Thursday, 16 November 2017

'Little Heart'



Georgia Bruce - a writer new to me - contributes a remarkable story to the Impostor Syndrome anthology It's not easy to summarise. The first sentence is 'This woman liked to break things', and the theme of things being broken, and the damage caused by the debris, runs through the tale.

Anna's mother was a famous film actress in black and white cinema days, and her most famous performance was in a rather Gothic production. Shown the film as a little girl Anna struggles to reconcile the on-screen woman - 'the wrong mother' - with the mother she knows. On screen her mother shatters glass, cuts her feet walking on the shards. This image is central to Anna's development as an artist, and what may be her eventually mental breakdown.

A thread of confusion and doubt runs through a precisely-written story that has intensely cinematic qualities. The power of the projected image, the curious nature of mirrors, and the incursions of a terrifying bird-like entity almost cry out for screen adaptation. And yet the exploration of Anna's inner life would be impossible off the page. The author's prose is cool, but like a piece of broken glass in the hand it draws blood.

And that almost completes this running review. One more story to go!


Monday, 13 November 2017

Cabaret Sadako

It had to happen. The by-now rather tired horror movie trope of the long-hair Asian girl creeping about the place and pouncing on people has moved into mainstream showbiz.
Riana’s gimmick is definitely a reference to The Ring’s Sadako and similarly scary female spirits, with her long hair falling in front of her face and schoolgirl-like outfit, while her doll calls to mind Annabelle from The Conjuring. Her ability to totally stay in character while still lending her trick a touch humor (and keeping it creepy) shows The Sacred Riana is quite a talented performer.

The Sacred Riana did not appear out of thin air on the set of Asia’s Got Talent. Her real name is Marie Antoinette Riana Graharani and she’s been performing in Indonesia, at magic shows and in numerous TV performances, for a few years now. 

Marie Antoinette? This just gets better.




Friday, 10 November 2017

'The Wrong House'

Tracey Fahey's contribution to Impostor Syndrome is compact and straightforward, but still manages a cruel twist.

A man becomes convinced that his wife, daughter, and home are all spurious - this is not the family he remembers, not the home he used to wake up to. He goes to work, feeling relieved when he escapes 'the wrong house' - but when he gets to work it seems that he is on extended leave. Confusion. A colleague's remarks hint at something wrong, and a medical appointment leads to a revelation that cannot be borne.

 I found 'The Wrong House' moving, a story that is humane and decent while avoiding any sentimentality. In a way it's a tale of everyday horror, the stuff of news reports that we barely notice most of the time. Here there is no malice, only the terrible weight of the truth that so many of us struggle to bear.

Only two more stories to go in this review. Remember to check out the link above for details about the book!

The Sound of Horror

What is the sound of horror? 'Ker-thunk!'? 'Eeek!'? 'Squelchy-squelchy!'? Possibly. But it is also a radio show down in Brighton and Hove, where Tom Johnston discusses the genre and introduces readings by Thana Niveau. But let the blurb for the show tell you more...
The Sound of Horror. Local writer Tom Johnstone discusses the importance of sound in horror, drawing from radio, film and music he will examine his favourite subject for Halloween. As an example of radio-based horror fiction, we'll hear an extract from Thana Niveau's terrifying short story 'Two Five Seven', about numbers stations. if listeners want to find out what happens in the remainder of 'Two Five Seven', they'll need to buy a copy of The Eleventh Black Book of Horror from Mortbury Press...& More info about the author at thananiveau.com
We'll also hear one of Tom's supernatural stories, 'The Apotheosis of Jenny Swallow'
More info at tomjohnstone.wordpress.com US editor Ellen Datlow has tipped him as a 'name to watch' in contemporary horror fiction.
Music from Scott Walker, David Bowie, John Carpenter, The Kinks, Grinderman and more. Listen and learn
First broadcast on Bhcr.org.uk
Some pretty good music, there, and of course the Carpenter movie themes create the ideal ambience. Great stuff. Follow the link to listen - if you dare!

You probably dare. I was just being a bit rhetorical.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

'Hold My Hand and I'll Take You There'

This story in Impostor Syndrome left me a tad puzzled. What is it about, and where does the imposture occur? Ralph Robert Moore's tale is a moving, clinically precise account of two lives that could, should, and perhaps did in some sense intersect. It is arguably a story about the What Ifs of life, and in this case love. The title, I think, is a clue. It's a beautiful song, but it is sung by star-crossed lovers parted by death. The story told here is (in its way) beautiful but death casts its shadow over all.

We begin with Noah, a small boy who gets seriously ill. As we're in America his parents have to pay vast sums for his leukaemia treatment, but it seems to be failing. Noah's illness drives his parents apart, adding to his suffering. Meanwhile a young woman called Audrey is suffering from increasingly severe mental illness, one that isolates and almost destroys her. But one day, undergoing yet another bout of treatment, Audrey sees a TV news item about Noah...

Does Noah survive, grow up to become a caring, strong person? Does he meet and marry Audrey? Is there marriage long, difficult, and yet the best - in its way - that either could have hoped for? Or is their life together a kind of hybrid fantasy of two people adrift on the wilder shores of reality? I've no idea, but it's a damn good piece of writing. I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually. Almost sure.

Approaching the end of the anthology! So far I have not disliked a single story. Will I get to the end of this running review with nothing serious to complain about? Watch this space, don't touch that dial, and so forth.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

'Other People's Dreams'



Stephen Bacon's story in Impostor Syndrome nods to Edgar Allan Poe, among other Gothicists, despite a thoroughly realistic setting and premise. The first-person narrator is the amnesiac survivor of a terrorist bombing in Nuremberg. Why Nuremberg? Well, in part because of Kaspar Hauser, whose mysterious appearance and equally mysterious and violent death continue to intrigue many.

The nameless survivor - who seems to be British but has no ID - is plagued by nightmares that he comes to believe are someone else's dreams. When he catches sight of a man who seems to be his double he develops a plan that will allow him to return to normality. This is a tricksy tale, in that I was left uncertain as to whether the supposed doppelganger ever existed. This is not a failing, for me, as unnerving confusion is a very acceptable horror ingredient.

I'm past the halfway point in this anthology and am well satisfied with the standard thus far. More to come soon.


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

The Similars (2015)

Imagine a horror movie so strange that it resists easy categorisation. Imagine a Mexican film set in 1968, in a bus station. Imagine a plot that defies logic but has a remorseless, dream-like coherence. Imagine me writing an entire review like this. But it's difficult to stop, because this slightly ropy Rod Serling-style intro is just what The Similars offers. Among other things.



The Similars is one of those films that I watch all the way through because I'm genuinely intrigued. What on earth, I ask myself, is going to happen next? Superficially it's a tale of sci-fi horror, as a group of disparate individuals end up in a bus station some distance from Mexico City in a torrential storm. The rain is so bad that it's made road travel impossible. This is bad news for Ulises, a man whose wife is giving birth in a city hospital. He can't get to her, and is understandably stressed out by the unhelpful attitude of the sleazy old station manager, Martin.

Martin spends more time reading girly mags than attending to his duties. There's another occupant of the station, a Native American woman who apparently can't speak Spanish but seems intent on conducting rituals and issuing warnings in her native tongue. She clearly Knows Something. Enter a pregnant woman, Irene, who is desperate to escape a violent relationship. In the washroom Irene encounters the other member of staff, the slightly barmy Roberta. Another arrival, medical student Alvaro, looks remarkably like a groovy Peter Sellers, which I probably found more amusing than I should have done. Alvaro is apparently on his way to a big anti-government protest.. Last come a sick child, Ignacio, and his mother Gertrudis. The continued absence of buses cause stress, then come radio announcements suggesting that the rain is not normal. It seems to be causing strange transformations in people exposed to it, unspecified but shocking...

I won't spoil it by telling you what happens. Suffice to say it's a genuinely weird tale, as if Rod Serling roughed out an episode of the X-Files in partnership with Philip K. Dick. Sci-fi, sort of, horror quite definitely, but arguably it's also supernatural too. And it's a retro piece, replete with Sixties fashions and attitudes, especially in the clashes between the student and authority figures. It also has a period look. Apparently writer-director Isaac Ezban wanted to make it a black and white film, but settled for washed-out colours. All in all, this is a major change from anyone's usual fare.

Image result for the similars

Saturday, 4 November 2017

'The Insider'

Continuing my running review of Impostor Syndrome we come to Neil Williamson's tale of psychological horror.

It strikes me that all of the stories thus far have been timely, in that they deal with ideas or themes that are in the air. Folk horror, identity theft, the contentious history of empire and colonisation. 'The Insider' is also bang up to date with its subject of a Twitter troll who appears to have stolen the identity of an amiable company guy who never seems to get the promotions he deserves. But things are, as they say, not quite what they seem.

This is a concise, economical tale that pulls no punches in its depiction of what's become known as toxic masculinity. We see the self-assessed 'nice guy' who bigoted online from both sides. It's implicit that the modern corporate environment, and by extension the world is creates, is a swamp of resentment, fear, and dishonesty. Within this, Williamson implies, only the dark side of our natures can flourish. The better angels of our natures get clobbered every time. Well, that's what I took away from it.

So, another good one. This anthology is looking like one of the best I've seen this year. I wouldn't be surprised if award nominations and Best Of... inclusions follow in its wake. More soon.

Friday, 3 November 2017

'What's Yours Is Mine'

Holly Ice's contribution to Impostor Syndrome is, in some respects, the most straightforward story so far. Sophie visits her mother who is suffering from early onset dementia. A friend of the family reveals a secret that's been  kept from Sophie since early childhood - she has an older sister, Isabelle. The scar on Sophie's arm was not from a cycling accident. Isabelle is confined to a hospital and her mother has been visiting her regularly for decades.

Understandably staggered by this revelation Sophie decides to go and meet Isabelle, only to encounter a woman who looks uncannily like her. Things then take a nightmarish twist, one that is arguably a little too predictable. However, the story's ending has a genuine modern Gothic feel, as Sophie discovers just how dangerous Isabelle is.

'What's Yours Is Mine' is a well-written tale of existential horror, suggesting - quite rightly - that even the most ordinary-seeming family can harbour strange secrets.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

'Who Is That On the Other Side of You?'


The third story in the Impostor Syndrome anthology is an ambitious tale by Timothy J. Jarvis. The title is taken from The Waste Land, which is apt given that the setting is (mostly) Antarctica. This is the white continent of Captain Scott and his great rival Amundsen. Scott and other members of his expedition feature in the narrative, albeit peripherally. 

The focus is on two unlikely anti-heroes who arrive in the Antarctic at the same time in pursuit of a portal into the hollow earth. The two men are uncannily similar despite being unrelated - doubles who seem like identical twins. Their adventures are strange, violent, at times disturbing. The world the author creates is that of the Gilded Age, the US after the Civil War when robber barons prevailed. The author throws in magic (with even a passing reference to Aleister Crowley), to create a rich stew of decadence and vaulting ambition.

The main problem with the story is that the quest at its heart either leads into the hollow earth, or it doesn't - both are bound to be anticlimactic to some degree. Sure enough, I felt that this one did not so much end as peter out, leaving lurid splashes of colour against a bleak, white background. An interesting failure by an ambitious writer, but a failure nonetheless.

This running review will continue in a day or two. Stay tuned, and so forth.