Friday, 5 June 2020

Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods

Grant Morrison is a Scottish writer most well known for his work in comics where he has written some of the biggest selling titles - Superman, Batman, Justice League and X-Men -from the big two companies. Here in the UK he made his name writing the pop star superhero Zenith (buy it here) for 2000AD.

Over the last three and a bit decades he has amassed both an impressive body of work and a fearsome reputation within his field both for rejuvenating tired old titles and providing innovative new creations of his own.

I remember first reading Morrison when he appeared in 2000AD where the work he was producing immediately marked him out as a writer to watch.  With his move to the US based publishers his output inevitably slewed towards the superhero genre that is those companies' bread and butter.  Happily his take on the spandex botherers was altogether new and he immediately hit the ground running with the post modern hi-jinx of Animal Man (buy it here) and the gloriously strange Doom Patrol (buy it here) which I read in my late teens and early twenties as a newly psychedelicised young fella and which perfectly complemented my other reading of things like Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (buy it here), provided me with my first exposure to David Rudkin's Penda's Fen (Penda's Fen (DVD)) when he quoted it - Child be strange, dark, true, impure, and dissonant. Cherish our flame. Our dawn shall come. - at the end of the 'Brotherhood of Dada / Magic Bus' storyline and which has recently become an enjoyably daft TV show.  Morrison's creator owned work has, for a superhero ambivalent like me, been a source of reliable enjoyment with titles such as WE3 (buy it here), St. Swithin's Day (buy it here) & the Moorcockian magical anarchists of The Invisibles (buy it here) a series I've returned to again and again over the years.

The documentary below was produced by the Sequart Organisation who also made the Warren Ellis documentary 'Captured Ghosts' and as you'd expect provides a thorough overview of Morrison's life and career with contributions from a cavalcade of comic luminaries and along the way investigates his key work, his parents, his alien abduction and his interests in chaos magic and psychedelics.


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Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Merlin's Wood

Robert Holdstock
Harper Collins

Martin and Rebecca return to the outskirts of Brocéliande, an enchanted forest in Brittany where they grew up as children approximately 15 years earlier. They have returned for the funeral of their mother. Despite being warned to leave by family and local friends, they stay to settle the estate and take up residence in their childhood home.

The first two books of Holdstock's 'Ryhope Wood' cycle were a real revelation to me so I've been keeping an eye out for the other parts of the series.  'Merlin's Wood' is the fifth book in the series and takes the story out of England and into France.

We know from the first book that other magical woods exist in other countries and so here we find ourselves in the French equivalent, 'Broceliande', the resting place of Merlin.  In the outskirts of the Wood the children of the town have long danced in the ghosts fleeing the wood but for Martin and Rebecca their return to the area brings only heartbreak when their son, born deaf, dumb and blind, begins to slowly suck the life out of his mother as he's consumed by another spirit within the Wood.

This one isn't nearly as successful as the other two.  It gets off to a very slow and uninspiring start and despite improving as the story progresses it never seems to quite find it's rhythm.  It's a shame as the whole songs and ghosts ideas were really strong but Holdstock just didn't seem to get a firm grip on either his idea or of its telling.  Holdstock is generally eminently readable and this one is no different but it never really comes close to hitting the heights of the first two.

Buy it here - Merlin's Wood (Mythago Wood Book 5)


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Sunday, 31 May 2020

Countess Dracula

Countess Dracula Ingrid Pitt Hammer
Loosely based on the life and crimes of Hungarian noblewoman Elizabeth Báthory who was tried and convicted of multiple murders in the 1700s and whose subsequent legend includes tales of her bathing in blood in the belief that she could retain her youth this late period Hammer movie was one of the last of the period gothic chillers Hammer was to produce.

Whilst retaining a modicum of the dark magic tropes of old, Countess Dracula is very much a shift away from the big bad creatures of the good old days and at its heart is a woman; a vain, psychopathic and profoundly broken woman but just a woman and this is very much a tale of the seductiveness of youth and the cruelty of vanity.

Ingrid Pitt Countess Dracula Hammer
Dominating the movie is the wonderful Ingrid Pitt utterly dominating the screen, by turns a seething, violent harridan and a seductive, lethal beauty drunk on her newfound vitality, obviously relishing her second lead role in two years following 1970s 'Vampire Lovers' for the same company.  She is ably supported in this by Nigel Green as her spurned lover Captain Dobi and the great Maurice Denham as the librarian Grand Master Fabio although Sandor Eles makes for an ineffectual male lead lacking both the chops and the presence.

For a film about a serial murderer bathing in the blood of virgins it is a remarkably bloodless affair with director Peter Sasdy choosing to focus on slowly escalating the horror that Bathory's addiction to the youth her actions bring over Pitt's desire for more gore. Watching now it seems to me that both were correct and it's a bit of a shame that a compromise wasn't reached but as noted earlier the finished article is a different sort of movie to what had gone before and it mostly eschews the action and the histrionics for a much quieter movie but that certainly doesn't detract from what was to be one of the final flourishes of the studios golden years.

Buy it here - DVD / Blu-ray - or watch it below.


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Friday, 29 May 2020

The Story of the Ghost Story

Here we have a (very) brief synopsis of the development of the ghost story taking in such notables as Shakespeare, Horace Walpole, Sheridan Le Fanu, Charles Dickens, M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Robert Aickman and others and some behind the scenes glimpses of the making of the adaptations of both James' 'A View From A Hill' and Aickman's 'The Cicerones'.

The 30 minute runtime means much is glossed over and omitted but it's crammed to the gills and as a quick overview it serves its purpose well.


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Tuesday, 26 May 2020


Anna Kavan - Ice (Penguin Modern Classics)
Anna Kavan
Penguin Modern Classics

No one knows why the ice has come, and no one can stop it. Every day it creeps further across the earth, covering the land in snow and freezing everything in its path. Through this bleached, devastated world, one man pursues the sylph-like, silver-haired girl he loves, as she keeps running - away from her husband; away from the sinister 'warden' who seeks to control her; away from him.
 It was the cover image by Jim Stoddart that caught my eye and the possibility of a post-apocalypse novel that clinched the deal but what I got was something very different.

Anna Kavan was an English writer and painter born, Helen Emily Woods and first published under her married name of Helen Ferguson, she adopted the name of a character from one of her stories as her legal name in 1939 shortly after her divorce from her second husband.

Kavan started using heroin in the mid 1920s having been introduced to it by either racing drivers on the French Riviera or by her tennis coach, reports vary.  It was an addiction that was to follow her throughout her life to the extent that, according to reports, when heroin was prohibited in the UK she stockpiled so much that at the time of her death in 1968 her flat in London's Notting Hill contained "enough heroin to kill the whole street'

'Ice' was written a year before her death and is a Burroughsian fever dream of broken perspectives and Kafka-esque monolithic impenetrability. Now regarded as a 'slipstream' novel - one that falls between the cracks of the various genres - it is notionally sci-fi in its post-apocalyptic setting as a sheet of ice moves inexorably to cover the Earth but Kavan's tale of helplessness, brutality, rejection and loss is very far from most tales that characterise the genre.

Our narrator spends the book chasing after, occasionally catching, occasionally losing the young, fragile albino woman he claims to love, seeking to rescue her from the brutal 'warden' who keeps her cowed, but who is often just as violent and domineering in his ways.

Such are the novel's vagaries, full of jarring perspective shifts and hallucinations, that it remains open to interpretation.  That it is a meditation on the role of women seems self evident but alongside this I felt like I was being offered an insight into the authors internal world as the various aspects of Kavan's psyche play out in one long heroin addiction metaphor.

On a straight forward readability level this isn't a novel to pick up - as I did - for a quick read and indeed I found much of it to be a bit of a chore but equally that's not something I'm necessarily put off by and in the final analysis it was beautifully written and showed an imagination free and unfettered by common constraints.

Buy it here - Ice (Penguin Modern Classics)


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Sunday, 24 May 2020

Witching Time

Hammer House of Horror Witching Time
'Witching Hour' was the first episode of the sole 1980 series of 'Hammer House of Horror' one of the last gasps of that venerable studio and one that was fully intended to cash in on the popularity of the regular television screenings of their phenomenal back catalogue.  It's reputation allowed it to attract some well known faces from British film television to populate it's episodes including Peter Cushing (of course), Denholm Elliott, Gareth Thomas, Paul Darrow, Simon MacCorkindale, Diana Dors, Barbara Kellerman, Brian Cox and Pierce Brosnan.

Hammer House of Horror Witching Time
There's an amazing Wyrd Britain cast here as Hammer alumni Jon Finch (The Vampire Lovers & The Horror of Frankenstein) plays David Winter a film composer left alone in his remote farmhouse whilst by his actress wife (Kinvig's Prunella Gee) has an affair with the Doctor (Survivors' 'Greg', Ian McCulloch) who finds a time travelling 17th century witch named Lucinda Jessop (The Rocky Horror Picture Show's 'Magenta', Patricia Quinn) with a nice line in period insults, "You must get rid of that strumpet whore" who decides to make herself at home.

It's a fabulous bit of folk horror schlock populated by a perfect B-movie cast full of great scenery chewing performances by everyone except Billy the dog that makes great use of its 50 minute runtime with a frenetic storyline and a fiery ending.

Buy it here - Hammer House Of Horror - Complete Collection [DVD] [1980] - or watch it below.


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Wednesday, 20 May 2020

The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories

Arthur Machen
Oxford University Press

Something pushed out from the body there on the floor, and stretched forth a slimy, wavering tentacle... 
Perhaps no figure better embodies the transition from the Gothic tradition to modern horror than Arthur Machen. In the final decade of the nineteenth century, the Welsh writer produced a seminal body of tales of occult horror, spiritual and physical corruption, and malignant survivals from the primeval past which horrified and scandalised-late-Victorian readers. Machen's "weird fiction" has influenced generations of storytellers, from H. P. Lovecraft to Guillermo Del Toro-and it remains no less unsettling today.
This new collection, which includes the complete novel The Three Impostors as well as such celebrated tales as The Great God Pan and The White People, constitutes the most comprehensive critical edition of Machen yet to appear. In addition to the core late-Victorian horror classics, a selection of lesser-known prose poems and later tales helps to present a fuller picture of the development of Machen's weird vision. The edition's introduction and notes contextualise the life and work of this foundational figure in the history of horror.

When Arthur Machen died in 1947 he left behind a body of work that has proved to be amongst the most quietly influential writings in the fields of strange fiction.  Various authors, film-makers, musicians and the society that bears his name have all promoted and been inspired by his work and as such collections are often to be found.  Now, I'm of the mind that all Machen collections are good Machen collections but occasionally a real gem appears as is the case here.

Produced as part of the Oxford World's Classics series and dressed in a cover illustration of Pan dating from 1895 - the year after Machen published the title story here - by William H Bradley, the doyen of American Art Nouveau illustrators, editor Aaron Worth has compiled an eye wateringly wonderful assortment of gems taken from every era of Machen's career.

There are of course certain stories that one can guarantee will be present in any collection, the title piece, 'The Shining Pyramid', 'The White People' & 'The Bowmen' but rather than just giving us the two more famous parts of 'The Three Impostors' - 'The Novel of the Black Seal' & 'The Novel of the White Powder' - he has, rather wonderfully, included the entire novel.  Alongside these undoubted gems we find later gold such as Machen's thin place story 'N', the simple kindness of 'Tree of Life', the hidden pagan rites of 'The Ceremony', and the alchemical experiments of 'The Inmost Light' amongst many others.

As a collection it works on both levels required of such a book, it provides a wide ranging overview of the authors work featuring both the more feted and the less read tales but equally for those with a more established love of the work it is simply a well selected overview that will allow you to revisit old favourites and passing acquaintances.

Buy it here - The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories (Oxford World's Classics)


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Monday, 18 May 2020

Wyrd Britain Mix 11

It's been a long time since I've made one of these but today I got the urge again.  A few years ago I made a run of mixes featuring a blend of old favourites and new friends and thought it was about time I made a new one.

Opening the mix is X-TG, former Throbbing Gristle members Peter Christopherson, Cosey Fanni Tutti & Chris Carter are here joined by Antony (now Anohni) on vocals, producing a stunning interpretation of Nico's 'Janitor of Lunacy' which you can find on the bands 'Desertshore / Final Report'.

'Possessors of the Orb' is taken from the eagerly awaited new Teleplasmiste album, 'To Kiss Earth Goodbye' released in early June on House of Mythology.  Band member Mark Pilkington recently contributed to our regular '3 Wyrd Things' slot which you can find here.

Embertides' is a collaboration between David Colohan of United Bible Studies and Grey Malkin (formerly) of The Hare and the Moon the pairing here making music of a deliciously darker hue than I'd previously heard from either before.

The great Paddy Kingsland I'm sure needs little introduction to readers of this blog and his composition here - 'Brighton Pier' - comes from 'The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy' which needs even less of one.

Heavy Water is another in a long line of pseudonyms adopted by Pk Chown the artist occasionally known as all of Action Catalyst and of Julius Vanderbilt, as half of James Beige and as an indeterminate amount of The Dandelion Set.  This album and more can be found at Fine Tune Recordings.

Grey Malkin (who has also done a '3 Wyrd Things' for us) has been on a roll of late and this, his most recent release, finds him in collaboration with Australian folk musician Adam Geoffrey Cole or Trappist Afterland as he's known to his mum.  The album is available from either chaps Bandcamp pages.

Hen Ogledd is a 4 piece consisting of Sally Pilkington (vocals), Dawn Bothwell (vocals & electronics), Richard Dawson (guitar & vocals) and Rhodri Davies (harp).  'Sky Burial' is taken from their third album 'Mogic' released on the Domino Records offshoot Weird World.

Revbjelde are old friends of Wyrd Britain and this is the title track of their most recent album on Buried Treasure.  Watch out for Revbjelde and Buried Treasure's head honcho Alan Gubby's '3 Wyrd Things' in early June.

Closing the mix is Carmarthen based Susan Matthews heard here alongside her son Roan on guitar.  Susan has been making amazing music for years both solo and alongside such folk as Tony Wakeford, The Dead Mauriacs and me.  This song, taken from the album 'The Self -Harm Handbook', and many more can be found on her Siren Wire label page.


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Sunday, 17 May 2020

Escape Into Night

Escape Into Night
Based on the novel 'Marianne Dreams' by Catherine Storr originally published in 1958 this 1972 drama from ATV tells the story of a petulant little shit called 'Marianne' (Vikki Chambers) who, whilst bedridden recovering from the broken leg she gets falling from her pony, begins to dream of the spooky house she's drawn in her sketchbook.  In the house she meets a young boy named Mark (Steven Jones) who is unable to walk.  Following an argument with Mark, in a fit of pique, Marianne foolishly surrounds the house with drawings of standing stones complete with eyes to watch and trap Mark inside after which it becomes a race against time to escape from the encroaching 'Watchers'.

Escape Into Night
'Escape Into Night' was adapted for TV by the great Ruth Boswell who had previously developed the fabulous 'Timeslip' and who would later go on to develop 'The Tomorrow People'.  Just like 'Timeslip' 'Escape Into Night' was originally filmed and shown in colour but those tapes have been lost / wiped and only the telerecordings exist but personally I think that not entirely a bad thing as the dark, grainy and almost washed out nature of the telerecordings gives Marianne's dreamworld a particularly sinister ambience that I can't really imagine in colour.

The acting of the two leads is very much of the middle class drama school variety typical of the era but beyond that everything about 'Escape Into Night' seemed designed to terrify it's young audience from the watching stones to the unrelenting build of tension over the 6 episodes, the Ralph Vaughan Williams titles to the massively creepy hummed end credits over the morphing childlike drawings of the cast and 48 years on its lost little of its creepiness.

Buy it here - Escape into Night - The Complete Series - or watch it below.


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Thursday, 14 May 2020

Scandal & Beauty: Mark Gatiss on Aubrey Beardsley

Aubrey Beardsley
In a career lasting only 6 years, curtailed by his death at just 25 from tuberculosis, Aubrey Beardsley created a body of work that has remained vibrant and vital to this day.  His darkly erotic illustrations for Thomas Malory's 'Le Morte d'Arthur', Oscar Wilde's 'Salome' and for 'The Yellow Book' the periodical that he created and curated for publisher The Bodley Head continues to be amongst the defining art the era.

To coincide with the current exhibition of Beardsley's drawings at Tate Britain the BBC and Beardsley fan Mark Gatiss have produced this fascinating little documentary detailing the life and work of this most original and enduring artist.


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