Sunday, 16 May 2021

The Haunted House of Horror

Wyrd Britain reviews The Haunted House of Horror.

Director Michael Armstrong's 1969 debut feature 'The Haunted House of Horror' (also known as 'Horror House') has become well known as an example of studio hackery over directorial vision as his taut proto-slasher was re-edited and added to by studio (Tigon) dictat turning it into a bit of an overlong and meandering mess.

It's late 60s London and a group of pretty young things bored by their own party head off to a derelict and supposedly haunted house to hold a séance where one of them is brutally murdered.  Realising there's a murdering lunatic among them they decide to simply cover it all up and hope for the best which of course is exactly what doesn't happen.

At its core is a solid thriller with some strong performances from much of its cast especially Jill Haworth - who made a few horrors around this time including 'Tower of Evil' - but one has to wonder if some of Armstrong's original casting choices - including David Bowie as 'Richard' - would have made for a stronger movie with US popstar Frankie Avalon - cast at the insistence of US investor AIP - making for a very ineffective lead right up to his eye-watering end and both the subplot featuring a stalkery George Sewell and the final reveal drag somewhat but this is a movie that despite its many flaws I have a real soft spot for although it is tinged with a hankering for what could have been.

Buy it here - UK / US.



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Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Hellraiser: Soundtrack Hell - The Story of the Abandoned Coil Score

Stephen Thrower discusses Coil, Clive Barker and  The Unreleased Themes For Hellraiser
In 1984 Coil member Stephen Thrower struck up a friendship with author Clive Barker after a chance meeting in a London Forbidden Planet shop and played him some tracks off the not yet released first Coil album, 'Scatology'.  

From this friendship and mutual artistic appreciation the band were soon asked by Barker to provide the soundtrack to his movie 'Hellraiser', an adaptation of his own novella 'The Hellbound Heart'.  Alas, beyond some preliminary recordings, it was not to be and at the studio's insistence the movie eventually went the more typical orchestral route via composer Christopher Young.  

Stephen Thrower discusses Coil, Clive Barker and  The Unreleased Themes For Hellraiser
In the video below Stephen Thrower tells the story of the soundtrack; its development and it's demise.  Obviously for a Coil (and Cyclobe) fan like me it makes for a fascinating watch and it's a joy to see Thrower's enjoyment in the telling.  Personally Hellraiser was never a film I had any particular love for; I thought it had some striking visuals but body horror was never really my thing. I can't help but feel though that an undiluted version formed from those initial discussions between the author and the musicians would have been quite something to behold.



And then there's the music.  Within Coil fandom the story has long been debated and endless "What if's" discussed over how different the film could have been "If only..."

The small amount of music they made in that week in the studio has long been available and with it's very of the time sound palette and strong John Carpenter vibes it ably shows just how good it all could have sounded and makes the decison to drop them from the project all the more bizarre and obviously one made by corporate dictat.



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Sunday, 9 May 2021

The Silent Scream

Wyrd Britain The Silent Scream from Hammer House of Horror starring Peter Cushing
The seventh episode of Hammer Studio's and ITC's 1980 television series 'Hammer House of Horror' sees a newly released convict with the action movie name of Chuck Spillers (Brian Cox) taking a job with the man who had visited him in prison, Martin Blueck (Peter Cushing).  The job entails helping him look after the wild big cats in his basement zoo that he's using in his experiments to create a prison with no bars.  Unfortunately, temptation soon proves too much for Spillers and Blueck's true nature and plans are revealed.

Wyrd Britain The Silent Scream from Hammer House of Horror starring Peter Cushing
Cushing, in his last role for Hammer, is, of course, as brilliant as ever and plays both aspects of Blueck's nature - the facade of banality that conceals the psychopathy underneath - to perfection whilst Cox is perfectly cast opposite him as the incorrigible and fairly hapless jailbird and as an actor of note in his own right able to hold his own aganst the Hammer legend in full flight.  Being more of a psychological thriller than the outright horror that either the venerable studio or the lead actor is famed for it's great fun to see, even at this late stage, their take on something different and as such it's always been one of my favourite episodes from the series.

Buy it here - UK /  US 



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Sunday, 2 May 2021

The Creeping Flesh

Wyrd Britain reviews The Creeping Flesh starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Professor Emmanuel Hildern (Peter Cushing) returns from an expedition to New Guinea with the skeleton of a mythological evil giant that he soon discovers can be revived through contact with water.  Having being denied further funding by his asylum running half-brother Dr James Hildern (Christopher Lee) he begins to rush his experiments to use the skeleton to immunise the world from evil injecting his serum firstly into his lab monkey and, soon after, into his daughter Penelope (Lorna Heilbron).  Needless to say things soon start to deteriorate for all involved as several storylines begin to converge leading to a grim but pleasingly ambivalent ending.

Here, director Freddie Francis has perhaps made a movie with slightly too many loose ends for them all to be successfully and fully explored in the time given but in the tradition of a number of other Tigon movies ('The Blood on Satan's Claw' & 'Witchfinder General') it's ambitions are to be celebrated and with Francis' cinematographer's eye it looks lovely.


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Tuesday, 27 April 2021

The Feast of Bacchus

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Feast of Bacchus' by Ernest G. Henham published by Valancourt Books.
Ernest G. Henham
Valancourt Books

In the remote hamlet of Thorlund stands the manor house known as the Strath, an eerie place that exercises a mysterious hold over anyone who enters it. The site of tragedy in 1742 when its owner, Sir John Hooper, turned highwayman and met his death on the gallows, the Strath has remained vacant for over a century, a pair of hideous masks its only occupants. When the novel opens, the Strath’s new owner has just arrived from America to take possession of the house, but he is soon found horribly murdered. Now the next heir, young Charles Conway, has come to the Strath, and the house begins to work its baneful influence on him and on the local residents, causing them to behave in bizarre and violent ways. What is the connection between the sinister power of the Strath and the ghastly masks that adorn the wall? And once Conway and the others are drawn within the evil place, can any of them possibly survive?

'The Feast of Bacchus' is another of Valancourt Books' series of reprints of neglected and forgotten gems of supernatural fiction from the Edwardian and interwar eras and another fascinating read.

Ernest George Henham was an English writer who wrote prolifically under his own name and as 'John Trevena'.  Published in 1907 'The Feast of Bacchus' tells a haunted house story of 'The Strath' a manor house with a chequered history in the remote village of Thorlund.  The house has lain abandoned for some 160 years behind it's gates and amidst a garden grown wild, it's only visitor the neighbouring rector who walks in its garden and under its influence  translates the classic poetry of Sappho and Alcman.  Into this idyll comes the brash American Henry Reed, the owner of the house, with his foolhardy plans for the place that soon lead to his demise.

Inside the house reside two masks, comedy and tragedy, and when Reed's heir Charles Conway arrives it's their growing influence that controls the actions of himself, his visitors and the neighbours as events unfold in line with the structure of a Greek play.

It's a fabulously strange read that held me rapt throughout as Henham takes his cast of characters apart piece by piece and remakes them in various forms - often in line with his own quite conservative worldview.  They are all though very likeable in their ways and even those with less than pleasant character traits are never portrayed as cartoonish with their fripperies and their profligacies shown to be only part of a larger personality perhaps yet to emerge.

The final resolution is obvious but correct and brings to a close a wild and weird ride.  It's an exhale after the breathless and relentless build as The Strath's hold tightens and the sense of release one feels at the end is palpable and one is left to marvel at the beauty and power of Henham's creation.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Third World War Book 2: Back to Babylon

Wyrd Britain reviews Third World War Book 2: Back to Babylon by Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra and Rebellion publishing.
Pat Mills
Alan Mitchell
Carlos Ezquerra
Sean Phillips
Duncan Fegredo
Rebellion

The second thrilling Treasury of British Comics collection of the politically charged thriller by Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra.
After her eye-opening experiences of corporate interference in Central America, Eve returns to Britain with a renewed political drive and determination to fight for what she believes in.
Written in the late 80s by Pat Mills (Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine) this incendiary second volume of the ground-breaking political comic not only contains contributions by legend Carlos Ezquerra (Judge Dredd, Preacher) but also introduces international comics stars Sean Phillips (Criminal, Kill or Be Killed) and Duncan Fegredo (Hellboy, Kid Eternity).

In this second volume of Third World War the focus moves from South America to the UK as Eve, Paul and the rest (who don't really feature all that much) return home on leave to a country in pieces where the wealth gap is unbreachable and civil liberties have ceased to be a thing.

'3WW' was set in a Thatcherite wet dream version of now that always seemed horribly plausible although in this case one that has been mixed with a gang culture worthy of inclusion in 'The Warriors'.

Paul, or the 'eco-terrorist' Finn as he was revealed to be in the previous volume is off doing his thing for most of the book whilst Eve becomes increasingly involved with the Black African Defence Squad (BADS) who have liberated, renamed and occupied a walled off Brixton.  It's here that the focus of the book lies with Mills riffing on colonialism and racism - both political and casual - and on the experiences of black people in the UK and under UK jurisdiction whilst - almost - never forgetting that he's writing a dystopian sci fi comic.

Mills was at the top of his game when he wrote this series producing it alongside work such as the iconic Slaine: The Horned God and Marshall Law whilst the much missed Carlos Ezquerra always produced the most sublime work.  Alongside these we have co-writer Alan Mitchell, recruited by Mills to provide an authentic voice to the work, and two artists who have become international names in their own rights but here produce work that is sympathetic to that of Ezquerra.

As is often the case - both with Mills and political work in general - it is a little heavy handed in places but equally with its focus on racism, green issues, food poverty, state surveillance and economic disparity it's still as depressingly relevant now as it was then and like all the best dystopian fiction it's terrifyingly apposite.

Buy it here - UK / US.
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Sunday, 18 April 2021

Doctor Blood's Coffin

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Doctor Blood's Coffin'.
When Doctor Peter Blood (Kieron Moore - 'The Day of the Triffids') is thrown out of his research post in Vienna he relocates to the mines under his home town in Cornwall where he continues his experiments on reanimating the dead by using hearts harvested from people he thinks are undeserving of life.

Moore is an intense lead hamstrung by a lumpen script and an inability to lock doors when he's up to no good but is ably assisted by horror queen Hazel Court ('The Curse of Frankentstein' & 'The Masque of the Red Death') as Nurse Linda Carter, Ian Hunter as his father, Doctor Robert Blood, and Kenneth J. Warren as the flailing and flummoxed copper.

Released in 1961 and directed by Sidney J. Furie - one of five movies he made that year including Cliff Richard's 'The Young Ones' and several years before he was to make 'The Ipcress File' - it's a slow and remarkably bloodless affair especially as it's one of the first movies to deal with the notion of zombies as the reanimated dead but as a play on the Frankenstein idea it's well worth a watch.  

Buy it here - UK / US.


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Monday, 12 April 2021

The Cormorant

Wyrd Britain reviews The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory.  Published by Parthian Books.
Stephen Gregory
Parthian

'We had been in the cottage for a week when the cormorant was delivered, that October evening.'
When a young family inherit a remote mountain-side cottage in north Wales, giving them the chance to change the course of their lives and start over, the one condition of the will seems strange but harmless. They are to care for a cormorant until the end of its life.

But the bird is no tame pet, and within its natural state of wildness there is a malevolent intelligence and intent towards sharp, unexpected violence. However, it is the fascination it holds for Harry, the couple’s precious only child, that really threatens their dreams of rural contentment.

First published in 1986, at which point Gregory won a Somerset Maugham award for it, 'The Cormorant' has now been reissued by Welsh publisher Parthian, one of the publishers who kept the works of Arthur Machen in print during the lean years and to whom we shall always be thankful.

It's the story of a young family who inherit from the narrator's Uncle Ian a cottage in North Wales that allows them to quit their teaching jobs and take themselves and their infant son out of the city and into the wilds of Snowdonia.  However, Uncle Ian's will had a codicil requiring them to take care of his rescued, ill-tempered, cormorant and it's the bird's arrival which triggers unexpected emotions of horror and fascination from our un-named narrator's wife (Ann) and son (Harry) respectively.

Even the most cursory online search for this book will bring up many references to a controversial scene and when it arrives it's certainly ickily gratuitous and almost certainly unnecessary but what eighties horror didn't have gratuitous sex and violence so, I kinda looked on it as par for the course.

Beyond the sex and violence Gregory excels at conjouring the lush but unforgiving North Wales landscape and it is in this that the book really comes alive; the wintery mountains and turbulent waters of the Caernarfon coast are at the heart of the narrative reflecting the personalities of the human and avian characters.  

Gregory has populated his story with flawed, often unlikeable characters; the hapless narrator vacilating between love and hate in his relationship with the bird, occasionally losing touch with himself both to reverie and to fury; Ann both oddly submissive and hard-heartedly decisive and, the child, Harry precocious and seemingly in thrall to the bird.  Indeed, so odd was the behaviour of these characters and linked with the narrator's occasional, visual, auditory and olfactory phantasmagorias of his benefactor that I began to wonder if any of them, the narrator included, were actually even real and whether the whole thing was a psychotic break happening within the mind of a not dead but very unwell Uncle Ian.  The ending certainly didn't give me any clear answers either way and I find myself still pondering this several days later.

With a shared DNA with recent publications like Andrew Michael Hurley's 'The Loney', 'Devil's Day' and 'Starve Acre' and Max Porter's 'Lanny' and with it's outermost focus on the interactions between people, nature and the supernatural 'The Cormorant' feels remarkably fresh and very much of the moment.

Buy it here - UK / US.
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Sunday, 11 April 2021

Baffled!

Wyrd Britain reviews Baffled! starring Leonard Nimoy and Susan Hampshire.
After leaving the cast of 'Mission ImpossibleLeonard Nimoy spent several years racking up various special guest appearences along with a starring role in this pilot episode for a never made occult detective series from ITC, the home of such shows as The SaintThe Champions, The Prisoner, Captain Scarlet and the MysteronsSpace 1999 and many more.

Nimoy plays racing car driver Tom Kovack who starts experiencing visions of death at an English country house.  Teaming up with rare book dealer and amateur occultist Michelle Brent (Susan Hampshire) they head to the clifftop house on the English coast where they find American actress Andrea Glenn (Vera Miles) and her daughter Jennifer (Jewel Blanch) caught up in an elaborate(ish), occult(ish) ,Agatha Christie(ish) scheme.

Wyrd Britain reviews Baffled! starring Leonard Nimoy and Susan Hampshire.
Truthfully it's no surprise it didn't go to series as it's just not great and it has a terrible name.  There's some nice chemistry between the two leads with Hampshire effortlessly affable in her role, Nimoy as cool as ever but he was always better when acting without emotions and there's a solid Wyrd Britain cast around them including Ray Brooks (the voice of 'Mr Benn'), Christopher Benjamin ('Henry Gordon Jago' in 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang' and various Big Finish spin offs) and Milton Johns ('The Invasion of Time').  It's far too long though and despite obviously having a moderately healthy budget, some fun dialogue and a good bratty performance from Blanch it never really gets going but if - like me - you've a love of an occult detective romp and you've ever wanted to see Spock wrestling an old lady then this is for you.



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Monday, 5 April 2021

The Master of the Macabre

Wyrd Britain reviews The Master of the Macabre by Russell Thorndike published by Valancourt Books.
Russell Thorndike
Valancourt Books

Tayler Kent flees London in a blinding snowstorm, hoping to escape the ghosts that haunt his home. Instead, he finds things may have gone from bad to worse when he crashes his car, breaks his ankle, and is forced to take refuge at a medieval monastery now inhabited by the eccentric Charles Hogarth, known as “The Master of the Macabre.” As Kent’s ankle heals, Hogarth entertains him with fine food, brandy, and a series of gruesome stories connected with an odd assortment of old relics on display in a curio cabinet. But the terrors are not confined to Hogarth’s tales: the monastery is haunted by the evil spirit of an apostate monk and besieged by more corporeal foes, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on one of the Master’s treasures. . . .
Best known for his series of novels featuring the smuggler Dr. Syn, Russell Thorndike (1885-1972) in The Master of the Macabre (1947) delivers an irresistible mix of horror, adventure, and black humour that is certain to please fans of classic ghost stories and supernatural fiction. This first-ever republication of the novel includes the original jacket art and a new introduction by Mark Valentine.


Russell Thorndike (1885 - 1972) was an actor and author of the popular 'Dr Syn' books, the tales of the swashbuckling pirate turned vicar turned smuggler, which he started writing before enlisting to serve in WWI where he was severely wounded at Gallipoli.

Written in 1946 'The Master of the Macabre' is Thorndike's entry into the occult detective genre.  All the usual tropes are present; an enigmatic lead relating stories of his escapades to an eager biographer / acolyte which in this case is the result of a series of possibly supernaturally influenced incidents, accidents and illnesses that leave author Tayler Kent collapsed with a broken ankle on the doorstep of Charles Hogarth, collector of macabre mysteries.

There are echoes of occult detectives past and Mark Valentine points out several of these in his introduction but for most of his tales Hogarth is an observer or chronicler rather than active participant.  Outside of these fireside tales (and in the manner to become so beloved of the portmanteau movies of the late 1960s and early 1970s) there's an overarching storyline that weaves itself around the stories which in this case involves ancient ghosts of a diabolical monk and a beautiful young woman and a troupe of murderous Muslim mountain men questing for a religious artefact they believe to be in Hogarth's possession.

Thorndike's writing is entertainingly melodramatic and the stories are enjoyably lurid.  There's a queasy colonialism inherent in the attitudes of the protagonists that makes for occasionally uncomfortable reading but equally often just as laughably absurd.

'The Master of the Macabre' is another in the line of Valancourt reissues of neglected and forgotten gems of supernatural fiction and as with the others I've written about in Wyrd Britain (and some I haven't because they don't fit with the blog's remit like Forrest Reid's fabulous 'The Spring Song' (UK / US)) a very enjoyable one.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Sunday, 4 April 2021

Curse of the Crimson Altar

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Curse of the Crimson Altar' starring Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff & Barbara Steele.
Investigating the disappearance of his brother, Peter, antiques dealer Robert Manning (Mark Eden) travels to Craxted Lodge in the town of Greymarsh Peter's last known whereabouts and coincidentally the town their family had previously called home back in ye olde days.  Upon arrival he makes the acquaintance of the master of the house Morley (Christopher Lee) and his niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell) - who has a seeming penchant for throwing bacchanalian parties before dinner has even been served - and learns of their ancestor Lavinia (a body-painted and horned headdress adorned Barbara Steele) who had been burned at the stake as a witch - no prizes for guessing whose family had lit the fire - and local historian Professor John Marsh (Boris Karloff)

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Curse of the Crimson Altar' starring Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff & Barbara Steele.
Lee is as effortlessly suave as ever but is essentially phoning in a part that he could play in his sleep and Eden, who had a long career including several roles in Wyrd Britain friendly TV shows but who is most well remembered in this country for his villainous stint in the soap opera Coronation Street (there's even a real world plaque marking the spot where his character died), just isn't lead material.  Steele has essentially nothing to do beyond wearing that amazing looking costume and a very frail Karloff, just a year on from his late career highlight in Michael Reeves' 'The Sorcerers') and in one of his final roles gives a typically solid performance and there's even a quick, amusing and surprisingly meta joke at his expense.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Curse of the Crimson Altar' starring Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff & Barbara Steele.
Made by Tigon British Film Productions ('The Blood on Satan's Claw' & 'Witchfinder General'), directed by Vernon Sewell ('The Blood Beast Terror') from a script by Doctor Who alumni Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln ('The Abominable Snowmen', 'The Web of Fear' & 'The Dominators') based loosely on H.P. Lovercraft's 'The Dreams in the Witch House' it's always going to be an enticing prospect but the end result is all a little flat and disjointed and Sewell never quite manages to inject the movie with any zest but it does have its charms.

Buy it here - UK / US.


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Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Luckenbooth

Wyrd Britain Reviews Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan.
Jenni Fagan
William Heinemann

The devil's daughter rows to Edinburgh in a coffin, to work as maid for the Minister of Culture, a man who lives a dual life. But the real reason she's there is to bear him and his barren wife a child, the consequences of which curse the tenement building that is their home for a hundred years. As we travel through the nine floors of the building and the next eight decades, the resident's lives entwine over the ages and in unpredictable ways. Along the way we encounter the city's most infamous Madam, a seance, a civil rights lawyer, a bone mermaid, a famous Beat poet, a notorious Edinburgh gang, a spy, the literati, artists, thinkers, strippers, the spirit world - until a cosmic agent finally exposes the true horror of the building's longest kept secret. No. 10 Luckenbooth Close hurtles the reader through personal and global history - eerily reflecting modern life today.

I really wanted to like this book a lot more than I did.  Beyond the unlovely cover art it sounded right up my street but the end result was a bit of an infuriating mess.

Jessie arrives at No.10 Luckenbooth Close having been sold by her father to Mr Udnam in order to bear him a child. Jessie's father though happened to be the Devil, now dead by Jessie's hand, so things are unlikely to go the way Udnam hopes.  The story of what happens to her and to the subsequent residents of the house over the next 90 years makes up the rest of the book.

Presented in three parts with each part split again in three we are treated to a series of vignettes, snapshots of lives in flux.  Sometimes these stories are engrossing - particularly when dealing with the supernatural as in the stories of Agnes and Dot - sometimes they are delicately lovely - Ivor - sometimes intriguing - William - sometimes bloody stupid - Queen Bee - and sometimes riddled with irritating factual errors that could have been easily avoided with the most rudimentary research - Levi. 

Fagan's writing is personable and the setting is characterful but it often it feels like being squandered and was saved from being a bit of a frustrating non-event by a couple of it's better chapters and a solid ending.

Buy it here - UK / US.
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Monday, 29 March 2021

A Trick of the Shadow

Wyrd Britain reviews 'A Trick of the Shadow' by R. Ostermeier from Broodcomb Press.
R. Ostermeier
Broodcomb Press

R. Ostermeier lives and works on the peninsula. This first collection of strange tales draws predominantly on the region’s folklore and history, yet also includes first-hand accounts of contemporary disquiet.
A Trick of the Shadow contains the extraordinarily unnerving ‘Object’ and the disturbing, Arthur Machen-inspired ‘A Tantony Pig’, as well as the novella ‘Bird-hags’, which in all truth might not be for you.


This book has been hovering around the edges of my attention for a while now but I finally dug into it on the recommendation of a friend and I'm very glad I did.

I'd gathered from what I'd seen that there was a Machen vibe and this proved especially the case in opener 'A Tantony Pig' which owes, an acknowledged, debt to that author and to his 'The Ritual' in particular.  It's an excellent play on the idea and easily finds on its own feet as a rather wonderful little strange tale.

Next up, 'Finery', is the story of a weaver and the dresses she makes for the women of the town; private clothes to be treasured and admired in secret as they speak to one's inner being.

'The Chair' I thought had the air of a 1970s 'Amicus' anthology episode to it or an episode of one of Hammer's TV shows with its mix of pseudoscience and dream horror - particularly inflicted on a child.

Less successful is 'Object' that for me seemed to be trying just a tad too hard to walk an Aickmanesque path.  It's eminently readable but for the first time in the book things did feel a tiny bit forced.

'The Intruder' continues with the Aickman style strangeness and is more successful in its telling of a man's terror at the consequences of a rash decision to embrace a new weight loss procedure.

We can again feel Machen's presence in 'The Bearing' a folk horror tale of an annual ritual whereby a series of coffins are carried around a town before the book ends with its longest tale 'Bird Hags' a nicely creepy amalgam of all the touchstones of the previous stories.

Now I've spent much of this review comparing it to other people and things which is something I generally try to avoid but here it felt unavoidable as Ostermeier is wearing these influences with pride which doesn't diminish what's here at all as the stories all work on their own merits and 'A Trick of the Shadow' proved to be a simply wonderful read.

Available from the publisher at the link above.
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Sunday, 28 March 2021

The Day The Earth Caught Fire

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire'.
After an early career making light comedies director Val Guest took an unexpected sidestep in 1955 when he was tasked by Hammer with directing the movie version of the first Quatermass story, 'The Quatermass Xperiment'.  Following it's success he developed a successful sideline in science fiction with the second Quatermass movie and 'The Abominable Snowman' (both 1957) and, in 1961, thanks in part to his profits from Cliff Richard's 'Expresso Bongo', he got the go ahead from British Lions too make the apocalyptic 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire'.

Simultaneous American and Russian nuclear tests knocks the Earth off it's axis and out of it's orbit sending it moving towards the sun.  Daily Express journalists Peter Stemming (Edward Judd - 'Island of Terror' & 'Vault of Horror') and Bill Maguire (Leo McKern - The Prisoner's two time No.2) along with government typist and whistleblower Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro - 'The Trollenberg Terror') break the story and cover the aftermath as society crumbles and the world waits for salvation or death.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire'.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire'.
It's a gloriously mature science fiction film, there are no dashing square jawed heroes - Judd's Stemming is a bitter and broken man careering towards alcoholism - just people struggling and adapting to tumultuous times both before - the dawn of the 1960s - and after the Earth is made to go walkabout.  Guest has made primarily a newspaper movie along with many of the tropes that entails but placed it in the context of an encroaching global apocalypse. He's coloured his movie with some wonderfully hard-bitten and barbed dialogue and made good use of stock footage of fires and storms that roots the film firmly in the real.

The version presented below is the US version with bells added to the end which does spoil the deadpan ambiguity of Guest's original edit a little.

Buy it here - UK / US.





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Saturday, 27 March 2021

She's a Punk Rocker

Wyrd Britain reviews Zillah Minx's celebration of female punks in She's a Punk Rocker.
Made by Zillah Minx of the band Rubella Ballet 'She's a Punk Rocker' is a fun and timely oral history of punk from some of the under-reported but key female figures of the scene.  

With contributions from musicians, artists and writers such as Eve Libertine & Gee Vaucher (Crass), Vi Subversa (Poison Girls), Gaye Black (The Adverts), Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), journalist Caroline Coon, Ruth Elias & Janet Nassim (Hagar the Womb), poet Nettie Baker amongst others Minx's film is a vibrant and gloriously garish, day-glo celebration of her friends and contemporaries.

There's a follow up in the works too which you can learn more about here.



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Friday, 26 March 2021

Supernatural Tales 45

Wyrd Britain reviews issue 45 of Supernatural Tales.
David Longhorn (ed)
Supernatural Tales

Now this is a rarity, I'm actually up to date with issues of Supernatural Tales thanks mostly to wanting to catch up on all my unread zines, chapbooks and the like over this second lockdown.  Happily this one was the best issue in a while helped in no small part by stories by three authors I really like.

Carrie Vacaro Nelkin gets things off to a strong start with 'Stricken' a fun little story about the monster under the bed before the very excellent Charles Wilkinson gives a characteristically strange story about starlings and music in 'The Harmony of the Stares'.  This is followed by Rosalie Parker's 'The Decision' which is written with her customary eye for the odd and the unsettling but I must admit to being a tad confused by the ending.

Mark Valentine is on fine form here taking a turn as a football pundit and if only all match reports were like this then maybe I'd read the back pages of the newspaper.  I wasn't particularly taken with Malcolm Laughton's story which melded 'Kidnapped' with a rose tinted slavery subplot and a vengeful spirit.

I liked William Curnow's 'The Round-About' which came across like a sentimental Aickman and Iain Rowan's 'The Wildness' was a brief but interesting tale of madness before the book ends with Tim Foley's rather obvious ghost story.

Like all compilations Supernatural tales can often be a little patchy but it's always worth a read as there's usually a good story or two or three or, like here, six.

Buy it at the link above.

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Wednesday, 24 March 2021

All You Need is Blood: The Making of Satan's Slave

Wyrd Britain reviews All You Need is Blood: The Making of Satan's Slave
A short behind the scenes look at the making of Norman J Warren's 1976 horror 'Satan's Slave' that we featured here the other week (click the link back there to watch it) thefirst of a trio of horror's he made over between 1976 and 1978.

Featuring a voice over by Warren and other members of the crew, quick snippets with a couple of cast members including Michael Gough and some footage of them setting up various scenes including testing various shades and consistencies of the blood that Warren's movies are so renowned for.  

In truth there's probably nothing here that would be of any particular interest to anyone who isn't already a fan of the director or the film but personally I always love a peak behind the curtain.

Buy the movie here - UK / US.



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Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Monolithic Undertow: In Search of Sonic Oblivion

Wyrd Britain reviews Monolithis Undertow by Harry Sword published by White Rabbit.
Harry Sword
White Rabbit

Monolithic Undertow alights a crooked path across musical, religious, and subcultural frontiers, exploring a concept that is often described as 'the drone'. Harry Sword traces the line from neolithic Indo-European traditions to the modern underground by way of mid-20th Century New York, navigating a beguiling topography of archeoacoustics, ringing feedback, chest plate sub bass, avant-garde eccentricity, and fervent spiritualism. From ancient beginnings to bawdy medieval troubadours, Sufi mystics to Indian raga masters, North Mississippi bluesmen to cone-shattering South London dub reggae sound systems, Hawkwind's Ladbroke Grove to the outer reaches of Faust, Ash Ra Temple and sonic architects like La Monte Young, Brian Eno, and John Cale. the opium-fueled fug of The Theatre of Eternal Music to the caveman doom of Saint Vitus. the cough syrup reverse hardcore of Swans to the seedy VHS hinterland of Electric Wizard, ritual amp worship of Earth and Sunn O))) and the many touch points in between, Monolithic Undertow probes the power of the drone: something capable of affording womb-like warmth or evoking cavernous dread alike. This story does not start in the twentieth century underground: the monolithic undertow has bewitched us for millennia. The book takes the drone not as codified genre but as an audio carrier vessel deployed for purposes of ritual, personal catharsis, or sensory obliteration, revealing also a naturally occurring auditory phenomenon spanning continents and manifesting in fascinatingly unexpected places. Monolithic Undertow will be a book about music and the very human need for transcendence and intoxication through sound. It seeks to reveal the drone as a tool of personal liberation that exists far outside the brittle confines of commodity culture.

I'm quite torn by this book.  On the one hand it's an interesting overview of many of the prime movers in early drone music history but on the other it's a fairly repetitive mish mash of  scattershot snapshots of a - perhaps too - wide swathe of musicians many of whom have a fairly tenuous link to what can be thought of as drone music.  Either way, it's a tad too long and kind of runs out of things to say a little way before the end.

On the subject of choice of artists Sword obviously makes a case for his choices but I remain unconvinced that in this context the doom metal grind of Electric Wizard deserves three times the coverage of Pauline Oliveros or that the Stooges' contribution to the drone or Steve Albini's who both feature are of more consequence than say Zoviet France or Monos (or indeed any of the North East England scene) or Stars of the Lid or Merzbow none of whom feature or even Tangerine Dream who are pretty much passed over.

I think though my biggest issue with the book is a result of its structure.  Exploring things in a mostly chronological order it does get quite repetitive quite quickly.  I think a case can be made for a more engaging and deeper analysis by looking for commonalities and presenting the work as an exploration of the various aspects of the form - search for transcendence, compositional colour, ambience, space, etc - and show how various folks have approached these rather than he did then she did then they did then...

Like I said though I'm torn.  I'm sure that what I've written so far is going to seem like I got nothing out of the book but that's definitely not the case.  As a primer on the use of the drone it's an interesting read.  For someone like me who has been a devotee of the form for more years than I care to admit it has it's frustrations but if it's an aspect of music that you are keen to be introduced to then this will certainly set you on some interesting paths but what we have here isn't a book about drone music but a book about music with drones in and for me at least that's an important distinction.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Sunday, 21 March 2021

Return Flight

Dead of Night Return Flight
'Return Flight' was the second broadcast episode and one of only three remaining episodes of the seven made of the 1972 BBC series 'Dead of Night' the rest having been wiped in the infinite wisdom of the corporation's bigwigs.  Written by legendary Doctor Who script writer Robert Holmes ('The Talon's of Weng Chiang', 'The Pyramids of Mars' and many more) and directed by fellow Who alumni Rodney Bennett ('Ark in Space', 'Sontaran Experiment' & 'Masque of Mandragora') what we have here is a more subtle production than the fantastic, exhuberant romps they are perhaps better known for.

Newly widowed pilot Captain Rolph (Peter Barkworth) is under investigation for a near air collision with a WWII era plane that only he saw.  He's cleared of any responsibilty but remains unconvinced that what he saw was real as he slowly seems to slip between his charter flight reality and a wartime fantasy.  

At it's heart is a great performance from Barkworth but Holmes' tight and gently unfolding script that leaves us utterly unsure of the cause of the Captain's experiences is the gem here.

The other surviving episodes are also availabe to view on Wyrd Britain - 'A Woman Sobbing' - and - 'The Exorcism'.

Buy it here - Dead of Night (DVD)



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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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Friday, 19 March 2021

The Secrets of Doctor Taverner

Dion Fortune
Weiser Books

Dr. Taverner runs a nursing home -- but it is not by any means a conventional one. It is a hospital for all manner of unorthodox mental disturbances, ranging from psychic attack and disruptions in group minds to vampirism. These are cases that conventional psychology cannot cure. Only the secret knowledge of Taverner, based on esoteric training, is enough to unravel the solutions.Each story in this collection is a complete case, as gripping and as entertaining as the stories of Sherlock Holmes. They take you into the inner worlds of the human mind -- a world full of strange twists and unexpected happenings!

Dion Fortune was an occultist, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the founder of the Fraternity of the Inner Light and she is still regarded as one of the most influential and important figures in that field.  Alongside the books she wrote on those topics she also wrote six books of fiction including this collection of short stories detailing the escapades of psychiatrist and magician Dr. Taverner.

I love an occult detective tale so despite it's awful cover art jumped at this as soon as I discovered its existence.  In the grand tradition of these things we have a detective and chronicler set up with the twist being perhaps that Dr Tavener is perhaps far more occult than detective.  In the pages of this chronicle we find Taverner and his Watson, Dr Rhodes, encounter vampires, rogue magicians, devil dogs, astral projections, greedy relatives and more in a series of sprightly tales.

Fortune was no particular wordsmith and, especially in the earlier stories, one often feels like she is trying to recruit the reader into her Fraternity and perhaps engaging in a sort of wish fulfilment.  However, when she gets into her swing on the later tales such as the excellent 'A Daughter of Pan', 'The Sea Lure' and 'A Son of the Night' she shows she can spin a very entertaining yarn and seems far more comfortable with more earthy mysteries than those dealing with more 'traditional' horrors and by the end I was fully invested in the lives of the two leads.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Through the Storm

Rosalie Parker
P.S. Publishing

Ghosts, shamans, aliens, angels and the weirdness of life all make their appearance in this new collection of Rosalie Parker’s strange tales. Her stories depict subtly shifting realities, and celebrate the fluidity of the barrier between the uncanny and the everyday. These twenty-five stories vary from contes to longer pieces, and explore the traditions of the weird tale in fresh and original ways.

This is my second trip into the imagination of Rosalie Parker, co-publisher of the fabulous Tartarus Press and editor of their Strange Tales series although the two collections of hers that I've read have been released by fellow Yorkshire publishing house PS Publishing.  Like the previous volume (Damage), 'Through the Storm', consists of a large number of fairly short tales (often between 5 and 10 pages in length) that explore matters strange and again like the previous there is a distinctly bucolic air to the stories with Parker taking a delight in the elemental settings such as the moors and the sea and finding little to recommend in domesticity or security.

For me she is always at her best when she's letting her imagination fly off in the most unexpected directions at which point her work resonates most loudly and shimmers with uncanny life such as in 'The Cinema' or when she goes for the heart like in 'Fever' where we find the venerable master of the weird still exploring the byways of his beloved London and finding solace in the now ancient soil of his own Caerleon and still sharing those adventures with those who need them.

'Through the Storm' is one of those curious books that seems like it should whizz past.  Each story takes no more than a few minutes to read but I quickly found myself eking it out over the course of several weeks and dipping in each day eager to see where she was taking me today.

Buy it here - UK / US.

Read Rosalie's '3 Wyrd Things' here.

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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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Sunday, 14 March 2021

Satan's Slave

'Satan's Slave' is the first of a trio of horror films released between 1976 and 1978 by director Norman J Warren who died earlier this week (11/3/21).  

Travelling to visit the uncle and cousin she'd previously known nothing about - never a good sign - Catherine Yorke (Candace Glendenning - 'Tower of Evil' (UK / US) & 'The Flesh and Blood Show' (UKUS)) is involved in a car crash that kills her parents.  Recuperating in her Uncle Alexander's mansion and getting to know her creepy and psychotic cousin Stephen (Martin Potter) whilst experiencing vivid flashbacks to the torture and murder of a young woman she remains entirely unaware of their true nature and the plans they have for her.

'Satan's Slave' with it's country house and it's nefarious necromancers owes a debt to the films of the Hammer and Amicus studios and the books of Dennis Wheatley but this is pure 1970s hexploitation never missing an opportunity to put a male character in a robe or to get a female character out of hers.  Neither Glendenning nor Potter have much in the way of screen presence but Michael Gough with his effortless portrayal of the suavely devilish Alexander and Barbara Kellerman as his secretary Frances both have talent to spare.


The story moves at a snail's pace and there really isn't enough here to fill it's 80 minute runtime and would have benefitted from losing 20 minutes or so but as a low budget schlock horror with it's toes dipped in both the Brit horrors of the past decade and the new Euro horrors of the (then) current decade it's an interesting and fun watch.

Buy it here - UK / US.




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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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