin with the 'nicer' one...

Freaky is a 2020 movie starring Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton and directed by Michael Landon, who also co-wrote with Michael Kennedy. The setup is typical small-town slasher stuff. The Butcher - played by Vaughn - is an immensely strong masked maniac with a big knife. He kills some Typical Dumb Kids at their parents house and then steals a really nice knife which turns out to be a mystical Aztec dagger. Then he attacks Millie (Newton). Instead of killing her, though, the dagger swaps their souls. Both wake up the next morning transposed(?). The Butcher, now perfectly disguised as a teen, sets out to explore possibilities. Millie, now played by Vaughn, tries to make people believe 'she' is not a serial killer. 

Yes, it's a horror version of Freaky Friday and very silly in many ways. But Vaughn's portrayal of a high school girl is a delight and Netwon handles well the task of being a suddenly hot girl who easily manipulates others into deadly situations. A scene involving an unpleasant woodwork teacher is especially gory but Butcher/Millie pretty much cuts a swathe through jocks, bitches, and other stereotypes. Meanwhile, Millie/Butcher manages to convince her friends that she is herself and a bit of Googling reveals they have 24 hours to do another stabbing or the swap is permanent. All in all, it's an upbeat, life-affirming kind of movie with massive bloodshed. 

Thursday 5 October 2023

Spooky Viewing - 3 AM

3 AM is a Malaysian Chinese horror series currently available to watch free on Rakuten Viki. It consists of five episodes all centered on an event/phenomenon at 3 in the morning - when all good boys and girls are tucked up in bed, of course. It explores some familiar horror tropes, including the old 'let's go camping in the forest of death and blood' that Eddie Izzard riffed on. But there's a lot here to enjoy, in part because of the special spin put on certain customs and beliefs.

Thus in episode one a young man on his very first day at work upsets an elevator ghost. Things rapidly spiral out of control, and it becomes clear that he really should have listened to his mum. It's ghost month, and she told him to show the dead some respect, whereas the young idiot stumbled over a shrine and caused maximum offence.

Other episodes concern a taxi driver who (we learn early on) kills people from supposedly benevolent motives and nastiness on social media. There is also the 'stupid kids go camping' story, which sticks to a very familiar template, albeit with a nice take on the bonkers cult of human sacrifice. 

The best story, though, for my money is episode three, in which a woman suffers a minor road accident and ends up in a hospital where he husband is a senior surgeon. A series of odd experiences are attributed to anxiety - she has not been taking her medication. If that sounds familiar, it is, but this one unfolds at a good pace and has a satisfying revenge motif. 

Also recommended, a South East Asian horror movie that spawned a Hollywood remake - Shutter. And I also touched upon Cambodian horror movies in this post.

Tuesday 3 October 2023

Spooky Viewing - Full Circle (1977)

Full Circle (US Title, The Haunting of Julia) was adapted from Peter Straub's 1975 novel Julia. The book was his first to deal with the supernatural. The story concerns Julia Lofting (Mia Farrow), an independently wealthy woman married to the cold and overbearing Magnus (Keir Dullea). The sudden and horrific death of the couple's nine-year-old daughter Kate (played by a young Sophie Ward) leads Julia to leave Magnus and acquire a large, old house of her own in London. This precipitates a series of events that culminate in a final, bleak revelation.

The film absolutely exudes Seventies Britishness, not least in the person of Tom Conti as Julia's friend Mark, an antique dealer with a classic footballer's haircut and flared jeans. Contie is just one of a dozen or so familiar faces who appear. Sometimes they are glimpsed in brief scenes - Peter Sallis as a concerned neighbour, Nigel Havers as a smarmy estate agent - but there are also some memorable cameos by the likes of Damaris Hayman (of Doctor Who 'The Daemons' fame) and Jill Bennet as Julia's manipulative sister-in-law.

The story follows the familiar detective story format, with the haunting established, questions about its purpose and the ghost's identity. Horror comes with a series of deaths as Julia peels back layers of mystery and deceit. There are some plot holes and ambiguities, but overall it works well. The slow pace was a problem at the time, with both critics and audiences, but I found it sufficiently engaging. It is not as good as Ghost Story, the better-known Straub adaptation, but it is far from a failure.

At the time of writing Full Circle is on Amazon Prime. And here are some other ghost stories I've talked about that feature mother-child relationships as their main plot drivers.

The Orphanage/El Orfanato

Dark Water

Monday 2 October 2023

Spooky Viewing - Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan

It's October and that means spookiness. I'm sorry, I don't make the rules. Spookiness prevails. But I thought I'd start with something a little unusual as I will, inevitably, trot out some old faithful suggestions for you to watch on or around Halloween. So, let's start with a TV show where an estate agent in a pink suit is a supernatural threat. 

Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is a Japanese TV mini-series with nice production values currently available via Amazon Prime. I was a bit puzzled by this because I stumbled upon it backwards, so to speak. I watched the feature-length spinoff Rohan at the Louvre and was intrigued. Then I jumped to the beginning of the series (there are three short seasons), to find out what the hell was going on with this weird bloke. 

The background is by no means simple. Kishibe is a fictional manga artist, or mangaka, created by the real and highly regarded mangaka Hirohiko Araki. Araki's series Jojo's Bizarre Adventure is a vast and hugely popular manga series in which Kishibe features. The live-action series sees Kishibe, played by Issey Takahashi, encounter a series of supernatural threats. It's not quite horror or fantasy but straddles the grey area between them to considerable effect. 

Kishibe has a superpower - he can literally read you like a book and rewrite you as well. This saves his butt in several adventures, but there is a clear expectation that he can't rely on this power - known as 'Heaven's Door' - all the time. The bizarre threats he faces are weird enough to entertain and sometimes are truly disturbing. This being Japan, you can never quite know what's going to happen because Hollywood horror rules don't apply. At one point, for instance, Kishibe is replaced by an evil entity because he enters a sacred tree and looks into a mirror. And some episodes are stranger than that. 

No idea why he dresses like this. Sometimes it's worse.

This is enjoyable viewing, not too demanding but quirky enough to keep you entertained. The plots involve ideas culled from Japanese folklore in some cases, though I'm not well-versed enough to be sure if all the tales have their roots in tradition. The first episode concerns an elite community - 'Millionaire Village' - where you can only gain entry by demonstrating perfect good manners. Mistakes in etiquette lead to terrible punishments. However, Kishibe bucks the system by defining good manners in a way that predates and transcends any code of behaviour.

Any downsides? Well, it must be said that Rohan Kishibe is a bit of a twerp. He supports my hypothesis that when a male writer creates a writer as a character, the result is invariably a dickhead of some kind. It's worth noting that women don't do this, but men seem to manage it every time. Kishibe is so absurdly pretentious that he becomes endearing, embodying every cliche about the writer who 'lives for his art'. At one point he acquires a dog. That's about the sum total of his emotional life. His long-suffering editor, Izumi (Marie Iitoyo), by contrast, is irrepressibly perky. 

So, that's my first spooky TV recommendation, with a spooky movie tacked on. Rohan at the Louvre coincided with an exhibition of Araki's work at the famous museum. (This gives you some idea of the global clout of manga.) The story concerns the blackest painting ever made, which - me being me - led me to start quoting the series Ripping Yarns. "Eee, that painting's really black our mam! Even the white bits are black!" Some aspects of British culture are stranger than anything you'll find in manga. 

More tea, Shinto vicar?

Sunday 1 October 2023

'Mujina' by Lafcadio Hearn

I've recorded a few stories from Hearn's book Of Ghosts and Goblins. You can find them on my YT site by clicking through the above. 

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...