Reviews: Devil’s Advocates, Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Witch.

by Darren Charles

Having previously reviewed John Towlson’s wonderful Candyman monograph from the Devil’s Advocates series from Auteur books, I was delighted to receive another two books from the collection with some serious folk horror credentials. The books in question are David Evans-Powell’s monograph of The Blood on Satan’s Claw and Brandon Grafius’ treatment on The Witch.

The Devil’s Advocates range is aimed at exploring the classics of horror cinema, and the contributors are generally firmly entrenched in that world via careers in academia, journalism or through their own contributions to the literature of horror. What is evident from the very beginning is that those who have been asked to write these books are passionate and knowledgeable about their subject matter and whilst the books have a certain academic quality to the writing they are never overly wordy or impenetrable.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw by David Evans-Powell

Liverpool University Press: Books: The Blood on Satan's Claw

One of the unholy triumvirate of films that are deemed the very cornerstones of the Folk Horror movement, Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) is a supernatural horror movie set in a small rural English village in the 18th century. After the discovery of a sinister looking skull in a freshly ploughed field, a series of bizarre occurrences take place among the village’s young people culminating in a ritual rape and human sacrifice. In recent years the film has become a classic of the Folk Horror genre and David Evans-Powell’s monograph is a thorough and interesting delve into the film’s history, looking at its position within the Folk Horror oeuvre, its relationship to the landscape and nature, and its socio-political message, particularly its relationship to the late 60s and early 70s counterculture.

The book is divided up into series of different sections, the first provides a brief synopsis of the film and an introduction that places the film within the context of the time it was made, and in relation to other films of the time. The next section looks at the film’s production and reception, this introduces the reader to some of the key figures involved in making Blood on Satan’s Claw such a runaway success. There are sub-sections on cinematographer Dick Bush, director Piers Haggard, composer/musician Marc Wilkinson and screenwriter Robert Wynne-Simmons, as well as the film’s production that provide a lot of valuable information about the film’s genesis and how it all came together. The next couple of sections deal with the importance of the landscape and how it is used in the film, as well as looking at nature and the way the setting juxtaposes the simple superstition of the rural setting with that of the rational, enlightened city (London).

Beyond that Evans-Powell delves into ideas about a past the refuses to be forgotten, the concept of “reviving forgotten horrors” to paraphrase the great Patrick Wymark in his role as the judge. This section is interesting and provides some fascinating and detailed discussion of our pagan past. The final section is called Anarchy in the UK and features a fairly in-depth discussion of the film’s relationship to the counter-culture movement of the 60s and 70s, particularly the darker side of that movement with a focus on the Manson murders and English child murderer Mary Bell.

Evans-Powell has written a powerful and fascinating monograph that is very readable. He manages to cram a lot of intriguing detail into such a short book yet it never feels as though the reader is overloaded with information, and it always feels relevant and interesting.

The Witch by Brandon Grafius

The Witch (Devil's Advocates): Amazon.co.uk: Brandon Grafius:  9781800348059: Books

The second of our two books is a monograph based around the Robert Eggars film The Witch. Much like Blood on Satan’s Claw the film has become synonymous with the Folk Horror movement and has achieved a similar status as a classic of the genre. If Blood on Satan’s Claw, The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General are the classic unholy triumvirate, The Witch is one of the titles that fits the bill as their modern equivalent, alongside films like Kill List, November, In the Earth and Midsommar it sits at the forefront of the Folk Horror revival.

Brandon Grafius is a Professor of Biblical studies at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, and is well noted for his writing on the subject of religion and horror. The book is heavy on facts and Grafius provides some tremendous background information about the time in which the film is set. Eggars himself spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on researching the period in order to bring the film a realness. Grafius does much the same for the study of the film, and after delving into New England’s puritan past and considering the context of the witch trials that took place in the late 17th century, he takes the reader on a whistle stop journey through the realms of literature, cinema and folklore in order to place The Witch within the context of what we call folk horror. The sections on The Witch as folk horror and the folklore associated with the film and witchcraft in general are excellent, well researched and kept me hooked in. These are followed by a section discussing the film’s main characters, that features some interesting analysis of not only the family and their flawed existence but even Black Philip himself.

Much like Evans-Powell’s Blood on Satan’s Claw, The Witch is a well-researched and beautifully written monograph that provides a fascinating and in-depth study of a classic film in around a hundred pages. As with the previously reviewed Candyman it has be said that Auteur have really come up trumps with this wonderful series of short monographs looking at the classics of horror cinema. I have already started to build a list of the other titles in the series that I need to check out.

You can see the full range of Auteur’s Devils Advocates series at the following link: https://www.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/series/series-15364/

Blood on Satan’s Claw by David Evans-Powell is available to buy from Amazon at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Satans-Claw-Devils-Advocates/dp/1800348061

The Witch by Brandon Grafius is available to buy from Amazon at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Witch-Devils-Advocates-Brandon-Grafius/dp/1800348053/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+witch+brandon+grafius&qid=1621965775&s=books&sr=1-1

The Psychic Audio Group

The Psychic Audio Group are a collective of paranormal investigators and music technologists based in Leeds who generate audio based around hauntings, drawing inspiration from Nigel Kneale’s ‘The Stone Tape’ they reconfigured their equipment to generate noise, producing some remarkable psychic feedback when installed at certain haunted locations. Here we review their three recordings thus far released.

Collected Recordings of the Psychic Audio Group, Volume 1

The first release of the Psychic Audio Group, features 11 tracks of suitably wyrd phonics, mixing ambient drones with glitchy off kilter electronics, field recordings and found sounds. I really enjoyed this one, there’s a level of dread filled intensity about the recording that verges on audial assault, and the whole thing has a sinister blackened noise vibe to it. Links to Nigel Kneale’s ‘The Stone Tape’ and EVP just add to the creepiness of the project. I guarantee this will go down a storm with Revivalists everywhere. This is highly recommended for fans of John Carpenter, Haxan Cloak, Burial Hex, Demdike Stare and the Nate Young (Wolf Eyes) and Steven Kenney (Werewolves) project Demons.

https://psychicaudiogroup.bandcamp.com/album/the-collected-recordings-of-the-psychic-audio-group-volume-2-eycheil

Also worth mentioning is the accompanying video, featuring the same sequences of audio as used in the album, but coupled with visuals from the recording sessions.

Sea of Ink

Sea of Ink is a stand alone track recorded during the sessions for their second album. What we get is more of the same glitchy electronic drones and sinister sounding atmospherics as the debut album. A work of creepy excellence.

https://psychicaudiogroup.bandcamp.com/track/sea-of-ink

The Collected Recordings of the Psychic Audio Group, Volume 2: Eycheil

The third release and second full length album from the Psychic Audio Group is an absolute doozy from start to finish. Recorded entirely on location at the Theatre Eycheil in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, with each track concieved in relation to the atmosphere of the site, and boy what an atmosphere it must have as this is off the scale for creepiness.

The album features 7 tracks of more of the same, but once again it excels at what it does. Darkly atmospheric electronic noise that recalls some of the most sinister music ever placed on vinyl. Nighmarish and disquieting, the whole thing has a deeply malefic aura about it. If someone were to ever remake John Hough’s 1973 supernatual tour de force ‘The Legend of Hell House’ these guys should record the soundtrack.

https://psychicaudiogroup.bandcamp.com/album/the-collected-recordings-of-the-psychic-audio-group-volume-2-eycheil

WYRD KALENDAR, REVIEW BY JOHN PILGRIM

“Gripping, sometimes terrifying but always surprising: this is the year described in the Wyrd Kalendar. Live it if you dare…” – Sebastian Baczkiewicz, Creator of BBC Radio 4’s “Pilgrim”

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Following the cult success of “Songs from the Black Meadow” in 2016, Chris Lambert is set to bring more delight to all those who enjoy the curious, magical and mythical with the release of the Wyrd Kalendar album which is published by Mega DoDo.

The strange, or more appropriately, wyrd stories of the calendar months which are to be found in the book of the same title provide the starting point for each of the artists on this remarkable release.  A captivatingly diverse musical landscape opens out before us and quickly seduces the listener into an enchanting world of folk, electronica, psychedelia and forgotten horror soundtracks.

The new year is heralded in with Widow’s Weeds (led by Grey Malkin, formerly of The Hare and the Moon) with their occult tinged hymn Song for January. This sets the tone for an unsettling but captivating hour. The imaginative electronica of Keith Seatman leads us on before the talented psych-folk singer Emily Jones brings to life the words of her long dead ancestor in Waiting for Spring. And then, before we know it, Crystal Jacqueline is playing us all for fools as she goes Chasing the Gowk.

A personal favourite of this reviewer is the song for May, as Ghost Box’s Beautify Junkyards provide Portuguese pastoral enchantment in the form of May Day Eve.  Those people who had the good fortune to see Beautify Junkyards on their recent visit to these shores will be happy indeed with this sweet vernal offering.  Soon we feel the warmth of the sun on our backs as Alison O’Donnell of Mellow Candle, Flibbertigibbet, Firefay and United Bible Studies teams up with David Colohan in the wasp celebration of Deadly Nest.

The second half of the year unfolds with Scarfolk collaborator Concretism treating us to the vivid imagery of A Fair by the Sea and Icarus Peel exploring lost love and yearning in the musical lament The Weeping Will Walk.

The mellow mists of Autumn begin to fold around us as folk rock duo Tir na nOg invite us to raise a seasonal glass mbine and then it is the turn of Wyrdstone to immerse us in the haunting harvest celebration of The Field.

The Soulless Party leave their familiar abode of the Black Meadow to take us for a deliciously unsettling Dark November Drive
 The year concludes with the ever delightful Rowan Amber Mill who sing us out with The Witch’s Lament.
 A final gift comes in the form of the album’s closing titular track by the shape-shifting talents of The Mortlake Bookclub.

This album and the accompanying book illustrated by the hugely talented Andy Paciorek are the fruits of rich imaginations at work. You would be foolish indeed to consider going through the year in any other way!

The album is available to buy from January 1st 2019 from Mega Dodo as a CD and as digital download, with all profits being donated to Cancer Research UK. https://megadodo.bandcamp.com/album/wyrd-kalendar

The Wyrd Kalendar book is available from http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/andypaciorek

Mega Dodo Bandcamp

www.wyrdkalendar.blogspot.com

 

 

 

A New Title from Wyrd Harvest Press – Fleet by Jane Burn

New from Wyrd Harvest Press ~

Fleet by Jane Burn

jane burn

“Fleet is a ‘weltersong’ of desire and otherness. An epic saga of shapeshifting enchantment and an all too familiar drama of longing, banishment, abuse, survival and love. Jane Burn brings her unique vision, wild wordplay and stunning image-making to the evocation of the folklore of the Witch-Hare, and the voices of Motherdoe, Fleet and Daughterhare with the full force of mythic tragedy and Ovidian metamorphosis.” – Bob Beagrie, poet

http://www.lulu.com/shop/jane-burn/fleet/paperback/product-23888091.html

The Sermon – available to view online now.

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The rather wonderful Folk Horror short, The Sermon from director Dean Puckett is now available to view online. This fabulous short film deals with issues that arise from the question of a young woman’s sexuality in a small rural English village. The film is both thought provoking and beautifully shot on 35mm film in deepest darkest Dartmoor. Puckett uses the British landscape to great effect in this near 12 minute masterpiece. Don’t just take my word for it, view the film yourself from the link below.

Director Dean Puckett cut his teeth making documentary films, the most recent of which was released in 2013, Grasp the Nettle highlights the exploits of a group of land rights activists who battle to set up alternative communities in Britain. The Sermon is his second fiction short to have been supported by Creative England and the BFI after the comedy, horror, sci-fi short Circles in 2015. Circles, which was also set in Devon involved paranormal investigators taking their revenge on a group of crop circle hoaxers. The Sermon premiered at the BFI Flare London LGBTQ+ Film Festival on March 24th, 2018 to critical acclaim.

Review: Bella in the Wych Elm

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During the Second World War, four lads looking for bird’s nests on the grounds of Hagley Hall in Worcestershire found a skull in a hollow elm tree. The police, investigating, found a woman’s skeleton there, clearly hidden in the tree after death, but no further clues were found. But after the case became known, in an unsettling development, variations on the words WHO PUT BELLA IN THE WYCH ELM? began to appear on walls across Birmingham and the Black Country. Someone knew who Bella was, evidently; but others took up the question, so whoever knew was safely anonymous. The question of who put Bella in the Wych Elm became part of the modern folklore of the Black Country – a fact which gives the lie to the idea that the modern age doesn’t allow for new folk legends to rise.

Tom Lee Rutter, a native of the area, has a pretty decent run of short films under his belt, but this one is more personal, part of the culture of the Black Country, a spooky, quaint piece. His grandmother and her friends used to go to Wychbury, “looking for Bella.” The story was used to scare naughty children: behave or I’ll put you in the wych elm.

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Tom’s Bella in the Wych Elm: A Midlands Phantasmagoria is a 35 minute documentary film which tells the story of the finding, and explores some of the rationales people attached to the mystery over the years. Was “Bella” a gypsy? A victim of human sacrifice? A murdered sex worker? Or someone else?

In style, the film owes a lot to James Marsh’s Wisconsin Death Trip (1999), with its use of the fiddle on the soundtrack, its black-and-white dramatisations and its variety of voices: whispered voices of a ghost, an anonymous letter-writer, the New Forest coven. The most time is given to the friendly voice of “Tatty” Dave Jones (actually a member of ska-punk band The Cracked Actors), who sounds like nothing more than the sort of storyteller that the Midlands always seemed to me to be full of – a friend who lived there for many years once described Birmingham as like that person who stands at the corner of a party and seems unprepossessing until you talk to them and realise they’re really one of the best people you’ve ever met, an assessment which I have always heartily agreed with. Jones tells the tale with a warm, engaging tone, and the scratchy, well-judged visuals surpass its budgetary limitations.

The main thing you have to do with a documentary, a thing that many independent documentarists forget, is that you have to have a thesis; a documentary is an art form in its own right (one of the muses, lest we forget, was a patron of history) and you have to have stakes with a piece of art, a direction in which your story will go. Bella in the Wych Elm succeeds at this right from the beginning. It gives a solution (a solution which some versions of the story, not mentioned in the film, discount), but the apparent conclusiveness of the solution in the film is set beautifully against the fact that it doesn’t make the event any less mysterious, nor does it diminish the way in which poor Bella has entered the local myth of the Black Country. It brings in Margaret Murray and the New Forest Coven, the witchcraft-related murders of the post-war years, and other, perhaps more mundane, but no less strange phenomena. And all of that serves the film’s central theme: This is where stories come from.

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In that way, Bella in the Wych Elm succeeds spectacularly. It’s a smart, clever, beautifully constructed piece that reminds you that the mundane, the horrible and the numinous are often very close together and that the modern world still produces folklore.

The DVD comes with a couple of alternative versions of the film and some postcards to sweeten the deal, but they’re just extra decorations on an already excellent package. I cannot recommend this enough, as a document on British folklore, a solidly made documentary film and as a fine work of art from an independent director.

This is where stories come from.


Bella in the Wych Elm can be purchased at bellainthewychelm.bigcartel.com

Review by Howard David Ingham (Room 207 Press)

The Great Lafayette; an extraordinary interment

In 1911 one man dominated the vaudeville stage, commanding yearly earnings of what would amount to almost £4million in today’s money. He was lauded by his audiences, sneered at by his detractors and loved by those he himself loved the most; his dogs. He was The Great Lafayette, master magician and illusionist.

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The Great Lafayette was born in Munich, 1871, as the not-so-great Sigmund Neuberger before emigrating with his family to America and creating his life on the stage. He did not mix well with other people, he could be domineering and demanding, but he doted on his dogs, most especially the slender hound he was given as a gift by fellow illusionist Harry Houdini. Beauty ate the finest food, wore jewelled collars and slept on silken cushions. When Lafayette was on tour, Beauty stayed in her own suite of rooms.

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It is no surprise that when Beauty died unexpectedly, shortly before a run of shows in Edinburgh, Lafayette was inconsolable in his grief. Lafayette demanded that she be buried formally, in a proper grave and in a human cemetery. Officials responded that a pet could only be buried in its owner’s grave so, in order to achieve this goal, Lafayette bought a plot in Edinburgh’s Piersfield cemetery where Beauty would lie, awaiting the day when her master would join her.

Wrapped tightly in a cloak of despair and loss, Lafayette is claimed to have said that her death had  shattered his very soul and she would not have long to wait.

He was right.

Less than a fortnight later, Lafayette was performing in the Empire Theatre when something went terribly wrong. A pyrotechnic element of the show, some say an oriental lamp and others a wall sconce, ignited one of the theatre’s curtains, the wooden set dressing was consumed rapidly and the entire stage was enveloped in a roaring inferno. Lafayette himself is said to have escaped the fire but, realising that his black stallion was still in danger, returned to the flames. He was last seen desperately attempting to lead the horse to safety.

Eleven performers, including Lafayette, died in the fire. Amazingly, nobody in the audience was harmed although the theatre itself was razed to the ground. Confusion reigned as a charred body, pulled from the ashes and believed to be Lafayette, was later identified as a body double used in some of the magician’s routines. Where then, was the great illusionist himself? Speculation ran riot.

Legend states that a workman, sifting through the rubble of the theatre some days later, stumbled across a curious find; a papier mâché hand, itself intact but detached from the statue it had come from, that pointed ominously to a corner of the destroyed theatre. The workman followed the silent instruction and found Lafayette’s body, horribly burned but identifiable from rings on his blackened fingers.

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Given that his body was so badly burned, Lafayette was cremated and placed in an ornate urn. A grand funeral procession, described as “one of the most extraordinary interments of modern times”, carried the urn to Piersfield Cemetery where it was placed in the grave he had only recently bought, nestled between Beauty’s outstretched paws.

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Daniel Pietersen, 08/02/17