Friday, 20 October 2017

Halloween Movies - A Mixed Bag

Here are a few suggestions for viewing over the spooky season. I'll probably think of some more in due course. I'm like that.

CITY OF THE DEAD - aka HORROR HOTEL, a cheap and cheerful movie starring Christopher Lee. It sets out to create an atmosphere for witchiness, or witchitude, in a New England town in the post-war era. It succeeds, despite its tiny budget. Lee is excellent, of course, but the cast is rather good overall. Splendidly atmospheric.



GHOST STORY - as recommended to me by no lesser authority than award-winning author Steve Duffy. A starry adaptation of Peter Straub's novel, this is again an atmospheric small-town America story. Here the supernatural force is not something conjured up deliberately but created as an avenging force by wrongdoing of a very familiar kind. This theme plus excellent performance by the young Alice Krige makes it a far from simple tale of good v. evil.



CARNIVAL OF SOULS - cheap and cheerful amateur production, this is the sort of film Ed Wood thought he was making. The moment when the star emerges from the river (three hours after the car she's in goes under water, oo-er) is splendid. It hovers somewhere between B-movie and art-house.



STATIC - not everyone's cup of tea, I admit. This one offers a twist on the conventional ghost story and, for me, does it quite well. It is, on the face of it, a tale of a bickering couple who take in a strange woman who claims to be lost. But her story has holes, and her behaviour is disruptive and just plain odd. Who are the strange masked figures lurking around the house? Why can't the besieged couple get help to combat what appears to be a home invasion?



HALLOWEEN - well I could hardly ignore it. Any of John Carpenter's early figures are of course great fun, but this one is inevitable. And it is rather good, you know - far less conventional than you might think. The definitive slasher movie is not just a slasher movie. Also, Jamie Lee Curtis is allowed to be a warm, believable character - the definitive 'final girl'.



All the Rage




Thursday, 12 October 2017

The White Road


One of the great rarities of modern weird fiction is The White Road by Ron Weighell, It was published in 1997 by Ghost Story Press. Many enthusiasts have tried in vain to obtain a copy. And now Sarob Press is bringing out a new edition of the book! Details are on the Sarob blog here. This is a major event by any standard. The striking cover (see above) is by Nick Maloret,  and here's a hint of what is in store for the eager multitude.
This 384pp (approx) hardcover containing 24 stories and 2 novellas has been a massive undertaking by the author, the artist and by Sarob Press ... a true labour of love. The original stories have mostly only minor revisions/corrections etc and appear in the author’s preferred order ... and the overall feel and concept of this new volume is wholly different to the GSP edition.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories is a nice, on-the-nose title for a film, is it not? This particular British portmanteau film was adapted by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson from the hit stage show of the same name. There's a very good, detailed review here in the Guardian.
It’s not a film that wants to be subtle – and, as I say, its unsubtler flourishes and jump scares may have been more potent in the theatre, like outrageously startling but cleverly managed stage illusions. But there’s a tremendous atmosphere to this picture, a dream-like oddness and offness to everything. Nyman and Dyson have created a weird world of menace, despair and decay.

All good fun, then. And impressive that they've got hot property Martin Freeman as one of the leads. I look forward to this, as Jeremy Dyson is a huge fan of classic horror movies, as he explains here.
This was one genre in particular that we in this country seemed to do well. A disproportionate number of the finest examples of the supernatural horror film were British productions (although sometimes, as in the case of The Haunting and Night of the Demon, with American directors). This expertise accords with the written ghost story, many of whose finest exponents have been British, too. Maybe it’s something to do with our climate - fog and rain and long winter nights are effective stimulants to the fantastic imagination.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Readers Poll - Issue 35

Image result for victoryWell it's a triumph and a half for Andrew Alford, whose story 'A Russian Nesting Demon' ran away with the poll.

Congratulations to Andrew, who will be receiving the almost unimaginable sum of £25 British pounds as a prize. (I know, it's a puny sum really, but I can't help currency fluctuations.)

Thanks to everyone who voted, and commiserations with all the runners up. I was pleased to see that nobody failed to trouble to the poll-ometer. If you want to check out the issue and have not yet obtained a copy, well, you can do so here. And there are back issues, too. It's a veritable cornucopia of stuff.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Innkeepers (2011)


What makes a good ghost story on film? Setting, characters, central idea, basic plot - lots of things, in fact. The Innkeepers is an interesting example of a film that seems to have everything going for it, but somehow failed to win over this ghost story lover. Why? It just lacks clout.
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The setup is good. The Yankee Pedlar Inn (a real hotel in Torrington, Connecticut) is closing down because it's losing money. It's a quaint old place, allegedly haunted, and in its final days under the care of Luke and Claire. Luke (Pat Healy) is a classic pretentious dropout type who has set up a website cataloguing supposed paranormal events at the hotel. Claire (Sara Paxton) is young, perky, not quite sure what she's going to do with her life. When the film begins there are only a handful of guests and the innkeepers are planning a long weekend of ghost-hunting. They are seeking to contact the ghost of tragic Madeline O'Malley, who hanged herself after being jilted on her wedding night.

The setting looks good, the premise is fine, the lead actors are more than competent. Luke and Claire have a slightly spiky chemistry and - as the film goes on - it becomes clear that he has more than friendly feelings for her. During her night shift Claire has a series of strange experiences, including the old 'piano playing itself' gimmick. This is nicely done but nothing special. Conventional methods such as EVP recordings are used but not to any great effect. In fact we do not hear most of the really weird stuff, which seems an odd choice by writer-director Ti West.

The arrival of Leanne, a faded TV star (played by Kelly McGillis) who is now a spiritual healer, throws another ingredient into the mix. Luke is contemptuous of Leanne but Claire asks for her help. The resulting quasi-seance foreshadows later tragedy. Things move towards a climax, but not at any great pace or with much conviction. There are shocks, now and again, but most of the time there is a lack of energy, a sense that we've seen it all before. At times I felt The Innkeepers might be a tribute to old-school TV movies of the Seventies, which were low-budget and seldom high concept. West's The House of the Devil was, after all, a homage to early Eighties horror.

Without giving too much away, I was left thinking 'Is that it?' The Innkeepers is too thin for a feature film and might have worked better as an episode in a TV series. It also contains too many hackneyed ideas, especially the 'Oh I'll just go down into the spooky dark place for no good reason' moment. It is a film that promises a reasonable quantity of unpretentious chills and fails to deliver. It's a flat-footed attempt to do something old-fashioned well. It passes the time. It's not too bad.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace - A Forgotten Classic

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is available on demand for anyone willing to sign up to Channel 4. It's free! Rewatching these shows made me regret that there are so few of them, but accept that it's not easy to do horror comedy that's at once so entertaining and so knowing. If you don't know Darkplace, here's Marenghi himself, plus his all-star cast.



Matthew Holness, Matt Berry, Alice Lowe, and Richard Ayoade are rather brilliant. The guest stars are also great fun, especially Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. Each episode of Darkplace is dotted with cast interviews, in which the fascinating opinions of the creative team are shared. And Darkplace tackles some of the most vital issues of our time. I mean, cop a load of this from .



If this isn't enough to convince you that GMD is worth your while, listen to the author/actor himself read a sample of one of his bestsellers.



Now that's horror.




Friday, 29 September 2017

As They Grow Older: Running Review 4.


As they grow older - Cover revised.png


The next three stories in Stephen Cashmore's collection of children's stories all have a slightly familiar ring to me.

The innocuously-titled 'Teddies' has the familiar theme of children's toys that come to life. Oddly enough I always found this idea scary as a kid, and I'm pleased to say that the story has the right nightmarish feel.

'Wings' is an old-school framed narrative, in which granddad tells the sprog about something strange that happened on holiday many years ago. This one has a good menacing entity - a flying entity that attacks the family car in a manner that might be mistaken for a hailstorm. This one brought back memories of my own family holidays in Scotland.

Finally there is 'Doctor MacGregor', who lives on Witch Street next to the derelict old school There's a slight touch of Salem's Lot here, as local children fall victim to a mysterious disorder. Eventually the doctor realises that's going on, and a showdown is in order.

It's important to bear in mind that these are 'spooky stories to be read aloud'. This means brevity, and relative simplicity. Most effective ghost stories do work as spoken performances, and I think the tales in As They Grow Older have the authentic touch.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Borkchito!

The world has been waiting for...

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Of course, there are some seriously Lovecraftian overtones to this canine crime noir series.

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Borkchito has a Facebook page. Also Etsy.

I suppose an occult cat detective would be a tad counter-intuitive, what with cats generally being horror shorthand for Spooky Stuff Ahead. However, Robert Westall did write a cracking story about a vampiric entity being defeated by a brave cat - 'The Creatures in the House'. Just thought I'd include that for balance.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Psychic Vampire Repellent

Yes! It's that time of year again, when Hallowe'en looms and all things ghostly, ghoul-y, and moderately long-legged and beastly return from their summer holidays. Of course we are all terrified of being haunted, throttled, disembowelled, or otherwise messed up by creatures of darkness. So it's good to know that, for the smallest of fortunes, one can at least ward off one category of evil entities.



Yes, it's a bottle of squirty perfume that 'uses a combination of gem healing and deeply aromatic therapeutic oils, reported to banish bad vibes (and shield you from the people who may be causing them). Fans spray generously around their heads to safeguard their auras.'

You can find it on Gwyneth Patrow's Goop site. A snip at thirty US dollars, for which you get a 3.4 oz bottle.

Purchasers may be away with the fairies. (See previous post.)

Away With the Fairies

When I was young and just staring into space - probably imagining myself on a voyage to the Moon, or the Earth's core - grown-ups would remark that I was 'away with the fairies'. I don't know if people still say it nowadays, but the meaning is clear. Fairies, the Good Folk, the Little People, or whatever you call 'em, could enchant people. They might steal you bodily, or just nick your soul. But they were always out there, watching, waiting...


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Yes, you can spell it that way if you like. No, I'm not being all grumpy.

Fairies don't feature strongly in modern supernatural fiction for obvious reasons. The Victorian conception of the fairie-folk was twee and harmless. Shakespeare's Ariel and Puck were both powerful beings of a normal-ish size. But once supernatural beings get to be tiny and cute (sort of) any potential for unease is banished. Garden gnomes are scarier than 19th century fairies.


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Your basic Victorian fairies, here, escaping from a children's book to be photographed for the benefit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, before all those sentimental authors and artists got their hands on the Little People, they were a bit bigger and more menacing. Which beings me to something I was vaguely aware of before, but which popped up on Twitter today, as part of #folklorethursday. I refer to the legendary Fairy Flag of Clan MacLeod.
It’s not clear how the flag got into the MacLeods’ possession – either a gift from the fairies to an infant chieftain, a gift to a chief from a departing fairy-lover, or a reward for defeating an evil spirit. But the flag likely originated somewhere far away from Scotland, potentially even in the Middle East.



The story about gift from a lover underlines the point that old-time fairies must have been somewhat larger than, say, Tinkerbell. Another aspect of the legend is that the flag can be waved three times to summon magical help for the clan, but will then be borne away, along with the standard bearer. All evocative stuff. Makes you wonder...

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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Where They're From



Ibrahim Ineke, whose graphic novels on weird themes I reviewed here and here, has a short online piece here. 'Where They're From' is another strange story with a modern setting, but with a classic feel. An invalid is convinced that a portal to another reality exists. A friend agrees to go and investigate. What she finds is both surprising and oddly appropriate. Well worth a look - as I've mentioned before Ineke's work has a Seventies feel, which is right up my street.

Update: Sorry, failed to link to the story. Link fixed!

Good Omens

I haven't read all of the late Sir Terry Pratchett's books, but I've read quite a few of 'em. One of the best, for me, is Good Omens, his collaboration with Neil Gaiman. So it's good news that the BBC and Amazon have joined forces to produce a TV adaptation. What's more, it stars two of my favourite actor persons as a mismatched apocalypse-fighting team.

David Tennant and Michael Sheen as a rather odd couple...
'Confirmed to be joining Sheen and Tennant in the cast are Adria Arjona (Anathema Device), Nina Sosanya (Sister Mary Loquacious), Jack Whitehall (Newt), Michael McKean (Shadwell), Miranda Richardson (Madame Tracy), Ned Dennehy (Hastur) and Ariyon Bakare (Ligur).'
It looks good. Note that Hastur is in there, in a big shout-out to the deeply weird. If you don't know the book, now might be a good time to read it. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

I have a new book out! Or at least, it's available for pre-order in paperback and for Kindle.


"What's this one about, then, you sad old git?"

Glad you asked me, imaginary person! It's about a cathedral tower that by rights should have fallen down years ago, but which seems to be held up by necromantic means. Oh yes. This bit of ungodly folderol leads to all sorts of problems. Behind the curse stands (or hovers) a supernatural being with a Plan, which I will reveal in due course etc. Opposing the forces of evil are the usual motley band of Scooby-esque characters. Includes violent death, ghosts, scrying, psychometry, and all that sort of thing.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Ghosts & Scholars Bumper Bundlette!

I keep forgetting to mention the excellent Ghosts & Scholars M.R. James Newsletter (and website), perhaps because I assume that everyone who's into supernatural fiction must know about it already. But I may be wrong! So I will mention editor Ro Pardoe's excellent journal now. Not only is G&S #32 full of interesting stuff, as always, but it comes with a special booklet. Look, this me holding them up.





Yes, that pervy looking individual behind the booklets is me. Sorry. Yes, the cover on the left is quite something. Daniel McGahey illustrated his own story rather brilliantly.

The point is that 'Ting-a-Ling-a-Ling' is a splendid long story about automata that owes something to 'The Haunted Dolls' House' and 'The Diary of Mr. Poynter'. Now would be a rather good time to subscribe to G&S on the 'buy one, get one free' principle.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

As They Grow Older - Running Review 3.

Moving on with Stephen Cashmore's collection of children's ghost stories we come to 'The House at the End of Witch Street'. This is one of a series of tales about strange doing in the eponymous thoroughfare, which is 'the longest street in town'. Lots of haunting potential, then. In this story a boy called Jonathon glimpses something in the window of the house and decides to investigate. The result is an encounter that gives the lad a bit of a fright, and leads to the house becoming vacant. There's a Ray Bradbury feel about this one, with a boy inhabiting a world of perilous imaginings he can't really share with the grown-up world.

The next story is 'Sunset'. Jenny and Bill stay at a beach house with their aunt and uncle. Jenny has a vision of an old woman with a dog who 'isn't really there'. Jenny investigates (this book is full of intrepid children who probe mysteries) and has a disturbing experience, but does not resolve the apparent haunting. However, the truth is revealed many years later in a clever twist ending.

'The Scariest Moment' was inspired, the author explains. by Hodgson's Carnacki story 'The Horse of the Invisible'. It also introduces the Spook, a teacher who tells seasonal ghostly tales. This one has a touch of Robert Westall about it, as a series of strange messages appear on a blackboard. Suspicion falls on a prankster called Billy. But when the teacher stays behind in his classroom at night something far more disturbing is revealed.

More if this review soon. And just a reminder that, if you buy a copy of As They Grow Older you'll be making a donation to a very worthy cause. See link above for details.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

'The English House'

The final story in Darkly Haunting came as a surprise to me. After Peter Holmans's take on Britain's murky past in 'No Surrender' I had expected D.P. Watt's story to be very different. And it is, to be fair, but it remains resolutely political.

'The English House' is set in the mid-21st century, decades after Brexit has caused the unravelling of the EU. The result is a bloody, Balkanised Europe, with a never-ending series of brush-fire wars killing off what remains of the continent's youth. An elderly English couple living in rural France become obsessed with 'La Maison Anglaise', a seemingly abandoned house near their own. Their daughter, when young, imagined the English House to be full of fascinating and fantastical residents. As the brutal reality of a collapsing culture becomes unendurable the discovery of the daughter's diary triggers a series of unusual events.

It is hard to classify this story, as it borrows both from science fiction and some of the classics of weird fiction. There's a distinct Blackwoodian feel to the treatment of the 'haunted' house. Above all, though, 'The English House' is about escapism, the way in which people whose lives have failed seek solace in the impossible. Or, put simply, I don't know what to make of it. Suffice to say that it's a remarkable tale, well up the author's usual standard.

And that ends this running review of Darkly Haunting. I hope you've found it informative, or at least vaguely helpful.

Monday, 4 September 2017

'No Surrender'

The fourth story in Darkly Haunting is by Peter Holman, who adopts a bleak and gritty approach suited to his subject matter. This is a story about Britain's Dirty War, the 'asymmetric' conflict in Northern Ireland (and elsewhere) that stretched from the early Seventies into the Nineties. Thousands died, many bodies are still missing, and a great deal of covert activity by the UK government's security agencies remains secret.

In 'No Surrender' (a very familiar phrase in Northern Irish politics, if you didn't know) a former British agent, Cowan, receives an unusual item in the post. It's a long-outdated passport for one of the missing, a young Catholic that Cowan and his colleagues pressured into becoming an informer. The logical explanation is that the Continuation IRA, or some related outfit, has tracked Cowan down in retirement and is going to kill him. But as the story unfolds it becomes clear that something stranger is happening.

This is a compelling story that combines elements of Le Carre and the traditional ghost story. The world of 'spooks' meets real ghosts, in other words. Cowan and his old friend Benson, who tries to provide reassurance, are convincing, rounded characters - men who have done questionable things but see themselves as patriots, decent blokes. As Cowan encounters more phantoms from his past we share his anxious, boxed-in feeling, and when Benson is drawn into the weird 'conspiracy' it feels right.

Fans of old-school ghost stories might not like this one so much as its predecessors, as it probes old wounds many of us have tried to forget. But it's a memorable story, as unrelenting as history itself. And that almost brings us to the end of the book, but I shall return soon with my view of one more tale.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

'The Black Dog of Zero'



The third story in the Sarob anthology Darkly Haunting is by the Welsh surrealist Rhys Hughes. It concerns Colin, who we meet in the pub with his mates, counting down to his twentieth birthday. Due to a mix-up Colin's friends go on to a club without him, and he can't find them. Yet they remain convinced that he was with them. What might this have to do with the black dog Colin encounters on his futile, drunken quest?

We move on to Colin's thirtieth, and this time thing seem set to go well. He is on a winter holiday with his girlfriend. But again a glimpse of a mysterious black dog coincides with confusion, loss, a sense of failure and betrayal. And so the pattern repeats itself as the protagonist reaches forty, and fifty, as the black dog of zero returns to blight Colin's landmark birthdays.

A black dog is an ambiguous creature in folklore, sometimes hostile, occasionally benevolent. Here the creature embodies the obsession anyone might feel as they close another decade having not achieved what they hoped to. Eventually, when he reaches sixty, Colin decides to wait for the dog with a loaded shotgun. But the confrontation does not go as one might expect. An enigmatic tale about growing old, then, and of a man haunted by the familiar 'What if...?'

That's all for now. More from this running review in due course. Just two more tales to go!

Medium (1985)



Image result for film polish medium 1985I stumbled across this Polish film on Amazon Prime and started to watch it. I then kept watching it until the end - my usual approach to films. Medium is pretty good, not least because it defies most of the expectations of a Western horror fan.

The story is set in Sopot in 1933. Sopot is, I have since learned, on the 'Polish riviera' and is part of a tri-city complex with Gdansk and Gdynia. It certainly makes a beautiful and fascinating setting. In 1933 it was part of East Prussia, and Hitler had just seized absolute power. The film leaves no doubt about this, with a regular diet of posters and Brownshirts.

A female medium and her astrologer brother are attempting to detect a rival psychic. All they know is that he is controlling a group of seemingly random individuals. A bearded man in a hat and trench-coat wakes up on a beach. A dapper man arriving by train seems to be in a trance. An attractive teacher abandons her pupils and goes to a museum to steal a red dress.

It's all very Eastern European  cinema, dear me yes. But interesting. And all the action revolves around a suitably spooky old house. This one, in fact.

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It emerges that the man on the beach is a boozy detective called Selin. His deputy, Krank, has gone full Nazi and is out to replace his boss. The local gauleiter needs substantial evidence for this, but Selin seems determined to provide it as he experiences a to of missing time. Selin and Krank slowly put some of the pieces together and link weird occurrences to Orwicz, the owner of an aquarium. Orwicz, as a small boy, witnessed the murder of his parents. He is apparently using his extraordinary powers to re-enact the crime. But why?

Suffice to say that Orwicz, who spends the entire movie in a diabetic coma, has come up with a truly remarkable plan. The film's climax includes sex, violence, more Nazis, and a not-entirely-satisfactory conclusion. I struggled to interpret the final scenes as some kind of metaphor, given the historical setting, but higher meaning eluded me. Suffice to say this film is absorbing, unconventional, and successfully merges horror with police procedural and art-house cinema. The acting and direction are first-rate. If you're a subtitle-capable person you should enjoy this one.




Wednesday, 30 August 2017

'Bluebells I'll Gather'



The second contribution to Darkly Haunting is by Colin Insole, a remarkable author whose approach is difficult to categorise. He is intensely realistic at times, yet his work is saturated with symbolism and dream imagery. He usually baffles me, but in a good way. Suffice to say that 'Bluebells I'll Gather' is one of his best yet.

The story begins with a striking prose-poem to Blitzed London, a 'city of the dead'. The very first line gives a precise date - Sunday, May 11th 1941. There is no Dad's Army muddling through here - the bleakness, the terrible inhumanity of war, are perfectly evoked. 'At times the city seemed like a corpse left too long in its shroud.' It is almost a relief when characters are introduced, yet the introduction has a strange richness.

The story's cast might have been culled from a Merchant Ivory film, but with a significant twist. Foremost is a doctor, working for the SOE and haunted by memories of the First World War and what preceded it. The doctor recalls an idyllic moment when he flirted with a young governess after he was bowled out in a village cricket match. The lord of the manor who presided over that event is still alive, but in reduced circumstances, all his sons killed in action. Then there is a stern matron dealing with bomb victims, some of whom experience strange reveries during weeks or months of unconsciousness.

Where is the ghost here? Who is still alive? Or is the entire world one of phantoms? I think I grasped the thrust of the plot, but more importantly I shared the author's artistic vision. There is a painterly quality to Insole's work that almost - but not quite - defies conventional narrative.

And on that thought, I will leave this running review for now. More to come soon.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

As They Grow Older - Running Review 2.


As they grow older - Cover revised.png

Stephen Cashmore's first collection of Halloween and Christmas ghost stories consists of tales written for his children over a long period of time. Its only natural that they grow gradually more complex and somewhat darker over time. It's also useful to have short introductions by the author explaining the circumstances leading to each story. That said, as they were written to be read aloud these stories all have a refreshing directness in common. No stylistic trickery or fancy long words here.

Thus with 'Wheelybins' it was, in part, the introduction of the now-familiar garbage disposal containers. Back in the Nineties they were rather novel, I recall, and replaced the old-school cylindrical dustbin, now as dead as the dodo. The wheelybins in this tale have minds of their own and a little girl thinks it wise to befriend them, as they are quite able to deal with troublemakers.

Next up is 'Halloween Stories' is a story about people telling stories, which is a story of a fairly familiar type. It works well as each member of the family gathered round the fire tries to outdo the others with a spooky tale. The final story-within-the story is a compelling one, and overall this works nicely.

Third up today is 'Trouble With Gus', a doggy tale. This takes us into the realms of family holidays in an old car, and the odd habits of Gus, the amiable pooch. Gus becomes a bit peculiar when the family get a new car, though, and this leads to the unravelling of a mystery. Dad figures out what's going on and manages to exorcise (in a way) a spectral presence. There's even a slight Jamesian touch in the finale on a beach.

More from this enjoyable read later!

Monday, 28 August 2017

Cartulary Fun in a Monty Kind of Way

The Department of Manuscripts Students’ Room in the British Museum (photo from the departmental archives).



Talking of M.R. James (and who isn't, I'd like to know?) here is an excellent blog item on the inspiration behind one of his stories. 'Casting the Runes' sees the hapless victim of sorcery handed a paper in the British Museum's reading room. The Museum was so pleased with the tale that it bought the MS in 1936.

In the item you can take a look at the document - a cartulary, i.e. a collection of medieval charters - that poor Alfred Dunning is studying.

Darkly Haunting - 'Early Stages'



Over at Sarob Press we find an anthology of new stories by leading authors in the field of weird/ghostly fiction. I have received a review copy and will proceed with the usual running review over the next week or two. There are five long-ish stories, here, so there's plenty to get my yellowed, broken teeth into.

(Yes, I know that means I'm reading two books at once. I have done this before, it's not as hard as some believe.)

First, the cover - see left. It's another excellent dust jacket by Paul Lowe, complete with archetypal haunted house and a cat with glowing eyes. It's clearly intended to evoke the ghost story tradition, which is a pretty broad one, ranging as it does from Le Fanu to Hammer Productions, and from the Romantic poets to Nigel Kneale.

The first story is 'Early Stages' by James Doig. This is a solid, M.R. Jamesian tale of scholarly types biting off more than they can chew. It's also a multi-layered story in which the narrator sets off to deliver a lecture in the provinces on early English theatre. This is a fascinating subject, and Doig gives a good overview of ideas concerning the evolution of ritual into drama.

The story moves from poorly-attended lectures to a country estate with a strange folly in the grounds. A BBC radio producer plans to use the excellent acoustics in the odd temple for recordings. Things go badly wrong. Efforts to understand the nature of the problem lead to further revelations. Does English drama have its roots in something distinctly un-Christian? Here Doig uses a device familiar to horror movie fans, and the story - much to my delight - melds Jamesian and Lovecraftian elements. We end as we began in ambiguity, but with the suggestion that unwise decisions have moved us closer to some final, catastrophic, discovery.

All in all, 'Early Stages' is a great start. I'l

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Reader Poll Hots Up! Shots Not Fired, Bribes Not Offered, Some Tea Consumed


I'm especially peeved about the absence of bribes. You'd think the Masons, ZOG, Bilberberg, Soros, Atlanteans at the Earth's Core, and of course the New World Order would want to manipulate the outcome of an obscure poll on ghost stories. But no. Apparently they're too busy covering up the fact that the Earth is flat. (The Atlanteans seem especially keen on that one, for some reason.) So we just have to continue with actual democracy.


Supernatural Tales 35Over to the right and up a bit you'll see that, while Andrew Alford's story about an extremely gammy leg is still in the lead, Mat Joiner's tale of library-based weirdness is coming up on the inside. And nobody has failed to garner any votes, which is a relief.

Will one of the current peloton (if that's the word) make a break? Will Mat overtake Andrew? Or will Andrew scoop the almost unimaginable fortune of £25 - that's about 25 Euros, or $25.

So, if you haven't voted, please do! You can vote for more than one story, y'know. And if you haven't read issue 35...

Words fail me. They really do. I thought we were pals 'n' that.

Friday, 25 August 2017

The Watcher in the Woods

Disney movies used to be a bit scary, a bit action-y, a bit Out There. It's arguable that the House of Mouse lost its way after Walt's cerebral cortex (allegedly) went into liquid nitrogen storage. For whatever reason the late Sixties saw the Disney Corporation start to experiment with live action movies that tackled more adult matter. Nothing too sexy or violent, of course, but still. There was sci-fi such as Return to Witch Mountain, Vernian adventure in Island at the Top of the World, and your actual horror in The Watcher in the Woods (1980). I mean horror in the sense that any kid watching it (like me) was bound to be a bit scared.



The film has an excellent cast - as well as Bette Davis there's the excellent Scottish actor Ian Bannen. The main problem with the movie is that it can never quite decide if it's going to be supernatural or sci-fi, and as a result the ending seems a little botched. The movie also seems to have signalled the end of Disney's experiment with more grown-up family fare. But now there's a remake on the way.



I await the new version with interest. It's notable that in both cases the British setting is deemed to give a touch of class to the ominous Gothic tone. Quite an old-fashioned concept, and an odd one to me, as Poe, Hawthorne, and Bierce are at the heart of a strong US Gothic tradition. But, hey, Limeyland is kind of exotic, I guess.


As They Grow Older - Running Review 1.

Stephen Cashmore, who for his sins a previous life proofreads ST, has written a collection of ghost stories for children. Jolly interesting they are, too, as examples of the genre - they were all written to be read aloud. I will review As They Grow Older in bits over the next few days. You can find the book here. It is illustrated - rather nicely - by S.J. Thiel and from each sale £1 goes to cancer research.

In his introduction Stephen explains that he began writing stories when his first three children were aged four to eight. By the time he finished they were sixteen to twenty, so the stories had to grow more mature over time.

Not surprisingly the first tale, 'The Toyman' is a simple spooky shocker. Written for Hallowe'en, it is a cautionary tale of children who leave their toys lying all over the place. Their parents warn them that this untidiness risks summoning the eponymous bogey. So they tidy up nicely for the first time ages. But did they miss something? Oh yes.

'Nearly Nine', the second story, is very short and amounts to a meditation on a child's imagination. It reminded me of my own childhood, particularly the way in which a wakeful boy's racing imagination can conjure up anything in the dark. And, in this case, it succeeds in spades.

'Christmas Wishes' falls into the broad class of gentler, Yuletide ghost stories - at least at first. Sarah writes a note to Santa with a typical list of wishes for presents. Then she becomes convinced that there is Something on the roof, and that it will reach down the chimney and grab Dad's hands as he puts the note on the fire. Of course, that's silly... But something even worse happens. There's a touch of 'The Monkey's Paw' about this one, as well as a heartwarming twist ending.

'The Grumpy Browns' takes us back to the Hallowe'en tale and the typical case of folk who do not like this 'trick or treat' malarkey. Mr and Mrs Brown devise a nasty little trick to scare children who have the temerity to knock on their door. But what is supposed to be a fake haunting backfires in a story with a whiff of early Ray Bradbury about it.

And that's the first batch from this new review. Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Preacher - Sex, Violence, Religion

Well, that was not at all surprising. The very entertaining supernatural drama series Preacher has annoyed the sort of people the writers were almost certainly trying to annoy. The annoyed are Trump supporting evangelical types, plus the Catholic Church. So we're probably looking at weapons-grade hypocrisy, right? Right.

Anyway, here's the cause of the furore.
(...) the show included a graphic sex scene depicting Jesus Christ having sex with a woman on the night of The Last Supper; though they're shown in various positions only in silhouette, there's a lot of pretty descriptive talk about what they're doing.
Hang on! Isn't this the 'Jesus had sex with Mary Magdalene' bit that made Dan Brown rich enough buy Tahiti if he feels like it? Yep, it's that Holy Blood and Holy Grail twaddle, again. The journalist who wrote the above probably hasn't seen the show, as it's clear that that 'woman' is Mary Magdalene.
The episode also saw Custer meet Jesus' 25th great-grandson, Humperdido, who promptly responded by peeing all over his face, with the Grail's attempts to keep Jesus' bloodline pure having unfortunately resulted in severe inbreeding.
It's actually 'Humperdo', if it matters. And I'm not sure why the Jesus bloodline would be inbred - is he a Hapsburg? It's a bit overdone,that twist, very cartoonish. But Preacher is based on comic books, and part of its appeal (to me, among many others) is its graphic excess. If you don't like it, don't watch it.

And there's another thing. In the same episode both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury appear. They are revealed to be idiots. The whole show is about a search for God, you see, because He has gone missing. He was last spotted in New Orleans. Instead of having vaguely rational ideas about what had happened, both primates indulge in absurd conspiracy theories. The subtext is that religions ARE absurd conspiracy theories. Which seems fair enough.

If you don't know Preacher, it airs on Amazon Prime in the UK. While it's an American series it's fronted by a power trio of British and Irish stars - Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, and Joseph Gilgun. There's also an amazing supporting cast ranging from Pip Torrens as a hilariously deadpan Grail conspirator to Noah Taylor as Hitler. Why Hitler? Well, there's a subplot set in Hell involving a character with a face like an arse. Enough said.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

'The Last Bus Home'

The last story in Cold Iron is a traditional tale - Andrea Stephenson conjures up an example of the 'Alas! Poor ghost!' school. In this case a young woman with no money boards a night bus and persuades the driver to give her a lift. She has of course disappeared by the time they reach her stop. This happens several times, but there's a twist. One night the driver gives a colleague a lift home, and he also sees the phantom passenger. The story behind the haunting is told - but there is no solution offered, not really. A ghost of this sort cannot be dealt with, the author points out. Just avoided.

And that brings my running review to an and. I greatly enjoyed Cold Iron: Ghost Stories from the 21st Century. Well done to the contributors, and of course to the editors, Peter Mortimer and Eileen Jones.

Horror Movie Daycare

Friday, 18 August 2017

'The Follow Up'

Tom Johnstone is an excellent writer, so it's not surprising that his contribution to Cold Iron is quality stuff. It's a good example of the rural ghost story, albeit translated to the modern urban context of 'the bloke from the council' who mows grass. The mowing is done with a large ride-on machine, and Johnstone neatly sums up the pleasures and pitfalls of the job. It's another present tense, first-person narrative, and the tale has the limber energy of that approach when it's used properly.

As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the protagonist has tried to put something behind him - a nasty accident that he might have avoided. What returns to haunt him is a subtle, economically-described ghost (or ghosts) that is not overtly threatening. But by the time the story ends it is clear that the 'whispering grass' around the narrator harbours more than unhappy memories.

Just one more story to go! Hope you're enjoying this running review, if not at least it's nearly done.

Vote!

Over to the right (and possibly up a bit) you will notice the readers' poll for best story of issue 35. It seems that Andrew Alford's quirky little tale of 'A Russian Nesting Demon' is running away with the contest. But we still have many weeks to go before voting ends. And remember, you can vote for more than one story. So use your ballot wisely, and vote!*

And now, a kitten on the internet.

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*Preferably after reading the magazine, because that's where the actual stories are

Books for sale!

Advertising old books for sale. As Cole Porter so memorably didn't write, but that's showbiz.

I am offering discerning readers three Ghost Story Press volumes in what I consider good (or possibly very good) condition. And yes, I do need the money, but freeing up some space is also a factor.

Links below take you to Goodreads with pics etc. More Googling will of course give you some idea of their approximate value. If you want to see any or all of these books on approval I will gladly send them to someone I know and trust. If I don't know you and nobody I trust can vouch for you, sorry, nothing personal.

Master of Fallen Years by Vincent O'Sullivan

The Death Mask by H.D. Everett

Little Red Shoes by Dermot Chesson Spence

30844160The Death Mask: And Other Ghosts3797189

I accept PayPal or UK cheques, if anyone is interested in making me an offer.

Event Horizon (1997)

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I have loved science fiction since I was a tiny lad in the Space Age Sixties, but of course I don't write about it here. Until now. Last night I watched Event Horizon again, after many years. And yes, it does qualify as supernatural horror in space.

If you know the story, skip this bit and go on to the next nice picture. The time is The Space Future. A team of space salvage experts led by Lawrence Fishburn are assigned an unusual task - recover the huge, experimental starship Event Horizon. As always happens in these scenarios the close-knit team (which includes Joely Richardson, and Sean Pertwee in a Space Woolly Hat) are forced to accept an Outside Expert. Enter Doctor Weir, played by Sam Neill. Yes, we're talking quality thespian stuff, here.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

'In the Blink of an Eye'


Cold Iron: 21st Century Ghost Stories

We're nearing the end of Cold Iron: Ghost Stories from the 21st Century, and it's been quite a journey. The stories have ranged from okay to excellent, with the weighting very much toward the latter. So I'm happy to report that Beda Higgins tale maintains the high standard.

The story begins in one of our beleaguered NHS hospitals where a tired nurse makes a serious mistake. A boy dies. Is Jo to blame? She tries to forget the incident when she jets off to Buenos Aires to meet her boyfriend. As you might imagine, this is a tale of supernatural vengeance and/or justice.

The Argentine capital - home of Borges, of course - provides a suitably strange backdrop as doom zeroes in on Jo. She starts seeing images of death, which her boyfriend does not notice. Eventually they end up in a cemetery that is also a major tourist attraction. The final scene - involving a pic taken with a phone - is a little masterclass in how to make a modern ghost story work like a classic.

More from this running review soon. Nearly there!

Escape from Broadmoor (1948)

Here's an old film in which a young John Le Mesurier plays a violent psychopath. I think we can all guess the nature of the 'twist' quite early on, but it's still an enjoyable little watch.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Good Omens

I miss Terry Pratchett. I always miss people who make the world seem a more interesting and civilised place. God knows we've got a global surplus of the other kind of folk. So I was pleased to read that TP's collaboration with Neil Gaiman, the novel Good Omens, is coming to a screen near me.
The late Terry Pratchett would have been “over the moon” at the “dream” casting of David Tennant as the demon Crowley in the forthcoming adaptation of Good Omens, according to the Discworld author’s long-time assistant Rob Wilkins. 
Variety reported that Michael Sheen will play the angel Aziraphale, and Tennant will take on the role of Crowley, in Amazon Studios’ six-episode adaptation next year. Co-authored by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, the 1990 fantasy bestseller Good Omens tells of Crowley and Aziraphale’s attempts to prevent the apocalypse, following the birth of the antichrist, Adam, in Lower Tadfield, Oxfordshire.

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'Ghosted'

It's inevitable that a self-consciously 21st century collection of ghost stories would include a tale about social media. Fortunately for me (and you, if you buy it) Cold Iron has one of the best examples of this sub-genre I've read.

Matt Wesolowski's story is written in the first person, present tense, and concerns a man who has had a bad breakup. Being 'ghosted', he helpfully explains, is being consigned to oblivion on Facebook, Instagram etc. Someone just stops responding to your messages - you have become invisible, or 'dead to them'.

The story features a nightmarish curry night with the lads, in which our hero is asked about his new partner. Drunkenness, confusion, and the inability to get a response to posts, messages etc all collide in a series of powerful images. Modernistic techniques are used to good effect. Finally all is made clear.

Traditionalists may not like this one. I liked it a lot. It combines deep feeling with excellent grasp of form and style. Another author to look out for.



Sunday, 13 August 2017

She (1935)

I may have mentioned this before, but the Merian C. Cooper version of Rider Haggard's She is well worth a look. It is wonderfully bonkers. Check this out.



Yes, you heard/saw right. Firstly, Nigel Bruce is in it as Horace Holly, the scientist/mentor of Leo Vincey. Secondly, it is set in the Russian Arctic, not Africa. And thirdly, the sacred flame of Kor is radium shooting out of the earth.

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And that's just the start of the hijinks. The actual plot is not too different from that of the book, but it cops out a bit re: Leo's behaviour and his fate. The equivalent to the tragic Ustain in the book is a European orphan raised in a convent, of all things.

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Perhaps the best scene is a protracted, massively choreographed dance in the Hall of Kings, which probably features every single performer on RKO's list at the time. Tremendous stuff. Not quite supernatural, thanks to the radium stuff, but a worthy stab at a mystical, powerful, and more than slightly daft classic.

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Saturday, 12 August 2017

'The Light Left'


Cold Iron: 21st Century Ghost Stories

Jane Ayrie's story in Cold Iron is a distinctly un-cosy haunted house tale.

Ally and Bo move into a new home and have trouble with the electrical supply. Or at least, that's what they think at first. But it soon emerges that only bulbs, screens, and other devices that emit light are affected. The situation is complicated by the fact that Bo has had a few problems, and is insecure about her relationship with the confident ally. Left at home while her wife wins the bread, Bo becomes increasingly desperate and fearful. Impatient at first with Bo, Ally eventually realises that the house has more than dodgy wiring.

That this is a same-sex couple is a clever twist, as it places them in relative isolation among their neighbours. One nice old lady struggling to come to terms with modernity hints that the house is troubled, and the nature of the haunting is gradually unveiled. The climactic scene is extremely effective, with a classic bait-and-switch moment. The final passages hint that perhaps the effects of the haunting will linger.

So, another positive score! At the two-third mark (roughly) Cold Iron is shaping up into a really good read. More soon.

Friday, 11 August 2017

'The Lengthsman'

Charles Wilkinson is a regular contributor to many of the best weird/horror publications (ahem) so it's not surprising that his story in Cold Iron is a very good one. It demonstrates just how much freight the supposedly slight format of the traditional ghost story can carry.

'The Lengthsman' is a tale of class, childhood, superstition, and a lot of other things besides. Timothy is spending the summer vacation in Wales, where he's made friends with local boy Rhodri. The chasm between them - Timothy will soon be returning to a boarding school - is bridged by real friendship. But the other village boys are not so keen on their posh English visitor, and Timothy is an obvious target for bullying. Rhodri rescues his friend from young thugs - but other threats are less easily dealt with.

Rhodri's grandfather was a collector of folk tales. Timothy's father is casually dismissive of the way Rhodri passes many Welsh stories on to his son. But the Lengthsman (a figure not unlike the famous Slender Man) is very real to Timothy. The final revelation, when father is about to drop son off at school, is precisely balanced between the real and the surreal. This one should be reprinted in a 'best of' anthology, I feel. It certainly bears rereading.

More from this running/staggering/crawling review soon!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

'Appropriation'

The next story in Cold Iron is by Michael James Parker, and is a tale of a Haunted Object. Or in this case, two objects - hair sandals. Apparently it was once customary for Chinese widows to weave slippers of their hair as a mark of mourning. I had no idea this happened and am now fascinated by the concept. But of course, in the story a rather smug Western person obtains the sandals and proposes to flog them for a ton of cash.

This is familiar territory to ghost story fans. M.R. James did it well in 'The Haunted Dolls' House', for instance, but we can all think of half a dozen good examples. 'Appropriation' works well as an example of the tradition, not least when the ghost itself appears. Again, the description of the being is very M.R. James, complete with flaps of skin, patches of decay, a few hairs streaked over a dead scalp.

This is arguably the most effective horror story in  the book so far, with the ghost-as-monster that deals harshly with shallow, greedy folk. Cultural appropriation is of course a big, complex issue. But here the author manages to encapsulate the anger it arouses in fictional form. Good stuff. More of this review soon.

'A Trick of the Light'

In Cold Iron we find much that is traditional, familiar, perhaps even hackneyed. This is inevitable with a ghost story anthology, even if you recruit the best talent. The term 'ghost story' is bound to be interpreted narrowly (as 'a dead person turning up and acting a lot like a living person') by some. But so far Cold Iron has avoided this trap more often than not.

Thus in Andrew Jones' story of a half-glimpsed form in a country house, we know it's a ghost. That's a given. But who is it a ghost of and what does it want, signify, or portend? It's a very short tale, almost a prose-poem on loss, and the endurance of memory. The ghost is 'real' in the way that the narrator's memories of their father are real. The old man is dead and the house where they lived is now in the hands of strangers. But the lady still stands there, just visible, looking on.

Another good one, this. Another author worth seeking out. I am learning a lot about contemporary writers from this book. More of this running/stumbling review soon!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

'The Installation'

After a brief interlude in Oxford, city of dreaming spires (and Inspector Morse pubs, and places used in Harry Potter films), I have returned to continue my running review of Cold Iron. I must say Oxford is a lovely place, chock-full of culture and stuff, and absolutely heaving with tourists during the day. At night in summer the city is almost deserted - astonishingly few people in the pubs, such as the Lamb and Flag, where C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien

"Get on with it, Lewis! I'm off to be rude to a woman and then sit in my Jag listening to Mozart!"

"But sir...!"

'The Installation' by Noreen Rees offers some moderately light relief from the bleaker fare in the first half of the book. A man whose life is falling apart after his girlfriend leaves him is visited by a TV technician. The visitor incorrectly names the protagonist as Mister Lovecat, but since the bloke hasn't got a telly package he plays along. Eventually he gets the gadget to work and watches 'an old episodes of The Sopranos'.

Sam, the installer, returns to offer some tech support. He heals the rift in the life of 'Lovecat', and of course there is a twist ending that is fairly predictable. But as vignettes go this one works well. It is not quite 'Alas! Poor ghost', but in that ballpark.

From the Dark (2014)


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We've seen a fair number of Irish horror movies this century, perhaps in part due to the development of Ireland's 'Celtic Tiger' economy around 2000. Whatever the reason, I've enjoyed some of these productions a lot. Wake Wood (2009) and Grabbers (2012) are both, in their different ways, homages to classic horror plots. Last night I watched another Irish horror/thriller that falls into a well-established category, and enjoyed it in moderation. 
From the Dark is the tale of Mark and Sarah, a young couple on holiday in County Offaly. Predictably enough they get lost and then their car breaks down on a country road. What will they encounter? An isolated community conducting a weird pagan ritual, while brandishing sharp implements? An inbred family of cannibals, brandishing sharp implements? Well, no, this one is about a monster of distinctly supernatural qualities, and its sharp implements are its teeth.


We know what's going on, more or less, thanks to an opening scene featuring a lone peat cutter. The old farmer unearths a bog-body, which would be lovely for archaeology. Unfortunately the simple countryman firstly pulls a stake from the body, which is asking for trouble. Sure enough, by the time Mark plods his way to the farm looking for help the old man is far gone. He has been bitten by something between Nosferatu and a CHUD - a being that happens to be allergic to light.

Sarah and Mark find themselves in the farmhouse where most of the lights have been smashed. They have to produce enough light to keep the creature at bay until dawn. Unfortunately Mark is badly mangled and Sarah has to person up. In the role Niamh Algar gives it full throttle as a kind of Final Girl (who also happens to be the Only Girl, it's a low-budget film). The scenes in which Sarah has to produce light by any means and is reduced to relying on an almost-empty box of matches are very effective. Eventually, as we know she will, Sarah defeats the beast. But not before she has suffered at least one terrible defeat.

This one passes the time, but is a little over-long for its premise. As an episode of a series it might have been brilliant. As a film it does inevitably seem a little cheap and uninspired. But visually it works well most of the time, and a creature that is only ever glimpsed, always in shadow and often out of focus, is always fun.

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Thursday, 3 August 2017

'Dulce et Decorum'

Christine D. Goodwin's contribution to Cold Iron is a modern morality fable. The title is a hefty clue as to what historical period intersects with the present.

Wayne and Shaun are two bad lads from dodgy backgrounds who decide to have some fun in a graveyard at night. Wayne is the badder of the two, with Shaun the 'soft as shite' sidekick who does not approve of cruelty to animals. Under the influence of drink and drugs Wayne goes berserk and starts smashing up the graves while Shaun tries to talk him down. Needless to say, Wayne falls foul of resident spirits - but his fate is unusual, and well-described.

The thrust of the story is that the past is never gone, thought it might be forgotten. Overgrown graves are a powerful metaphor for the way the harsher and more significant parts of history can be lost - or mislaid - by the thoughtless and shallow. It's a punchy tale, marred by an overly-predictable ending that is a bit too tidy.

More about this enjoyable anthology soon.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

DUST

So, here's a creepy little tale featuring Alan 'Snape' Rickman and Jodie 'The Doctor' Whittaker.

Worlds of Wells

What is this mysterious envelope? Why, it is only another slender pamphlet of verse from Cardinal Cox, erstwhile Poet Laureate of Peterborough. Oh, and he just happens to be focusing on my favourite of all time...


Yes, it's the Bertie Wells half-hour, or however long it takes you to read some poems. This is cracking little volumette, and I will now proceed to praise its contents. As usual, each short poem is accompanied by the Cardinal's thoughts on related matters.


Tuesday, 1 August 2017

'Sunday Lunch'

Jenny Cozens' contribution to Cold Iron looks at a different aspect of paranormal investigation. It features that stock situation beloved of horror movie writers: "Let's hold a seance!" It takes still to make this setup feel fresh, and I think the author manages it in a handful of pages.

In this case Mary, a widow, is secretly keen to get a message from her late husband, Ron. She persuades her daughter Louise and her cynical husband John to try and communicate with the Other Side. The couple's young sons find it all great fun, especially when a message they understand is spelled out. It seems that John's mother has something she wants to say...

I liked this one, especially since so much is left unsaid and unexplained. Mary's quest for her particular truth has merely unearthed another. Will she try to reach Ron again? It seems likely, and it's equally likely that she will not like what he has to say.

More from this running review soon. Now that I'm about halfway through Cold Iron I'm finding it a rewarding collection. Given that it contains wholly original material, it's an impressive book.

Monday, 31 July 2017

'Playing in Their Own Time'

The best story I've read in Cold Iron is by Tracy Fahey. It uses a classic setup, the ghost story investigator who finds the subject of their TV show becomes all too personal. The setting, too, is familiar - the haunted castle. But these familiar ingredients are served up in near-perfect fashion.

The ghost hunter is presenter of an Irish show with none of the budget or glitz of its American counterpart. The story begins with a flashback to the protagonist's first visit to the castle, and the glimpse they get of a little girl in Victorian dress. A follow-up programme is proposed, and it transpires that now there are two little girls, playing 'in their own time'. There is also a chilling, perfect ending that is subtle, intelligent, and completely convincing.

I can't really say any more, except that Fahey is a writer I will watch out for in future. More of this running review soon!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

'The Undertaker's Boy'

I enjoyed Karen Turner's short, bittersweet contribution to Cold Iron. The story begins with one of the heftiest cliches in the business, though.

I'll say right at the outset, I don't believe in ghosts.

We all know that, in an anthology of ghost stories, there is only one way this can go. So why bother writing that as a first sentence? Oh well. The point is that Mr Barclay, the undertaker, gets a work experience kid from the local school. The boy, Adam, seems nice enough, but he soon puts his sensitive fingers to work by touching dead people. Then Adam tells Mr Barclay things that he couldn't possibly know about the dead. I particularly liked the environmentalist annoyed at being embalmed, as he wanted to decompose nice and quickly in his cardboard coffin.

The end of the story is as conventional as the beginning, but I was still pleasantly surprised by the twist. It works, which is what matters. And the author conveys a great deal of humane insight in a few pages. That counts for a lot, too.

So, another story down, but not out! More of this running review soon.

Friday, 28 July 2017

'How to be Invisible'

Chris Barnham's contribution to Cold Iron: Ghost Stories for the 21st Century  is a variation on the modern theme of social isolation. The protagonist makes a big mistake - the sort that involves an attractive work colleague at the office Christmas party. His wife finds out and he is forced to move into a manky flat and have limited contact with his young daughter.

So far, so conventional. What makes the story a supernatural tale, for me at least, is the way the character's shame-fuelled isolation slowly overwhelms him. He cannot bear to face old friends, is unable to go into work, eventually resorts to only going out at night or in the very early morning when the risk of a chance encounter is minimal.

This bleak, well-crafted tale ends with the recognition that the protagonist has essentially obliterated himself by destroying all the relationships that make him real. Writing in the third person present Barnham suits style to content very well - the immediacy of his anti-hero's plight comes across all too well.

This is the first story in the anthology that does not involve a conventional ghost, so much as a man whose only option is to become a ghost. As such it represents a definite shift in tone and approach, and is all the more welcome for that.

More of this running review soon!

Restore Faith in Democracy - Vote in the Best Story Poll!

Supernatural Tales 35Perhaps it should be titled 'Your Favourite Story', but what the heck. 

The point is that you can vote for the story you like best in the latest issue. Or - and this is a bit of a radical change - you can vote for more than one story! Oh yes, multiple answers are permitted if you really can't decide. 

The poll should be over to the top right. Let me know if it isn't working, you can't see it, or it insulted you or your family etc.