Monday, 27 February 2017

Best Haunted House Movies Of All Time? Hmm

Den of Geek has a list. It's a nice list. But is it the best list?

Haunted house movies are rather more tricky to define than you might think. If you confine yourself to ghosts that are confined to a specific house, you narrow the scope a lot. You must exclude The Woman in Black, as the ghost is active (and deadly) outside Eel Marsh House. The same can be said for The Innocents, as in the film (and Henry James 'The Turn of the Screw', of course) the ghosts are seen some distance from the building. One could easily include The Orphanage (El Orfanato) using the same loose criteria, I think. Perhaps this is a quibble too far. But another problem with this list of 'movies' is that it includes two British TV productions, Ghostwatch (1992) and the aforementioned Woman in Black (1989).

Still, both are very well scripted ghost stories. And at least the Den of Geek list includes plenty of older movies, going all the way back to 1944. There are a few more recent movies that might not cut it a decade or so down the line. The Skeleton Key isn't half bad, but one of the best? I haven't seen Crimson Peak, so I can't comment on it. And I'm intrigued by Hausu (19770, as it's a bit of early J-Horror that passed me by. And that's one of the most valuable things a list like this can do, not just stimulate debate about stuff you know, but remind you that there's always more to discover.

Friday, 24 February 2017

The Antiquary and the Crocodile

The Antiquary and the Crocodile: Writings about the stories of M.R.James by [Grant, Helen]
Helen Grant has published an ebook for M.R. James enthusiasts. Having read the essays on the origins and influences of MRJ's tales, I can testify to their quality and liveliness. Here is the blurb.

As she relates in the first of these articles, a move abroad found her living within a short distance of the setting of one of MRJ's tales. She could not resist visiting it, and having visited it, she wrote a piece comparing the fictional and real-life location. She went on to visit other foreign settings of MRJ's stories, and to examine other aspects of their backgrounds, including local folklore. The result is a series of eight articles spanning the period 2004 – 2008, with some later updates. All these articles originally appeared in the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter. This eBook was produced with the aim of collecting the articles in one place for the benefit of anyone with a scholarly interest in the stories of M.R.James.

The book is non-fiction but contains a fiction extra, "The Game of Bear."

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Pulp Covers

I've probably mentioned this before, but the covers of old pulp magazines and paperbacks are an endless source of delight, disbelief, dismay, and some other D-words. There's a site where you can search for specific categories, such as 'ghost stories', and find specific artists. It's great. Here are some samples of pulp bonkersness.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

'The Speckled God' by Marc Joan

I was sent a novella-length ebook with a request to review it, if I felt so inclined. I have no hesitation in recommending 'The Speckled God', as it's an excellent 'one sitting' read. One reviewer described it thus:
It reads almost like a blend of Rudyard Kipling, H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Aickman with a touch of old-fashioned mystery fiction.
This is fair enough, thought I'm not sure about Aickman. I would suggest Nabokov as an influence on Marc Joan, thanks to the elegant, modernist technique. Kipling is inevitably suggested as this is a supernatural, while the story structure recalls Lovecraft's approach in 'The Call of Cthulhu'.

The story takes place in 1975, but is piece together forty years later by the author from documents and interviews with various people involved. It is, on the face of it, a simple tale. Joki de Souza, an auditor for a tea company based in Bombay, travels to Mancholi in the Tamil region in southern India to visit a remote plantation. Something about the accounts has aroused concern. But what that anomaly might be we never learn (thought there is a hint in a slip of paper).

Joki immediately outrages the locals by running over a snake. It seems that the area is dominated by a serpent cult, and that a five yearly cycle of sacrifices to the goddess Mother Jakkamma. The sacrifices are goats, of course. Or so it is claimed...

The book contains some fine descriptive writing of conditions in India, ranging from the clangour of the Westernised big city to the very different world of jungle and village. There are memorable characters, and a sense that much more remains hidden than has been revealed. All in all, this is subtle weird fiction of the first order.