The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths ~ Review

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Stephen Prince and his project A Year In The Country are best known for their derives through the haunted areas of unusual folk music and folklore, occult British culture, pagan children’s TV shows of the 70s and 80s and the electronica of these isles such as Delia Derbyshire and Ghost Box Records. Their website charts a course through the shadows of modern culture of TV, literature, music and film, finding that which provides a more spectral, hauntological narrative of the last 50 years. Similarly, their music imprint has spawned several high quality compilations featuring artists such as The Heartwood Institute, The Rowan Amber Mill and Grey Frequency, as well as albums by Prince himself under the moniker A Year in the Country.
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‘The Corn Mother’ first (re)emerged in 2018, as the A Year in the Country music label issued a soundtrack inspired by the notorious, possibly imaginary and subsequently unreleased film of the same name. Renowned for its tortured production history and its fabled lost screenplay, the movie itself had become something apocryphal and of legend, rarely seen but oft mentioned. Described as a ‘folkloric fever dream’, how this piece of cinematic conjecture fitted within and contributed to the current folk horror trend or to aspects of psychotronic cinema has been left as, essentially, a question mark. Indeed, there has been much musing but little else solid or informative regarding ‘The Corn Mother’ to base any consideration of its urban myth upon, until now.

In its ongoing pursuit of exploring the more haunted and liminal aspects of this island’s culture, A Year in the Country has produced ‘The Corn Mother’ novella, furthering the themes and characters of this spectral and hidden world, as well as an accompanying soundtrack, entitled ‘Night Wraiths’. Both are described as being ‘explorations and reflections of the whispers that tumble forth from the corn mother’s kingdom. A place and story where fact, fiction, reality and dreams blur into one’. The novella itself is sequenced according to the cycles of the year, into four sections or seasons and 52 chapters of no more than 365 words each. This nod to nature throughout the structure of the story alludes to the rural and harvest horror that spawned the original tale of ‘The Corn Mother’. Beginning in the year 1877 in a tiny, rustic English village, we first encounter the innocent Mrs Jessop who is unfairly accused of poisoning and spoiling the crops by employing witchcraft. This initial section details the growing hysteria that descends upon the small, insular village, already unsettled by the encroaching industrial revolution and consequent unwanted changes in country life that technological progress is bringing to them. The persecution of Mrs Jessop and her subsequent revenge as ‘the corn mother’ proves both disquieting and compulsive reading.

Time then shifts rapidly on and we find ourselves in the 1970s, as scriptwriter Peter is working on a story concerning a wronged villager who causes a village to splinter, fight, go mad with guilt and eventually up and leave. Sound familiar? Arthouse director Alain, whose films sound like they inhabit a genre somewhere between the Czech New Wave and Blood on Satan’s Claw, picks up on this script, which has been named ‘The Corn Mother’, and it goes into production. Things seem to be progressing well with the movie; the character of Ellen is introduced, who is producing the movie’s soundtrack, as well as Sarah, who is to play Mrs Jessop (this asks an eerie unanswered question; how does Peter know of her, know of her name?). Each chapter is written in the first person, giving a varied perspective and a personal take on the unfolding mystery that reveals both motives and intrigue. We also hear from crooked film funder Hines, whose corrupt financial dealings result in the whole production being cancelled and all cinematic reels and work completed on the movie disappearing. All, except for those which are taken and stowed away by a certain crew member, kept safe and hidden in a basement until they eventually emerge more than twenty years later. Meanwhile, the decades roll on and the rumours circulate. There is talk of ‘The Corn Mother’ being available as a bootleg VHS. A collection of videotapes that may have an edit of the film appear and then just as quickly are gone, as if they never existed, almost as if someone or something is eliminating all trace of the film’s existence. We are introduced to Alan, a film obsessive, who spends a significant part of his life trying to track down proof of ‘The Corn Mother’s existence, attending comic cons and searching internet databases, in particular the websites dedicated to the burgeoning folk horror movement. However, as reference to the film builds, it just as quickly vanishes, deleted. The evidence that ‘The Corn Mother’ existed, is being removed, but by whom or what?

A fascinating and truly inventive novella, ‘The Corn Mother’ touches upon those familiar pillars that A Year In The Country have become known for, the hauntological (and the imagined film in this tale really is a ‘past that is haunting the present’), as well as recognisable folk horror lodestones such as The Wicker Man. The story even cleverly builds in, during a ‘meta’ moment, the existence of 2018’s ‘The Corn Mother’ compilation that was actually released by the A Year in the Country label. Additionally, the text serves as a cultural and social reference point; throughout the passing of the decades; mention is made to the three-day week and power cuts of the 70s, to the Blockbuster video chains of the 90s and the subsequent rise of the internet. Nevertheless, much is also pleasingly unexplained. Prince is in no rush or pressure to reveal or join the dots, he trusts the readers to do this themselves, to surmise or imagine what machinations are at work.

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The novella comes accompanied by ‘The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths’, a soundtrack for the stories as well as a standalone piece of work. The album itself is split in a similar fashion to the novella; inspired by the cycle of the year it is sequenced into seven tracks – as in seven days of the week. Spectral, swooping electronics and ominous analogue washes create a barren, shadowed landscape to illustrate ‘The Infernal Engines’, Mrs Jessop’s walks amongst the fields and the suspicion of ever nearing industry and mechanization. ‘Night Wraiths’ stays within this era, documenting the coming of the corn mother and her lysergic revenge upon the mob hysteria of the village. Chillingly effective and genuinely unsettling, the synth pulses and growls are an adept soundtrack to the terrors in the book itself and work in a similar manner; subtle, pervasive and with a creeping sense of unease. ‘I Have Brought a Myriad Fractures and Found Some Form of Peace’ is a ghost story of a track, decaying and ebbing as much as the village and the inhabitant’s psyches were cracking and breaking under the weight of their madness and guilt. ‘Ellen’s Theme’ then takes us into the 1980s and the synth soundtrack to the long lost film, the music inspired by such compositions as featured in that period’s horror cinema such as that of ‘Halloween 3: Season of the Witch’, electronic strings hinting at the darkness behind the reoccurring melody, a pulsing and layering paranoia. Hints of Coil, John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream float on a doomed, resonating motif that circles and breathes, growing in intensity. ‘Dreams of a Third Generation Grail’ references Andy’s search for ‘The Corn Mother’ film, a spooked sense of yearning and obsession played out in the ghost-strewn harmonies. ‘They Are All Here’ charts the disappearance of any record of the film ever existing, a lonely electronic arctic wind that is framed by solitary notes and unearthly bleeps. Finally, ‘An Unending Quest’ completes the album, hinting at the cyclical and repeating nature of ‘The Corn Mother’ saga itself.

This is an original and significant piece of work, not only in its novel, singular and successful approach to folk horror and ‘imaginary’ films (tropes which, as hinted at within the book, have perhaps reached saturation point in lesser hands), but in the creation of its own self referencing  folklore. This may not be the last we have heard of ‘The Corn Mother’, her myth has been sown and will undoubtedly spring forth anew once again. Both an excellent tale of the supernatural and an effective slice of spooked electronica, ‘The Corn Mother’ is waiting in the fields for those who watch and listen. Time to gather the crops.

Available from the 16th March at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk/shop/, Amazon and Lulu.

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Review by Grey Malkin

See also ~ https://folkhorrorrevival.com/2018/09/07/recording-our-own-ghosts-a-review-of-a-year-in-the-country-wandering-through-spectral-fields-journeys-in-otherly-pastoralism-the-further-reaches-of-folk-and-the-parallel-worlds-o/

The Gallows Pole & The Shining Levels : Review and Interview

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Never judge a book by its cover or so ‘they’ say … whomever ‘they’ are, ‘they’ don’t always get it right. The cover artwork of Benjamin Myer’s 2017 novel ‘The Gallows Pole’ designed by Delaney Williams captivated me at first sight. Instant reaction was that this wasn’t a new book but was one of Penguin books vintage green mystery and crime series and indeed though differing in time setting from the 20th Century noir of the majority of the Penguin books, ‘The Gallows Pole’ would be a more than worthy addition to the series. There is a ‘folk horror’ sensibility also to the artwork and within the novel itself there is an element of this sub-genre. Telling the tale of ‘King’ David Hartley, leader of the Cragg Vale Coiners, a troop of currency forgers living and working on the West Yorkshire Moors in the 18th Century, the sense of place and landscape is integral to the tale and this would in itself lend itself well to the folk horror reader but the visions of David Hartley and his reverence to a stag entity tie a tighter knot – as does the unfolding brutality as an outside agency heads north to the barren heaths to investigate the crimes against the crown.  Myer’s writing itself is visionary and atmospheric, transporting the reader to the time and place of the harsh drama, which itself is inspired by true events. The dark mystique of the cover indeed is highly evocative of the tale that Myers spins with great craft and gravity.

Benjamin Myers’ roots lie in the soil of County Durham, as does those of Folk Horror Revival and also of The Shining Levels, a band that inspired by Myer’s novel have created a beautiful album of music and lyrics also entitled The Gallows pole.
Having had the good fortune to see The Shining Levels perform live at The Old Cinema Launderette in Durham and at the lovely Victorian library in Darlington as part of the Hark music and literature event, I urge anyone who gets chance to see The Shining Levels in concert to do so as their live performance brings a further element of beauty and depth to the stunning creation that is The Gallows Pole.

Folk Horror Revival were honoured to have The Shining Levels answer a few of our queries …

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Folk Horror Revival: How did the collaboration with Ben Myers to produce a concept album inspired by his book The Gallows Pole come about?

The Shining Levels: The idea was first mentioned by Dan as a solution to me (Davey) whining about going through a creative void. It was a real light-bulb moment and the obvious thing was to create the album together which is exactly what we did once we had Ben’s permission and blessing to do so. He’d actually forgotten all about it and was genuinely shocked when I said it was nearly finished and could I get him to do a short piece of spoken word on it. Thankfully he really liked what we’d done and was happy to be associated with it. He was also very flattered that his book had inspired others to create their own work. Then we were then lucky enough to be taken on by our fantastic label Outre who did a great job of releasing a beautiful vinyl for us.

FHR: What is it about The Gallows Pole novel that you find particularly evocative and inspirational?

TSL: There is so much to delve into, the story of these poor people being able to stick it to a government that doesn’t care for them really resonated with us. There are so many defined characters with their own interesting storylines and there are several themes running through the book that really matter to people, like corruption, solidarity, treachery… I could go on. But when you add the thread of the supernatural, King David’s frightening visions of Stag Men and the alchemy of the coin replication it takes it to another level. And I shouldn’t forget to mention the way Ben writes and describes the landscape, it’s like another character,  as a songwriter it’s a gift to turn a landscape into a soundscape.

FHR:  Yourselves and Ben Myers hail from Durham (as incidentally do the founders of the Folk Horror Revival project); what is it about the county and / or city that you think inspires art of such a nature?

TSL: As I mentioned landscape is very important and we are lucky to have such beautiful surroundings here. From rich woodland to beautiful moorland and rolling hills, all mixed together. I’m a regular visitor to it all and I think you can feel its history coming up through your feet. Whether that is strolling the riverbanks in the city or moving further to the outskirts and hills, there are ghosts of our past right there. One day we’ll all be ghosts of it too so creating art out of that inspiration is very satisfying.

Not to forget the people, Durham has unique character and references. The city is very small so there are many cross connections and small degrees of separation. It’s a place with a full spectrum of characters to draw inspiration from.

FHR: Does your band name relate to the book ‘The Shining Levels’ by John Wyatt about his transition to rural life in the Lake District, or indeed the name applied to the lakes and tarns of Cumbria? Is this a book of any significance to you or did you come about the band name for a different reason?

TSL: Ben gave me a copy of that book about 20 years ago and I loved it.  We’d virtually finished the album before we arrived at our name. We were throwing names back and forth over text and email, between me and Dan and then myself and Ben and that one came up. I believe it was one of Ben’s ideas as I’d asked him for his thoughts and we immediately all agreed on that. The imagery it evokes and the fact it has a literary connection. It sounds bright, hopeful and grand to me. Ben gifted it to me twice.

FHR:  You recently performed live at the Hark event at Darlington Library which brought music and literature together as its theme and of course The Gallows Pole revolves around Ben’s novel; Are there any other books that you find of great inspiration or influence? Would you consider doing other albums pertaining to particular books?

TSL: I love the concept of art forms connecting and crossing over. Art inspiring art. I think we’re going to see more cross pollination in the future so it feels natural that we would follow up on the success of The Gallows Pole album with another literary connection which is what we are doing now.

Personally, I buy/receive more books than I have time to read which is ridiculous.  I’m a bit of a geek so my go to choice is generally sci – fi/fantasy fiction though I do read other genres and non – fiction too. I think music could be written to any book you like. That’s why we’re careful to use the term ‘Inspired by’ rather than suggest it’s a soundtrack.

FHR: What plans lie ahead for The Shining Levels?

TSL: In 2020 we plan on playing many more live events and will hopefully both finish and release our next album which we’re hard at work with now. Something different but it will still very definitely sound like us.

(A little birdy has chirped that The Shining Levels may be seen and heard at Folk Horror Revival’s Winter Ghosts event in Whitby in November … touchwood … keep watching this space …)

To listen to and buy a digital download of The Shining Levels – The Gallows Pole visit here – https://theshininglevels1.bandcamp.com/album/the-gallows-pole-ost

To purchase the album on vinyl –
www.piccadillyrecords.com/counter/product.php?pid=129015

or  www.normanrecords.com/records/175729-the-shining-levels-the-gallows-pole

Contact – theshininglevelsband@gmail.com
outredisque.com/the-shining-levels
Twitter
Facebook

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Image © Kevin McGonnell

The Gallows Pole book is published by Bloomsbury and is available here and other on and offline bookshops.

Ben Myers website
Twitter

Contact – Ben Myers : For all literary enquiries please contact Jessica Woollard: jessicawoollard@davidhigham.co.uk

For all publicity enquiries (interviews, review copies, events) please contact Philippa Cotton at Bloomsbury Publishing: Philippa.cotton@bloomsbury.com

For all TV/radio/broadcast rights enquiries: clareisrael@davidhigham.co.uk

Also available …
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Ghostland: Review and Interview with Edward Parnell

Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country by Edward Parnell is a beautifully strange and important book. That someone had not previously wrote of a pilgrimage to the wandering grounds of some of Britain’s most significant authors of the supernatural (least not to my knowledge) seems unusual – it would seem a logical step that writers who have previously written about writers who have haunted the minds of others would walk in their footsteps to see what had indeed haunted their own imaginations. This void is filled by Edward Parnell’s Ghostland and how. This book is not merely a meandering biography of souls such as W.G. Sebald, M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Alan Garner and other tellers of strange tales but is also a psychogeographic derive, a nature diary, memoir and journal of grief. For its observations on grieving and of nature (particularly birds) and references to literature there is a comparison to Helen MacDonald’s H for Hawk and indeed this book will likely be of interest to readers of ‘New Nature Writing’ and psychogeography as well as to those who have an interest in the ghostwriters that Parnell went in search of. As an exploration and cathartic endeavour of Parnell’s own grief,  Ghostland possesses a great power. His writing on the matter is subtle and is comparatively hardly mentioned really but its presence runs as an undercurrent throughout the entire book. It lends a new vantage point to his considerations of place and the personal lives of the writers whose storytelling have marked Britain as particularly spectral isles, but the horror and sadness of his own experiences adds a depth and poignancy to this book that is as beautiful as it is terrible in its invocation of memories and sorrow. From a personal note, I read this book at a time when the memories of my own mother’s illness and passing were again strong in my mind and also sadly at a time when several friends were experiencing loss or illness of their own, which of course was also highly present in my mind. So at times this book touched very deeply and sometimes brought pain – but that is grief. And though there is melancholia a’plenty in Ghostland, it is not a misery-sodden place in the slightest but a bittersweet, compelling, intriguing and touching journey and destination. What the late Simon Marsden invoked in his photographic studies of places, Edward Parnell has captured in words. An important, honest and beautiful work.

Folk Horror Revival is pleased to have put a few questions to Edward …

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Folk Horror Revival: In writing Ghostland, did you always intend for it to be a grief journal?

Edward Parnell: At the start of 2017 I was keen to start exploring the ideas for a second novel that were starting to awaken in my head (my previous, The Listeners – a gothic story of family secrets set in rural Norfolk in 1940 – had come out in October 2014). With that in mind I visited Great Livermere, a village in the west Suffolk countryside that harbours a lost history but is most noticeable for the strange, ephemeral, mud-fringed mere that gives a name to the place. Livermere is also where the Victorian-born writer of ghost stories, Montague Rhodes James, spent his childhood; his father was the local rector. I’d long been a fan of James’s supernatural tales and half-fancied featuring the closed-off, stilted Cambridge don as a minor character in the story I was trying to flesh out. (It wouldn’t be the first time M. R. James had taken on such an afterlife – Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1990 novel The Gate of Angels features a version of MRJ in the form of the book’s Dr Matthews.)

On that day I wandered extensively, taking photos of James’s old house and St Peter’s graveyard. When I got home I wrote a piece about the place for my website. Some weeks later a commissioning editor at Harper Collins read it and emailed me to ask if I’d ever thought about writing a book on the subject of James and other writers of the weird and eerie. So I went down to London to meet him. We got on well, both sharing a love of trashy British horror movies from the 1960s and 70s – we discussed, for example, the zombie-biker flick Psychomania at length, a slice of kitsch that in the end didn’t make it onto the pages of Ghostland.

I went back to Norfolk and thought hard about whether I would like to write such a book – a book concerned with ghost stories and films and the places around Britain that fed into them. And I decided that I did. Because I’d grown up obsessed from a young age with the supernatural and horror. Like a lot of children born in the 1970s, my early years had been surrounded by morbid public information films and terrifying, offbeat TV programmes aimed at, but quite probably unsuitable for, our age group; without knowing it, I was part of what the Fortean Times has come to term the ‘haunted generation’.

I realised, however, that I only wanted to write about the subject if I could bring something of myself to the narrative. And when I started to do some proper thinking and research into who and where I’d want to explore, I realised that the locations I was considering were connected to my own family – a story which itself could be said to be somewhat haunted… Many of the writers I ended up delving into seemed also to have a wistful, troubled air about their lives; at any rate, these were the ones that most attracted me.

That’s broadly how Ghostland came about – morphing after that first meeting with my editor into a more personal and poignant exploration of my memories, revisiting barely remembered destinations we’d come to on long-ago family holidays. And, as I began to explore what M. R. James refers to as the ‘sequestered places’ of England, Scotland and Wales, the writing of the book became a way of reclaiming something that had been lost to me. A way of trying to give form to those half-glimpsed figures that otherwise languish in shadow on my father’s old Kodachrome slides.

So, although it’s a book about grief, I’d say really that it’s a book about memories, and how we have to not let those particular ghosts slip away, even when the very act of remembering is sometimes terribly painful. Because there’s something positive and healing in reconnecting with them.

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(M.R. James)

FHR: Of all the ghost story writers you have written about, do you have a particular author or story you especially like? If so what is it about them that particularly grabs you?

EP: I suspect like most readers that I’m prone to fads where I become obsessed with a certain writer, probably for no discernible reason. But I do have a constant love for M. R. James’s stories, mainly for the way they evoke that very particular atmosphere of Victorian and Edwardian academia, as well as for the playfulness and chattiness of the way most of the stories are related to the reader.

Because James wasn’t prolific, his overall body of work remains so strong. There are other writers of the same era – like Algernon Blackwood or E. F. Benson, for instance, who wrote some wonderful stories, but also churned out a number of stories that aren’t particularly memorable. Blackwood’s ‘The Willows’, however, still might just be my favourite weird tale of all.

There are a couple of other writers of supernatural stories who I never tire of re-reading – Robert Aickman and Walter de la Mare. Because their stories are often far more elusive – much less straightforward – than the relatively simple, usually Medieval horrors of M. R. James (though some of his later tales do have much more of a tendency towards the ambiguous). As a writer, I find myself revisiting their work to try to discern the secret of the strange alchemy that makes it so beguiling. I still haven’t fathomed it.

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(Algernon Blackwood)

FHR: Are there any ghost stories that have not already been adapted to film, that you would especially like to see brought to the screen?

EP: I’d love to see an adaptation of William Hope Hodgson’s Galway-set masterpiece The House on the Borderland. Though perhaps there’s a reason it’s never been adapted… The first half of the novel with the ‘swine creatures’ and the story of this strange house in the middle of nowhere in the Irish countryside would probably be doable given a decent budget, but the psychedelic second half of the book with its astral journeys would be pretty hard to pull off, I suspect.

As a short one-off adaptation in the mould of the BBC’s 1970s A Ghost Story for Christmas strand then I think a story by a much lesser-known contemporary of M. R. James, Amyas Northcote, would work well – and be refreshing in that its protagonists are both women: Alice and Maggie, two sisters. ‘Brickett Bottom’ is the most well-known of Northcote’s stories (they all come from a solitary 1921 collection, In Ghostly Company). Separated from her more sensible sister, Alice becomes bewitched by the red-brick building and the polite, yet slightly odd, elderly couple she encounters tending its neat garden in a neighbouring wooded gully beneath the Downs. And then Alice is gone from that place – a kind of ominous Brigadoon that only manifests itself every so many years to lone young women traversing the little-used track through the tree-shaded glen. She has been spirited away, leaving her sister and father distraught. It’s an eerie, haunting tale that I could see taking on a wonderful Picnic at Hanging Rock-esque vibe on the screen.

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(William Hope Hodgson)
FHR: Through your own personal experiences, travels and research, have your own personal beliefs about ghosts or hauntings changed or developed in any way?

EP: I imagine that when I was a kid poring over stuff like The Usborne World of the Unknown Books that I definitely believed in ghosts. Though it’s hard to put myself exactly back into the mind of my younger self, at least in terms of what I did and didn’t accept as true in that particular moment. However, I do remember – I was probably around eight or nine – going with a friend down a local lane that he claimed was haunted, and I had this vague vision of a Victorian gentleman on a penny-farthing bicycle that I’m now certain was entirely a product of my overactive imagination; my friend didn’t see it.

As I grew older I became much more sceptical. Today I’d say that I don’t believe in ghosts, but equally that I don’t entirely not believe in them… In that regard my opinion probably isn’t too far removed from the answer to the question that M. R. James gave in the introduction to his Collected Ghost Stories: ‘Do I believe in ghosts? To which I answer that I am prepared to consider evidence and accept it if it satisfies me.’ Saying that, there are two (perhaps three) odd occurrences that I describe in Ghostland that I don’t have a convincing rational explanation for, though on balance I’d guess that the reasons behind them are probably more mundane than the conclusions it’s tempting to head towards.
FHR: Are there any places you have visited that strike you as having a particularly eerie or strange atmosphere or qualities?

EP: My editor described me at the Ghostland book launch as the least spooky person that he knows, and I don’t think I’m very susceptible to freaking myself out at places that might unnerve some people. I was in my local church choir as a boy, and after Sunday night services we used to mess around in the graveyard, which might have inoculated myself somewhat against the terrors that such places might induce in lots of others. In contrast, I have a couple of friends who claim to pick up odd sensations in certain buildings and places – like echoes of atrocities that might have happened there before – but I’m definitely at the opposite end of the radar.

Obviously though, many of the places that I visited in Ghostland did impress me with their atmosphere – whether that was for the solitude and loneliness of their aspect, the age of the building I was in (and all that associated, pressing history), the sublime sense of the natural world, or perhaps just a certain strange slant of light…
FHR: Are you currently working on or have any other books or projects planned? If so could you tell us something about that?

EP: I’m currently casting around trying to finesse a couple of possible ideas for a next narrative non-fiction book. I don’t think either are quite at the sharing stage yet! I don’t think I’m ever going to be a particularly prolific writer – I’m always amazed and slightly envious at other writers I talk to who as soon as they’ve finished one book have started the next; Ghostland was quite an emotionally exhausting book to write in places, so I’m not going to worry too much if I have a bit of a break before delving into the next project.

I would also like to write another novel – perhaps one where the supernatural is a factor – at some point in the not-too-distant future. We’ll see.

Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country is a work of narrative non-fiction was published in hardback by William Collins on 17 October 2019.

https://edwardparnell.com/

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Urban Wyrd : Spirits of Time and Place

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Now available from Wyrd Harvest Press
Folk Horror Revival – Urban Wyrd: 1. Spirits of Time

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Discover Hauntology, Weird Technology & Transport, Hauntings and much much more in the realms of TV, Film, Literature, Art, Culture , Lore and Life. Travel in time and spaces with Adam Scovell, Stephen Volk, Scarfolk, Julianne Regan, Sebastian Backziewicz, Sara Hannant, The Black Meadow and many other contributors.

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Folk Horror Revival – UrbanWyrd: 2. Spirits of Place

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Urban Wyrd – Spirits of Place. Discover within its winding streets Psychogeography, Genii Loci, Edgelands, Urban Exploration, Weird Places and many other strange matters within film, TV, music, literature, life and culture. Perambulate in the company of such contributors as Will Self, K.A. Laity, Bob Fischer, Iain Sinclair, Diane A. Rodgers, John Coulthart, Karl Bell and many many more.

Available now from –

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100% of profits from FHR / Wyrd Harvest Press books sold in our Lulu store is charitably donated at intervals to different environmental, wildlife and community projects undertaken by the Wildlife Trusts.

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NEW BOOKS: Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd Spirits of Time + Place

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Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd –

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2: Spirits of Place

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Launch offer 35% Discount on each book

(20% added automatically – to gain a further 15% Discount enter code  ONEFIVE  at checkout – Code valid until end of 27th June 2019)

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Contents – (to enlarge when viewing on computer – right click – view image)

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Book Review- Midnight Movie Monographs: Spirits Of The Dead by Tim Lucas

Midnight Movie Monographs are a series of books covering forgotten grindhouse gems. Films in the series including Death Line, Martin and Theatre Of Blood. This volume focuses on the anthology of Poe adaptations of Spirits Of The Dead (also known as Histories Extraordinaires). It provides a meticulously detailed account of the film’s genesis and production, an analysis of each segment (Metzengerstein directed by Roger Vadim, William Wilson directed by Louis Malle, and Toby Damnit directed by Federico Fellini), it’s afterlife on various formats after release as well as the original stories that inspired the film.
Although overshadowed by the better known AIP versions of Poe’s works, Spirits Of The Dead is an interesting curiosity, which as Lucas points out, straddles the line between grindhouse and arthouse, both surreal and shocking. One of the most interesting inclusions in the book was the impact it had on the author, who saw it at a young age, then describes a failed attempt to secure a repeat viewing at the cinema (which is both endearing and a salient reminder about how easy we have it these days, where practically any cultural artefact can be accessed in a matter of minutes via the internet). The author’s love of the film comes through on every page.
The chapters analyzing each segment give a scene by scene breakdown, with the production background discussed and comparisons with the source material made. The chapter on the Fellini segment was particularly interesting, coming at a difficult time in his life, when he’d suffered illness and bereavement and this is explored in detail.
Overall, this is a heavyweight look at this film, perhaps not for the casual reader but if you are a fan of the film, this is unquestionably the definitive look at it.
You can order a copy here.

Book review: Magical Folk: British & Irish Fairies 500 AD to the Present

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Fairies have become a much maligned species in recent centuries. Mention the word to most people and the mental image that springs to mind will most frequently be a diminutive sparkling being reminiscent of Disney’s rendition of J.M. Barrie’s Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. The idea that Fairies are twee, little wish granters perhaps does them a great disservice. That is not to say that fairies do not look like that. They can, if a human mind is faced with something otherworldly, something they have never encountered before, regardless of whether it has a natural or supernatural quality, it will frequently seek a pattern in its memory and recognition facility. If they expect a fairy to look that way, then perhaps they will see it that way. In my own experience, art and contemplation I have a preference for the term Faerie, which although may donate a place or state of consciousness perhaps, rather than an individual race of spirit or being (the naming of which has always been a moot and sometimes dangerous issue, as explained within this book), divorces my mind at least from the sugar plum sentimentality of the subject. The mawkish is however probably as important as the mysterious, for in studying or commenting upon folklore, the cultural set and the individual mindset is very important in the mapping of human experience and interpretation of experience. Simon Young’s exploration of these issues, of which Magical folk is a part, is a very important and intriguing aspect of 21st Century studies of folklore both in a historical and contemporary setting . But now to the book.

Magical Folk edited by Simon Young & Ceri Houlbrook, which features numerous impressive essays by various writers, follows the path trodden by notable folklorist Katherine Briggs, in looking at what fairies reported at different times and different places have in common as well as traits and quirks that tie them to a particular location or moment. It is clear that many of the reported fairies do not have much in common at all with Tinkerbell. My own personal fascination and feeling of fairies leans towards the most odd; the capricious even the sinister.

Chapters are themed according to locality, for the most part different regions of the British Isles, but also there are intriguing accounts from North America. I was aware of the lore of some fay British and Irish entities reputedly flitting west with immigrants to the new worlds of Canada and America and also of the tales of the first nations about their own similar beings, but there is material in here new to me which is a pleasure to read.

Also featured several times in discussion is one of my personal favourite Faerie tales; that of the faerie midwife. If you don’t know it already, then I will leave it for you to read in the book. Needless to say, it is a tale that reveals the capriciousness of the faerie kind and also relates to the concept of Glamour – basically the premise that things may not initially be what they seem.

Joining Simon and Ceri on this enjoyable excursion beyond the mist gates are the current Queen of British folklorists, Jacqueline Simpson and a worthy entourage comprised of Pollyanna Jones, Mark Norman. Jo Hickey-Hall, Richard Sugg, Jeremy Harte, Jenny Butler, Laura Coulson, Richard Suggett, Francesca Bihet, Stephen Miller, Ronald M. James, Peter Muise and Chris Woodyard.

Magical Folk is a pleasure in its own right, but also needs to be seen in the wider context of Simon Young’s work. As well as being the Faerie Correspondent of Fortean Times; he is the resurrection man behind the reprise of the Fairy Investigation Society. In bringing the work of Quentin C.A. Craufurd, bernard Sleigh and especially Marjorie Johnson of the original Fairy Investigation Society to present day attention, he has set the foundations for present and future investigation of the phenomenon – whatever its rhyme or reason. This is an important step, for as the results of Simon’s Fairy Census show, fairy encounters are not a mere thing of nursery tales nor, as the closet minded faction of sceptical thinkers may have it, simply a thing of new age rainbows and glitter self-help books, but a fascinating and important aspect of anthropology, cultural study and investigation into both liminal states and potentials of quantum reality consideration.

But again, Magical Folk is simply a pleasure to read in its own right. 

Magical Folk: British & Irish Fairies 500 AD to the Present

edited by Simon Young & Ceri Houlbrook

Gibson Square, £16.99

Available from
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Magical-Folk-British-Fairies-Present/dp/1783341017 and other online and actual bookshops.

 

When Will The Wolves Howl ?” / ” Kiedy Wilki Zawyja ?” by Mzylkypop

This is an album which throbs, pulsates and yes, howls, with imaginative intensity.

When Will The Wolves Howl? provides the soundtrack of a chilling imagined future. England is surrounded by the Republics of Scotland and Wales. Albion is now ruled by a far right government that has come to power on a manifesto of forced repatriation. There is panic in the streets. Resistance is scattered as bands of immigrants, environmentalists and activists flee to the ‘wild space’ north of the border. Here they bind together as they hide away from the UKops who deploy witch drones to trap, imprison and deport them.

So far, so dystopian. However, while this album undoubtedly warps the dark currents of the present into the future in disturbing ways, this is a recording that delights the listener with the most vibrant musicianship. The soundscape is ever-changing, twisting and turning with dexterity in ways which bewitch and surprise. Analogue instrumentation, mostly drawn from Somerset’s collection of 1960s keyboards, effects and woodwind, is used throughout to provide distinctive and innovative instrumentation.

Three years in the making, When Will the Wolves Howl? is an album fermented to perfection. It is the brainchild of Michael Somerset, formerly of industrial funksters Clock DVA and Was (Not Was). Those Revivalists who were lucky enough to attend the FHR events at the British Museum in 2016 and the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield in 2017, will most likely recall the striking performances delivered by Michael alongside The Consumptives and Mother Crow.

The album brings together a variety of other talented musicians on the Sheffield music scene, including I Monster, Simon Lewinski and several highly skilled drummers and bassists. Of particular note is the singer Sylwia Anna Drwal, whose vocal performance animates the whole recording with flair and sonic seduction. Given the subject of the album it is interesting to note that Sylvia is Polish and one might assume that the band’s name Mzylkypop is also of Eastern European derivation. However, this is not so as it is in fact a word which Somerset made up as a child to describe the ‘mischief maker’ in the Superman of DC Comics whose name was just a bunch of letters and symbols. As the strange uncertainties of 2018 begin to unfold, it is time that we allowed Mr Somerset and his fellow Mzylkypop mischief makers to entertain and protect us.

The howling has begun.

John Pilgrim

Review – Marshland – Nightmares and Dreams on the Edge of London Gareth E. Rees

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A waking dream on the margin between two universes

Marshland – Nightmares and Dreams on the Edge of London

Gareth E. Rees

Illustrated by Ada Jusic

INFLUX press

“Cocker spaniel by his side, Rees wanders the marshes of Hackney, Leyton and Walthamstow, avoiding his family and the pressures of life. He discovers a lost world of Victorian filter plants, ancient grazing lands, dead toy factories and tidal rivers on the edgelands of a rapidly changing city. Ghosts are his friends. As strange tales of bears, crocodiles, magic narrowboats and apocalyptic tribes begin to manifest themselves, Rees embarks on a psychedelic journey across time and into the dark heart of London. It soon becomes clear that the very existence of this unique landscape is at threat. For on all sides of the marshland, the developers are closing in… Marshland is a deep map of the East London marshes, a blend of local history, folklore and weird fiction, where nothing is quite as it seems.” (Taken from the blurb.)

It is hard to write a considered review of a book that has affected one emotionally. This book is inspiring, emotive and eye-opening.

I have never been to Hackney. I fear London. There is a side of me that despises it. This is the seat of our utterly disappointing government, the home of evil bankers, vacuous celebrities and relentless musical theatre. London decides what to watch, what to visit, what is best and fashionable to wear, what to listen to, to read, to eat. It is faceless and monstrous, the twisted soul of our country.

I initially approached this book with some trepidation, did I want to spend days trawling through a text that explored an area of this city? After exploring the blurb and the fantastic quote pulled from its recesses:

“I had become a bit part in the dengue-fevered fantasy of a sick city.”

I figured that the writer could be singing from the same hymn-sheet. In many ways his book reveals an attitude far more complex than that. Whilst he despairs at the encroaching development of London into the edges of the Marshland in Hackney it is also clear that were it not for earlier developments such as the railway it would not exist. Significantly it is the meeting of these two worlds – this island of nature and the bizarre mix of architecture and industry – that creates a synergy. A little universe in which the strange will occur. A world in which the mundane and the surreal collide. This little world sticks its middle finger up at the city with such defiance that it crackles with an other-worldly energy.

“Wherever you’ve got a margin between two types of culture and two types of landscape you often get a deeper awareness of the supernatural and the spiritual.” – Revd. Tony Redman – (taken from M.R.James: Ghost Writer – BBC)

It is this margin that Gareth Rees explores. Like a 21st Century Kay Harker, he explores a world in which the lines between imagination and reality are continually blurred. In Masefield’s “The Midnight Folk” we constantly question whether Kay is dreaming or awake and the sensation is similar here. By placing the real; the architecture, news reports and stringent historical research, alongside the unreal, we are plunged into a vortex of monsters, bears, time-slips, shamen and hallucination.

The book explores the geographic reality of the Hackney Marshes, but overlaying this in soft swirls of mystical graffiti are utterly compelling tales inspired by or pulled from Mr Rees’ study of the area. It appears that his study is a mix of hard graft and rambling through the Marshes with his dog Hendrix.

Rees introduces us to a man who transforms into a bear, two unfortunate time-travellers and an unhappy couple who find themselves possessed and changing into the occupants of a demolished factory. We meet the occupants of a barge from London’s netherworld, explore the legacy of the Olympic Village whilst visiting a mystical peddler in contraband antique books. This scratches the surface and I would urge you to seek out this book to discover more.

What strikes me about this book is how it has opened my eyes to my own town. I live in Reading which like many urban sprawls contains a weird mix of old and new. It was on finishing the final chapter that I took my children out for a walk. We have been to the nature reserve in Reading but on our way there we decided to try a different route and found ourselves on an old railway line. This ran high above the water meadows. On one side the beauty of the floods were framed by pink-grey tower blocks, while on the other streams and rivers snaked through swathes of green before the drab majesty of the town dump in the distance. We discovered:

dumped mattresses, ceiling fans and wheelbarrows vomited out of the backs of broken garden fences

the remnants of an old fire on the old railway bridge, made from its tumbling bricks

a lake of glass (my son’s words)

two rusted metal fences that framed the path creating “a gate to Narnia” (my daughter’s words)

It was into this margin that a deer ran across our path.

We were in the town yet not in the town.

We were in the country yet not in the country.

I had discovered the margin between worlds.

I hadn’t looked for it before.

Chris Lambert

Holy Terrors: Film Review

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In August 2017 via the pages of Fortean Times Magazine I first heard of the film Holy Terrors created by Mark Goodall and Julian Butler much to my delight and anxiety. Not only was it a movie featuring 6 weird tales of Arthur Machen but it was made in Whitby! Machen and Whitby – two things I cherish very dearly so I was very eager to see this film but also worried that it might be awful. (Those worries were happily unnecessary.)

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Also at the time we at Folk Horror Revival were organising the Winter Ghosts event for the following December in Whitby. I mentioned to our Events Manager, Darren Charles how the film could’ve been a good addition to our bill if it were not already fully booked. Then much to my surprise and delight, I received an email from the film director Mark Goodall, who had heard about our event and was wondering if we would like to screen Holy Terrors there. Would we?? Is a bear Catholic? Does the pope … Yes! We were interested!
Some jiggling around of schedule and the film was added to the bill and was indeed an atmospheric and beautiful end-piece to the event.

Before discussing the film further, just a short resume of Arthur Machen, for although his light is belatedly beginning to shine brighter, outside of certain horror fiction circles, he is still something of an unknown quantity to many folk.

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Born in Wales in 1863, Machen’s career in weird fiction blossomed out of the Symbolist and Aesthetic fin de siècle of the 1890’s. Like a number of other artists and writers of the era, Machen’s work was a curious brew of spirituality and decadence. Blending paganism and Christianity both in his work and in his own personal mysticism, born the son of an Anglican minister he was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but did not renounce his Christian faith. He therefore, in a sense, has an air of the notion of Celtic or Insular Christianity, whereby it has been suggested that some of the earliest priests of the Celtic Church were possibly former druids some of whom preferred to preach in the outside cathedral of nature than within a church; and that numerous acolytes of which were ascetic hermits that lived in remote quiet places. Oddly enough it is often claimed that the Synod of Whitby marked the official end of the Celtic Church. (The Synod of Whitby (664 A.D.) was a Northumbrian synod where King Oswiu of Northumbria ruled that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome, rather than the customs practised by Irish monks at Iona and its satellite institutions. The synod was summoned at Hilda’s double monastery of Streonshalh (Streanæshalch), later called Whitby Abbey.)

Machen was one of the early masters of weird fiction, particularly a faction of which, with his own use of folklore (notably the use of fairies not in their tiny twee Disneyfied forms but as the strange human sized people of old lore) and spirit of place, may now frequently be referred to as Folk Horror.
Those who cite Machen as an inspiration or to express enthusiasm for his work include figures as diverse as the writers H.P. Lovecraft, Jorge Luis Borges, Stephen King, Ramsay Campbell, Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair and Sir John Betjeman through to musicians such as Mark E. Smith, Belbury Poly and Current 93. Notorious occultist Aleister Crowley was a fan of Machen’s work but reputedly it was far from being reciprocated, with Machen having a personal dislike for the man.

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So how would Machen’s subtle strange tales translate to screen?
Holy Terrors slowly fades in to scenes of an empty shore and a desolate man. The hauntological soundscape of composer David Chatton Barker (Folklore Tapes) leads us to the body of a man beneath a bridge. Thus opens ‘A Cosy Room’ the first of the 6-weird tales of Arthur Machen. (Indeed, I can vouch it is a cosy room and one not devoid of otherly presence either as I recognised it straight away as a room that I myself have spent several nights in. In fact, after viewing Holy Terrors for the first time at Winter Ghosts, it was the room that I would return to sleep in that very night. The filming location for this segment was The Stoker Room of the cool and quirky hotel La Rosa in Whitby’s East Terrace. Overlooking a great view of Whitby Abbey and the harbour, the wonderful building-sized cabinet of curiosities that is La Rosa hotel has a plaque outside marking it as a place that author Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll of Wonderland fame amongst other things, stayed at several times. The Angel Hotel in New Quay Road is also suitably plaque-bearing as a residence where Machen stayed.)

The opening wordless narrative shot in atmospheric black and white marked in me the feeling that I was really going to like this film, but also mark it as a film that would not appeal to viewers who only like their horror visceral, fast and with a simple plot and conclusion. Like the tales of Machen, this film adaptation is steady, subtle, atmospheric and most often strange rather than horrific. Some of the tales do not build up to a definite explanation and conclusion but remain more as captures of a strange moment or sequence, rather like many reported real life anomalous experiences.

So, it is safe to say from the outset I could see that Holy Terrors will not be to all tastes but is deliciously to mine.

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We are then invited to taste The White Powder of the second tale. This is one of the Machen stories to have a more typical sense of narrative in that it follows an event to a solid culmination. It is a tale of both dread and decadence and has both the air of M.R. James ‘The Ash Tree and Kafka’s Metamorphosis but still remains essentially a Machen tale.
(an amusing synchronicity with the screening at Winter Ghosts was that the imbiber of the said White Powder of the film develops an odd black spot on his hand as an early symptom that something is amiss. The black spot very much resembled the black spot on the audience members’ hands that bore the blurred remains of the mark of the Folk Horror Revival sun symbol hand-stamp.)

The White Powder is a solidly told tale and it really brings forth the power of Goodall’s film-making. Relying strongly on an audio narration that bonds Machen completely with these new dreaming of his creations, the character that is etched within the faces, particularly the eyes of the actors in this film is a strong motif, that in its use becomes somewhat hypnotic. Another film-making skill that Goodall employs to great effect is making Whitby timeless; the use of soft focus, careful framing and light bleached backgrounds removes any trappings of modern life such as shopfront banners and so forth.

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Crowhurst, R.; The Angel of Mons, c.1914; National Army Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-angel-of-mons-c-1914-182603

The third tale is one of Machen’s most famous, not because it is his best work or most identifiable of his style but because it has been noted as being the possible origin of the Angels of Mons legend.  At the Battle of Mons on the French borders in 1914, it was claimed and published in the British Spiritualist magazine in 1915, that British soldiers were protected in battle by a host of Heavenly angels. However, in 1914 The Evening News newspaper had published Machen’s story The Bowmen, in which a battalion headed by Saint George intervenes in a conflict between World War I British and German forces.
Out of all the stories within the Holy Terrors film The Bowmen could have been the most problematic for a low budget production. By the effective use of old newsreels of wartime footage, Goodall skillfully conquers this problem and overall the artistry of the entire film does not give the slightest impression at all that it is not studio funded. The photography, editing and production is on the contrary not only skillful but beautiful.

The fourth segment of the portmanteau initiates us into the Ritual. It is however not a ritual of hooded or sky-clad figures in the depths of a wood or desecrated church but that of a playground game of schoolchildren. The simplicity of this has a deeply unsettling nature and again the actors of Holy Terrors deserve applause. To act without words uttered needs to tread a line between expression, subtlety and communicative skill lest it become exaggerated like a mime performance. Again, we find great casting is at work here, for the children have a look to them that would not see their faces out of place in antique Victorian or Edwardian photography.

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The next tale, The Happy Children remains with the theme of strange youths. Unlike those in Ritual, there is a question arises as to whether these children are alive or even of human nature – a Celtic belief about Fairies is that they are spirits of the dead and the Happy Children indeed have an otherworldly sense to them. This segment again effectively uses the townscape of Whitby as a strange and beautiful filming location, and with good cause for this tale is set in Whitby. It is renamed Banwick but the tale is undeniably inspired by Machen’s visit to Whitby on a journalistic task to report on the town’s Jet industry. The story reveals Machen’s mystical sensitivity both of place and to the horrors of war. Whitby and other towns on the North Eastern English coast had been subject to wartime attack by the Germans and Machen’s reference also to the biblical slaughter of the innocents undertaken by Herod in his efforts to eliminate the infant messiah.
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A phrase within the story describing Whitby as The Town of Magical Dream is a perfect description (it also is aptly used by Carolyn Waudby for her excellent essay on Whitby). The night after Winter Ghosts I walked Whitby’s streets and the pier and the 199 steps to Saint Mary’s Church and the Abbey, and it was not mere suggestion but there was a palpable otherness to the coastal town darkened save for the twinkling of Christmas lights. There was a definite presence, not unwelcoming for the most part save for the pool behind the abbey where I felt that I was not meant to proceed further so I didn’t and for a strange unsettling sensation in the Screaming Tunnel of the Khyber Pass. I know that I am far from being the only one to sense something strange in Whitby’s thin sea fretted air – Machen sensed the liminality as did Bram Stoker and Mark Goodall captures it in Holy Terrors as do Michael Smith and Maxy Neil Bianco in their atmospheric and poetic short film ~ Stranger on the Shore: Hounds of Whitby.

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Francis Frith: The Peart family. Whitby 1891

Holy Terrors concludes with Midsummer and for the first time, the effective ambient monochrome palette is replaced with colour; but this is the colour of hand-tinted antique photographs, the faded pastels of half-remembered dreams and half-forgotten memories. It is a fitting place to leave the darkness and step into the light, but minding always that they are integral to and part of each other.
And on this note we will depart this house of souls, with the conclusion that whilst Holy Terrors may not suit the constitution of all, it is a film that has found its way under my skin and into my head and heart and for it its understated beauty and mesmeric invocations, it is something I feel that has touched me deeply. When I first read about this film with my mingled feelings of trepidation and tantalisation, I happily know now that I had nothing to worry about but happily a fair bit perhaps to fear.

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Holy Terrors DVD available here

Holy Terrors book available here

Review by Andy Paciorek