Sunday, 18 November 2018

Mrs Acland's Ghosts

When tailor, Mr Mockler (John Bluthal), receives several unexpected letters from a Mrs Acland (Sara Kestelman), who has plucked his name at random from a telephone directory, he finds himself drawn into a story far beyond anything his quiet existence has prepared him for.  In the letters she tells him about her circumstances, her childhood and of her siblings whose ghosts haunt her and who soon begin to haunt him too.

This 1975 episode of the BBC Playhouse series, directed by Mike Newell from a script by William Trevor, is a subtle and delicately controlled exploration of madness, imagination and quite possibly the supernatural. It's beautifully composed, filled with credible and satisfying performances from the entire ensemble in a story that implies much but never truly reveals it's secrets and is all the better for it.



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Thursday, 15 November 2018

Tomato Cain and other stories

Tomato Cain and other stories by Nigel Kneale
Nigel Kneale

This one has been up near the top of my list of books to track down for years NOW and to finally get my hands on a copy was a real treat.

The book holds 26 stories of which there were only two that I'd read before, the haunted house of 'Minuke' and the amphibious revenge of 'The Pond'.  I'd read enough reviews of the book to know that it was going to perhaps be a bit of a patchy read but I'm ever the optimist and so dived right in.  Turns out it's a bit of a patchy read.

There are some nicely effective tales here.  There are moments of light horror such as the two stories already mentioned and 'The Stocking', a ghost story or two ('Patter of Tiny Feet' & 'Peg'), a fun snippet of sci-fi ('The Calculation of M'Bambwe'), stories of madness ('Jeremy in the Wind'), illness ('The Photograph'), innocence ('A Lotus for Jamie') friendship ('The Excursion'), deceit ('Oh Mirror, Mirror') and death ('Zachary Crebbins Angel') to name just those stories that had the most impact.  There are many more that felt like filler.  All readable enough but with little about them that was either interesting or memorable'

I am though very glad to finally get to put a mental tick next to this one and that it had some very enjoyable moments - 'Jeremy in the Wind' and 'A Lotus for Jaime' in particular.  It wasn't all I hoped it would be but it was much more than I feared.

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Sunday, 11 November 2018

The Shout

The Shout 1978
As you can probably infer from it's title sound is very much at the heart of 'The Shout'; the sonic experiments of Anthony Fielding (John Hurt), Crossley's (Alan Bates) playing with his wine glass, the diegetic sounds of the rural setting, the progish / ambient soundtrack by Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks of Genesis. and, of course, the mortiferous Shout itself.  The sound design by Alan Bell is the shining jewel at the heart of the movie.

The Fielding's, Anthony and Rachel (Susannah York), live an idyllic existence in a small coastal village until their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the interloper Crossley who claims to have lived with Australian Aborigines in the outback where he has learnt their magic; a magic that he soon brings to bear on the couple.

John Hurt in The Shout
Based on Robert Graves fantastic short story Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski brings a decidedly arthouse sensibility to the film with time jumps, sudden switches to black and white and slow motion and a deliberate and slow pace that allows the menace in Bates' performance, the confusion in Hurt's and the loss of self in York's to build to palpable extremes before the film culminates in a thunderous if perhaps slightly anticlimactic ending.

Buy it here - The Shout - or watch it below.



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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Friday, 9 November 2018

3 Wyrd Britain: Grey Malkin

For '3 Wyrd Things' I asked various creative types whose work I admire to tell us about three oddly, wonderfully, weirdly British things that have been an influence on them and their work - a book or author, a film or TV show and a song, album or musician.

This month, Grey Malkin

Musician and writer Grey Malkin was previously the guiding hand behind 'The Hare And The Moon' who released several acclaimed albums and EPs between 2009 and 2017 before going the way of all things.  You can the music archived at the Bandcamp page here.

Grey has most recently been working on new music as Embertides (with David Colohan), Widow's Weeds and in collaboration with Ashtoreth.

We are honoured that he took time out of his schedule to participate in 3 Wyrd Things.


Reading
All In The Downs, Shirley Collins
(Buy it here)
 
With regards to books, I did think about focusing on some of the literature I have been reading lately; the Arthur Machen that I am revisiting such as The Great God Pan or the wyrd tales of Robert Aickman, perhaps the vintage supernatural writings of H R Wakefield. However, it is a biography that stands out in my mind as to having a substantial impact upon me, both in terms of having an emotional pull and in not being able to put the book down. Shirley Collins is without a doubt one of my favourite singers, I could listen to Love, Death and the Lady or indeed her recent Lodestar (one of her best works in my opinion) on constant repeat. Her Glasgow concert supporting Lodestar as a part of the Celtic Connections festival is one of the finest shows I have witnessed; I was therefore already greatly interested in reading about Collins as an artist. However it was the deeply human element and the joy and tragedy in her story that swept me out of my immediate surroundings onto the pages and text of the book and held me there, until I had to return reluctantly to the outside world and wait till I could pick up where I had left off. I also read All In The Downs during the summer whilst travelling around the more rural or coastal areas of Scotland and the north of England, partly in order to witness some of the seasonal folk traditions in different towns and villages. This also seemed timely and to resonate with the book itself; there is much of the experience in living alongside the natural world and of the importance of these rural and urban folkloric rituals inherent and included in Collins' writing.

Certain passages haunt and stay with me; the dysphonia that she suffered following the deep betrayal of partner Ashley Hutchings during the Lark Rise To Candleford production that essentially ended her career for nigh on thirty years, the moving and rich memories of life with her parents and sister Dolly, her dedication to folksong as a medium for the people who have sung and carried on the tradition, her journey to the States with traditional song archivist Alan Lomax and her sensitivity to the appalling racism that was present there. Collins appears to be a strikingly strong and determined character and I find her life inspiring both in artistic and human terms. She seems to bridge eras and represents the best in each. If I can be somewhat cheeky and sneak in an extra ‘watching’ element to this piece I would highly recommend The Ballad of Shirley Collins documentary for its equally honest and quietly passionate portrayal of its subject; it is very much a suitable companion piece to this biography.


Watching
The Mad Death
(Buy it here)

Ostensibly a dystopian production about an influx of rabies into the British Isles (primarily Scotland), The Mad Death is a curious mix of late 70’s and early 80’s apocalyptic drama with elements of such shows as Survivors and The Day Of The Triffids, as well as appearing like one elongated public information film. In other words it is bleak, the countryside foreboding and the cityscapes grim; moreover all the male leads constantly shout and bellow all of their lines (what was with all the shouting men in British television drama in those eras? ‘Greg’ in Survivors and ‘Peter Brock’ in The Stone Tape are two such examples).

And The Mad Death is relentlessly unforgiving and, at times, genuinely frightening. With little space given to any character’s back story or much focus on interpersonal relationships, the drama plays out like an emergency planning exercise as to just how the country would react to such a terrifying outbreak. For those of a certain vintage, there will be vivid memories of the rabid fox in the wood, its mouth a mass of yellow foam and speckled blood. That it now looks like a demented glove puppet doesn’t entirely take away its impact; this is essentially about man’s struggle to control nature and nature’s impassive reluctance to submit. The rabid dog in the urban multi-story car park or loose in the shopping centre, the rabies victims’ hydrophobia and visibly unpleasant demise; all are etched forever on the minds of those who tuned in and watched in horror all that time ago, emphasising to those young viewers that the world was a deeply unsafe, unpredictable and unforgiving place.

Indeed, I recall a period at school after some friends had managed to view The Mad Death (despite being very young and clearly far too impressionable) which then generated an urban myth about a three legged rabid fox that patrolled our back gardens at night. One boy even claimed it leapt up at his sitting room window, trying to bite and infect him through the glass and leaving saliva, foam and blood smeared across the glass. That a three legged fox would have to be some kind of acrobat to achieve this did not occur to us; it was the mad death that we feared.

Recently released on DVD, it is possible now to see the programme’s faults and lack of effects budget in the cold light of day. Yet, it is also clear what The Mad Death’s achievements are. There is little compromise, there are some truly disturbing moments and it follows its premise grimly to its conclusion in a way that would surely be softened now by character arcs or viewer sensitivities. Plus, that foaming fox is still just a little bit frightening.


Listening
Coil - The Ape Of Naples
(Buy it here)

A posthumous album in that Jhonn Balance passed a year before its release but also one in which certain songs had been frequently reworked and revisited from as far back as Coil's abandoned venture to the States to record for Trent Reznor's Nothing label, this release correspondingly sits somewhere in the liminal space between existence and another plain entirely. It is a most apt place to find Coil and there are clues, if you want to look for them, throughout the album from the opening lines of 'Does death come alone, or with eager reinforcements?' to the closing 'It just is…', the latter a sage comment from Balance that follows Going Up, a hymnal lament to the lost singer that merges the theme tune from Are You Being Served to a truly melancholy castrato and organ funeral mass. Past hauntings are subtly visible again in A Cold Cell, The Last Amethyst Deceiver and Teenage Lightning whilst It's In My Blood takes the previous A.Y.O.R. and turns it into an industrial tsunami, replete with screams and Thighpaulsandra's terrifying orchestral keyboard sweeps. All of Coil is here; from the early aural assault of Scatology, to the death psalms of Horse Rotorvator right up to the liquid moon musick of later years. And this may be why The Ape Of Naples holds such an appeal for me; it feels like the black, beating heart of Coil exists here in these songs, their manifesto and final testament combined. The last year or so has felt particularly funereal and final for me in parts and this has been a fitting soundtrack, one which I have returned to again and again for solace, humour and escape. We shall never see their like again, both Balance and Christopherson now being gone but The Ape Of Naples sits out of time and place and is possibly endless. A good thing too.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Supernatural Tales 37

David Longhorn (editor)
Supernatural Tales

I've been thoroughly enjoying these quarterly magazines from the Supernatural Tales blog.  They give me a semi regular fix of a Mark Valentine story and have introduced me to a couple of other interesting writers.

I have to say though I was less enamoured of this issue than I usually am.  Mark is here and his 'The Forwarding Agent' is another delicately twisted exploration of odd hobbies and fractured reality but the other stories just didn't really do all that much for me.

C.M. Muller's 'Slattergreen' was an initially intriguing tale of loss and transformation that came to a far too sudden and jarring end that left me wondering what the point was. A feeling magnified tenfold in Jeremy Schlieve's 'Children's Castles'.

'Silver' by Helen Grant was a nicely written werewolf tale that seemed to have been inspired by the author's discovery of an interesting piece of trivia regarding glass-making rather than by the story itself and so I came out of it thinking more about the factoid and the construction of the story than the story itself.

With the exception of a couple of reviews by the editor the book closes with Chloe N Clark's 'Leopard Seals' a really intriguing story wrapped in some padding about a dream. The central idea I thought really promising but the dream stuff just seemed like filler.

A slightly frustrating read this time out but not entirely a bad one although I really could have done without the one about the castle.

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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain