Saturday, 16 December 2017

More Audio Spookery

Want some more weird and wonderful stuff to listen to in the run-up to Yuletide? Here are some readings of classic tales, beginning with E.F. Benson's story of dire doings in a quaint little place not unlike 'Tilling'. It's as if Miss Mapp had gone a bit feral.



Now for a bit of Walter de la Mare. This is a Sixties US radio adaptation of one of Walt's best-known stories, and I think it comes across well.



If you liked that, you'll probably like this. The Black Mass adapted an M.R. James story that, while nobody's absolute favourite, is enigmatic and interesting. What were they up to? And what happened on that final, fateful night?



A Canadian radio show, next - Nightfall, which ran from 1980-83. This is their adaptation of a classic tale of girl-on-girl vampirism, which in the early Seventies spawned several films featuring young women in anachronistic nighties.



Finally, we're back to Montyworld and a reading of 'Casting the Runes' by Michael Hordern.

'Backseat Driver'

'I stir the thick red generic alphabet spaghetti, all the while eyeing the rat poison looming tantalisingly within arms reach.'

Thus begins Nicky Peacock's contribution to Women in Horror Annual 2. This is a more playful work that the two preceding tales. It begins with a portrait of a dysfunctional marriage in which the wife is also acting as mother to an overgrown adolescent - a man obsessed with conspiracy theories and the like.

When we join her she resolves to leave him, taking her trusty old dog, and just driving off into the night. Unfortunately she strays off the highway onto a country road, where she finds a hit-and-run victim of a rather unusual kind. This is the first of a series of encounters that come straight from the realms of urban legend-based horror movies.

I found this one enjoyable enough, though - paradoxically, given the content - a bit bloodless. Running review continues, though I suspect I won't get finished until the New Year.


Wednesday, 13 December 2017

'Behind the Music'

The second story in the Women in Horror Annual 2 (see below) is by Madison McSweeney. It begins with a couple of cops discussing a badly injured woman who has fallen from a hotel balcony. The room in question belongs to a rock singer, Silas Oddside, and obvious conclusions are drawn. We then flashback to a young lady called Cherry who blags her way backstage at a rock concert to try and get jiggy with her favourite singer.

The story unfolds as the cops gradually discover just how strange Cherry's encounter with Oddside was. The revelation is foreshadowed, and it's quite neatly done, though I did wonder exactly how a career in rock music could be balanced with Oddside's unusual habits. Hey, it's only a story, right? A story set in 1987, as it happens. This was during the horror boom, and 'Behind the Music' does have an Eighties vibe - a time when the genre was shaking off some of its more cumbersome Gothic baggage, but also becoming more self-consciously trendy.

So, an okay story with some good moments, but nothing special. Stay tuned for more takes on WHA 2.

Women in Horror Annual 2 - Running Review

Yes, it's time for more of my so-called opinions on stories, in this case collected by Canadian editor C. Rachel Katz. Here is the blurbette about the book.
The Women in Horror Annual 2 is the second volume of an anthology of horror fiction and nonfiction written by women. WHA promotes and celebrates female voices in horror, and the stories and papers contained within represent a diverse group of writers, each with their own unique vision. Ranging from supernatural tales of horror to quotidian terror, and touching on themes of empowerment, insanity, and freedom, the stories herein run the gamut from melancholic to darkly humorous. As was the case with the first volume, WHA 2 is further proof that horror has something for everyone.
So, let's get started with the first story. 'Rumspringa' by Melissa Burkley presented me with a new word, right there in the title! I looked it up - 'Rumspringa, or “running around”, is the term used to describe the period of adolescence Amish experience starting at around age 16.' Lovely word.

In this story a girl called Constance is sent out into the world of the Outsiders for her Rumpringa. Equipped with strange modern clothes, an emergency whistle, and a credit card she leaves her insular community and ends up at a cheap hotel near a truck stop. There she befriends a hooker, enjoys junk food, and discovers the hard way that she can never really fit in with modern Americans. There are a lot of dangerous people out there. And other things.

Now, I've read a lot of horror and I did guess the twist to this one. That said, I enjoyed the way Constance comes to terms with her strange heritage in a story that has a whiff of The X-Files about it. So, a good start. More about WHA 2 very soon!

Women in Horror Annual 2 (WHA) by [Katz, C. Rachel]

Mark Gatiss reads E.F. Benson

Random House Audio has produced a nice audio collection of some of Benson's 'greatest hits' in the ghost story genre. Mark Gatiss does an excellent job of reading 'em. Need I say more? Oh all right then...


The stories in the collection are: 'The Bus Conductor', 'Negotium Perambulans', ''...And No Birds Sing'', 'Spinach', 'Mrs Amworth', 'In the Tube','The Room in the Tower', 'Caterpillars', and 'The Man Who Went Too Far'. I would have preferred 'How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery' to 'Spinach', which is lightweight stuff, but perhaps the former was a bit too long?

Gatiss, a fan of the Mapp and Lucia books, adopts a relatively light touch with the characters and settings here, emphasising the pleasant rural atmosphere in 'Mrs Amworth'. In 'Spinach', a comic tale', he has fun with the slightly preposterous society psychics. The climactic moments of genuine horror are well delivered, though. Overall it's a very relaxing listen at bedtime. Unless you're the sort of person who can't sleep after hearing about someone attacked by a giant spectral slug.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Don't forget to vote!

Supernatural Tales 36Fans of ST, if you've read the latest issue - which you can order here, along with back issues - why not give your verdict on  which story is best? The poll is over to the right, top of the page. It's easy - just point and click in a mousey fashion. You can pick more than one if you can't settle on a clear favourite.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

'Narrative of the Ghost of a Hand'



Superficially simple but in fact deeply disturbing story by Le Fanu. A case of a Victorian ghostly tale in which little is explained but much can be imagined. Some lovely scenes - especially when the sceptical paterfamilias decides to open the front door...

'The Lodestone'



My favourite of Sheila Hodgson's plays based featuring M.R. James as a kind of psychic sleuth.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

'The Sundial' by R.H. Malden

A fine ghost story of the old school by an author much influenced by M.R. James. Malden only wrote one collection of tales - a not-uncommon situation with authors of ghost stories. There's an excellent essay on Malden by the Roger Johnson here. Unlike James, who was never ordained, Malden was an Anglican clergyman and rose to become Dean of Wells Cathedral.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

'The Midnight House'

Image result for hogarth credulity

The Hogarth engraving above is a little masterpiece of bonkersness, giving the lie to the notion that the so-called Age of Reason was anything of the sort. Check out the link explaining all the cases of withcraft and possession the artist depicts.

Which leads us nicely onto the play, 'The Midnight House'. It is obviously derived from M.R. James' 'The Mezzotint', but is I think an excellent variation on the theme rather than an adaptation. And it's  all about a picture by Hogarth that, while apparently devoid of supernatural imagery, is in fact downright evil...




Seasonal Spookery



The first of many readings and links to things that I hope to post as Yuletide approaches. It's the time of year for strange tales, ghostly occurrences, and general malarkey of that sort. I thought I'd start with a bit of Poe, and who better to read it than Basil Rathbone? His voice is, I think, perfect for the precise yet florid Gothic prose of this and similar stories.