Friday, 20 April 2018

Music Has The Right To Children

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the debut Boards of Canada album, 'Music Has The Right To Children'.

The work of two brothers, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin, Boards of Canada have carved a uniquely enigmatic path through the world of electronic music.

The record is a mesmerisingly oneiric and disturbingly beautiful meditation on childhood and memory.  It's detuned and hallucinatory qualities derived from vintage synthesizers, treated voices and library melodies provided the template for the entire hauntology movement.

It is an album that was born from half remembered memories, childhood fears and hazy nostalgia that exists in a place that is utterly timeless.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Thirteenth Reunion

Hammer House of Horror was an anthology series created by the titular studio and ITC Entertainment (home of shows such as The Prisoner, Jason King and The Saint as well as the various Gerry Anderson programmes) broadcast in 1980. Somewhat appropriately there were 13 episodes made each with a different writer and cast and exploring the various plot favourites of the Hammer Studios such as satanism, murder, witchcraft and voodoo but stripped of the gothic trappings that characterised the movies which makes it perhaps more redolent of Amicus Productions.

'The Thirteenth Reunion' was the second episode on the series and was written by Jeremy Burnham (co-writer of the amazing 'Children of the Stones') and directed by Peter Sasdy (director of Nigel Kneale's brilliant 'The Stone Tape' and various Hammer movies including 'Countess Dracula').  It tells the story of a reporter's investigation of a health farm and of the secret society that lurks behind it's facade.

The episode isn't entirely successful as it never quite seems to decide whether or not it wants to be scary or funny and winds up not really being either.  It does have it's moments though and some really good casting with Warren Clarke providing what's possibly the best scene of the episode and Doctor Who regular Kevin Stoney is an imposing presence as the doctor in charge. The main problem is lead actress Julia Foster who strives valiantly but seems like she would be far more at home in a sitcom (which is in no way meant to be an insult) and certainly doesn't conform to the body type they keep branding her as and which they've hidden under some truly hideous costume choices.  The end result is certainly not of the best remembered episodes of the series (I'm sure we'll get to them in due time) but with a pedigree like the one that Burnham and Sasdy bring it was an irresistible choice for sharing here and the big reveal when it comes is fun.

Buy it here - Hammer House Of Horror - Complete Collection [DVD] [1980] - or watch it below.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Holy Terrors: A Collection of Weird Tales by Arthur Machen

Arthur Machen
Tartarus Press

A collection of weird tales by Arthur Machen featured in the portmanteau film Holy Terrors by Obsolete Films.
Contents: The Cosy Room, The White Powder, The Bowmen, Ritual, The Happy Children, Midsummer, Afterword, The Friends of Arthur Machen

Penguin Books published a collection of Machen's writings under the title 'Holy Terrors' in 1946, this isn't it.  This one is a recent collection from Tartarus Press that takes it's name and it's contents from a recent portmanteau film featuring the 6 short stories reprinted in this book (see below for the trailer).

Perhaps the most well known Machen tale here is the alchemical experimentation of 'The White Powder' although the inclusion of 'The Bowmen' perhaps challenges that but then is it famous as a Machen story or as the myth of the 'Angels of Mons'.  We also get the enigmatically pagan 'Midsummer', the reportage of 'Ritual', the quietly powerful 'The Happy Children' and an unexpected crime caper in 'The Cosy Room'.

At 70 pages it makes for a quick but enjoyable read that offers a fleeting insight into the scope of Machen's imagination if perhaps not into the best of it.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

The Day of the Triffids (1981)

It's 1981 and I'm an 11 year old geek besotted by science fiction, comics and Hammer horror movies and into my world arrives a show about the end of the world and walking, killer plants and there begins an obsession that continues to this day.

Brought to the screen by producer David Maloney, who had previously been responsible for the first three series of Blake's 7 and who with a different hat on had directed several Doctor Who serials during the 60s and 70s including the classics  Genesis of the Daleks and The Talons of Weng-Chiang, this version, unlike the previous Howard Keel fronted version - which you can watch here - is a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel.

John Duttine plays Bill Masen who, whilst recovering from eye surgery resulting from a close encounter with a triffid's stinger, fortunately misses out on watching the spectacular meteor shower that blinds the majority of the worlds population.  Travelling through a desolated London he rescues Josella Playton (Emma Relph) before joining forces with a group of fellow survivors with plans on how to survive the catastrophe; plans derailed somewhat by the arrival of Jack Coker (Maurice Colbourne).

The end result is a fantastically atmospheric and bleak adaptation with some terrific performances from Duttine, Colbourne and Relph (who after a slightly stiff start improves noticeably through the series as she relaxes into her character).  The triffids are well realised if a little tottery and aren't particularly frightening but then they were never the main jeopardy in the story, that was always the other people.

Many of the TV shows beloved of Wyrd Britain - Children of the Stones, The Owl Service or The Changes - screened originally when I was a bit too young to be watching (or remembering) but this one, like Sapphire and Steel and The Quatermass Conclusion was mine.  I remember being there to watch it and being utterly mesmerised by it. I loved it on first viewing and still do today.

Buy it here - Day of the Triffids [DVD] [1981] - or watch it below.





Tuesday, 3 April 2018

A Twist in the Eye

Charles Wilkinson
Egaeus Press

Throughout the sixteen stories collected in this remarkable book Charles Wilkinson explores themes of place, ritual, identity, death and transmutation with a rare, if not utterly unique, confidence. They are enigmatic but never vague, dreamlike but never illogical, horrifying but only occasionally visceral. Few writers can write ‘weird’ with so convincing a voice.

I first read a Charles Wilkinson story in issue 35 of Supernatural Tales, it was a thoroughly enjoyable slice of weird fiction with an ending that I thought arrived far too suddenly which slightly marred the experience.  I was really impressed and invested in a copy of his collection issued by Egaeus Press back in 2016 and having spent the last two days immersed in it I'm still impressed, with reservations, but definitely impressed.

There are two or three obvious touch points to Wilkinson's writing - Robert Aickman, Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood - and from the first he takes the sense of the strange in the mundane and in the liminality of new homes, guest houses and childhood abodes and in the unapologetic stylistic conceits of the jump cut endings and an oblique take on narrative flow.  From Machen and Blackwood in particular we see an embracing of the elsewhere and the otherhere.  The worlds within and beyond the natural where soul, spirit and anima are as ephemeral, as elusive and as dangerous as smoke.

As for my reservations well it remains the same as from my first reading.  Wilkinson crafts a beautifully realised story into which we are dropped and instantly and wonderfully submerged and there are storyworlds here that I could happily inhabit for days but with Wilkinson the ending is apt to burst through at any moment jarring us back into the mundane world.  It seems to me that many of his ideas could do with a bit more room, a novella (or even longer) would allow his ideas room to stretch and for their conclusions to arrive more organically and with a more deliberate pace.  But, and I want to stress this next part, this is just a reservation.  I adored this book and if I read another one half as good this year I'll be very happy indeed.

Available from the publisher at the link at the top of this review.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Ripping Yarns: The Curse Of The Claw

Ripping Yarns was a series of, well, ripping yarns created and written by Michael Palin and Terry Jones to pastiche the 'Boys Own' adventure stories of their youths.  Among their targets were staples of the genre such as PoW stories, country house murder mysteries, public school hi-jinx and, in the case here, curses from the remote parts of the British Empire.

Taking a playful swipe at W.W. Jacobs' 'The Monkey's Paw', 'The Curse of the Claw' is the story of Sir Kevin Orr, newly widowed on his 60th birthday, who receives unexpected visitors who break his lonely vigil and to whom Kevin tells the story of the curse.

It's a gentle and fairly typical piece of post-Python comedy, very much of it's time and certainly not the best of the series but it retains much of it's charm and Palin is always very watchable.

Buy it here - Ripping Yarns - The Complete Series[DVD] [1976] - or watch it below.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

In A Glass Darkly

J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Wordsworth Editions

This remarkable collection of stories, first published in 1872, includes Green Tea, The Familiar, Mr. Justice Harbottle, The Room in le Dragon Volant, and Carmilla. The five stories are purported to be cases by Dr. Hesselius, a 'metaphysical' doctor, who is willing to consider the ghosts both as real and as hallucinatory obsessions. The reader's doubtful anxiety mimics that of the protagonist, and each story thus creates that atmosphere of mystery which is the supernatural experience. 

This is my first time digging into a book full of Le Fanu's stories and I found it to be a bit of a pick 'n' mix.

The book tells 5 stories from the files of Dr. Hesselius, an occult detective of sorts, although he himself appears only in one of tales with the 5 being presented as being posthumously selected from his archives.

It's the final story here that's undeniably the most renowned and justifiably so.  'Carmilla' is an unsettling tale of vampirism which while lacking in suspense due to the delivery method (it's told by the 'victim') it manages to hold a tantalising level of menace.

At the other end of the scale is 'The Room in Le Dragon Volant' a frankly risible locked room mystery that was a chore to plough through.

The opening two stories, 'Green Tea' and 'The Familiar' are odd little tales of manifestations induced by overindulgence and guilt and neither tale really sparkles although the latter has the edge but it's the fourth story, 'Mr. Justice Harbottle', that was probably the great surprise of the book with it's deliciously macabre tale of a corrupt judge and his unearthly comeuppance.

I have to admit I struggled a little with this book; mostly with Le Fanu's now quite dated prose style - which had never previously been an issue when encountering his stories in various anthologies - but also because I just didn't think all that much of the opening story, 'Green Tea', ground to a halt and put the book down for a while.  When I returned to it more prepared for it's idiosyncrasies I got more out of it and with the exception of that lousy crime story it proved to be an enjoyable read.

Buy it here - In A Glass Darkly (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural) (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural) by Sheridan Le Fanu ( 2007 )

Monday, 26 March 2018

The Wish Dog and Other Stories

Penny Thomas & Stephanie Tillotson (eds)
Honno

The Wish Dog and Other Stories takes you into the realm of the unknown, the ghostly and the gothic, in a colourful kaleidoscope of half-glimpsed shades.
The title story, The Wish Dog conjures up a fetch – a lifetime companion much wanted; Harvest is a haunting reworking of Babes in the Wood; Sovay, Sovay tells of a Grand Guignol actress who loses her head to a dream of romance and returns with a thousand stories to tell to her bewitched audience; in Broad Beach a man who has had a close encounter with death has dreams that seem larger than life – what he wants most is to run, like the athlete he watches at the tideline each day.
Other tales feature a ghostly mansion in a Merthyr park, a lonely soldier permanently on guard, the angel of death and a would-be suicide, a lonely Inuit asleep on a mountainside, a row of small wet footprints on floorboards…
Open the pages if you dare, but don’t forget to look behind you.

There seems a little confusion over themes in this book.  The introduction opens with the question of 'What makes a good ghost story?' and the cover refers to 'Haunting tales from Welsh women writers' and I wonder if this perhaps explains the variety in the stories here with many going down the path of the supernatural while others offer a story with a wider interpretation of the world 'haunting'.

Of those in the latter camp Nic Herrriot's 'Convention is the Mother of Reality...' is the undeniable stand out with it's delicately poignant tale of ageing and friends both real and ... other and Gillian Drake's 'Seashells' is a quick but satisfying story of both person and place finding each other.

Of the former there are a few which go in too heavy handed or are just a bit too clunky to conjure up any chills but in amongst them is the folk horror of Sian Preece's 'Harvest' and the jealous spirit of the 'Caretakers' in Jo Mazelis story both of which provide engaging diversions.

I like coming across unexpected ghost stories and in the case of this unassuming volume it proved to be mostly for the good as there was very little here that I didn't enjoy, much that I did and a few that really shone through.

Buy it here - The Wish Dog: Haunting tales from Welsh women writers

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Horror Express (1972)

A joint UK / Spanish production Horror Express pairs the Wyrd Britain dream team of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing with Kojak himself, Telly Savalas, on a Trans-Siberian train journey.

Vaguely based on the sci fi classic 'The Thing From Another World' (later remade by John Carpenter without the last three words in the title) it's the story of English anthropologist Professor Sir Alexander Saxton (Lee) returning home with his prize archaeological find, the frozen remains of an early humanoid creature that he believes to be the evolutionary  missing link which defrosts and begins killing the passengers by draining their brains using it's glowing red eye.

Despite it's giallo origins the film has a heart that is pure Hammer  - with those two stars how could it be anything else - but mixed in with a slightly more sci fi storyline than is usually the case with these things that reflects the source material.

Cushing and Lee are, of course, fantastic with a chemistry honed by decades of collaboration and friendship but the cast are generally strong; Savalas bristles with machismo as the Cossack Captain, Silvia Tortosa is effortlessly cool as Countess Irina Petrovski and Alberto de Mendoza is in full on starey, glarey mad monk mode as Father Pujardov.  The end result is a fun and frolicsome horror movie made on a relatively small budget that makes good use of the confines of its setting to build tension and also to ground the movie as it's more outrageous elements are introduced.

Buy it here - Horror Express [DVD] - or watch it below

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Monkey's Paw (1988)

One of supernatural fictions most well known tales, W.W. Jacobs' 'The Monkey's Paw' has, since its original publication in 1902 in 'The Lady of the Barge', been parodied, pastiched and adapted many times in shows as diverse as The Simpsons, The Twilight Zone, Ripping Yarns, The X-Files, The Monkees and perhaps most recently Inside No. 9.  It's three wishes storyline and theme of being careful what you wish for has obvious and very enticing appeal for storytellers but has rarely been bettered in the telling than in Jacobs' story.

The version presented here is a fairly low key production from 1988 with a cast of little known actors of whom perhaps the most recognisable is Alex McAvoy who played the teacher in Pink Floyd's 'The Wall'.  It's a faithful adaptation with a nicely claustrophobic setting that despite its limited run time isn't afraid to strike a leisurely pace and allow the tension to build to its dread climax although it does perhaps miss the mark slightly in reproducing the horror of that moment in the original.