Demetrio Paparoni’s The Art of the Devil and S. Elizabeth’s The Art of the Occult are two richly illustrated collections of visual imagery dedicated to dark and hellish subjects and both are great additions to the weird / wyrd art bookshelves. Both feature a fascinating array of images dating from centuries past to contemporary representation and therein lies a slight bone of contention for me with both books. For the art of bygone times I have no issue but raise an eyebrow at some of the choices for modern inclusion. For instance upon recieving The Art of the Devil I opened it at random and was presented with a full-page photo of popstar Robbie Williams adorning a pair of devil horns. For one, it being a personal thing and knowing that someone should not be judged by their looks, but I’m sorry I just don’t like Robbie William’s face. It could be that he frequently looks smug but whatever the reason of dislike, his smirk is not what I expected or desired to be presented with upon opening the book. Secondly there is ample choice for modern representation of devilish beings, many of which are depicted in the book, from the devil of the Legend film to Hell Boy, that a former boy-band singer seems a very weak choice for inclusion. The nearest he has probably come to the devil is living next door to the occultist musician Jimmy Page! That aside there is some excellent art included in the book with a high quality of reproduction and both The Art of The Devil and The Art of the Occult score fairly well in my book for being relatively light on text. My personal preference for art monographs, exhibition catalogues and visual anthologies is large quality illustrations with a minimum of textual content.
On this score I would’ve preferred the dimensions of The Art of the Occult to have been a slightly larger format. Again I question some of the choices of contemporary artists included. I will mention no names but leave it for readers to make up their own minds, as they may very well disagree with me but it just seems that some totally sit comfortably with the representations by old masters featured and belong to that tradition whereas others have featured occult or devilish themes apparently on a passing whim without any deeper association or interest in the subject matter. On that point there are some ommissions of certain artists in The Art of the Occult that I feel are glaring in their absence. With contemporary artists that may be just a matter of personal opinion but with regard to past artists there are some that I think definitely should be strongly featured in there but aren’t – Austin Osman Spare, Norman Lindsay and Rosaleen Norton (the latter oddly appearing in index but not on cited page) are most notable in their scarcity. The inclusion of numerous trance / automatic artists is however good to see. Aside certain ommissions and some perhaps questionable inclusions, for the most part both books do include some glorious and grotesque powerful and intriguing works and are worthy additions to any library of the strange and wondrous.
Urban Wyrd: A mode not a genre. A sense of otherness within the narrative, experience, image or feeling concerning a densely human-constructed area or the in-between spaces and edge-lands bordering the bucolic and the built -up: Or surrounding modern technology with regard to another energy at play or in control: be it supernatural, spiritual, historical, nostalgic or psychological. Possibly sinister but always somehow unnerving or unnatural.
This is not an exhaustive list of Urban Wyrd films but merely a taster, concentrating on cinema releases rather than television offerings.
Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker. No Urban Wyrd list would be complete without the featuring the work of writer Nigel Kneale and in cinematic examples this tale of the eminent scientist Bernard Quatermass and his research into ancient alien artefacts found beneath London is a neat fit. Beyond simply being hidden in the English capital’s subterranea, the influence of the extraterrestrials is discovered to be nestled deep within humankind’s psyche.
Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Directed by Peter Strickland. A quiet British sound engineer accepts a job at an Italian film studio specialising in violent cinema. As he becomes immersed into a world of sound and intense working practice, he also finds himself immersed into the brutal world unfolding onscreen.
Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
Directed by Shane Meadows. Returning to his home town, a hardened soldier tracks down the gang who tormented his vulnerable brother whilst he was away. A brutal kitchen-sink revenge thriller with a twist in its tale.
The Apartment Trilogy: Repulsion (1965) Rosemary’s Baby (1968) The Tenant (1976)
Directed by Roman Polanski. Polanski’s career and creation has been overshadowed by the heinous crimes commited by him and there is no morally sound defense of the man. Whether art and artist can be divided however is a personal decision, yet films are a sum of parts – cast, crew, director; and The Apartment Trilogy is a significant element of cinema invoking the Urban Wyrd mode. In Repulsion we see madness envelop and absorb a young woman within her apartment in London, whereas in Rosemary’s Baby (shot at the Dakota building in New York that has its own real-life urban wyrd history) a young couple move into a building where the husband falls under the spell of his overbearing elderly neighbours whilst his wife falls pregnant but all may not be fine with her baby. The Tenant is the least known and possibly weakest of the trilogy, but this tale of a man moving into a Parisian apartment where the neighbours are somewhat off, is certainly well worth a watch, but as it does star Roman Polanski himself, some viewers may choose to bypass this one.
Directed by Matthew Holness. Following a scandal, a puppeteer moves back to his childhood home where his past and present continue to haunt him. A child vanishes whilst the marionette maker is tormented by one of his own creations. The shooting locations and Radiophonic soundtrack of this psychological thriller add to its dank unsettling atmosphere.
Directed by David Lynch. Henry, a nervous quiet man discovers that his girlfriend has given birth but the baby is deformed, sickly and incessantly crying. In a mix of domestic strangeness and factory surrealism, Henry is caused to confront life in Lynch’s weird and grotesquely beautiful cinematic debut.
Under the Skin (2013)
Directed by Jonathan Glazer. This loose adaption of Michael Faber’s book of the same name quite possibly owes more to Nicholas Roeg’s 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth as it does the source novel, concerning itself with an alien on earth with a purpose but discovering more about itself whilst discovering humankind. One of the oddest road movies out there, this film features some atmospheric and impressive photography and sound work.
Directed by David Cronenberg. A good portion of Cronenberg’s films have an urban wyrd edge, so which to go for here? Let’s opt for 1996’s Crash which has perhaps the most unconventional narrative, dealing as it does with the world of symphorophilia – the kink of being sexually aroused by observing and even orchestrating disasters – most pertinently in this film in the form of automobile accidents. Based on a novel by maestro of the urban wyrd JG Ballard, this is perhaps not the most joyful or comfortable watch but is an intriguing shard of cinematic history.
Directed by Claude Faraldo. The 1973 French movie Themroc is another curious piece of cinema. It follows a day in the life of titular character Themroc, but not just any day. It is the day that he grows weary of his humdrum job and his apartment block existence and turns instead to incest with his sister, the cannibalism of a policeman and destruction on a scale that soon extends beyond anarchy but into a chaotic riotous regression into a primitive existence.
This book really makes you think, at least it made me think. Following on from my recent reading of Peter Laws’ The Frighteners (review here) where in wider terms questions and considerations are made regarding as to why some individuals are drawn towards macabre subjects; H.E. Sawyer takes this enigma into a more specific territory – not that of fiction but in the physical visitation of real life sites of tragedy and trauma.
H.E. Sawyer is a Dark Tourist, his time and money is spent upon excursions to places such as Hiroshima, New York’s 9/11 Ground Zero, The Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Chernobyl / Pripyat atomgrad (see also) and even deep sea diving to explore shipwrecks that lie among the fishes on the ocean floor. Within his book and visits – he questions what it means to be a Dark Tourist and the motivations and morals of such a pursuit. To some people Dark Tourists may seem like glorified ambulance chasers – sick ghouls seeking pleasure from the pain of others – Some probably are and some are perhaps shameful in actions of naïveté, as pointed out by Sawyer in his observations upon people taking less than respectful selfies at Auschwitz and other areas of mass death, but humankind is a complex race and the aspect of Dark Tourism is multi-layered and diverse in its individual motivations.
Some people maybe think it is wrong to visit such sites, that it is disrespectful to the dead and their families, but could it be a case that they just feel uncomfortable themselves at facing death and would rather not dwell on such thoughts and such places? Perhaps in some cases, but not all as individuals have different motives, intentions and expectations and Dark Tourism is a complicated business. ‘Business’ being an operative word – places like Auschwitz and the World Trade Centre memorial facilities want you to visit and want you to even buy mementos. Their motivations however are not simply dark capitalism as they want to educate people about what happened, they want people to remember and not forget and like the Hiroshima and Nagasaki rememberance centres to influence people to strive for a more peaceful world.
Like it or not, as a species humankind does have a death obsession – watch a day’s TV and see how much threat to and loss of life is covered in the news bulletins and how many lives are lost in the fiction of films and TV shows. Death is an everpresent fact of life and Dark Tourism is an aspect of that. It is not unnatural for people to be fascinated by large traumatic events that have left a mark on our collective psyche and history. Some places where tragedy has struck encourage people to come visit but others such as the Aokighara ‘suicide forest’ in Japan want tourism but promote the great natural beauty of the place as the lure rather than the fact that it has gained notoriety as a place where many people have chosen to end their own lives. Aberfan in Wales, the small mining village that in 1966 found greater prominence on the map when a pit spoil collapsed causing a flood of slurry and stone to cascade into dwellings below; most notably the local primary school, is also a matter of great consideration. The disaster claimed 144 lives; 116 of them children. Though half a century has passed, the grief is still very intense and the village seeks privacy to mourn. With other sites particularly the ones that seek visitors, the feelings of the victims’ families may be mixed; but places such as Aberfan cause Sawyer to question whether he is right and whether he has any right to visit places where the mourning is more insular.
Motivation and action are key factors in the consideration of Dark Tourism both for the individual traveller and to those looking upon them and forming their own views on the practice. Why are you going? What will you do there? What will you do upon your return? With Aberfan, Sawyer reveals that upon hearing the breaking news of the tragedy as a child, it alerted him to the fact that death may not be far away from anyone and that children are by no means immune. That moment stuck with him and though he knew nobody personally affected by the disaster it may be said that he feels a connection to the tragedy. Whilst there he mostly kept his head down, visiting the place of rest and laying flowers upon the grave of one child but in the heart intended for all. He spent time at the local library there, learning about the disaster – its cause and effect and how it was reported to the wider world. It seems that Sawyer educating himself not only about Aberfan but about all the sites, is not simply for the book – though the knowledge he shares about each location is extremely fascinating and captivating – but because he seems to feel it is right to know and understand the place, the devastating event and the people both alive and dead that it affected as best as he possibly can. He is not simply there to take selfies.
From his travels he has brought back a book – a very good book, that informs about these locations and the tragedies that befell them but also that openly questions his own motivations and his own life-experiences that may have inspired him to specifically seek out and visit sites of tremendous sorrow and death. In reading this book, it may cause others , like it did me, to question themselves as to how they really feel about such matters as Dark Tourism and if they too perhaps share a saturnine, even morbid interests, then why this may be.
But Sawyer is also honest and witty enough to to share his opinion of the cafes and facilities (including the toilet facilities) and his interest in purchasing souvenirs from the sites that sell them. He is a tourist after all – He is the dark tourist.
To mark the occasion Folk Horror Revival / Wyrd Harvest Press / Urban Wyrd Project have again charitably donated sales profits from our books to a Wildlife Trusts project voted for by some members of this group.This time around we are happy to grant The Scottish Wildlife Trusts £800 to help with their Beaver reintroduction project. Thank you to all who voted and especially Thank You to those who have bought our books. Not only have you purchased works by and featuring some of the greatest contributors to folk horror, urban wyrd and other associated fields, you have helped to benefit wildlife conservation work. Very Best Wishes.
Want to avoid Mrs Brown’s Boys, The Queen’s Speech and whatever else TV throws at us this Christmastide? Of course there’s the great Ghost Stories for Christmas drama series and re-watching childhood favourites such as The Box of Delights but here we take the snow shovel and dig up some other possible additions for your alternative winter watching on the cold dark nights …
The White Reindeer (1952)
Original title – Valkoinen Peura. Directed by Erik Blomberg, this Finn classic concerns itself with a newlywed woman Pirita (played by Mirjami Kuosmanen) who visits a local Sami Shaman for help in spicing up her love-life. The spell cast indeed turns the woman not only into a seductress – but into a true femme-fatale as she now has a vampiric hunger. The White Reindeer’s star has shone brighter again in the advent of the folk horror revival yet this beautiful dark tale deserves to be seen more widely still.
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
Directed by Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch, The Curse of the Cat People is a sequel to 1942’s Cat People, though it can be watched in isolation as the film differs quite differently from its predecessor (which is certainly well worth a watch also). Less of a ‘horror’ than its antecedent, Curse centres on Amy (Ann Carter) the 6 year old daughter of Ollie Reed (Kent Smith). Amy is a dreamy child who finds herself different and therefore somewhat alienated by her peers. In her solitude she finds an ‘imaginary friend’ who just happens to be the late first wife of her strict and rather arrogant father. In addition to Irena (Simone Simon) – the ghost or daydream first wife and cat person (although cats do not feature in this film), Amy also befriends an old woman – a reclusive former actress with dementia, much to the envy and upset of the woman’s own daughter.
Морозко (Father Frost / Jack Frost) (1964)
Directed by Aleksandr Rou, Morozko or Father Frost is based on Russian folk and fairy tales and follows the trope of a young girl, Nastenka (Natalya Sedykh) who on the cusp of coming of age is ill-treated by a mean and jealous stepmother. Meeting a potential suitor Ivan (Eduard Izotov) doesn’t exactly bode well when a spell turns Ivan’s head into that of a bear. (Looking like a surreal, mangy version of Bungle from British kid’s show Rainbow is one of the reasons this children’s film ends up on a darker film list as it is potential nightmare fuel for some). Folkloric figures such as Morozko – a Russian winter spirit who has traits of both Father Christmas and Jack Frost and witchy favourite Baba Yaga also serve to make this film a weird watch.
Wind Chill (2007)
Directed by Gregory Jacobs. When a university student accepts a car share lift at the start of the Christmas holidays she soon realises that the driver is not exactly whom he claims to be, yet as they are driven off the road in a remote area in sub-zero conditions there is more still to worry about as both the present and the past threaten to claim their lives.
Directed by Masaki Kobayashi and based upon Japanese ghost stories and folk-tales collected and translated by the folklorist Lafcadio Hearn is a classic of Japanese cinema. Though the whole portmanteau film is a visual delight, it is the Yuki-Onna tale that most concerns us here today. In this segment two men are caught out in a winter blizzard and seek refuge in a fisherman’s hut. During the night, their shelter is violated by a beautiful yet deadly woman of the snow. One man loses his life but their supernatural assailant takes pity on the other due to his youth and good looks. She warns him never to speak of what happened that night, but his life remains haunted by the strange encounter.
The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
Also known as Dance of the Vampires and Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck is directed and co-written by and stars Roman Polanski. Polanski is understandably and justifiably a difficult figure due to the crimes he has committed in his off screen life. Whether to divorce art from artist or to bypass the work of contentious or criminal figures is a personal choice, but within the realm of film it is a case that the output is a communal effort of many members of crew and cast. And together they have produced a strange addition to the many Vampire films out there. Set in the dead of winter, this comedy -horror film has the look and feel of Slavic fairy-tale cinema and has a great soundtrack by Krystof Komeda. It is notable also for starring Sharon Tate – the former wife of Polanski and tragic victim of the Manson Family Murders.
Troll Hunter / Trolljegeren (2010)
Directed by André Øvredal, the Norwegian found-footage / mockumentary telling the tale of a young film crew investigating a man (Otto Jespersen) whose occupation is that of a Troll Hunter sounds like it could be a disaster but it is actually well worth giving a chance to. It is a fun atmospheric jaunt into an aspect of horror folklore that is generally less widely explored in cinema than other monsters. And in the final segment you can almost feel the cold.
Directed by Antonia Bird and set in the Sierra Nevada in the 19th Century, we witness both the hard conditions of weather and war that may set a person on a desperate path but also we see the unfolding of a supernatural curse. Seeking inspiration from such tragic real historical events such as the Donner Party migration and the folklore of first nations people, Ravenous shows us what happens when people become afflicted with the curse of Wendigo-possession.
Though November may technically be regarded as autumn, this Estonian film is cold and dark enough to make our winter watch-list. Directed by Rainer Sarnet, November tells the tale of a 19th Century Estonian village that is beset by spirits of pestilence. In a bid to survive the harsh conditions, villagers turn to theft involving nefarious and esoteric means but it becomes an obsession outweighing their needs and no good can come of that. November boasts some especially stunning cinematography.
The Lodge (2019)
Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala and produced by the revived Hammer studios, The Lodge in keeping with Hammer’s revival has no resembelance to their campy gothic output of the 1950s, 60s and 70s but is instead as dark and chilling as its intense wintery setting. Following the suicide of their mother, a pair of children accompany their father and his new lover, Grace, to a remote lodge for a Christmas holiday. Whilst their father is called back to the city by work commitments, the children, who resent Grace, discover that she was the sole survivor of a death cult. As strange events occur within the isolated chalet, their survial, mortality and existence come into grievous question.
Evenings on A Farm Near Dikanka / Вечера на хуторе близ Диканьки (1961)
Based on the story ‘ The Night Before Christmas’ by Nikolai Gogol ; Evenings is directed by Aleksandr Rou and shares the same visual and atmospheric strangeness of his later more well known film Morozko. Amid the seasonal revelry in a snowy Ukrainian village a blacksmith Vakula, (Yuri Tavrov) seeks the aid of the devil to transport him to St. Petersburg in Russia so that he may obtain a pair of slippers belonging to the Empress, in a bid to woo a local maiden Oksana (Lyudmyla Myznikova).
Black Robe (1991)
Directed by Bruce Beresford and though not a horror film as such the aesthetic, setting and grim events portrayed in this Canadian film should likely appeal to many fans of folk horror. In it we journey with a Jesuit priest Father LaForgue (Lothaire Bluteau) and his mostly Algonquin travel party across the wilderness of New France in winter as he intends to establish a new Christian mission in a far-off village. In addition to the terrain and hard weather, prophetic dreams, old faith and hostile strangers mar their way.
Winter’s Bone (2010)
Again not a horror film, Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone will nonetheless appeal to some fans of the Backwoods and Midwestern Gothic sub-genres. A 17 year old girl. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is struggling in impoverished circumstances to look after her troubled mother and her brother and sister in the absence of their father imprisoned for the production of meth amphetamine. Survival is paramount to Ree who strives to teach her siblings how to live off the land but more troubles still fall upon the family due to the missing patriarch’s involvement in the meth trade.
Let The Right One In / Låt den rätte komma in (2008)
Adapted from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, Tomas Alfredson’s movie is a beautiful piece of cinema. When a strange young gir Eli ( Lina Leandersson) moves into a Stockholm apartment complex in the early 1980s, she strikes up a friendship with a 12 year old boy Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) who is something of an outsider himself and a target of school bullies. However there is a lot more to Eli than meets the eye as we discover in this atmospheric slow-burning tale.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter / February (2015)
Directed by Osgood Perkins, The Blackcoat’s Daughter centres around a Catholic girls’ boarding school in upstate New York. Whilst most of the pupils have headed home for the winter vacation, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) find themselves left behind and despite their difference in school age and personality types, they find their lives fatefully entwined and to that of a young woman called Joan (Emma Roberts) who escapes from an insane asylum some years after the girls’ stories unfold.
Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004)
The third of the Ginger Snaps franchise (this time directed by Grant Harvey) differs from the coming of age contemporary-times werewolf tale of the first two of the film series by taking the story back further to the early 19th Century but again starring Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins as sisters Ginger and Brigitte. This tale of lycanthropy follows an ill-fated winter trading excursion to the Hudson Bay, whereupon the girls find their way to an abandoned camp and then to a fort, where they find shelter but only the start of their troubles.
Black Christmas (1974)
Directed by Bob Clark and also known in the USA as Silent Night – Evil Night has less connection to folk horror than others mentioned here but arguably could fall under our remit as urban wyrd (but who really cares about labels unless they are attached to Christmas presents?) Included because not only is Black Christmas one of the best Christmas slasher horror films, it is quite possibly one of the best Christmas films and Slasher films too. Simple and straightforward yet eerie and rather tense in its execution it tells the story of college girls in a shared accommodation that during the festive season are gifted first with dirty phone-calls and then with a more deadly Christmas presence.
The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name, needs little introduction – both a classic of winter horror and urban wyrd, this story of Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) a caretaker and aspiring author succumbing to cabin fever and / or possession whilst holed up in a remote Colorado Rockies hotel over the heavy winter with his wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and psychically gifted (or cursed) young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) has a habit of getting under the skin. In it we bear brutal witness to how Jack’s own buried alcohol-induced violence resurfaces towards his family but how also how violence is embedded into the very foundations and sinuous recurring history of the building itself.
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s amidst a plethora of media threatening a grim dystopian future, my generation’s minds were prepped with facing the fallout of nuclear disaster in films ranging from ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ to ‘Threads’ to ‘When the Wind Blows’ and then on Saturday 26th April 1986 the wormwood star fell and science-fiction became fact – Chernobyl happened…
At the beginning of his beautifully bleak creation, the book ‘Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide’, author and photographer Darmon Richter primes us with “Atomic Cinema” – a brief look at how the splitting of the atom had fuelled the dreams and nightmares of creatives. From ‘Tarantula’ to ‘Dr Strangelove’ to ‘The Incredible Hulk’, radiation has provided inspiration to a multitude of stories, but it is one tale in particular that provides a backdrop to Richter’s book and indeed is inspirational to its title.
That film is Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 artistic masterpiece ‘Stalker’. Scripted by the brothers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky and adapted from their 1972 novel ‘Roadside Picnic’. The film follows a journey made into a forbidden exclusion zone by a writer and a scientist alongside their guide, who is known as a Stalker. They seek for a room somewhere within the Zone that is said to have the power to make wishes come true. Whilst that is not the case within the exclusion zone that exists for 1000 square miles around the epicentre of the Number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, covering areas of Ukraine and Belarus; people still have a curiosity and desire to enter the zone. In the 34 years that have passed since the grievous explosion at the power-station (that ironically occurred during a safety test) ejaculated radioactive particles into the air, water and soil, ‘disaster tourism’ has become a considerable industry in the area. There are legal tours that follow certain strict measures and routes led by guides but there are also illegal excursions into the zone, where off-route paths may be trod. other things seen and explored – the guides for these clandestine visitations are the Stalkers.
Richter employed the services of both the official tours and the illegal Stalker led missions that take him to the surrounding villages, the abandoned atomgrad city of Pripyat, the radiated Red Forest and even into the heart of the power-station itself, which was in the process of being decommissioned at the time of his visits having continued to produce electricity for some time after the disaster using the other reactors on site. The doomed reactor 4, source of the accident, is now entombed within a domed sarcophagus, its second shielding cover since the disaster.
Pripyat is a ghost city, (or was until tour buses began to drive its streets), its inhabitants forced to move far away, but in its premature urban decay, nature has taken hold and surprisingly thrives, but although Richter’s camera mostly catches the desolation and loneliness of the Zone, within his writings we find he has company. Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide is as much about people as it is about place. Richter is interested in the Stalkers and their motivation in following a role in life that in numerous instances leads to arrest but more deeply in the risk to their health and longevity that they potentially expose themselves too on recurring occasions. He speaks to some people who remained or have returned to live within the zone, for there are some whose lives are tied to the place and fear starvation more than radiation, people such as the babas – grandmothers; old ladies whose families who survived the Holmodor a genocide by famine during the Stalin era that claimed the lives of at least 3.3 million people and the Nazi invasion and whose spirit will not surrender to the Chernobyl disaster. He talks to people who were involved in the operation following the disaster and who survived the conditions that claimed the lives of many other liquidators and other operatives either quickly and dramatically through high levels of radiation exposure or slowly claimed over time by the cancers that grew within them. He asks those who were involved in the operations their opinion of the 2019 HBO television series ‘Chernobyl’ and for the most part their answers are favourable, saying that not all elements were factually accurate but that overall it was a fair enough representation, although one man interviewed remains bemused as to why they depicted him within the show as having a thick moustache when he has always sported a clean-shaven look.
Chernobyl (2019) – Directed by Johan Renck. Written by Craig Mazin
Richter’s book is a great addition to the Chernobyl media. It is very informative regarding the specifics of the disaster and to the clean-up operation but it is far from a dry read, his own experiences on stalker-led visits read like an adventure story and his interviews with the people whose lives are touched everyday by the 1986 catastrophe are engaging and bring a poignant presence to the areas that he captures within his evocative photographs; for as well as being a satisfying, thought-provoking read, ‘Chernobyl: A Stalkers Guide’ is a handsome, visually rich book that would make a great companion to Jonathan Jimenezs ‘Spomeniks’ and will sit comfortably on the shelves of any psychogeographers, urban explorers and Stalkers everywhere.
Think of ‘British Horror’ and what comes to mind? In this circle perhaps your mind turns to witchcraft shenanigans of centuries past or ritual cult activity in sleepy places in more recent times. Perhaps in the wider society of horror the refined hauntings of the likes of The Innocents or MR James scholarly tales may spring to thought. Or perhaps the gothic kitsch of Hammer movies.
Within this book of 18 British tales of terror, Richard Freeman casts his net wider into scenarios and locations that have a, perhaps less obvious to casual thought but recognisably apparent when there in the moment, very British feel – the walk home from the Youth Club, a spoiled little girl’s birthday party, a country churchyard, walking the dog down near the nature reserve, a fishing excursion to a Welsh lake, the streets of London and much more besides.
Being an established Cryptozoologist and Fortean, the natural and supernatural worlds provide great inspiration for Freeman’s short stories and we see creatures from familiar and comparitively unfamiliar folklore and legend, both ancient and modern, brought to life. This could be a risky venture as fairies, dragons and unicorns for example are so well entrenched in many minds as being associated with sword and sorcery, mawkish fairy tales and flowery new age representation, but Freeman does exceptionally well in granting these otherworldly creatures a more authentically believable and gritty presence in a world we are familiar with on a day to day basis.
There is an element of the ‘kitchen-sink’ as well as the supernatural in some of the tales which does indeed give the works a British flavour. Freeman’s fairies are a tribute to Arthur Machen’s treatment of the subject, which is made clear within the tale. His unicorn is not a saccharine sweet entity but a creature of flesh and blood. There are nods to science as well as superstition within this book’s narratives. Freeman also notes his fondness for the earth-bound adventures of the third doctor, Jon Pertwee in the long-running BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who, which I think does come through in the atmosphere of some of these tales. Creatures of British myth and of contemporary anomalous encounters such as the Lambton Wyrm of County Durham and the large hominid of Cannock Chase make their physical presence manifest and believably threatening through Freeman’s skilled and brave treatment. Some of the tales I could see working well in a TV anthology in the manner of Nigel Kneale’s Beasts. They set a scene, tell a simple tale, sometimes with twists that would satisfactorily make for effective episodes of a cryptozoological – folkloric themed Tales of the Unexpected type show.
Another point of approval I have with Green, Unpleasant Land is that each tale is accompanied by an illustration by Shaun Histed-Todd. I’m biased on this matter being a book artist, but I do really think that horror short story anthologies are given a further dimension and appeal by the inclusion of illustration.
Ho ho horror … As the nights draw in and the turn of the year looms we may seek the comfort of a cosy fireside and a warming drink and think of the approach of Father Christmas … but hark … what is that noise outside, could it be Santa Claus? … or could it be something entirely different … something stranger … more sinister hiding in those cold winter shadows? In this book Dr Bob Curran introduces us to a whole host of beguiling entities from different countries and different cultures that tread the freezing landscapes in the long nights of winter. Richly illustrated throughout by Andy Paciorek, Spirits of the Season is an ideal companion through the dark and magical days.
6×9 in, 15×23 cm Hardcover Image wrap + paperback both available No of Pages: 222. Illustrated
I was only a couple of pages in by the time this book had me hooked. From the offset Peter Laws’ investigation into why people, like himself, are fascinated, drawn to and maybe a little obsessed by horror and other spooky or grisly weird stuff, resonated with me. I too am one of those morbid kids grown up and not grown out of morbidity. Unlike Peter Laws however, I am not a Christian church minister!! Laws’ day job is accompanied by a night shift that sees him writing reviews of horror films for Fortean Times magazine and penning dark fiction. Some may consider Laws’ dual paths as being incongruous but as he points out Christianity is full to the brim with supernatural elements; there are numerous grim and violent stories in the bible and The Exorcist is actually a very Christian film (and indeed was instrumental to Laws finding his vocation as ‘the sinister Minister’. My own childhood attending a Catholic school governed sternly by nuns already had me convinced that horror and Christianity may not always be miles apart by any means!
But what is the fascination of horror? Why does it draw some people in? Why do some people enjoy being frightened? Is it wrong or harmful to like freaky, frightening stuff? These are questions that Laws seeks answers to in some very strange places. Within the pages of this captivating book we join him in scenarios and company as peculiarly diverse as a haunted hotel in Hull, alongside howling dogs in Transylvania, in a shop in York that has amongst its various gee-gaws and oddities a curl of hair clipped from the head of Charles Manson and trapped in the toilet of a decommissioned war bunker whilst a Zombie in a wheelchair batters at the door.
The Frighteners is an intriguing book and whilst it does ask some serious questions and looks at some heavy elements such as Murderabilia (the collecting of serial killer and violent crime associated ephemera) and the matter of violence, death and dying generally, it is also a very funny book. Some of Laws’ wit is gallows humour – it has to be considering the subject matter, but it is never cruel and it gives the book a friendly glow and familiarity. Even in the cold Capuchin crypts beneath Rome among the remains of scores of dead monks, their death presented vividly for all visitors to see, the warmth of Laws’ company is ever present. He is a perfect guide for voyages of the macabre as he does not shirk away from or sugar-coat the grisly, the violent, the tragic and the horrific. He braves the questions that some may want to ask but don’t dare and he doesn’t run from contemplation of the answers. But throughout he maintains a friendly, funny, engaging and affable manner. Humour in grim circumstances can be a good coping mechanism for dealing with things or situations that may disturb us as can confrontation of our fears. An interesting topic that arises is the observance of children that have experienced trauma playing with their toys in a manner that some may find disturbing or drawing gruesome pictures, but that in fact it may be a healthy way for them to deal and process the intense disturbance to their life. And not just kids, the book ponders what is a harmless interest and what is an unhealthy obsession. A fondness for horror can be healthy, the fantasy a safe, harmless escape and channelling of inner troubles and an invigorating thrill. Rather than break societal boundaries it can strengthen them. But there are times when people have questioned whether exposure to Horror fiction such as with the moral panics that have arisen around spooky comics, ‘video nasties’ and violent computer-game could or have indeed resulted in real-life grisly crimes. The answers to such a question are complex, but it is a certainty that very many of us like scary or gory things but thankfully the vast majority of us don’t go onto mass murder or other atrocious crimes and certainly not everybody who does these things are horror fans as such. Rather than nail down solid final answers for why some people are the way they are, this book is a highly enjoyable and very interesting adventure into the dark-side. It is a book that I found myself reading excerpts from to my girlfriend (another aficionado of the frightful) which led to some interesting conversations.
The Frighteners is availableHere and from other book shops and online stores
For more information about Peter Laws creative projects visit ~