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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thumb Rivera is a small time drug dealer who makes the mistake of trying to get in league with the local biker gang, which ends badly for him. American Ghost follows his efforts to solve his own murder from the afterlife. Paul Guernsey’s third novel is basically a supernatural detective story with a heavy dose of dark Americana, featuring backwoods biker club houses, trailer meth labs and abandoned murder houses.
The story is structured in an interesting fashion, with Thumb’s spirit travelling through time and space, with no knowledge of how the afterlife works, this being revealed slowly to him via other trapped spirits he meets on the way, including the ghost of a man who died in a road accident, who now lingers in the spot he died. By and large Thumb has to observe how life moves on without him, but learns to communicate with two living people, a hapless ghost hunter and a pig farmer who is also a frustrated novelist, who provide a conduit to the land of the living.
The story is well constructed and keeps you engaged as the plot unfolds, as Thumb comes closer to discovering who killed him and why. The afterlife Guernsey constructs is fascinating, with it’s own internal logical and laws.
I’m not usually much of a fan of crime fiction, but this supernatural twist on the murder mystery made it much more enjoyable. If you fancy a haunting (in both senses of the word) mystery novel, then this is for you.
Paul Guernsey also edits The Ghost Story, which has much of interest to revivalists.
The Snow Witch is both a haunted and haunting book. Though not a ghost story as such, it is swarming with ghosts – the ghosts of the past, the ghosts of winter, breath ghosts. From the bleak frosty shore to the black, black sea, Wingett tells the tale of a lonely, insular refugee from the east of Europe who finds herself in the cold season days of a British seaside town. There she encounters strange kindness but also becomes the victim of a harrowing experience.
The tale is infused with humanity at its rawest, its nastiness but also its generosity. Like a favourite author of mine – Ray Bradbury, Wingett skilfully paints a scene in words with painterly strokes; in my mind when reading I could see the twinkling of the model village lights in the darkness of the drawn in evenings and feel the bite of frost upon my fingers. I found myself immersed with the events playing out in my mind like images upon a cinema screen; for me that is the mark of a skilled writer. Also adept and engaging are the characterisations of the figures prevelant in the narrative – from the enigmatic otherworldliness of Donzita, the enduring grief of Celia, the shy awkwardness of Eddy, the wilful desperation of Vee and the low, selfish cruelty of Riley.
At times The Snow Witch is raw, unafraid to confront the unkindness of life but it also shines the beacon of hope and illuminates magic and maintains its air of cold, ethereal beauty throughout.
The Snow Witch is available to pre-order from here and here
‘Spirits of Place’ is an anthology journeying into the minds, places and memories of twelve writers as they attempt to put into words the emotional and cultural residue implied by a location dear to them. It’s not merely the hard geography of a location but its evolution though folk history which is of interest here. This isn’t another book of psychogeography essays where the landscape is explored and meaning extrapolated from the usual tired rambles of London and Paris, ‘Spirits of Place’ puts a human face onto local mythology and shows that the devil (and assorted other spirits) is almost certainly in the detail as it’s often the little stories that provide the biggest connections to a place. In all cases careful research goes hand in hand with the writer’s emotions and experiences providing the reader with more than enough information to spark further investigation.
This project, derived from a day of lectures in Liverpool in 2016, has been carefully curated by John Reppion to include a refreshing diversity of writers with the essays contained covering a lot of ground both physically and metaphorically. From Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir’s background in Icelandic Elf-lore and how its interfering with modern road and building construction, to Vajra Chandrasekera’s personal account how Sri Lankan spirit folklore evolves to retain its relevance in a rapidly changing socio-political landscape, to Maria J. Perez Cuervo’s piece on the moving of King Philip II of Spain’s Spanish Capital to a mountain local myth says contains the caves that the Devil lived in after his fall from Heaven, the span is ambitiously global telling very human tales which derive (as all things do) from the land.
Of the writers included, the three most known to me, Warren Ellis, Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore don’t disappoint in their submissions. In ‘A Compendium of Tides’ Ellis paints a vivid picture of strange frequencies plucked throughout time from the aether of the Thames Estuary, with the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery and its dangerously deteriorating stockpile of wartime bombs hanging, like a Damoclean sword, threatening turn the area and its history back into atoms and background static. Sinclair leaves behind his beloved London to travel to Palermo, weaving an almost a film noir narrative about his visit to the Capuchin Catacombs, with the journey full of stories that lead him on a deep meditation into its place in the Sicilian psyche. And, having been fortunate enough to see Moore perform the piece his essay ‘Coal Dreams’ was based on at the Sage in Gateshead back in 2010, it’s great to see it finally documented as his contribution. First leading the reader through his own previous personal involvement with Newcastle and the mental and physical journey it has taken to get him there, then setting about re-imagining Newcastle and its environment by reframing its history using it’s pre Christian backdrop in an enthralling riposte to J B Priestley’s damning of Newcastle in ‘English Journey’, invoking Antenociticus (a Roman flavoured variant of Caernunnos) in his temple in Wallsend by way of brimstone-fired visions of the painter John Martin, Mary Shelly and Bovril.
None of the essays in this tight packed anthology overstay their welcome and the high level of writing prowess across the book makes it a joy to read, even if you manage to find an essay topic which doesn’t immediately float your boat. The general tone and connection to the theme does remain even throughout which goes to show that no matter where you are, if you concentrate on any place long enough, you can start to see the ghosts infused within the brickwork and the angels in the architecture. This book fits wonderfully into the growing movement towards the re-enchantment of location and will be of great interest to those fostering a deeper connection with the landscape.
this is not a picture is a collection of eight short ghost stories, by Howard Ingham of these here parts, probably best known to revivalists for his excellent series of film reviews, We Don’t Go Back. The tales here are linked by pieces of art – a photograph, a TV play, a song – each of which is central to the plot.
Of the stories here, the one that stands out as being of most interest to folk horror fans is “The Austringer (1969)”, which revolves around a lost BBC play, bringing to mind the once seen and now half-remembered, haunting quality the likes of Penda’s Fen and Robin Redbreast had before being made accessible again by BFI re-releases. The tale cuts back and forth between the unscrupulous collector who unearths a copy from a deceased acquaintance’s collection and the play itself, with the two inevitably meeting. The excerpts from the TV play are particularly spot on, evoking the atmosphere of the supernatural plays of the era.
My personal favourite is “An envelope”, where a man grieving for his disappeared girlfriend comes into possession of an envelope full of polaroids depicting horrifying scenes, seemingly from a parallel reality where something has gone very wrong. Each photograph is described in detail, sketching a horrific world, leaving you to fill in the details with your worst nightmares. It’s made all the weirder by the fact that it was written in the author’s sleep, like he unconsciously tapped into some horrendous parallel world. More speculative horror than folk horror perhaps, but deeply unsettling.
The striking thing about this collection is its humanity, the way the characters relate to each other and the world around them, indeed one of the tales – “So I caught up with Dennis” – derives much of its uneasiness from a changed relationship between two old friends. No matter how weird the situation is, the characters and their actions always remain believable.
The Eyrie by Thom Burgess, illustrated by Barney Bodoano
New folk horror-themed graphic novel The Eyrie draws on the folklore of author Thom Burgess’ native Sussex. It follows Rebecca, an American photo-journalist, who is sent to a remote part of Sussex on a job by her boss, staying in his old country house. Before she sets off to the local pub, she lights an old lamp she finds, to guide her home, and this signals to… something. Before long, she’s plagued by mysterious events: banging on her door in the middle of the night, devices losing power, mysterious figures turning in photographs, and terrifying, not quite human apparitions.
Compelling and eerie right from the start with its foreboding landscapes, The Eyrie is unsettling enough even before the supernatural elements coming creeping in. Once summoned, things escalate to the dreadful (in the best sense of the word) climax in a fashion that will make you feel almost relieved once the full horror of the situation is revealed.
Barney Bodoano’s gritty black-and-white art complements the atmosphere, encapsulating the bleak landscapes perfectly, with half seen figures in the mist adding to the menace.
One of the great things about the folk horror revival isn’t just looking back at the classics of the genre, but seeing the influence of them in contemporary works, and with its tale of coastal folklore, ancient objects and troubled locations, The Eyrie inevitably brings to mind MR James, but updated for a world where isolation can be conveyed by a lack of phone signal, and the encroachment of the weird by corrupted digital photographs.
Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and creepy tale. If you’re a fan of the weird and eerie, well worth getting hold of.