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.

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REVIEW – Rowan Amber Mill `Harvest The Ears’

The Rowan Amber Mill
Harvest The Ears
(https://rowanambermill.bandcamp.com/album/harvest-the-ears)

The Rowan Amber Mill have been quietly but steadily pursuing their own eerie ruralism and arcane take on psychedelia since 2008’s ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics’, notably releasing the ‘Book of the Lost’ project with fellow traveller of these roads, Emily Jones, in 2014. This latter recording was an homage to such films as The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, Blood On Satan’s Claw and Psychomania and ably constructed a soundtrack for an imaginary composite movie, replete with accompanying lobby cards and a suitable mythos. Aficionados of both modern day acid folk troubadours such as Sproatly Smith and Sharron Kraus as well as the haunted electronics of the Ghost Box label are strongly encouraged to wander not only the dark woods of ‘Harvest The Ears’, but also those of the Amber Mill’s back catalogue (a twisted folk version of Gary Numan’s ‘Are Friends Electric’ is one suggested highlight).

The Rowan Amber Mill’s most recent offering is a summing up and compilation of sorts, gathering new, unreleased and remastered songs together under the appropriate banner ‘Cuts From The Folk Horror Archive Vol 1’.

The extended title track of the afore mentioned ‘Book Of The Lost’ opens the album, a Vincent Price styled narrator and a shimmering wash of harpsichord and vintage synth immediately creating an effective atmosphere somewhere between John Barry and Paul Ferris’ s essential score for Witchfinder General. The full length ‘The Book of The Lost’ is a master work and this lengthier version of a track cut from its parent album is no less essential. The melancholic beauty of ‘Separations’ follows, part electronic madrigal and part woodwind imbued lament; this is truly a folk song of the forest. Next, ‘The Witch Twists The Pins’ is a sinister nursery rhyme, echoed vocals framed by the darkest of psych folk to conjure an evocative and magical musical incantation. A highlight of an album filled with many such strong points, this would be worth the cost of admission alone but there is much, much more. ‘Face Of Flowers (Woodcut)’, from the genius ‘Heartwood’ album, utilises harmonised vocals, insistent acoustic guitar and spectral strings in manner that surely has Paul Giovanni nodding his agreement from above. ‘A Hunting’ glistens into being from a few stately harp notes, growing and layering with both analogue synths and waves of choral voices, creating a welcome sense of unease and beguiling nostalgia. This then segues into ‘Pit Of Horror’, a swirling and dramatic instrumental that surely would have been gracing the soundtrack to a 1970’s children’s TV show of a more pagan bent, such as ‘Children Of The Stones’ or ‘The Owl Service’, had it been of that age. ‘The Witch Twists The Pins’ agreeably returns in instrumental form, revealing hitherto hidden detail, until it leads into the final track ‘The Call Of The Black Meadow 1, 2 and 3 (Backing and FX)’. A track previously used on The Rowan Amber Mill’s promotional video for the ‘Songs From The Black Meadow’ album (inspired by Chris Lambert’s book ‘Tales From The Black Meadow’), this is a haunted house of a song, stripped back to effects and sounds redolent of Daphne Oram or The BBC Radiophonic Workshop with solar winds and ghostly electronics whispering in and out of focus to powerful and disturbing effect. And then it is over and the listener is left with an enduring and pleasant feeling of disquiet, appropriate given the folk horror nature of these compositions.

This is an album then that belies its compilation or assorted collection status; it genuinely works as a piece in its own right and sits comfortably and confidently alongside the other Rowan Amber Mill recordings. Highly recommended to those who are keen on investigating the musical side of the folk horror revival, this is indeed a rich harvest for the ears. Time to gather the corn.

Grey Malkin January 2018.

Wyrd Kalendar; A Year of the Truly Unusual

The turning of the year provides ‘Tales From The Black Meadow’ author Chris Lambert with the thematic basis for his new ‘Wyrd Kalendar’ compendium, a collaboration with illustrator and Folk Horror Revival creator Andy Paciorek. Each darkly spun tale matches with a chosen month of the year, providing a folkloric and portmanteau feel to the book, with Paciorek’s richly detailed and haunting artwork prefacing the individual chapters.

This work therefore takes us from the frostbitten and hungry underground denizen in January’s ‘The Resolution’ (a tale of Lovecraftian imagination with a conclusion that will stay with you long after you have closed the pages of the book) to the terrifying timeslips of ‘February 31st’, the ‘king for a day’ twists and turns of April’s chilling ‘Chasing The Gowk’ to the twisted and disturbed nursery rhyme of ‘May Pole’. As the wheel of the year spins increasingly faster the sense of the unsettling and macabre if anything increases, ‘June Bug’s hugely effective body horror is reminiscent of one of Nigel Kneale’s scripts from ‘Beasts’ whilst July’s ‘Grotto Day’ is a deeply unusual and disquieting take on the brownie or ‘little people’ legend. August’s ‘The Weeping Will Walk’ is distilled folk horror, both subtle and suggestive in what darkness lies within the village ritual; October’s ‘The Field’ continues this folkloric aspect to even bloodier and satisfyingly grimmer heights. There is a distinct filmic or theatrical quality inherent in these dread tales; one can easily imagine a number of these being either staged or filmed; never mind ‘A Ghost Story For Christmas’, how about ‘A Ghost Story For Each Season’? November’s pitch black poem ‘All Saint’s Day’ (where the blood almost drips from the page) and December’s festive yet foreboding ‘Santa Claus And The Witch’ bring the Kalendar to a fittingly horrific close; yet there is the distinct impression that the spectres and wraiths contained herein will undoubtedly start back at their practices as before, the cycle of the year bringing them once more to terrible and terrifying life.

For aficionados of folk horror, weird fiction (especially readers of Robert Aickman’s dark and unusual stories), of Lambert’s excellent previous outing ‘Tales From The Black Meadow’ and of Paciorek’s intricate and beautiful ink work this volume comes highly recommended. We all must keep and mark our time; why not do so with the Wyrd Kalendar?

Grey Malkin.