Sunday 27 October 2019

Night of the Demon

Night of the Demon
Based on the classic M.R. James story 'Casting the Runes', 'Night of the Demon' tells the story of an American psychologist, the somewhat overbearing Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews), arriving in the UK to debunk a notorious satanic cult led by Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) only to find himself wrapped up in both the murder of a colleague and his own predicted and imminent demise.

Made by the French director Jacques Tourneur (who had previously made the fabulous 'Cat People') ''Night of the Demon' is an early entrant into what has become known, perhaps slightly clumsily, as folk horror and certainly set the scene for many a Hammer and Amicus film to come in the next decade and a bit.  Standing stones, (references to) witchcraft, black magic, rural landscapes and runes all feature prominently but the film is made with a master's eye for atmosphere conjuring malevolence even in broad daylight as in the garden party scene - later perhaps to find an unlikely homage in the video for UK prog rock band Marillion's video for their song 'Garden Party'.

Night of the Demon
Beyond the technical skills of the director 'Night of the Demon' features fantastic performances by all involved.  MacGinnis is superbly understated as Karswell equally at home delivering his blase threats (and curse) against Holden as he is gently dealing with his 'wayward' mother's (Athene Seyler) attempts to help the same.  Andrews is almost smotheringly pompous in the lead role as his brash and rational new world confidence comes crashing into old world irrationality helped only by the presence of his murdered colleague's niece (Peggy Cummins) whose scientific education matched with her British heritage allows her to straddle both worlds.. 

There's some dispute over the demon itself, was it's appearance always planned or was it inserted at the insistence of producer Hal E. Chester and should it even be seen at all. Personally I come down on the side of those who would rather not have seen the beast but I do wonder if that's partly because this was a film that eluded me as a youngster and so I first saw it when the teenaged metalhead version of me in his Slayer T-shirt was already becoming a distant memory but he would have bloody loved seeing the demon.

Buy it here - Night of the Demon (1957) [DVD] - or watch it below.


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Tuesday 15 October 2019

Mortal Echoes: Encounters With the End

Greg Buzwell (ed)
British Library Tales of the Weird

A strange figure foretells tragedy on the railway tracks. A plague threatens to encroach upon an isolated castle. The daughter of an eccentric scientist falls victim to a poisonous curse.
Yet for all its certainty and finality, death remains an infinitely mysterious subject to us all. The stories in this anthology depict that haunting moment when characters come face to face with their own mortality.
Spanning two centuries, Mortal Echoes features some of the finest writers in the English language – including Daphne du Maurier, Edgar Allan Poe, Graham Greene and H. G. Wells. Intriguing, unsettling and often darkly humorous, this collection explores humanity’s transient existence, and what it means to be alive.

Another in the series of ghoulish tales from the British Library.  They've done about a dozen of these over the last little while and I  thought it was about time I got properly stuck into them.  The first one I read (Glimpses of the Unknown) was a fun excursion into the lesser known corners of the golden age of supernatural fiction.  This one takes a look at various visions of mortality.

In it's pages editor Buzwell includes a nice mix of real classics such as Charles Dickens' 'The Signalman', Sheridan Le Fanu's 'Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter' and Edgar Allan Poe's sublime 'The Masque of the Red Death' and a number of minor greats, Saki's 'Laura', Marjorie Bowen's 'Kecksies' and Robert Aickman's 'Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen' all of which will be familiar to connoisseurs of ghostly anthologies but all of which reward repeated readings.

We have several tales by well known authors who maybe aren't particularly associated with the supernatural such as Graham Greene's tale of an unpleasant encounter in 'A Little Place off the Edgware Road', Daphne du Maurier's murderous lady 'Kiss Me Again, Stranger' and a cosmic excursion in H.G. Wells' 'Under the Knife'.

Beyond these there are a few lesser known authors such as the under-rated May Sinclair, represented here by her fantastic 'Where Their Fire is Not Quenched', the darkly funny 'The School' by Donald Barthelme and Charlie Fish's amusingly daft 'Death by Scrabble'.

The problem with themed anthologies is they can quickly become quite tiresome but Buzwell has put together a nicely varied selection that entirely avoids this pitfall and this is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable anthologies I've read in quite a while.

Buy it here - Mortal Echoes: Encounters with the End (Tales of the Weird)


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Thursday 10 October 2019

Nothing is Strange

nothing is strange mike russell
Mike Russell
Strange Books

20 mind-expanding short stories.
Inspiring, liberating, otherworldly, magical, surreal, bizarre, funny, disturbing, unique... all of these words have been used to describe the stories of Mike Russell so put on your top hat, open your third eye and enjoy: Nothing Is Strange

 Mike contacted me here at Wyrd Britain to ask me if I'd like to check out his books for possible inclusion here, obviously I said yes and he kindly sent two over.

This, the first, is a collection of short shorts of a whimsically surreal and playful nature.  Stories morph and change in front of your eyes often lasting no longer than a page or three which in many cases is ample time for Mike to squeegee your third eye but there were times when I would have dearly loved to linger longer..

Outside of his playfulness what's most apparent is his sentimental side with love and friendship at the core of much of the work but in many cases slightly obscured by the darkness.  Now, I'm an old softy at heart and I very much approve of that sort of thing and there were a number of stories here that I enjoyed very much and am looking forward to diving back in to Mike's imagination for the second volume.


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