Sunday, 15 July 2018

Ace of Wands

Devotees of British supernatural TV of the 60s and 70s have become grudgingly used to the idea that many of the shows of the time are lost to us due to the cost cutting practise of 'wiping' and the lack of a system for safely archiving.  Amongst those lost to time are some 90 odd episodes of Doctor Who, much of the first series of Quatermass and the entire first two series of early 70s supernatural detective series 'Ace of Wands'.

Created in 1970 by Trevor Preston and Pamela Lonsdale, Ace of Wands told of the escapades of stage magician and detective 'Tarot' (Michael Mackenzie), his pet owl Ozymandias and various assistants including antiquarian bookseller Mr Sweet (Donald Layne-Smith) and, in the third series, a brother and sister duo by the name of Chas (Roy Holder) and Mikki (Petra Markham).  Originally envisioned as kid friendly show about a flamboyant detective, over the three series, the show becomes progressively more concerned with the supernatural especially with the arrival in series two of writer P.J. Hammond.

Following on from his contributions to AoW Hammond would, of course, go on to create and write Sapphire and Steel but it is here that he first took his cop show chops (earned on shows such as Dixon of Dock Green and Z-Cars) and married it with a love of the odd.  His third series storylines - 'The Meddlers',  'Peacock Pie' & 'Beautiful People' - show hints of what was to come but truthfully with storylines that include people being turned into dolls the whole thing has a similar vibe to what Hammond would later create in S&S.  Ace of Wands walked a fine line between the ostentatious spy-fi, detective fiction of the ITC shows and the Earth bound sci-fi of Pertwee era Doctor Who whilst also tapping into the zeitgeist and embracing the supernatural shenanigans that would characterise much of the 1970s TV we love so much here at Wyrd Britain such as 'The Stone Tape' and 'The Children of the Stones' all the while managing to just about keep things kid friendly and rocking a killer theme tune by Andy Bown.

It is an absolute shame that so much of this series is lost to us but as the recent(ish) Doctor Who finds (of episodes from 'The Web of Fear' and 'The Enemy of the World') show there's always a chance that some of the earlier episodes will resurface but for now we have only the third series and that's certainly no bad thing.

Buy it here - Ace Of Wands [DVD] - or watch it below.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Adrift on the Haunted Seas: The Best Short Stories of William Hope Hodgson

William Hope Hodgson
Douglas A. Anderson (editor)
Cold Spring Press

William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) is acknowledged as one of the undisputed masters of the sea story. There has never been a collection of his very best short stories offered to the trade. Hodgson's sea stories have unusual authenticity owing to his having spent a lot of time on merchant's ships-he left his family in 1890 at the age of thirteen to spend eight years at sea, where the experience of mistreatment, poor pay, and worse food was contrasted by Hodgson's immeasurable fascination with the sea. His obsession for the sea fills his writings. This volume collects the very best of Hodgson's sea stories-which has not been done before-with some of the most exciting and dramatic creatures of fantasy on the written page, exhibiting the sea in all her moods: wonder, mystery, beauty, and terror."This collection brings together the very best of his short stories, together with a sampling of his poetry. It includes a variety of his sea horrors along with two non-fantastic pieces: "On the Bridge," a journalistic story written immediately after the sinking of the Titanic which attempts to show some of the various factors which contributed to the tragedy, and the suspenseful nonfiction story "Through the Vortex of a Cyclone," which is based on Hodgson's own experiences at sea." - From the Introduction by Douglas A. Anderson

 Hope Hodgson's Carnacki stories have long been a favourite of mine and are at the centre of my love of a supernatural detective yarn but I never really had any real desire to read much else by him.  A year or so ago I listened to an audio of 'The House on the Borderland' which I thoroughly enjoyed  but again no real impulse to dig any further until I stumbled across this collection of his nautical horrors collected together by Douglas A. Anderson.  Now. part of the reason I'd not dug any further into Hodgson's stories is a disinterest in nautical tales but as it was in my hand I thought I'd give them a go.

As a young man Hodgson had spent a number of years at sea in the merchant navy and so the sea loomed large in his stories even featuring in one of his Carnacki tales, 'The Haunted Jarvee' which is included here.  A particular favourite of his was the 'Sargasso Sea', a legendary 'sea of weed' that ensnares unwary ships and holds them trapped as the crew either slowly starves or become food for the creatures that call it home.  Several of these Sargasso stories feature here and they range from the enigmatic ('The Voice in the Dawn') to the dynamic (the two parts of 'The Tideless Sea') to the dreadful ('The Finding of the Graiken').

Some of the stories such as 'The Wild man of the Sea', 'On the Bridge' and the fantastic 'Through the Vortex of a Cyclone' are fairly straight adventure fare - the latter sourced from experience - but for me it's the stranger stories that made the bigger impact such as the fungal body horror of 'The Voice in the Night', the unlikeliness of 'The Stone Ship' and the bittersweet final voyage of 'The Shamraken Homeward-Bounder'.

I must admit the constant nautical setting did wear at me somewhat and at times I found myself flagging a bit but Hodgson spins a good yarn and few of those included here hang around long enough to truly wear one's patience but as I said earlier nautical stories were never of much interest and whilst this did nothing to change my mind on that score it is a very recommended collection.

Buy it here - Adrift on the Haunted Seas: The Best Short Stories of William Hope Hodgson

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Keith Seatman - Disjointed Oddities and Other Such Things EP

I've had the great pleasure of being on the receiving end of Keith's promos for a good few years now and it's always been an absolute delight.  This new five track EP featuring four new tunes and a remix of a tune from Keith's earlier album - A Rest Before the Walk - by Wyrd Britain faves Revbjelde is no different.

Musically he walks a capricious, queasily disconcerting and idiosyncratic path.  With his sounds balancing on the edges of radiophonic playfulness and acid folk's twisted pastoralism filtered through the dark prism of Coil-esque post-industrial decay he has assembled another collection of deliciously serpentine and indefinably nebulous psychedelia fuelled by oneiric logic and arcadian phantasms.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The House that Bled to Death

 Hammer House of Horror is a well remembered anthology TV series made and broadcast in 1980 by the venerable old studio in conjunction with ITC Entertainment (creators of shows like The Prisoner, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Jason King & The Saint amongst many others).

'The House that Bled to Death' was the fifth episode and - due to one scene in particular - remains the most referenced of the series.  It's a haunted house tale with a twist in the tail that concerns a young family who buy a house notorious for being the location of a brutal murder.  Inevitably strange events begin to plague them culminating in the exuberant gorefest of the birthday party and as an aside for anyone unfamiliar with the scene who's troubled by that description of a children's party watch for the anticipatory relish on the faces of at least two of the kids moments before the blood starts flowing.

The cast consists of various UK TV stalwarts most of whom have done time in Doctor Who and assorted Brit soap operas all give reliably solid performances in an enjoyably callous story.

You can find another episode here - The Thirteenth Reunion.

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

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Star Kites: Poems and Versions

Mark Valentine
Tartarus Press

Mark Valentine’s first collection of poems draws on the sources that have inspired his acclaimed short stories—oneiric and otherworldly, and inexplicably beautiful. The poems evoke half-lit figures and images, seen in smoke, shadow, sun-haze and stone, and moments when the visible world does not quite cohere. Valentine writes of spells, oracles, myths and the fragility of memory.

Also offered are versions of poems by previously unheard European voices, including the Italian twilight poet Sergio Corazzini; the early mystical work of Ernst Stadler, a young, cosmopolitan poet killed in the Great war near Ypres; an Imagist homage to the Armenian poet and reformer Madame Sibyl; and a poem of Autumn by Ludmila Jevsejeva, exiled for her work in Esperanto.

Mark Valentine’s poems have appeared in Smoke, Sepia, Amoeba, The Fool, Mandragora and other journals and anthologies.

In his first collection of poems Mark Valentine has continued to develop many of the themes and ideas found in both his fiction writing and his non.  His poems explore memory and place, the phantasmal, the fantastical and of the joys to be found in the mundane.  As ever his writing is a thing of delicate beauty in which you can feel the care and deliberation he has taken with each piece and the way his ideas have a subtle way of insinuating themselves into your thoughts, taking up residence and leaving you pondering them for some hours afterwards.

In the second half of the book Mark presents 'versions' of poems written by obscure European poets.  It's unclear (to me at least) whether these are translations, adaptations of the works or, as I suspect, a combination of both but they are an interesting and compelling assortment that show the love and commitment to the literature of the fantastical that we've come to expect from Mark.

This is a rather wonderful selection that, after the delights of his short stories in 'The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things' and the fascinating articles that made up 'A Country Still All Mystery', offers us another glimpse into the worlds of this most captivating of authors.


Star Kites is available directly from the publisher - here.
Mark's Wormwoodiana website is here.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts

Warren Ellis is an English novelist, comic book writer, screenwriter and occasional columnist.  His work is primarily within the science fiction genre often concerned with transhumanism and the politics of technology and power.

Ellis has written for all the major US comic publishers often on their major characters including X-Men, Fantastic Four, Justice League and John Constantine:Hellblazer and with his Iron Man: Extremis storyline being the basis for the third Iron Man movie - whilst also maintaining a parallel writing strand of his own unique, creator owned projects such as the sci-fi gonzo journalism of Transmetropolitan (Buy it here), the spy-fi shenanigans of Global Frequency (Buy it here) and the - sadly so far unfinished - detective noir of Fell (Buy it here).

Ellis has occasionally turned his hand to other projects producing two novels - the joyously bonkers treasure hunt Crooked Little Vein (Buy it here) and the crime thriller Gun Machine (Buy it here), and a novella, the near future techno thriller Normal (Buy it here) - as well as writing the Netflix animated series Castlevania.

Whilst having worked for the majority of his career (so far) for the US comic industry much of his writing - particularly in recent years - is infused with the history and heritage of British science fiction and horror as can be seen in the John Wyndham-esque post apocalyptic FreakAngels (Buy it here) and the Nigel Kneale inspired  Injection (Buy it here) and Trees (Buy it here) - the former of which is populated with characters riffing on classic (wyrd) British characters such as Bernard Quatermass, Doctor Who, Thomas Carnacki, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.

Below is the 'Captured Ghosts' documentary produced in 2010 by the Sequart Organisation, who have also produced documentaries on Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman.    It features contributions from fans and colleagues such as writers Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison and Matt Fraction, artist Ben Templesmith, director Joss Whedon, actress Helen Mirren, comedian Patton Oswalt and pornographic actress and writer Stoya and offers a fascinating insight into the life and work of an author who has not only consistently produced some of the most intriguing, exciting, funny and just downright enthralling work it has been Wyrd Britain's pleasure to have read but who has used - and continues to do so - his various platforms to champion and support the work of writers, artists and musicians (myself included - here & here) and I am glad to be able return the favour as his is one of the most distinctive voices working in science fiction today and regardless of what he says at the end the documentary he is that good and he keeps on getting better.

Warren's always fascinating daily(ish) blog, 'Morning, Computer', can be found here and you can subscribe to his weekly 'Orbital Operations' newsletter here.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Supernatural Tales 36

David Longhorn (ed)

I'm a bit late to this one as I completely forgot about it until I got a mailout mentioning #37 so I grabbed both and I'm very glad I did.  7 stories and a couple of reviews for a couple of quid makes this a very good investment of both time and money. 

Opening the book is scriptwriter and novelist Paul Lewis who I had come across a few years back through his contribution to a pretty good Doctor Who book.  His story here 'The Templar Cup' is a fairly old fashioned tale of familial obligations of the supernatural kind and the penalties for breaking with those obligations.  As said it's quite old school and if you've read much Edwardian / Victorian supernatural fiction  then you've read a story or three very much like this one but it's still an enjoyable take on the trope.

Tom Johnstone's 'The Chiromancer' is a gratifyingly frightful tale told over drinks in the great tradition of these things and concerns forgery, guilt, family and fortune. Again it has the feel of the classics about it and again that's no bad thing.

Distinctly less satisfying is 'Sacred Ground' by Nancy Cole Silverman which left cold with it's ugly little tale of greed and retribution via the co-opting of Native American lore and it all feels a bit 80s horror movie level tacky.

'In The Rigging' by Jane Jakeman gives us a teeny tale of a teeny boat with a gruesome cargo before Gary Fry tidies things up with his fun new riff on the ghostly tale featuring a spectral butler in 'The Tidier'.

In the previous issue there was part one of Michael Chislett's ' The Subliminals' which I skipped at the time but having now read both parts it's an oddly underwritten piece.  It feels like we've been dropped into a much longer and heavily edited piece that suddenly crashes to a deeply unsatisfying ending.

With the exception of a couple of reviews from the editor the book ends with a quick weird take from Malcolm Laughton in 'Long-Haired and Sickly Beautiful' that tells a story of an intersection between the ordinary and the extraordinary worlds.

Anthologies are almost always patchy affairs and this was so but happily very much weighted to the good and as such very recommended.

Supernatural Tales is available from the blog address at the top of this review.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Nick Drake

Today (19th June 2018) would have been the 70th birthday of Nick Drake. A musician who, despite only releasing 3 albums during his life time to very little acclaim, has posthumously, become one of the most revered of his peers.

Drake was born in Burma in 1948 but grew up in Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire, England.  His musical career was understated due in no small part to his reticence to play live or be filmed.  After releasing three albums between 1969 and 1972 - Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon - Drake's mental health had deteriorated to the point where he had to return to the family home where, on 25th November 1974, he took an overdose of antidepressants and died.

Since his death his music has been championed by musicians such as REM, Beck, Swans, Mars Volta & Norah Jones.  His three albums have become cornerstones of modern British folk and indie.

Buy them here...
Five Leaves Left
Bryter Layter
Pink Moon

Included below are two documentaries about Drake's life and music.  They cover much the same ground and are both very watchable but the first, produced by the BBC, has attained some notoriety amongst Drake fans for the slightly unflattering picture it paints whilst the second, a Dutch production, pays deeper attention to the music so I've included both to give you a choice.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Chemistry Lesson

Starring Alan Cumming and Samantha Bond 'The Chemistry Lesson' is an episode of the 1995 BBC anthology series 'Ghosts'.  The story concerns nerdy, needy (and more than a bit creepy) teacher Philip (Cummings) who turns to magic in order to seduce his married colleague Maddy (Bond) which soon spirals way beyond his control.

As you can imagine from the presence of the two leads it's fabulously acted by all involved with Bond playing an absolute blinder as the magic drives her in unwanted directions and takes a heavy toll on both her life and her psyche and Cumming increasingly lost as a man flailing against the extremity of the new reality of his callous lust.

The finished film is very much a modern take on the classic Hammer / Amicus witchcraft tale and in line with that there's a fairly 1970s sexual sensibility at work (perhaps also a reflection of the hideous 'lad culture' of the time).  The story (written and directed by Terry Johnson) builds beautifully with the tension rising unbearably to a harrowing climax that's only slightly spoilt by a vaguely heavy-handed coda.

NOTE - For those of you who are sensitive to that sort of thing please be aware that there is nudity.

Another episode from 'Ghosts', an adaptation of Elizabeth Jane Howard's 'Three Miles Up' can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Rituals of Infinity

Michael Moorcock
Arrow Books

It is nearly three decades since the discovery of the sub-spacial alternatives - twenty-four lumps of matter hanging in a limbo outside of space and time, each sharing the name of Earth.
Now there are only fifteen of them - the rest blown to extinction by the ruthless attacks of the D-squads. Even the surviving planets are doomed to a cruel, mutilated existence.
Standing between them and their final destruction at the hands of the merciless demolition teams is Michael Moorcock's zaniest hero - the brilliant, offbeat physicist Professor Faustaff.

In many ways I treat Moorcock books as a form of therapy.  They are one of the things I reach for when I'm feeling a bit down because they are fast, fun, are full of inventive adventure and are pretty much guaranteed to cheer me up.

'The Rituals of Infinity' or 'The New Adventures of Doctor Faustus' (which is an odd title as the main character is actually called 'Faustaff) is a multiple Earths story but not part of Moorcock's multiverse books.  Here we have a group headed by the aforementioned Doctor, a Doc Savage style pulp hero, dedicated to saving the now 15 Earths from another more shadowy group that seems hell bent on destroying them.  As he hops back and forth between Earths Professor Faustaff uncovers a conspiracy of cosmic proportions that results in a final act quite unlike anything else.

This is an early novel and it certainly isn't anywhere close to Moorcock at his best.  The story is pretty thin but the bonkers finale is a whole heap of fun and wraps the story up nicely.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

The Cicerones

This short film by The League of Gentlemen's Jeremy Dyson is an adaption of one of Robert Aickman's 'strange stories' and tells of a traveller's encounters with four 'cicerones' (guides) inside a cathedral.

Mark Gatiss takes the lead role as 'John Trant' a reserved and slightly stuffy Englishman of indeterminate age sightseeing his way across Europe who, in the great ghostly tradition of M. R. James, goes off in search of a  MacGuffin - in this case a painting of Lazarus - and instead finds himself at the centre of a much more unsettling experience among the columns and crypts of 'The Cathedral of Saint Bavon'. 

At only twelve minutes in length Dyson has mostly kept true to his source and this is a concentrated dose of Aickman ambiguity as we, along with Trant, are led deeper and deeper into the bowels of the cathedral as the tension builds from no overt source other than Trant's desperate need to find the painting before the cathedral closes, the macabre nature of the images he is confronted with and his reactions to the odd behaviour of the various people he meets.  As is the way of things with Aickman little is obvious, much goes unsaid and one is left very much adrift in exquisitely disquieting confusion.

If you wish to learn more about this most singular of authors you can find an interesting documentary about his life and work at this link and another (longer) adaptation of one of his strange stories - 'The Hospice' by clicking here.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Ride, Ride

'Tales of Unease' was a short lived series of supernatural tales based on stories from the horror anthologies of the same(ish) name compiled by John Burke (the second of which is probably best known for it's supremely creepy cover photo) screened in 1970.  To the best of my knowledge much of the series has been lost but one of the few remaining episodes is the first - 'Ride, Ride'.

Myles Reithermann stars as 'Arth' an art student who meets a mysterious young woman (Susan George) at a party who begs him to give her a lift home before suddenly disappearing along the way.

Story wise it's a bit on the slight side with Reithermann seeming a tad out of his depth as the lead and George has little to do except look ethereal.  There's some strong support from Janet Lees Price and 'The Omega Factor's' James Hazeldine but the half hour run time means they're both underused.  It is though an interesting little take on a fairly well used ghost story trope that does what it does well enough without overstaying it's welcome.


Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things

Mark Valentine

This is his first short story collection for five years and offers twelve previously uncollected stories and an unpublished journal of story ideas and reading notes. His fiction ranges from the Triple Headed King of Sancreed, Cornwall to the unknown god of Palmyra, from a Venusian commodore to the lost composer of Stonehenge, and takes us on a search for the cockatrice and a quest for books not found in any library.
All of the stories suggest that other dimensions may be encountered in the most unexpected ways, whether through the hymn-singing of an old tramp, or as part of a Shakespeare play. And in the previously unpublished ‘Notes on the Border’, Valentine explores bookshops, old churches, folklore and the uncanny, with insights into stories as yet unwritten..

This newest collection of shorts from Mark Valentine finds him exploring ephemeral landscapes of the unknowable and the inimitable.  Mark tells stories of the borderlands, of the thin places where glimpses are caught of the otherwheres or where the truly (un)lucky get to tread on soil unused to human feet.  He tells stories of those liminal places where a travellers only map would be the tales told of them.

In these handsomely presented pages - this is my first taste of Zagava's fare and huge kudos to them for producing a thing of real craft - we are introduced to faded gods and fading con-men ('To the Eternal One'), to musicians ('Listening to Stonehenge'), to artists ('As Blank as the Days Yet to Be') and to their devotees ('Goat Songs') who through their particular ways can open pathways to places and experiences beyond the mundane.  We are allowed a peek behind masks, both literal and figurative, of actors and audience alike as characters and character blur ('In Cypress Shades'), behind the mask of reality itself to worlds beyond ('The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things') and indeed behind the mask of the author as we are treated to extracts from Mark's diaries that reveal the genesis of some of his stories including some of his wonderful Connoisseur tales.

As ever with Mark we are taken on journeys both sinister and beautiful (often simultaneously) to places terrifying and beguiling (often simultaneously) in the company of the lost, the curious, the brave and the foolish and in each we can see ourselves as they react to the outrageous in deeply human ways.  It is this that for me is the true magic in Mark's writing in that as he conjures up the most deliciously unexpected experiences he presents them with such a beautifully real sense of humanity that they seem all the more genuine and all the more disturbing.


'The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things' is available in two limited editions from the publisher.
The numbered edition is available here and the (more expensive but extremely limited) lettered version is available here.

You can follow Mark's terrific Wormwoodiana blog here.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

New Radiophonic Workshop mini-documentary

Just uploaded to YouTube by the good people at Resident Advisor is a brand new documentary on the sonic wizards of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

For long time fans there's not really anything new here but featuring brief soundbites from the various members of the current touring band - Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb, Peter Howell, Dick Mills, Mark Ayres and Kieron Pepper - as they prep for a performance alongside archive footage of Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram it makes for an interesting snapshot of the continuing legacy of these unique musicians.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

A Woman Sobbing

'A Woman Sobbing' was made for the 1972 BBC anthology series 'Dead of Night' and is one of only three episodes left out of the seven broadcast as part of the series.

Written by John Bowen (who had previously written the rural horror classic 'Robin Redbreast' and who would go on to script two episodes of 'A Ghost Story for Christmas') the story concerns bored and lonely housewife Jane (Anna Massey) who, frustrated by her quiet country life and annoyed by her brattish children, begins hearing the titular sounds coming from the attic. At first suspecting some elaborate plot on the part of her dull and aloof but essentially good natured husband (Ronald Hines) to drive her mad she soon starts to believe that the presence in the attic is of a more supernatural nature.

It is horrendously sexist in parts but also features a fantastically intense central performance from Massey who veers between vulnerable and vitriolic as the intensity of her experiences escalate and Hines who gives a sympathetic performance as a man out of his depth trying to help his wife through, what to him, appears to be depression or schizophrenia.  It is in that ambiguity of whether Jane is under malign influence or becoming increasingly unwell or perhaps both that the episode handles particularly well. There is a fairly obvious interpretation of the story that can be made from the title and the location of the sobbing but director Paul Ciappessoni manages, with the exception of one slightly out of place and heavy-handed moment towards the end, to keep away from any overt statements and we are left very much to make up our own minds.

Buy it here - Dead of Night (DVD) - or watch it below.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Judge Anderson: Year One

Alec Worley
Abaddon Books

The untold story behind Mega-City One's most famous telepath and Judge Dredd partner, Judge Anderson, in her first year on the job!
Mega-City One, 2100.  Cassandra Anderson is destined to become Psi-Division’s most famous Judge, foiling supernatural threats and policing Mega-City One’s hearts and souls. For now, she’s fresh out of Academy and Psi-Div themselves are still finding their feet. 
Heartbreaker: After a string of apparently random, deadly assaults by customers at a dating agency, Anderson is convinced a telepathic killer is to blame. Putting her career on the line, the newly-trained Psi-Judge goes undercover to bring the romance-hating murderer to justice, with the big Valentine’s Day parade coming up.
The Abyss: Sent to interrogate Moriah Blake, leader of the notorious terror group ‘Bedlam,’ Anderson gets just one snippet of information – Bedlam’s planning on detonating a huge bomb – before Blake’s followers take over the Block. It’s a race against time, and Anderson’s on her own amongst the inmates.
A Dream of the Nevertime: Anderson – a rookie no more, with a year on the streets under her belt – contracts what appears to be a deadly psychic virus, and must explore the weirdest reaches of the Cursed Earth in search of a cure. She must face mutants, mystics and all the strangeness the land can throw at her as she wrestles weird forces.

I thoroughly enjoyed the couple of early Dredd books that have appeared over the last few years (see here & here) and so when I noticed this one I couldn't resist and jumped right in.

Leaving aside the very inaccurate cover art that has left Anderson's uniform bereft of shoulder eagle and chain this is a fairly accurate rendition of the Anderson that we all fell for in The Dark Judges storyline.  She's irreverent and fearless but here is wracked with doubts over the judge system and beset by worries that she's not up to the job.  It's not something I really buy into.  the years at the academy would have weeded that out of her but it does add a dimension to her interior monologue that Dredd obviously lacks.

The 3 and a smidge stories collected here are solid action pieces with the psi judge taking down various rogue psychics, mutants and terrorists across Mega City One and the Cursed Earth.  Worley has a fairly solid hand on the craziness of Dredd universe but has kept a fairly tight rein so the Valentine Parade feels suitable OTT rather than just silly and Marion the cow-bot is a sympathetic character behind the John Wayne-isms.

As I said I found the soul searching to be a little forced and given too central a place in the stories but other than that this proved to be another successful and very readable collection of stories allowing us a glimpse at the unreported years of some of 2000ADs finest.

Buy it here - Judge Anderson: Year One

Sunday, 6 May 2018

The Plague of the Zombies

Made in 1966, just two years before George Romero revolutionised the genre, Hammer Studios gave the world what is perhaps the last great entry in the voodoo zombie genre.  'Plague of the Zombies' is the story of a small Cornish mining town plagued by a number of unexpected deaths.  To help him find the cause of this epidemic the doctor (Brook Williams) calls on the aid of his old tutor (Quatermass and the Pit's Andre Morell) who arrives to find a village in turmoil with even the Doctor's wife ('Servalan' herself Jacqueline Pearce) succumbing to the mystery affliction .

'Plague...' is in many ways fairly typical Hammer with it's period setting and it's backlot sets but behind this is a movie that is straining to break free of the confines of the studios reliance on the great monsters.  Beyond the shuffling creatures we have a story about class conflict and economic exploitation as the arrogant upper class Squire (John Carson) exercises power of life and (un)death over the villagers exploiting their lives and labours for his own greed while the educated gentlemen doctors strive to cure the plague and free the village.

With the exception of one rather vicious dream sequence it lacks much of the gore laden sensibility that would come to characterise the zombie genre but what we do have is a sympathetic script anchored by top notch performances from the cast - Morrell was one of the studios best and Pearce always shines even when, like here, her appearance is fleeting.  The end result is still very much a Hammer movie but one with an eye to where horror scripts would be heading in the coming decades. 

Buy it here - Plague of the Zombies (Blu-ray + DVD) [1966] - or watch it below.

Friday, 4 May 2018

The Man From the Diogenes Club

Kim Newman
Titan Books

The debonair psychic investigator Richard Jeperson is the Most Valued Member of the Diogenes Club, the least-known and most essential branch of British Intelligence. While foiling the plot of many a maniacal mastermind, he is chased by sentient snowmen and Nazi zombies, investigates an unearthly murderer stalking the sex shops of 1970s Soho, and battles a poltergeist to prevent it triggering nuclear Armageddon. But as a new century dawns, can he save the ailing Diogenes Club itself from a force more diabolical still?
Newman’s ten mischievous tales, with cameos from the much-loved characters of the Anno Dracula universe, will entertain fans and newcomers alike.

For the last few years Titan Books have been reprinting Kim Nerwman's novels such as the Anno Dracula series, An English Ghost Story, Professor Moriarty and The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School and now they've finally got to the one I've been waiting for.

There was much to like in the first Anno Dracula book - and by much I mean loads - but the part that really resonated with me was the use of Arthur Conan Doyle's Diogenes Club as the base of the secret service under the guidance of Mycroft Holmes.  A quick search showed me that Newman had written three books around this club and that they were now commanding eye-watering prices.  Well, the first one has finally been reprinted and it was well worth the wait.

This first collection of Diogenes stories focuses on flamboyant psychic investigator Richard Jeperson as he rampages around 1970s and 1980s (and into the 90s) England battling zombie nazis, witches, golems, snowmen, ghost trains and evil geniuses.  Jepperson is a pitch perfect amalgam of all your favourite spy-fi characters such as Jason King (who he looks like) and John Steed mixed with a healthy splash of the Jon Pertwee incarnation of the Doctor and a heritage of psychic detectives and adventurers such as Thomas Carnacki and Flaxman Low.

It's a glorious romp of a book and is tremendous fun throughout.  It feels like an unapologetic return to the pulp horror supernatural shenanigans of the era of it's setting.  There is so much fun to be had here cavorting around the last quarter of the 20th century and taking in the sites and sounds of the secret history of these decades and for those of you who weren't born or were elsewhere there's even a handy glossary of some of the more particular references although - and this is something mentioned in a story ('The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train') but isn't featured in the glossary - as a Welshman and as a fan of the admittedly unattractive looking stuff I need to add that 'lava bread' (sic) is neither dry nor in fact bread but this is my tiny obligatory quibble with what is fantastic collection and a joyful mash up of all the best supernatural and sci-fi shenanigans of 60s and 70s British TV and is heartily and unreservedly recommended.

Buy it here - The Man From the Diogenes Club

Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Scarlet Soul: Stories For Dorian Gray

Mark Valentine (ed)
Swan River Press

"Yet it was watching him, with its beautiful marred face and its cruel smile." — Oscar Wilde

Art, obsession, love, lust, sorcery—ten contemporary writers respond to the imperishable themes of Oscar Wilde’s great Decadent romance, The Picture of Dorian Gray. What happens when a face, a form, an uncanny force changes everything we thought we knew? What survives of us when we stray into a borderland of the mind, where our deepest urges seem to call up remorseless powers?

Whether in fantastic imaginary realms or in the gritty noir of today, these new stories, all especially written for this anthology, take us into some of the strangest and darkest places of the psyche. These ten boldly original portraits in the attic take many disturbing forms, revealing strong truths about the secrets of our selves, our society, and our very souls.

I don't quite know what it was about the book but from the moment the teenage me saw the bright yellow 'Complete Works of Oscar Wilde' with it's Aubrey Beardsley illustration (of 'Salome' if memory serves) I desperately wanted to read it.  It was a very out of character choice as at the time my reading materials of choice were post apocalypse sci fi, beat fiction and underground comics so when I saw, what I presumed to be, a book of drawing room farces sporting that stark and stunning erotic cover art I just couldn't resist.  I can't remember much about the whole but I do recall enjoying various shorts and trying, failing and skipping the plays but mostly I remember 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' and the impact it made.  I became mildly besotted with it, nothing about it was like anything I'd read beyond those tedious group reads they make you do in school but living the lifestyle I did and with no knowledge of what to follow it with it lapsed into memory and it was many years before I pursued more literature of it's kind.

In his introduction Mark Valentine relates his own entanglement with the book and of his fascination with it's themes of identity, behaviours and destiny before handing us over to the ten authors chosen to reflect and reinterpret these themes.

Reggie Oliver (photo by R.B. Russell)
Reggie Oliver opens the book proper with a search for 'Love and Death' as art and life collide with terrible results.  I have long harboured a desire to read some of Oliver's work as I'd heard nothing by praise but my only previous encounter was a M.R. James pastiche which moved me not but here finally I see what the fuss is about as this is a fantastically powerful tale.

Caitriona Lally's 'This is How it Will Be' is certainly no less powerful but it's story of identity loss (or perhaps identity theft would be a more appropriate term) comes with the extra frisson of frustrating believability as it reduces you to uncomfortably berating the narrator for her passivity, her malleability and her gullibility in the knowledge that in doing so you are, perhaps, behaving no differently from her new friend.

Lynda E. Rucker's 'Every Exquisite Thing' is a tricksier affair that chases love or at least the ghost of it to various locations only to find it unknowing and disheartening .  It seemed to me to speak of hidden lives and the reinventions of self and of a futile desire for stability amidst change.

John Howard
I've had the great pleasure to read a few things by John Howard over the last couple of years and he never disappoints.  His stories are often gut-wrenchingly acute dissections of life and love and in 'Speck' he takes us on an exploration of lives and identities used and discarded, of the callous disregard of others and of innocence and kindness.

D.P. Watt's tale of psychic vampirism, 'Doreen', is a jarring contrast to the subtlety of the previous and feels in many ways to be a hark back to the macabre tales of old but with a touch of the Beryl Cook in it's cast and milieu.

Rosanne Rabinowitz brings us right up to date with a harrowing and odd tale of two women caught up in the upsurge of racist idiocy that followed the E.U. vote in 'All That's Solid' while Avalon Brantley offers a tale redolent of Victorian houses filled with artistic gentlemen of impeccable manners and indulgent habits. Of discussions over brandy and cigars and of falls from grace as inevitable as they are improbable.

Timothy J. Jarvis' story within a story - that great tradition of the ghostly tale - 'The Yellow Book' layers the weird and the mundane to create an oddly soap operatic folk horror whereas in 'A Labyrinth of Graves' John Gale offers a tale of love, jealousy, rage, regret and longevity as we are offered fleeting glimpses of the long existence of a god and the mutual impact of the life and death of one particular devotee.

The book ends with 'The Anatomy Lesson of Professor Stebbing' by Derek John a light footed and fun steampunkish yarn concerning the titular 'scientist' and his machine to modify and manipulate the soul.

When I begun this book I was definitely expecting a parade of stories more directly linked to the original but what I got was something far more diverse and significantly more interesting.  There are moments when the link seems particularly tenuous but once you accept this the quality of the individual pieces shines through and what you get is a set of thought provoking and hugely enjoyable stories by a group of very interesting new (to me at least) writers assembled by one of the pre-eminent writers of (and about) the weird working today.

Available direct from the publisher.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Music Has The Right To Children

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the debut Boards of Canada album, 'Music Has The Right To Children'.

The work of two brothers, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin, Boards of Canada have carved a uniquely enigmatic path through the world of electronic music.

The record is a mesmerisingly oneiric and disturbingly beautiful meditation on childhood and memory.  It's detuned and hallucinatory qualities derived from vintage synthesizers, treated voices and library melodies provided the template for the entire hauntology movement.

It is an album that was born from half remembered memories, childhood fears and hazy nostalgia that exists in a place that is utterly timeless.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Thirteenth Reunion

Hammer House of Horror was an anthology series created by the titular studio and ITC Entertainment (home of shows such as The Prisoner, Jason King and The Saint as well as the various Gerry Anderson programmes) broadcast in 1980. Somewhat appropriately there were 13 episodes made each with a different writer and cast and exploring the various plot favourites of the Hammer Studios such as satanism, murder, witchcraft and voodoo but stripped of the gothic trappings that characterised the movies which makes it perhaps more redolent of Amicus Productions.

'The Thirteenth Reunion' was the second episode on the series and was written by Jeremy Burnham (co-writer of the amazing 'Children of the Stones') and directed by Peter Sasdy (director of Nigel Kneale's brilliant 'The Stone Tape' and various Hammer movies including 'Countess Dracula').  It tells the story of a reporter's investigation of a health farm and of the secret society that lurks behind it's facade.

The episode isn't entirely successful as it never quite seems to decide whether or not it wants to be scary or funny and winds up not really being either.  It does have it's moments though and some really good casting with Warren Clarke providing what's possibly the best scene of the episode and Doctor Who regular Kevin Stoney is an imposing presence as the doctor in charge. The main problem is lead actress Julia Foster who strives valiantly but seems like she would be far more at home in a sitcom (which is in no way meant to be an insult) and certainly doesn't conform to the body type they keep branding her as and which they've hidden under some truly hideous costume choices.  The end result is certainly not of the best remembered episodes of the series (I'm sure we'll get to them in due time) but with a pedigree like the one that Burnham and Sasdy bring it was an irresistible choice for sharing here and the big reveal when it comes is fun.

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