The Beckoning Fair One: Film Review

Following 2017’s Holy Terrors (review here) the excellent film adaptation of various tales by the mystical author Arthur Machen, the directorial duo of Julian Butler and Mark Goodall return with a tale from another past master of the mysterious and macabre – Oliver Onions* and an adaptation of his short tale ‘The Beckoning Fair One’.

The premise of the story follows a writer as he moves into a new apartment in order to complete a novel. Eventually it is revealed that apartment is haunted by the ghost of a previous resident- the ‘beckoning fair one’ of the title.

Timed at 23 minutes, Goodall & Butler’s version of the tale stays closer to Onion’s original short story than the 1968 Don Chaffey directed adaptation that featured as an episode of the ABC/ITV supernatural/weird anthology series Journey to the Unknown.
The Chaffey version has a different tone and replaces the author protagonist with a painter. It gives a specific time-setting in that it takes place 25 years after the World War 2 bombings of London and in doing so gives a more thorough exposition of the presence in the house than either Onion’s story or the Butler-Goodall version. The Chaffey adaptation runs at one hour which is perhaps too long to tell the story as it feels repetitive in parts rather than tension-building. It is however worth a watch both in itself and as a contrast to Goodall & Butler’s envisioning. (There is also a 1973 Italian Giallo film called Un Tranquillo Posto di CampagnaA Quiet Place in the Country inspired by the tale.)

Butler & Goodall only take 23 minutes on the tale which is enough to do it justice. Its tone and atmosphere is rather oneiric; slow-burning yet getting subtly under the skin delivering an entirely believable yet uncanny experience. Its sound design and crisp well-framed photography coupled with an aesthetically pleasing palette and good location choices serve up a pleasant yet eerie package – with a tale and delivery that does hazily unsettle. It is set in contemporary times, but still maintains a timeless quality. It keeps close to the psychological aspect of the original story, keeping the presence within the house and the brooding will of the building itself to the front and foremost -its horror is cerebral and suggestive not an exhibition of gore or jump-scares.
Having a narrator detail the entire tale over live-action footage may not be to the taste of all viewers but for a film of this length serves its purpose well. Indeed I could see Butler & Goodall’s The Beckoning Fair One sit perfectly into A Ghost Story For Christmas slot. Having previously seen (several times actually) and loved their take on the tales of Machen, they have now displayed an empathy and understanding of Oliver Onion’s macabre tale and how to deliver it. I am left hungering to see them take on more of the past visionaries of the horror short story. I’d be curious and keen to see what they could do with the tales of Robert Aickman and Algernon Blackwood for instance.
If anyone from the BBC happens to read this, take heed for Goodall and Butler are creating work that suits these times but also sits comfortably with established spooky series such as A Ghost Story for Christmas, Supernatural (1977) or The World Beyond etc.

The Beckoning Fair One can be seen in its entirety HERE

Portrait of Oliver Onions – Andy Paciorek

*Oliver Onions (1873 – 1961) was an author and artist from Bradford, England. Originally trained as a graphic artist, Onions began writing fiction under the encouragement of the American writer Gelet Burgess. Turning his hand to detective stories, science fiction and historical drama also, it is perhaps for his short tales of the weird, supernatural and spectral that he is best known. His 1911 collection Widdershins which features The Beckoning Fair One is amongst his most famous and critically acclaimed works (including amongst several other writers of weird fiction). As with The Beckoning Fair One, the theme of the relationship between creativity and madness is a theme that he returned to in his work several times.
Married to the novelist Berta Ruck and the father of two sons, Oliver Onions passed away in Aberystwyth, Wales in 1961.

Review by Andy Paciorek
All images unless credited otherwise © Julian Butler & Mark Goodall

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What the Folk!: A Write-up of the London Film Festival Panel

Written by Kern Robinson

Off the back of Mark Jenkin’s new film Enys Men (2022) being premiered in official competition at the London Film Festival (LFF), the Southbank Centre hosted a panel discussion entitled What the Folk! on Saturday 15th of October. The event was advertised as an introduction to the Folk Horror subgenre; a discussion of “the dark innovative projects that test the boundaries of art and media, and [a] journey through the forests, fields and furrows to explore all the seamy, dreadful and macabre elements of the folk phenomenon” (bfi.org.uk). It was hosted by Michael Blyth (LFF programmer) and was in conversation with Mike Muncer (the creator and host of the Evolution of Horror podcast) and Adam Scovell (author of Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange (2017)). Anna Bogustskaya (host of The Final Girls podcast) was advertised to attend but couldn’t make it due to illness.

            From the jumping-off question of ‘What’s your favourite folk horror property?’ the panel praised 70s British television like Children of the Stones (1976) and Sapphire and Steel (1979) – citing the creative and economic freedom of ITV and the BBC in this period as being an irreplicable space to introduce avant-garde film to a wide audience; “imagine something like Penda’s Fen being aired today, right after the Ten O’clock News”.

Scovell and Muncer also praised contemporary novels like Francine Toon’s Pine (2020), Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney (2014), and writers like Benjamin Myers, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Daisy Johnson.

These examples were then drawn together to create something towards a taxonomy of folk horror – what is it that connects these disparate works across time, form, and aesthetics? Is there then an example that neatly contains everything that the subgenre has to offer – a starting point for potential folk horror fans? Scovell repeatedly praised the quality of Czech folk horror but suggested James Mactaggart’s Robin Redbreast (1970), as a good starting point for British folk horror viewing.

Muncer moved a little further afield, speaking on the overlooked influence of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) and The Virgin Spring (1960) on the themes and aesthetics of folk horror. He then discussed examples of films that he felt played with the typical folk horror formula in interesting ways. Films like Pumpkinhead (1988), Onibaba (1964), and Straw Dogs (1971) – those titles that have something folk horror about them but seem too difficult to define as ‘purely’ folk horror in the way that The Wicker Man (1973) or The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) are.

This diverse range of examples provided by both panellists drove the conversation down the difficult path of defining folk horror. After some back and forth, the conclusion ultimately ended up being that they couldn’t really define the subgenre in any concrete way. Scovell admitted that, upon rereading his seminal text Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange, he hadn’t managed to define the subgenre very well in that book either.

This was one major highpoint of the discussion, the panellists’ aversion to gatekeeping the discourse around folk horror. When Blyth asked if there were any films that either panellist would say definitively isn’t folk horror (despite the wider world suggesting that it is), they were reluctant to suggest anything – pointing to the ambiguity of the subgenre, a lack of concrete definition, and the importance of keeping the discussion open. To this quality, Muncer described how discussion and interaction with fans and their theories are some of the most productive parts of the Evolution of Horror podcast. In fact, the closest thing to negativity that either panellist said was that some modern folk horror chooses to reproduce the aesthetics of the 70s films but does so without any of their innovation or excitement; becoming, as Scovell said, ‘content’.

The panellists’ reluctance towards providing a solid definition of folk horror and the awareness that a firm definition will run the risk of diluting the ineffable folk horror-ness of the subgenre, is a breath of fresh air within folk horror discourse. It is a fantastic answer to the parade of ‘What is Folk Horror’ articles marching across the internet. Scovell and Muncer argued that there are a hundred different ways to define folk horror depending on form, country of origin, or time that the piece was created in. We must keep these definitions in discussion with one another, while at the same time knowing that they are all equally correct and incorrect.

As Scovell, Muncer, and Blyth agreed – now is an incredible time to be a folk horror fan. Films and television programmes that would have been expensive or impossible to track down only a few decades ago are being lovingly restored by institutions like the BFI and Arrow Films and released to a wide audience. Artists like Mark Jenkin are endeavouring to recapture the ‘English Eerie’ on screen while simultaneously creating something entirely new. And, perhaps most importantly, it has never been easier to find other fans and open these dialogues with them, attempting and failing to define or taxonomize a shared interest.

High John The Conqueror by Tariq Goddard: Book Review

High John the Conqueror, the latest novel by Tariq Goddard – author, founder of Zero Books and Publisher at Repeater Books, is a strange brew – in large part a gritty British police procedural, partfolk horror / urban wyrd, political commentary and psychedelic trip-literature.

Set in Wessex in 2016, the book follows a team of detectives as they investigate a series of teenagers going missing from council estates in a provincial city and pursue a rumour that wealthy individuals are kidnapping the youths as sex-slaves and perhaps even sacrifices for orgiastic rituals. This premise is fed by Goddard’s political reflections as is a factor of numerous Zero and Repeater books. The debate of class divide and exploitation of the poor by the privileged is pertinent to the book’s plot and for the most part, the political message is delivered without preachiness, but I do question whether the prolonged discussion between a police investigator and a wealthy, powerful suspect is a realistic conversation but it does serve a purpose of exposition. Otherwise the book, which is led by a lot of dialogue paints believable characters. One issue I had with it, which may not bother most readers is the names of the police officers. Though I think it’s fine to pay tribute to inspirations in naming characters, for me the nomenclature of the individual coppers was too much. I visualise books strongly, and once a worm has burrowed into my brain I find it difficult to dislodge and as the officers were named after cult musicians – in one scene featuring a number of cops I pictured members of Coil, Psychic TV and the Banshees all dressed up as police officers. It does add to the surreal aspect of the book I guess, but alas for me was difficult to dislodge the image from my mind which distanced me a little from the story.

The combination of neo-noir police procedural and folk horror evokes thoughts of The Wicker Man and David Pinner’s Ritual, and other elements of the book reminded me of the Ben Wheatley films Kill List and IN THE EⱯRTH, but High John the Conqueror is also its own beast. The High John of the title referring to a natural psychoactive substance that only grows at lengthy intervals and when it does demands attention. This powerful drug is deeply entwined with the disappearance of the teens, but is far more strange and sinister than any recreational drug being peddled on the streets and across county lines.

Hallucinatory yet gritty, Goddard’s novel is a genuine portrait of Britain’s shadowy underworld but intensified to a psychogenic peak. Scattered throughout are scratchy, flowing line drawings which have a feel of automatic art to them. As a big appreciator of books featuring illustrations, I approve of this – actually I’d have liked it to feature more drawings, but kudos to the inclusion of book art.



High John The Conqueror by Tariq Goddard
Repeater
ISBN 9781914420306
https://repeaterbooks.com/product/high-john-the-conqueror-a-novel/

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek

Forests Damned and Furrows Cursed: Book Review

Forests Damned and Furrows Cursed is a new anthology of classic Folk Horror novellas harvested by the author William P. Simmons of Shadow House Publishing.
We say ‘Folk Horror’ but all of the contained novellas were written in the late 19th/early 20th Century before the term Folk Horror was widely applied as a sub-genre or mode, therefore all are written with a purity of independence, free from the worry of whether their work conforms to a set idea or ticks all the expected boxes – a problem contemporary writers of Folk Horror may feel they face. So within these covers we are presented with 5 comparatively diverse tales, which still nonetheless should content both the casual and the more rigid readers of folk inspired horror.

The stories featured are ~
Watcher by the Threshold by John Buchan (1902)
The Novel of the Black Seal by Arthur Machen (1895)
Dionea by Vernon Lee (1890)
The Man Whom the Trees Loved by Algernon Blackwood (1912)
The Garden at 19 by Edgar Jepson (1910)

Differing from a number of Folk Horror anthologies that have collected short – short stories, Forests Damned gathers those creatures that dwell in the borderlands between short prose and novels – the land of the Novella. Outside of publisher demands (which may be of pragmatic /financial intent rather than creative) which may dictate a set word or page count, my personal belief with writing is that the story should be as long or as short as it takes to tell in the most rewarding manner. The precise amount of detail is required to describe the characters, setting and significant events. – applied to set the pace, to build suspense and either satisfy completely or to non-frustratingly leave the reader wanting more. Just enough detail for the reader to view the scene and unfolding events in their mind’s eye and to immerse in the story and be less conscious of reading a book, if that makes sense? So ideally, not so short as to appear rushed and unsatisfactory, not too long as to bloat and drag with superfluous padding. The stories in this book don’t always completely meet those aims but it is important still that they have been collected and presented again in our time as they are strong interesting stories in their own right and a vital link in the chain for any reader / collector that wishes to build a library and /or knowledge of literary fiction that falls under the umbrella of what is now rather widely referred to as Folk Horror.

Likewise these novellas are of their time which is relevant regarding their pace, style and also with reference to some social-political issues. They come from a time when there was little competition for attention in leisure time – no films, internet, games etc. So they can take their time getting where they are going and can stop to smell the roses in their descriptive manner. So as with all books and tales from different eras, may not be to the taste of all contemporary readers. In his introduction to the collection, Simmons does a good job of putting the works in context and explaining the feral nature of Folk Horror, so no previous experience of reading Folk Horror stories is necessary to enter into the wild lands contained, but it may be useful for those new to the form to read some shorter stories of both Folk Horror and of the era before tackling these long -short stories / short novels. Regarding the social-political issues within some of the tales, attitudes may raise some eyebrows and with fair enough cause; however whether they reflect the opinions specifically of the fictional characters portrayed, the author or the majority of their particular society at that time is not instantly identifiable. The reader can make their own judgement call when reading. Any issues do not overwhelm the tales, mostly they are concerned with traditional gender roles and the occasional opinion regarding foreign nations, but are mentioned purely for context of these tales being creatures of their own time. Such matters may also be of interest to Folk Horror fiction historians in their contemplation not only of tales being told but how they are told.

That overview out of the way, to look now at the individual tales contained and their creators.

John Buchan

The first story featured is The Watcher by the Threshold by John Buchan (first published in 1902). Buchan (1875 – 1940) was a Scottish polymath. In addition to being a fiction writer (his most famous work quite probably being The Thirty Nine Steps – an adventure tale of political intrigue (known more widely for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 cinematic adaptation); Buchan was an editor, non-fiction author, Unionist Politician and Governor General of Canada.
The Watcher by The Threshold tells of a man living on the Scottish moors whose studies of Justinian and classical philosophy go beyond obsession and finds himself feeling haunted by a devil. The importance of landscape in Folk Horror is well represented in this tale. I have a love of moors yet find them somewhat unsettling and Buchan’s writing sets the scene very well here.

Arthur Machen: Illustration by Andy Paciorek

Next we have The Novel of the Black Seal by Arthur Machen (1863 -1947) (which was first published as part of his 1895 collection The Three Imposters). Machen was a Welsh journalist, author, proto-psychogeographer and mystic – being a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn for a while, his personal spirituality though leaned towards Celtic Christianity.
The Novel of the Black Seal shares an element of Buchan’s tale which is also evident in a lot of M.R. James’ work that of academic study becoming embroiled in real situations of archeological, anthropological or folkloric horror. In this case case we find explorations of a subterranean site in the Grey Hills of Wales turning up more than expected. The existence and nature of the denizens of a Faerie Otherworld coexisting with our own goes against any Disneyfied Tinkerbell ‘airy-fairy’ conceptions of the ‘Little People’ of folklore and presents us with a forgotten, hidden swarthy, troglodyte race. In being of its time, perhaps the most horrific scene is implied rather than graphically explained. This works to its advantage, for in contemplation of the origins of the conception of the strange servant boy in the tale, I found myself genuinely unsettled. This tale went on to inspire both HP Lovecraft and Robert Howard in their weird fiction writing.
It was in connection to the Machen story incidentally, that I thought of the comparatively low incidence of classic tales fitting a Folk Horror vein being adapted to film during this current current Folk Horror revival. Rather than ‘karaoke’ versions of The Wicker Man, it would be good to see more of the old stories brought to the silver screen. This train of thought commuted my mind to the (criminally little-known) film adaption of a collection of Machen tales, Holy Terrors (2018) by Mark Goodall and Julian Butler (see https://folkhorrorrevival.com/2018/01/19/holy-terrors-film-review/ ) and I think that they would be perfect to adapt Forests Damned and Furrows Cursed to film as a portmanteau – an Amicus-anthology style Folk Horror film if you will.
Anyway I digress, so on with the book …

Vernon Lee aka Violet Paget

Next up we have Dionea by Vernon Lee. Originally published in 1890, Vernon Lee was actually the pseudonym of Violet Paget (1856 – 1935). Paget was a strong proponent of feminism but was published under a masculine pen-name. The author’s own contemplation and experience of gender matters can offer a further context to the story of Dionea, a foundling child raised in an Italian convent. Dionea does not care for the studies, chores and sewing that the nuns put her too and instead is drawn more to nature. As she gets older, her independence of thought – her perhaps even feral nature puts her at odds with the convent and later beyond those cloistered walls. Dionea’s strength of character and wild free-spirit is even seen to affect the fate of others and she is viewed with both suspicion and superstition. The return of buried paganism is a recurring element through different examples of Folk Horror, which marks Dionea’s place in this book and the Folk Horror canon, and the voice behind it is a refreshing interlude to the male, quite conservative – despite the themes, uttering of the other featured tale-tellers.

Algernon Blackwood: Illustration by Andy Paciorek

Perhaps one of the most evocatively titled of all horror stories follows next, The Man Whom The Trees Loved (1912) by Algernon Blackwood (1869 – 1951). A member of both The Ghost Club and like Machen, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; Blackwood is perhaps the biggest name in the book among horror circles. Extremely prodigious and successful in his horror writing career, alas I find issue with The Man Whom the Trees Loved – it’s not that it’s a bad story – it’s a decent enough tale. The problem is that in my opinion, it should be a short story not a novella. There for me is an issue of repetition in the tale – if handled skillfully then a little repeating can build up suspense but I just find too much of it and dallying here. It is surprising as Blackwood knows his craft, so it would’ve been hoped that he did not opt for a ‘less is more’ approach here. As for the tale itself, it is quite poetically beautiful as well as unsettling. A woman becomes extremely concerned with her husband’s obsession for the trees that surround their country abode. It has an underlying mystical and philosophical debate about the sentience of life, (indeed all of the stories featured in this book pose a studious contemplation of the ‘nature’ of both nature and the supernatural) and it is a valuable addition to the Folk Horror bookshelves but I unfortunately cannot help but feel that it would have been a more powerful narrative had Blackwood decided to have it edited down.

Edgar Jepson

Closing the book is The Garden at 19 (1910) by Edgar Jepson (1863 -1948). Jepson, an English writer, is more widely associated to crime and adventure novels ( as well as translating Maurice Leblanc’s French tales of the aristocratic brigand Arsene Lupin into English). One of his wanderings into fantastic territory The Garden at 19 is a mixed bag. Like The Man Whom the Trees Loved, 19 could’ve probably done with being a bit shorter. It also has its eyebrow raising moments in its oddly repeated opinions of German professors and also in its portrayal of girls/women and their societal roles. Otherwise it’s a fair enough tale, reminiscent of Denis Wheatley’s Satanism in suburbia romps. The presence of that old horny deity Pan explains the book cover (featuring a painting by the, alas not familiar enough, Belgian Symbolist painter of the uncanny, Leon Spilliaert) and relates how a young lawyer becomes intrigued both by the strange goings-on in his neighbour’s garden and then by the presence of his neighbour’s niece. The character of the neighbour, Woodfell, is very clearly inspired by the notorious occultist and tabloid scandal-fodder of the time, Aleister Crowley.

The afterword of the book comes in the form of questions, an interesting addition that would perhaps prove useful for book groups, genre-study classes, and academic or personal-interest students of Folk Horror / horror literature. This and the novel approach of presenting novellas rather than shorter fiction makes this book an interesting and valuable addition to folk’s Folk Horror book collection.

Faun by Moonlight: Leon Spillaert (1900)

Forests Damned And Furrows Cursed: A Haunted Heritage of Folk Horror Novellas
Edited by William P. Simmons
Paperback, 236 pages
Published April 26th 2022
by Shadow House Publishing
ISBN13 – 798806998614

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek

Dark Folklore: Book Review

Upon hearing of the release of Dark Folklore by Mark and Tracey Norman, I was beguiled as to what Chthonic treasures the book would contain, for there is certainly darkness a ‘plenty to be found within the world of folklore. Upon opening the book and casting my eyes over the contents listing of the 5 chapters offering a bewitching array of lore with Fortean interest, the first chapter The Old Hag: Folklore and Sleep Paralysis was of particular personal intrigue to me, having experienced numerous incidents of this bizarre state myself. The Normans provide a very good overview on the subject covering the bases of superstition, psychoanalysis and scientific rationale. Presented are numerous entities associated to the Hag-riding phenomenon aspects of sleep disturbance in world folklore, from the Hungarian Liderc to the Arabian Quarinah and the Alien Greys. The authors put forward balanced and insightful consideration of the subject, without judgement. They explain the medical processes of such unsettling experiences but don’t merely dismiss the entities envisioned rather questioning why a feeling of somnolent physical inertia and laboured breathing (amongst other symptoms) can result in visions of old crones or other strange entities squatting on the sufferers’ chests or dark mysterious figures lingering in the corners of the room. Archetypal consideration is applied here, as is the rich folklore of myriad nocturnal entities that can be found across the world in both developing and more technologically advanced societies. (An unsettling folkloric belief, not mentioned within this book, was told to me by a Filipina associate who claimed that the Batibat, an entity associated to the strange hypnagogic / hypnopompic episodes is believed in her culture to be the ghost of someone who had died in their sleep). 

Chapter two deals with The Dark Church and covers wide-reaching examples of association mostly between the Christian church in Britain and superstition and pagan influence. Discussed are foliate head and Sheela-na-gig carvings, St. Mark Eve vigils (whereby observers may see a procession of those destined to die in the following year and other wondrous delights. Here we wander down corpse roads and meet the priests of Devon who reputedly employed rather than denied folk magic. The magician-priests included Reverend Franke Parker who lore declares had the power to shape-shift and had an esoteric library that he was deeply protective of. The peculiar Parson Parker was reportedly once found at rest in a bed surrounded by dead toads.

Folk Ghosts provide the focus of the third chapter and considers the distinction that should be made more in haunt studies between ghosts that exist purely in lore and those reported to have been experienced by verifiable witnesses. Many places are said to be haunted by a phantom stagecoach or phantom black dog for instance, but how many have known contemporary witnesses of the particular phenomenon? ‘Cockstride ghosts’ – the spirits of those destined to perform some impossible or potentially eternal penance for an earthly crime are also given good attention. Weaving rope from grains of sand or emptying large pools with a leaking diminutive vessel are examples of such posthumous burdens that may befall wicked souls.

Following on in Chapter four we are entertained with Urban Legends and contemplation of their history, endurance and evolution from the era of Spring-Heeled Jack through the Edwardian case of the Cottingley Fairy photographs, to the radio and televisual panics of the broadcasts of War of The Worlds and Ghostwatch to the virtual ‘fakelore’ creations taking on a real-world presence and influence in the digital-age such as Slender Man and the Momo Challenge, perfectly showing that folklore is not simply a historical study but a living, developing part of human culture.

Dark Tourism and Legend Tripping provide the basis of the fifth and final chapter. Here, Mark and Tracey turn tour-guide and lead us to some intriguing and odd international locations and contemplate why people may be drawn to visit places of grisly repute, to witness rituals alien to their own cultures or to even re-enact certain strange historical happenings. Included here are Aokighara – the notorious ‘suicide forest’ of Japan, the Black Mausoleum of Edinburgh’s Greyfriars cemetery which bears reported activity by the Mackenzie poltergeist and the ghost tours of the Ararat Lunatic Asylum in Australia. Also covered are the death rites and rituals such as the Torajan Ma’nene funerary customs in South Sulawesi, Indonesia and the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations in Mexico. Quite a lot of lore is surprisingly covered within this relatively thin and rather charming, attractively presented book. Subjects however are frequently given a satisfying amount of considered attention rather than being skimmed over but other examples are mentioned in passing which can whet the reader’s appetite for further research. The allocation of five chapters also works well here, giving the book a tighter focus whilst still treading a lot of ground and providing plenty of scope for possible further volumes in the series, which personally I’d be keen to read.

Dark Folklore
Mark Norman & Tracey Norman http://www.thefolklorepodcast.com/
The History Press (2021)
Hb. 174 pp.
ISBN 9780750998

https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/dark-folklore/9780750998017/

Review by Andy Paciorek. First Published in Fortean Times magazine

Lizzy Laurance – Rocketman Review

Lizzy Laurance’s debut album, Rocketman was released April 30th of this year. I would like to start by apologising to Lizzy for the delay in posting this review, however, a series of health issues and time constraints have held things up, which I hope are gradually coming to an end. Anyway, now that’s out of the way lets get down to Lizzy and her suitably impressive debut release.

Lizzy is a London based electronic musician who create “grainy pop-collages inspired by spatial locations; inner, outer and cyber”. In creating her music, she uses found sounds, ambient electronics, library samples, and electronic beats; stitching them together to create atmospheric  aural soundscapes. Lizzy explores “the mythology of pop music and the icons who inhabit it”, through stories of “female identity, image-making and toxic masculinity”. Her inspirations are varied and thought-provoking, Lizzy cites David Lynch, Lana Del Ray and Godspeed You! Black Emperor as key influences on the sound of her album, and whilst this may sound like a disparate selection of artists, you can hear a little bit of each in the music, as well as a whole lot of herself. This is by no means an exercise in simply showing adulation for her heroes, she simply uses them to inspire and inform her own original sounding material.

The concept for the album came together while Laurance was artist in residence at Illutron, an arts and technology institute situated on an 800ft dredging boat in Copenhagen. She lived alone on the boat and made a number of field recordings that would form the basis of the songs featured on the album, not just from a musical perspective but from a storytelling perspective too.  Lizzy says that she always felt there was “something rotten about the place” before she eventually uncovered that she was living at the site of the infamous Copenhagen Submarine murder of 2018. Founder of Copenhagen’s rocket building scene, Peter Madsen murdered a journalist (Kim Wall) who had come to interview him on board his home-made submarine. Laurance tries to reconcile the visionary ideals and technological innovations Madsen made with the destruction that was “left in its wake.”

After a short intro track (Promenade) that merely hints at what is to follow we are into our first song proper. “Baby Loves”, is a hauntingly atmospheric piece of Avant Garde audio that is eloquent and beautiful, yet possesses hints of a much colder, darker, industrial soundscape. “Come Down” almost sounds like drum and bass at times, yet Lizzy’s haunted vocals and the jazz trumpet samples give it a wholly warmer feel. “Gasoline Blue Jeans” reminds me a little of Portishead at their most experimental. There is also a starkness throughout the album that draws me back to Lynch’s solo albums Blue Bob and Crazy Clown Time. I also feel this particular track would have fitted nicely on the soundtrack to Lynch’s third series of Twin Peaks. “Too Hard to Die” is an off kilter, glitchy industrial nightmare that leaves the listener feeling drained, while “White Nights” is the sound of some sort of clanking mechanical hell, manifesting as music, with Lizzy’s ethereal vocals rising out of the clanking sounds of heavy machinery. “Shine” is a largely ambient track that allows Lizzy’s voice to take centre stage while strange otherworldly sounds move around it. I really like this track for the way in which it manages to create something that sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack to a 1970s Avant Garde science fiction movie. “Famous” starts off with what sounds like corrupted seabird samples before settling into slightly off kilter ethereal pop territory. The lyrics are written from the perspective of a man who stalked Lizzy during her time in Copenhagen, but it’s got a much deeper meaning about toxic masculinity and why women continue to fall for bad men. “Rocketman” is a collision of metallic sounds, screeching metal guitar punctuates ambient industrial drones amid the roar of mighty engines. This is a throbbing and pulsing masterpiece of wyrd electronica. The album closes with the incredibly sad, “Song for Kim Wall” a short, melancholy tour de force that reminds you of the horrific events surrounding her disappearance and subsequent discovery before coming to what feels like quite an abrupt end.

Overall, I found Rocketman to be a masterpiece of dark industrial electronica that sounds like nothing else out there. There are hints of other things from time to time, David Lynch’s albums really come to mind at certain points, but it retains a special quality all of its own. Lizzy’s ethereal vocals are somewhat reminiscent of the sadly missed Julee Cruise, but that may be a lazy observation on my part.

The album can be listened to and bought from Lizzy’s Bandcamp page at: https://lizzylaurance.bandcamp.com/album/rocketman

You can also keep abreast of any future news by signing up to Lizzy’s website at:

https://lizzylaurance.wixsite.com/mysite

All social media links are available on her website.

Amazing Graze: Summer Solstice Charity Donation 2022 ☀️

Thank You to everybody who voted in our Solstice charity donation poll. The poll is now closed and we are pleased to say that Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will receive £500 from our book sales profits towards their grassland appeal.

You can support more Wildlife Trusts projects by buying our folk horror and urban wyrd books at –

https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/andypaciorek

and/or donating directly at –

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/appeals

☀️Happy Solstice☀️

‘The Hellebore Guide to Occult Britain and Northern Ireland ‘ and ‘The Atlas of Dark Destinations’ ~ Book Reviews

The Hellebore Guide is produced by the same team that created the very popular Hellebore zine that has blossomed in the recent renaissance of indie specialist-interest zines and the revival of attention to occulture and folklore. They have taken their sphere of interest and distinctive design aesthetic forward into book format with this very handy and beguiling gazetteer of British ritual, weird-lore and magical creativity. In the introduction specific attention is brought to the 2 books that this guide could most oft be compared to, the Readers Digest Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain and Westwood & Simpson’s The Lore of The Land. The inspiration and similarities are worn on the sleeve but as Pérez Cuervo informs us, there is a difference that carries the themes forward and makes this work a useful companion to those other books mentioned. In addition to covering numerous sites of folklore, occult practice and strange history, this book also points us to places that inspired or in some instances were used as filming locations for numerous cult /horror novels, films and TV shows. Fans of M.R. James, Derek Jarman, Witchfinder General, The Owl Service and many other such creators and creations will find notes of interest therein. This richly illustrated book will fit handily into a backpack for onsite visits. One point that readers may raise is that due to size restraints certain localities or topics may not be covered in the greatest of detail but within its 316 pages a lot of ground is trekked. The book therefore can inspire further personal research and does offer scope for further volumes.

The Atlas of Dark Destinations however is not a book as easily taken out on location unless you have huge pockets as this is more of a weighty coffee-table book – lusciously illustrated but also incredibly informative. Again, as with The Hellebore Guide, the book cannot contain everywhere and everything but does cover considerable distance across the globe. As some countries are perhaps underrepresented there is again potential perhaps for a further volume. Hohenhaus, in his introduction, explains his reasoning for some omissions; he holds no truck with the visitation of living slums as tourist destinations nor does he favour notable suicide sites such as Japan’s legendary Aokigahara Forest. Serial Killer haunts and other singular murder sites are not represented but there is certainly no shortage of death behind the book’s dark cover. Sites of Genocide and wartime suffering are extremely well covered, with a lot of the book being taken up by sites of military and political intrigue. (Which upon showing the work to my 95 year old father, who was in internment and forced labour across Europe during WW2 and isn’t much of a reader generally gained a second review of the Atlas as being “A very good book”).  

In addition to well known places covered within the book such as Chernobyl, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and 911 Ground Zero there are notable cemeteries, ossuaries, catacombs, penitentiaries, ghost towns and areas of natural wonder featured and some less familiar intriguing sites such as  such as the ornate Milano Cimitero Monumentale necropolis, the Bali Trunyan Burial site and the Darvaza Hell Mouth (a 250 foot wide, 65 foot deep crater in Turkmenistan where an inferno fuelled by natural gas reserves has burned unabated for over 50 years.) Less obviously Fortean in subject-matter than The Hellebore Guide, and perhaps too heavily martial-politically focused for some readers of this magazine, The Atlas is nevertheless actually very readable and fascinating (in many instances particularly in provoking contemplation of humankind’s inhumanity towards each other.)

Both books could also be inspirational to fiction-writers as well as Fortean travellers, for use in setting location and back-story of their tales. Both books are designed to be dipped into rather than be read cover to cover and whether out on the road or in the comfort of my own arm-chair I can see myself delving into both titles for many years to come. 

The Hellebore Guide to Occult Britain and Northern Ireland
Edited by Maria J. Pérez Cuervo
Hellebore Books 2021
Pb. 316 pp. illus. index. £18.75. ISBN. 9781399906968
https://helleborezine.bigcartel.com/products
Atlas of Dark Destinations: Explore the World of Dark Tourism
Peter Hohenhaus
Laurence King Publishing. 2021
Hb. 352 pp. illus. index. £25.00. ISBN. ‎9781913947194
https://www.laurenceking.com/product/atlas-of-dark-destinations/

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek


Archive 81: an Urban Wyrd Review

Archive 81 is a 2022 Netflix series developed by Rebecca Sonnenshine based upon the podcast of the same name created by Daniel Powell and Marc Sollinger (which I have not listened to as of yet, so cannot compare in this article).

Its premise follows the recruitment of Dan Turner (Mamadoudou Athie) as an electronic media conservator tasked with restoring fire-damaged videotapes shot by missing film maker Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi).

The show encompasses numerous elements of the Urban Wyrd. Apparently the term Urban Wyrd has caused confusion amongst some people, so it may be worthwhile to briefly explain the concept again here.
The Urban Wyrd designation was created and first contemplated by author & film-maker Adam Scovell on his Celluloid Wickerman website and was developed /investigated further in the pair of multi-contributor Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd books published by Wyrd Harvest Press.
The Urban Wyrd is not ‘folk horror in a city’ though elements may sometimes be shared, and it was in reference and relationship to folk horror that the discussion first arose.

Urban Wyrd is not a genre, but a mode that relates to the incidence of the Uncanny, the Weird and the Eerie with specific relationship to the built-up environment, particular buildings, liminal edge-lands (such as motorway motels, service stations and sometimes suburbia) and/or to technology (including analogue and outdated forms).

The Urban Wyrd is frequently to be found where concepts such as Hauntology and Psychogeography occur on film, literature, music and art (both in the original academic remit of these subjects and in the development of their pop-cultural aesthetic).
The Urban Wyrd mode may therefore be applicable to narratives and/or imagery featuring haunted houses, uncanny urban geography & architecture (including transport stations and underpasses etc.) as well as haunted media (photography, digital, video etc) and also to supernatural, folkloric and/or occult excursions/infiltration into the modern world. Psychological relationships to the environment or technology may also be a factor. Concepts of time are also frequently a consideration.

(As with Folk Horror), ambience, aesthetic and that certain ineffable something that you may struggle to verbalise but know when you see, hear or feel it may also be apparent in items featuring modes of Urban Wyrd.
The concept of the Urban Wyrd is not a strict label or manifesto but more-so a feature or features that can be used to associate different films or media that share these similar themes, aesthetics or elements. Although it can be a topic for academic study, the designation of Urban Wyrd can and should be more widely and generally used as a handy way for people who like one film or book or song or artwork using the motifs described to find others featuring them that they may also enjoy.
Many of these elements just mentioned can be found in Archive 81.

Without giving too many spoilers away, a resume of Article 81 follows.
Dan is employed by a company named LMG to go to a remote complex to repair and restore a quantity of damaged video tapes filmed by Melody Pendras – a young woman who went missing in the 1990s following a fire at the Visser building, an apartment block built on the foundations (and history) of a former mansion belonging to the enigmatic Vos family. Melody is drawn there on a tip-off that her birth mother who abandoned her as a baby was a resident there. Family history plays a role within this drama which follows several different narratives apparently separated by time but united by people and place. As Dan delves further into his work he discovers a link to his own family and realises his task is far more than just being a regular job.

The show flits between found-footage and several story-lines occurring at different periods of time and also dream-narratives. The footage itself and its strange qualities is reminiscent of Koji Suzuki’s ‘Ringu’ (adapted to film in 1998 by Hideo Nakata and remade in 2002 by Gore Verbinski as ‘The Ring’) and whilst being quite a creature in its own right, Archive 81 wears its inspirations and influences on its sleeve. Rather than being derivative though a further meta narrative is added to the mix giving another layer for viewers and fans to mull over. We see references to movies as diverse as ‘Solaris’, ‘Night of the Living Dead’, ‘Ministry of Fear’ and even ‘The Secret of Nimh’. Stephen King’s 1977 novel ‘The Shining’ is referenced and similarities can be drawn between the show and Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 cinematic reworking of King’s book. The Visser Apartment/ Vos Mansion bears similarity with ‘The Shining”s Overlook hotel with its winding corridors, dark history, art-deco soirees and the feeling that the building is haunted not simply by the people that died there but by its own brooding character. Association can also be drawn to Ira Levin’s 1967 novel / Roman Polanski’s 1968 film ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ with its mysterious apartment neighbours and occult ritual occurrences. Indeed there are elements of Polanski’s other Apartment Trilogy films ‘Repulsion’ (1965) and ‘The Tenant’ (1976) to be found in Archive 81’s make-up also.

There are also non-film associations that can be found in Archive 81 which will be of interest to those curious in the different aspects of the Urban Wyrd mode and also in wider aspects of the occult and paranormal outside of fiction.
The inclusion of Spirit Photography and Psychic Art works on both an aesthetic and narrative level. The name of the art group as Spirit Receivers and the examples of much the art shown seems strongly to allude to the book ‘World Receivers‘ which details the works of Georgiana Houghton. Hilma Af Klint and Emma Kunz – three artists of the 20th Century whose paintings were conducted through spiritual mediumship. (Another good book on that subject is Not Without My Ghosts and for Spirit Photography an excellent book is The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult).

In reference to pop-Hauntology (ie. that form associated to examples of popular culture as explored by Mark Fisher rather than the original political-philosophy form devised by Jacques Derrida) Archive 81 features strongly there both in aesthetic and topics covered. The attention to analogue technology, the literal ghost in the machine and genii loci – spirits of place; brings to mind ‘Ringu’ as mentioned previously, but also Nigel Kneale and Peter Sasdy’s 1972 TV play ‘The Stone Tape’ and the Electronic Voice Phenomenon {EVP} experimental studies pioneered by Friedrich Jürgenson, Hans Bender and Konstantin Raudive) have a strong hauntological quality as does the element of the movement of time that occurs within the unfolding tale. This is continued in the sound design brilliantly crafted by composer Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow (one of the geniuses behind the Excellent Trip-Hop outfit Portishead). The combination of atmospheric music, drone and other aural invocations and evocations helps to induce a sense of unsettling perception – almost to the verge of inducing anxiety in the viewer (I myself have found myself ear-worming the prayer-song); this attention to sound likens Archive 81 to other films with significant Urban Wyrd content such as ‘Sinister’ and ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ (which also share the themes of uncanny elements within the actual media of film and video), and also to the works of David Lynch. The stilted slow dialogue also is reminiscent of the cinema of David Lynch and some of Stanley Kubrick’s work (‘The Shining’ and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’) however at times it does heighten the awareness of it being acted and therein lies a question as to how well the show was cast. There is another point however that lots of viewers have seemed to take issue with and that is the season’s finale. Again without giving away Spoilers, I personally don’t have a problem if that is how the show ends totally, although I do have a question /issue as to one of the character’s actions which culminated in that conclusion. The ending however does allow potential for the narrative to resume and develop further if Netflix decide to green light another season.

All in all, I enjoyed the series, it ticked numerous other interest boxes of mine and I was impressed by its techniques aimed to unsettle. Aesthetically I liked it, though for some of the special effects I personally would have opted for a more Less is More approach and it has inspired me to give the original Podcast a listen.

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek

Yellowjackets: Season 1 Review

The premise of the Showtime series Yellowjackets following the 1996 stranding of a team of female high-school football (soccer) players, their coaches and one of the coach’s 2 teenage sons following a plane crash in a remote Canadian forest and the ensuing tribalism, primal instinct and desperate endeavour to survive, echoes tales such as William Golding’s 1954 novel ‘The Lord of The Flies’ (adapted to film in 1963, 1975 and 1990), the TV show ‘Lost’ (2004 -2010), the book and TV series ‘The Terror’ (adapted from Dan Simmons’ 2007 book in 2018) which was based on the true 1845 case of the disappearance of the ships HMS Terror and HMS Erebus in the Canadian Northwest Passage and the 1993 film ‘Alive’ directed by Frank Marshall which was based upon the true-life 1972 airplane crash that left members of the Uruguayan Old Christians Rugby Union Team stranded in the snow of the Andes for 72 days, (in which time cannibalism of those who did not survive the crash and aftermath was resorted to as a tragic but necessary means of survival).
Add to the mix, the female coming of age drama of offbeat teen films such as ‘Heathers’ or ‘The Craft’ and that gives the basic gist of Yellowjackets.
It is seasoned however with aesthetic and cult/occult elements of folk horror and also crime thriller action as the story also picks up in the present day following the lives of several of the survivors and how they are still haunted by the 19 horrific months they spent in the wilderness.

The narrative of the show flits between different periods of time in the main characters’ lives – before the crash – during their wilderness time – and 25 years later – so we see some of the roles played both by teen/young adult and middle aged actresses. This provides for good drama as we see the evolution of their inter-personal relationships which in adulthood here are as complex as their adolescent times – more-so because of what the weird feral period they shared and the strange experiences they have lived through. Experiences which are teased out slowly with a lot of speculation and anticipation inspired within the viewing community.

In the adult casting there is good interaction between some actresses familiar to the horror/ weird genres with Juliette Lewis cast as Nat (an off-off the wagon substance abuser who as played by Sophie Thatcher was an alternative teenager who despite their mutual love of football, was left-field to the other girls), Christina Ricci as Misty ( acted by Sammi Hanratty as a teen, another girl on the social fringes who desperately wants to fit in but as the story develops we discover alarming facets of her character) and Melanie Lynskey (perhaps known best in this community for her childhood role as Pauline Parker in Peter Jackson’s 1994 ‘Heavenly Creatures’, a retelling of a true murder case whereby childhood innocence was lost forever) as Shauna who both in adulthood and as a youth (played by Sophie Nelisse) has a complex relationship with sex and loyalty. The other adult survivor we encounter mostly in Season 1 is Taissa (played by Tawny Cypress and Jasmin Savoy Brown) a strong-willed character who has made a success in her life, both in law practice and then as a senate candidate; however her life is more haunted than she may project.

Melanie Lynskey as Shauna in YELLOWJACKETS, “F Sharp”. Photo credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME.

Other characters also lay paths of intrigue – Ben the only adult male and team coach to survive the crash, Van, Laura Lee – a born-again Christian and the enigmatic and mystical Lottie. I will not drop major spoilers but we are left curious wondering to how the fates of these characters will play out (there apparently being 5 seasons of the show planned, there is much to be revealed in time).

Juliette Lewis as Natalie in YELLOWJACKETS, “F Sharp”. Photo credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME.

But there is another element to Yellowjackets and that is the presence of folk horror motifs. Following the discovery of an old seemingly-abandoned cabin in the woods, things begin to take an even stranger turn than the nightmare of being trapped miles from anywhere with an encroaching hard season and limited supplies, from having to pull dead friends, colleagues and in one instance a parent from the wreckage site of a plane crash and bury them. The cabin has a history and a mystery. A supernatural presence is in play, but is it real or the imaginative manifestation of traumatised, stressed minds? Was it there inherent, in the cabin – in the woods, or brought to the site by one or more of the team? Whatever it was did it stay there or did it follow the eventual survivors back to ‘civilisation’?

From the opening scenes of the very first episode we encounter a girl being hunted down in the snow, we see a fireside rite of fur-clothed and masked figures. We are led to believe that ritual cannibalism occurs (we are led to believe certain things throughout the series however only for the paths we are following to change direction) but certainly a new (or old?) religion starts to fall upon the survivors’ camp and tribute paid to gods of dirt and sky. A religion reluctant to stay in the woods perhaps. And who is the figure named by fans as the Antler Queen? The season leads us to believe it is a certain member of the team, but can we be sure that we have not been led on a path with branches and chicanes?
And then there is the symbol. A mysterious sigil that seems to have predated the team’s descent into the forest but has followed them out of it, appearing on a postcard involved in a blackmail plot that several members.

I enjoyed the show and its genre-bending style and look forward to season 2.

Review by Andy Paciorek