A Guide for the Curious – An interview with Sarah K. Marr

Christmas has been a traditional time for the telling of tales of ghosts and the supernatural for many years, and the Edwardian author M.R. James’ short stories have become the most intimately associated with the season, as I’m sure needs no introduction to anyone reading this.

One of his most highly regarded stories is “A Warning to the Curious”, first published in 1925 and adapted by the BBC in 1972 for their Ghost Stories for Christmas strand.

Author Sarah K. Marr recently published an immensely detailed annotated guide to “A Warning to the Curious” on her website which thoroughly explores all aspects of the tale, accompanied by evocative photographs, illustrations, maps and much more.

You can download Sarah’s annotated “Warning to the Curious” here:
http://sarahkmarr.com/

Sarah kindly agreed to speak to Folk Horror Revival about the project.

Folk Horror Revival: Hi Sarah, thanks for agreeing to talk to us at Folk Horror Revival. Can you introduce yourself please?

Sarah Marr: Hi, Folk Horror Revival. I’m Sarah K. Marr, and I’m a writer living near London. I published my debut novel earlier this year—pretty sure I’m contractually obliged to say, All the Perverse Angels, available through all good bookshops—and now I’m turning my thoughts to writing the next one. You can follow me on Twitter, @sarahkmarr, if that’s your thing. Anyway, you’re talking to me because of my guide to M.R. James’s “A Warning to the Curious”.

FHR: What led to your fascination with the works of M.R. James and folk horror in general?

SM: I first read James when at I was at school, and then, some years later, I revisited his work whilst I was living alone in a small, old cottage in the Cotswolds: a perfect environment for those stories. For me, James provides the quintessential model for the English ghost story, the ‘urtext’ from which everything else is derived. Having said that, I do realize it’s a very ahistorical perspective—one can see the influence of earlier works in James’s writing—and that there’s a certain sensibility necessary for becoming immersed in James’s stories. Still, at a personal level, “Is this as good as James?” is a test for any uncanny tale I read.

I grew up in the seventies, so a lot of the ‘hauntological’ nostalgia—I use the term without negative connotations—which is around now harks back to my childhood: it’s still the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water which keeps me away from disused quarries. Children of the Stones was shown when I was seven, and a year or two later my parents took me to Avebury, where we took it in turns to touch the stones and collapse with appropriate drama. I read Alan Garner, too, and was particularly fond of Red Shift and The Owl Service, both of which shift away from the more fantastical worlds of his Elidor or The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and carry elements of more earthly myth across time periods. I came to The Wicker Man—the ‘gateway drug’ of folk horror—quite a bit later, and I’ve had a stronger focus on folk horror in my reading over the past couple of years, partly as a way of exploring narrative and the construction of story for my own work. There’s also something about the way folk horror is so situated in the landscape which lends itself to photographic interpretation, and then, it seems to me, it’s a question of finding the balance between atmosphere and the avoidance of photographic cliché: I can’t claim that I’m always successful.

FHR: Despite many of the books, films and TV series being around for many years it is only recently that ‘folk horror’ has become a ‘thing’. Do you have any thoughts on why folk horror has become such a growing area of interest to so many people?

SM: It’s one of those things which has arisen from the coming together of many threads, and I’m certainly not the best person to assess them all. Partly, I suspect, it’s a reaction to a language of horror—particularly in films—based around the urban experience, and a desire to ‘reconnect’ with the wider environment. Then there’s the overlap with hauntology, in its broadest sense, and the revisiting of works from the 70s and 80s which itself was grounded in folklore. (Although that, of course, raises the same question about the reasons for folk horror’s prevalence in those years. Flight from the technological realities of the Cold War, perhaps?) There’s also the effect of key pieces and players which cross genres or spheres of influence: The League of Gentleman, for example, bridging horror through comedy, a span which Mark Gatiss so effortlessly crosses and recrosses, of course. Even having the term “folk horror” has helped creators and commentators to coalesce around a shared, if somewhat amorphous, centre of commonality. In a Twitter thread last year I managed to trace its use back to 1936 (in The English Journal, Volume 25, University of Chicago Press), but it’s only really become a mainstream term-of-art in the past few years.

FHR: What was the thing that kickstarted the trip? Were you already familiar with the area so knew where to begin?

SM: I mention in the introduction to the “Annotated Warning to the Curious” that my mother’s unwell, and it was her desire to visit the sea which took me to Aldeburgh. I’d been there a couple of times before, so I had a rough idea of the place. I was also vaguely aware of the connection to James, and it seemed a good way to give the visit a focus; something to take our minds away from illness and into the landscape. The existing guides—particularly those by Darroll Pardoe and Adam Scovell—were a great place to start. “A Podcast to the Curious” has two superb episodes on “A Warning…”, to which I listened on the journey to the coast. Those episodes include an interview with Tom Baynham about his own trip to Aldeburgh to find James’s inspirations. I owe them all my thanks.

FHR: The wide-open landscapes of East Anglia seem to be especially inspirational for many writers of ghost stories. What is about the area that has prompted this?

SM: I’m pretty sure that a full answer to that question requires at least a PhD thesis. I will say, though, that topographically it’s a haunting landscape: flat, unpeopled, windswept. It has about it some element of the Romantic sublime: simultaneously awesome and enveloping, desolate and beautiful. Then, the history of the place adds layer upon layer of meaning and interpretation, each leaving its own traces, building foundations for the next. So, the liminality of the place—the sense that it’s a hinterland for sea, marsh, and downs—extends beyond topography, back through time. All of this, somehow, brings its own melancholy, often hidden just beneath the surface, but always sensed.

FHR: Did you sense any menacing presences over your shoulder or glimpse anything in the corner of your eye as you were wandering around the locations?

SM: I’m one of those people for whom the oh-so-delicious ‘scare’ of horror is partnered with an irreconcilable discontinuity between fiction and reality. A lack of belief in the reality of what one’s reading should remove the ability for it to disturb, but it doesn’t, even as each perspective tries to undermine the other: somehow, it works. So, I’m not one for ‘presences’, but I am one for letting my imagination run wild and facing the consequences. Friston church, early in the morning, was cold and silent and gave me the sense that it’s never truly unoccupied. But for sheer Jamesian disquiet, the award must go to the walk through the empty marshes from Sluice Cottage (supposed home of William Ager) to Paxton’s dig site. Then, I confess, I did look over my shoulder from time to time.

FHR: Such a huge amount of background detail is included in your guide that you must have spent many hours searching through dusty tomes in a manner reminiscent of James’ study of Medieval manuscripts. How many hours were you spent secluded in libraries? Equally how many days were spent traipsing up and down the lonely coastline seeking the locations?

SM: I wish I had been able to spend more time in old libraries: they, together with bookshops, are two of my favourite places in world. I have fond memories of the Bodleian and college libraries in Oxford, and, more recently, the Library of Congress. However, the research for this guide was all done at home, over the course of a month, mostly through Google Books coupled with census and newspaper searches made available through membership of my local library. (Libraries really are awesome.)

Half of my novel is set in 1887, and I used Google Books for a lot of contemporary texts for that, too, so I’ve had some practice. It’s a lot more effective for pre-c.1930 works, which are generally available as complete texts. Luckily, that covers the texts available to James, and much of his own output. The trick is to use the books one finds as one would if they were printed and taken from a library shelf: use their references to find other books, rather than relying solely on individual searches. Then the research grows more ‘organically’, and with more access to obscure details. It doesn’t help, of course, that searching for “M.R. James” turns up every “Mr James” ever printed: one has to go full “Montague Rhodes”.

I do, though, have two printed and well-thumbed copies of The Collected Ghost Stories, a battered first edition of James’s Suffolk and Norfolk, an e-book of the Ash-Tree Press’s A Pleasing Terror, and a fascimile of the 1925 O.S. map of Aldeburgh. I can’t make the trip back to Aldeburgh at the moment, but when I can, I want to use the library there to get tide tables and weather reports and, if possible, to track down a picture of the battery which used to sit by the martello tower.

As for traipsing, I had an afternoon and a morning in Aldeburgh. The afternoon covered the martello tower photographs and allowed me to scope out the rest of the in-town locations and the Sluice Cottage. The following day I got up at 6am and headed out whilst everyone else was asleep. That let me take the unpopulated photographs of the beach, the White Lion, and the churches at Aldeburgh and Froston. Then, after breakfast, there was time to visit Paxton’s dig site and Theberton church. I only identified some of the other locations, or potential locations—Thorpeness Halt station, Woolpit church, Walton Castle—when doing further research after the trip.

Anyway, it is possible to see everything in a fairly short amount of time, and my hope is that someone following in my, and James’s, and Paxton’s footsteps can visit Aldeburgh with all the information they need in one place, and situate themselves within the story itself.

FHR: Do you have any plans for further wanderings in the landscape of M.R. James?

SM: Perhaps: I love this kind of research, and James’s stories have just the right balance of fiction and real-world underpinnings for it to be effective. I was in Somerset recently and, entirely coincidentally, found myself driving past the New Inn in Sampford Courtenay, Devon, which appears in James’s “Martin’s Close”. I have a rather prosaic photograph of it. (I’ve also got a set of then-and-now photographs of Avebury, based on shots in Children of the Stones, and I ought to do something with them.) But undertaking something as detailed as the work on “A Warning to the Curious” is more of a challenge, so I’ll have to wait and see what opportunities present themselves.

Right now, my priorities are working on my own stories, and finishing a stage-/screen-play of “A Warning to the Curious”. I’d recommend the BBC’s 1972 adaption to anyone: although filmed in Norfolk, and although Paxton (played superbly by Peter Vaughan) is older than in James’s description, it does a phenomenal job of capturing the chilling essence of the story. Still, the layers in James’s tale mean there’s so much to bring out, and so many interpretations which can deliver real emotion without deviating from the text in any major way. I’m determined to explore them further. All I have to do now is find someone to stage/film it (and that’s always the toughest part).

FHR: Thank you Sarah for taking the time to speak to us about your Jamesian wanderings and best of luck with your future writings, looking forward to seeing what you come up with next.

Sarah’s book All the Perverse Angels can be purchased here:
And don’t forget to follow Sarah on Twitter here:
Interview conducted by Richard Hing
All photos ©Sarah K. Marr

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

 

 

 

Even More Photographs from the Whitby Krampus Run 2018.

We took so many photographs at the Whitby Krampus Run on Saturday that we have decided to post some of our favourites to the blog for you to enjoy. The first couple of posts feature Andy Paciorek’s shots from the day and this post features some of my own shots. Many thanks to Elaine and Louse of Decadent Drawing for putting the whole thing together. We had a blast and we hope to see many of you there next year.

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All photographs in this blogpost copyright 2018 by Darren Charles

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

New from Wyrd Harvest Press ~

Fleet by Jane Burn

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“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 Whitby Krampus Run – An Interview with Elaine Edmunds and Laurence Mitchell

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The Whitby Krampus Run is rapidly becoming one of the annual must see events in the Whitby calendar. Organised by a couple of ne’er do wells and mischief makers Elaine Edmunds and Laurence Mitchell of Decadent Drawing, this fabulous event grows year on year, raising much needed funds for the amazing work done by the team at the Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary. We were lucky enough to drag Elaine and Laurence away from their preparation for this year’s event to discuss the event’s history, legacy and what the future holds.

 

FHR: The Whitby Krampus Run seems to be growing in popularity year on year. How did it all come about? I believe it has something to do with one of your Decadent Drawing art sessions?

We used to put on monthly themed life drawing/performances at La Rosa. The story of Naughty Little Hans was our festive special in 2013 featuring our very first Krampus. The mask was made by Neal Harvey of Rubber Gorilla. The following evening was actually the Eve of the Feast of St Nicholas,  it seemed a waste not to use the costume again  so we took him for a stroll through Whitby. We started Whitby Krampus Run proper in 2015 with a few friends and it’s developed from here. Once we started getting attention it was time to put it on as a public event with approval of the authorities

 

FHR: The event raises much needed funds for the The Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary, can you tell us how the connection between you and the sanctuary came about, and could you possibly tell us a little about the amazing work they do?

A local charity dear to our hearts because of the sheer dedication and expertise. It’s not just a rescue but a valued educational resource. Every year the work grows and the need for funding increases. They provide an excellent service not just for Whitby but across the NorthEast. I’m honoured to be one of the Trustees.

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FHR: Krampus was a little known folkloric figure hailing from Austria and Germany until the last few years when we have seen a rise in interest in him.  I am sure your event along with Al Ridenour’s wonderful book The Krampus and the Old Dark Christmas are among the myriad of reasons for that growth of interest. For those that know little of Krampus, can you give us a brief introduction to his story?

Certainly little known outside the Austrian and German towns and villages that held the events. Which looking back is quite incredible really. A brief history of Krampus? But considering only slight variations in the Alpine folklore there does not appear to be one definitive answer to his origins but it would be reasonable to say he’s pre Christian pagan and a protector. Krampus mythology had persisted enough throughout the Christianising of Germany to become incorporated into the 16th/17th century Christian narrative. St Nicholas was a popular Saint in Germany with his feast day in early December and Krampus became the good saints side kick, the one that dished out the punishment. Krampus’ appearance is generally anthropomorphic goat a horned hairy beast. Chains on one hand to possibly signify the devil bound by Christianity. Sometimes with a long pointy tongue sometimes without. A modern addition of basket on his back to place naughty children and a bundle of birch twigs to smack them with. No Krampus is complete without bells. Loud bells which would alert you to his coming among the alpine villages and towns. The story is now quite set but Krampus’ image develops with the times…but not for traditionalists.

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FHR:  I believe you make the costumes you use for the run yourselves. Creating such elaborate costumes must involve an enormous amount of work on your part? Can you tell us a little bit about the process, and how the costumes have changed since the event was introduced?

We’ve now got a wooden Austrian mask as well as the latex originals from Neal Harvey. The costumes and props do take a lot of time and effort. The participants put in so much work and enthusiasm into their own costumes and there’s some stunning creations. We are all quite skilled at recycling materials and problem solving. I made a mask last year based on the Star Carr Mesiolithic antler headdress which turned out very well especially as I didn’t know what I was doing. Lisa Eagleton has been very inventive using a horse hoof from a pet shop to put on her prosthetic leg. Interestingly more than half the participants in our group are women. The less ‘traditionalist’ Austrian and German costumes have evolved to become more realistic and orc like…I like them to have more of an older homemade feel…I think it makes for a much odder appearance…much more folk art. We are still to solve the problem of being able to see.

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FHR: I have heard that Whitby Krampus Run 2018 promises to be the biggest and best yet. Can you tell us about anything new and exciting you have planned to take place on the day, or any ideas you may be working on?

It’s an interesting year for us in building on the success. We’re clear that we are an interpretation and not a direct copy. This allows us to incorporate ideas specific to the local and ideas that just seem like mad fun. If they work they can stay if not plenty more where they came from. Really happy to have more Krampus involved this year and see them creating their costume/character. Those involved are all enthusiasts, we all have skill sets but this is new to us all. This year we are really delighted to have a troupe of experienced drummers lead the way bringing a small bit of order. We also have the market place throughout the day where you can bag some merch and we can carry out our parade finale as intended. The market place is a great backdrop and would be perfect to use it for a play or film at night in the future….then one day there’ll be Viking ships, submarines, giant snowballs/toboggan down the donkey path, meat raffles…ideas are no problem just the usual limits of finance and or health and safety.

 

Thank you to Elaine and Laurence for taking time out of their busy schedule to chat to us about The Whitby Krampus Run 2018. The amazing work they do in making people happy and raising money for a cause like the Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary is something that deserves to be applauded.

The Krampus Run takes place on Saturday December 1st around the streets of the beautiful town of Whitby. Several members of the FHR team will be in attendance at this event, and we hope to bring you photographs and reviews of the day for those who are too far away to make it to what will be one of the North of England’s must-see events in the Wyrd calendar for 2018. Hope to see some of you there.

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If you would like to find out more about the Krampus Run check out Elaine and Laurence’s Kramus blog here:

https://spark.adobe.com/page/SabqDn8I1AN4L/?fbclid=IwAR0x4QWgEg12aShz1seqaTmRZeBIvhQcIq7ygZ3F_QB7ArsC5g-xhx0_znY

Their Decadent Drawing blog is at the link below:

https://www.decadentdrawing.com/

 

For more information and for details on how to donate to the Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary:

https://www.whitbywildlife.co.uk/

 

If you’re still craving more information about Krampus Al Ridenour’s excellent book is available from the following Amazon link:

 

 

 

The Dark Masters Trilogy, A Review

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The Dark Masters Trilogy comprise of a trio of novellas from acclaimed horror writer Stephen Volk, a member of the select group of Welsh writers alongside Arthur Machen, whose work is held in the highest esteem within horror circles. Volk is most famous for his scriptwriting work on Ken Russell’s Gothic, and above all else the BBC drama Ghostwatch.

The Dark Masters Trilogy brings together three novellas, Whitstable, Leytonstone and Netherwood as a trio of dark tales of fiction constructed around a quartet of celebrated horror and occult figures from the 20th Century’s cultural past. Hammer legend Peter Cushing takes the lead role in Whitstable, a juvenile Alfred Hitchcock in Leytonstone and we get a twofer in Netherwood with both horror novelist Dennis Wheatley and Occultist Aleister Crowley squaring up to one another.

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Whitstable is up first. This is a story about the darker side of the 1970s that takes place in Peter Cushing’s beloved Whitstable in the period directly after the death of his much cherished wife, Helen. The story itself features some wonderfully written characters, and an interesting and well developed plot, however the real genius here is Volk’s touching portrayal of Cushing at this most difficult time in his life. The whole novella revolves around his incredible portrait of the horror legend as a broken man, the loss of his soul mate had rendered him a physical and mental wreck until a chance encounter with a young boy who mistakes him for the character he portrays on screen, the vampire hunter Dr Van Helsing. This leads to Cushing undertaking the role of investigator, delving into a crime that has been committed against the young boy, and saving himself at the same time.

Leytonstone is a story based on the childhood of Alfred Hitchcock that examines the roots of his fascination with crime and punishment, the two factors that form the basis for much of his cinematic output. The story begins with the young Hitchcock incarcerated in a police cell for a crime he did not commit. His Father had him locked up for a night to teach him a lesson. This inspires the young Fred as he was known to further investigate these ideas of crime and punishment with severe repercussions for those involved.  Once again this is beautifully written, Volk once again highlighting his incredible turn of phrase and attention to detail, as well as his incredible knack for writing wholly believable characters. Despite much of this story being fictional you feel as though you are delving into the mind of the real Hitchcock, such is Stephen Volk’s incredible talent for writing character.

Netherwood is the final entry in the trilogy. Volk imagines a meeting between two of the most important figures in the Twentieth Century occult world, Dennis Wheatley and Aleister Crowley. Once again Stephen Volk has created a truly believable work of fiction by rooting it in facts. An aging Crowley requests the presence of Wheatley at Netherwood, the guest house in Hastings that was to be Crowley’s last resort. A visibly sick and dying Crowley requests Wheatleys assistance to complete one one final magickal working before his death. The interplay between the two men who never actually met in real life is excellent and you really do get the sense that this is exactly how these events would have  played out had they actually happened. This is of course Stephen Volk’s greatest achievement, his characters are so well researched and developed that he almost instinctively knows how they would behave in almost any scenario. A rare commodity indeed and one that should be cherished.

The Dark Masters Trilogy is a triumph, a beautifully written volume that takes the Twentieth Century’s most infamous practitioners of horror and the dark arts and places them into new scenarios. Stephen Volk has written three fictional tales, that are so believable as to be future urban legends, such is the power of his writing, the great attention to detail, and his knowledge of the history of horror and the occult. You simply can’t imagine these stories having the same impact in anyone else’s hands. Each tale having its roots in fact provides a strong base for Volk’s writing, whether this is Cushing’s sad loss, Hitchcock’s incarceration, or Crowley’s final days at Netherwood.

As many of you will already be aware, Stephen Volk is a visionary writer in the field of horror and these novellas are a very strong addition to an already richly acclaimed career. I simply cannot recommend these tales highly enough.

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The Dark Masters Trilogy is published by PS Publishing and is available to order from their website now at the link below.

https://www.pspublishing.co.uk/the-dark-masters-trilogy–hardcover-by-stephen-volk-4696-p.asp

 

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.

DR. BALDEN CROSS: BEYOND THE VOID

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Press release from the PMRI:
Who on Earth is (or more accurately, was) Dr. Balden Cross you may ask? Only one of the most controversial TV heretics and paranormal investigators of our time that’s who! The man who sought to find that there was more to our existence than met the eye promised to send a message back from the void before he left our mortal coil back in 1982.
A TV documentary was released on the man himself in 1984 by the now defunct Wessex Television Studios – presumed deleted and lost forever after it’s initial broadcast. The documentary concluded with a seance trying to make contact with the man himself to fulfill the promise he had made. This event has now passed into television folklore and infamy, as events that night in late October, on live TV were said to have been truly disturbing.
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Luckily for us, as a treat this Halloween an old VHS copy of the documentary has been found in the vaults of the Paratheological and Metaphysical Research Institute – The PMRI – which was founded by Dr. Cross back in 1971. The archivist at the institute says it had narrowly missed the skip and has now been put online for our viewing pleasure.
Watch this forgotten slice of TV Forteana here:
For more info on Dr. Balden Cross and The PMRI visit: https://m.facebook.com/ThePMRI
Pictures: Dr. Balden Cross portrait, Beyond The Void poster, Dr. Balden Cross outside the PMRI.

Rowan: Morrison – Bury The Forests EP Review

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Bury the Forests EP

Miller Sounds 2018

https://rowanambermill.bandcamp.com
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The aptly and splendidly named Rowan:Morrison (who are wyrd folk outfit The Rowan Amber Mill with singer Angeline Morrison) present the Bury the Forests EP, a specially chosen selection of tracks from the forthcoming and much anticipated long player In The Sunshine We Rode The Horses alongside some essential non-album cuts. Both The Rowan Amber Mill and Angeline Morrison should be familiar to those of a folk horror bent; the Mill for their pursuit of the uncanny and the unusual in their own unique take on acid folk that can be heard on (highly recommended) recent recordings such as The Book Of The Lost and Harvest The Ears, Angeline for her previous work with the Mill as well as her delicate yet eerie releases with Emily Jones as ‘Emily & Angeline’. Thematically the new EP and album stand together, described by the band as exploring issues ‘of our beautiful natural surroundings, and how the pursuit of profit guides us to learn ‘the cost of everything and the value of nothing’, paving the way for the scarring of the landscape with fracking, HS2, retail parks and so on…’ These ideas and values permeate the songs with a gentle yet stubborn melancholy and a quiet but persistent sense of foreboding, of something beyond a monetary price which is inexorably being lost to us all. The album itself will take the story further as the land itself reacts to decades of man’s interference and destruction and promises to have a Play For Today styled edge to this unfolding narrative. One to watch out for indeed.

The EP begins with The Buzzard and the Nightingale, flute and harp encircling Morrison’s repeated intoning of ‘the light cometh in’. At once bewitching and otherworldly, the song’s ritual chants and delicate woodwind evokes an enchanted space; the most hidden part of the forest, somewhere liminal. Regal and richly detailed, this opening offering casts a persuasive spell which then does not falter for the duration of its fellow songs. Indeed, Bury the Forest is arguably best listened to as a whole, a song cycle with its own inner narrative, pace, mood and concept. We Rode The Horse, a melancholic and sepia tinged acoustic slice of perfect psych folk is swathed in orchestral sweeps and cascading piano, however, whilst truly beautiful, there is an air of dread and tension that befits the subject matter. Rowan:Morrison hold this dissonance masterfully throughout the EP, the interplay of darkness and light only serving to enhance each aspect and provide a finely crafted and nuanced take on the outer edgelands and more haunted furrows of folk. Likewise Gather Around, with its vintage electronic squeals and throbs weaving and wefting into both the warmth of its central cello and Morrison’s lilting vocals, is a lament as much as a call to arms. Its successor, The Meadows Call (Ridgeway) offers an effective musical crossroads whereby psych folk meets analogue electronics, the latter perhaps an area more usually associated with ‘hauntological’ artists such as Belbury Poly, The Advisory Circle or, journeying further back, Broadcast. Indeed those in thrall to the work of Trish Keenan and James Cargill will find much to admire here in Rowan:Morrison’s eye for the eerie, period detail and folktronic orchestration. The EP proper finishes with the somnambulant and beguiling Fall To Sleep, a baroque and wistful piece of chamber folk that would fit equally at home within Paul Giovanni’s The Wicker Man soundtrack as it would PJ Harvey’s piano led and ghost filled White Chalk. Two further bonus songs that will not feature on the soon to be released album peal the closing bell for Bury The Forest; these feel equally as crucial as their predecessors and would be a significant loss not to obtain by missing out on this release. The Meadow’s Call (Original), whilst an alternate take on a previous song, is a strikingly different version and holds its own individual approach and emotional impact, its layered strings and synths offering a more strident, stirring and ornamental interpretation. It is the last of the additional tracks however which feels utterly indispensable; At The Circles End marries an evocative spoken piece on the precarious state of the land to huge, filmic swells of strings and a resolute and reoccurring harp melody that seems to hang in the air itself, all framed by the constant chatter of birdsong. That such a strong piece of work is considered a bonus song demonstrates the level and quality at which Rowan:Morrison are operating.

Beautifully housed in a metal tin replete with badges, prints and stickers (and available in both a monochrome or colour version), Bury the Forests is a carefully crafted and sublime slice of psychedelic folk. This is the real deal, a genuine artifact that doesn’t simply seek to emulate or provide an imitation of the original, antiquated acid folk recordings of the past but which instead carries on and furthers the tradition in an individual and fascinatingly unique fashion. It also bodes extremely well for the release of In The Sunshine We Rode The Horses, creating significant anticipation for the album itself. Both the CD versions and a download of the EP can be found at The Rowan Amber Mill’s Bandcamp page; haste ye there.

Grey Malkin.

Soirée – A Short film by Charles Doran

The following review is for Charles Doran’s fascinating new short film Soirée.

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Soirée tells the story of Bill, a young academic who we learn lives in the beautiful house at the top of the hill with the Bougainvillea – a thorny ornamental plant that grows in his garden. Bill is incredibly proud of his garden and loves nothing more than spending time sitting outside and enjoying the peace and tranquillity it provides. When we are first introduced to him this is where he is. His girlfriend Soledad (Surely a reference to Jess Franco muse Soledad Miranda) joins him, she hands him a gift to celebrate their one month anniversary. Bill looks unimpressed by the cufflinks and admits that he has not bought a gift for Soledad. Bill comes across as being very self-centred, claiming that his very presence is present enough for Soledad, who then mentions that they have been invited to a party by a Professor friend of hers that evening. Bill doesn’t seem too keen to attend but he begrudgingly accepts the invitation to the party.

The soirée, which is being held at the Institute for the Scientific Study of Human and Non-Human Phenomena is hosted by a gentleman named Wilhelm, played by Doran’s brother and co-writer Timothy. As he and Bill become acquainted over a few drinks, we are treated first hand, to what a scene stealer Doran is. His role as the Aleister Crowley type occult leader figure of Wilhelm is a perfect bit of casting, he exudes a genial menace of the sort made famous by Charles Grey’s Mocata in The Devil Rides Out or Niall MacGinnis as Julian Karswell in Night of the Demon. He is also attired most appropriately in a 1930s style suit, and even his home décor seems appropriate for an occult leader. As the two drink and become further acquainted we begin to see just how thoroughly unpleasant Bill really is. He tells Wilhelm and Soledad of the despicable way in which he was able to cheat the former owner of the house out of her home, and when they are joined by Wilhelm’s friend Jason, he is dismissive and rude about the occult figurine that Jason has brought to the party for the ritual that is due to take place. A very drunk Bill then agrees to be silent during the upcoming ritual in order that he may stay and watch.

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Timothy Doran as Wilhelm

Warning! The following two paragraphs may contain some slight spoilers. The camerawork and direction are spot on, particularly during the ritual scenes, which are just oddball enough to be truly menacing. The use of drums and a ritual dance performed seductively by a female cast member help to create a suitable atmosphere, whilst the use of animal masks draw influence from Robin Hardy’s classic The Wicker Man. Wilhelm’s mask,  on the other hand, harks back to something very Lovecraftian in nature, but even more terrifying.

As an interesting side note I would like to draw attention to the film’s use of the ancient Roman religion of Mithraism, which was practiced throughout the Roman Empire in the early centuries of the common era. This is particularly of interest to me as I live in the North East of England, near to the site of the Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh, on Hadrian’s Wall, which was built around 200 CE. Legend would have us believe that the God Mithras captured and killed the primeval bull in a cave. This apparently led to Mithraic temples being small, gloomy places as they try to replicate the atmosphere of the cave.

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Overall, this is a beautifully made short film with a straight forward but well executed plot. The production values are great, and the main cast are all excellent, Matthew Nelson as Bill, Catie Smith as Soledad, Timothy Doran as Wilhelm, and Patrick Peterson as Jason. All ably buoyed by a fine supporting cast. In fact, the whole film looks and feels a lot more expensive than it is, which is real credit to the director who has created something that looks good on a budget. All credit to him for his hard work because it really does pay off here. I look forward to seeing where Charles and his brother go from here…

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Charles Doran is an Administrative Professional for a major university in Southern California. His previous short films, Westsider, and Ennui, played at film festivals all over the world. Soirée is his first attempt at an “urban wyrd “ type of film. Soirée was co-written by his brother Timothy, an Assistant Professor of History  at Cal State Los Angeles, who runs the very real Institute for the Study of Human and Non-Human Phenomena, the primary setting for the film.