Sunday, 2 October 2011

the bell tolls : a book for halloween - no 2, The Book Of Skulls

Works by Noah Scalin from The Book of Skulls by Faye Dowling
Exploring skulls in popular culture these days doesn't just mean alas poor Yorick or horror films, the Jolly Roger or goth bedroom decor. From the Grateful Dead's psychedelic skull posters to Damien Hirst jewel-encrusted art skulls have been invading the mainstream to become a defining motif of our times. Maybe it's all the 2012 end of time, four horsemen of the apocalypse galloping towards us myths that are working on our collective subconscious. Whatever it is, Faye Dowling's The Book Of Skulls gathers together contemporary, skull-based, graphic design images to match the inventive skeletal creations of Ray Harryhausen, including Noah Scalin (works pictured), whose works also feature on his own Skull-A-Day art blog. Whether the skull is the "ultimate anti-establishment" symbol that Dowling says it is is debatable, but this is definitely good seasonal eye-candy, and fit for the coffee table at a very modern danse macabre.
The Book Of Skulls by Faye Dowling, published by Laurence King

taiwan's abandoned city of ufo houses

UFO House (originally uploaded by RAY雷)
The futuristic ufo-pod houses of the Sanzhi vacation resort in Taiwan were aimed at US officers on leave in New Taipei city, but deaths and money losses during construction meant it ended up abandoned soon after completion in 1978. Unfortunately, these Kubrickesque remnants of lost utopian dreams are long gone, with the site flattened for redevelopment at the end of 2008, but at least flickr photos like this one preserve them for immortality. See more pictures of abandoned vacation resorts from around the world at Environmental Graffiti.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

the bell tolls : a book for halloween - no 1, Dracula's Guest

Let's start from the beginning, shall we, in this book a day for Halloween, building the chill factor right up to the eve of Samhain, and starting with the biggest bad of them all, the vampire. Michael Sill's compendium of vampire tales resurrects forgotten Victorian authors, but also places the sharp-toothed bloodsucker in a richly-defined historical context. This isn't just fangs for the memories, or even just a backstory to the recent popular culture invasion from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Twilight, but also the backstory to Bram Stoker's Dracula. The stories here paved the creepy churchyard path leading to Stoker's breakthrough novel in 1897, and they're set within a lineage that includes the plague, overcrowded cemeteries and folklore from Europe and beyond. Included are the mythic tales that inspired Byron and Shelley, the sensational real-life stories from the Victorian era that honed the vampire into an aristocratic legend and a lost chapter from Dracula itself as well as plenty of gruesome imagination from the lesser-known vaults of vampire literature. The terror is not from the blood, of which there's far less than you'd expect throughout these tales, but from the ghastly dread, and the biographical details and rigorously researched notes that Sims adds, including how a corpse actually rots, drive that stake home on target.
Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Collection Of Victorian Vampire Stories, by Michael Sims, is published in paperback by Bloomsbury in October

Thursday, 29 September 2011

fear factor on film - festivals

No lack of supernatural-inflected thrills at two festivals that had lodged themselves at the back of my mind. Zipangu Fest, a week-long season of Japanese cinema at London's ICA, looks like one to camp out at, with a Blair Witch/X-Factor mashup horror, documentaries about the mysticism of sound in Japanese religion, the Japanese nuclear industry, the nuclear disaster that inspired Godzilla and Hiroshima survivors, dark and uncanny Japanese animation and a seldom seen outing for The Ghost Cat And The Mysterious Shamisen (pictured), a 1938 pre-second world horror (before Japan banned them during wartime) by Kiyohiko Ushihara starring "scream queen" Sumiko Suzuki, with a cat that comes back from the dead to to help avenge a murder. 
18-24 Nov, ICA, SW1

In Manchester, the third annual Grimm Up North weekend of horror, sci-fi and fantasy also has a rarely-seen cinematic jawdropper, with a screening of David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone (pictured), a supernatural thriller with Christopher Walken as a coma survivor with psychic powers who has to stop evil Martin Sheen from becoming president. That's right, Bartlett's bad! Walken's a good guy! Well, maybe, if Walken uses his powers right. Also worth looking out for is Martin Kemp's directorial debut, Stalker, a reworking of a 70s video nasty about a writer unsettled by a woman who claims to be her PA, and a premiere in the shape of The Whisperer In Darkness, the HP Lovecraft Historical Society's loving Lovecraftian homage, filmed as a 1930s-styled mythic alien creature feature.
6-9 Oct, AMC Cinemas

fear factor on film

Troll Hunter aside, it's been a while since the cinema popped up any serious scare contenders, and the oncoming nights drawing in season is cranking up the horror itch. But there are a few that maybe, might be, well, ok. Or it'll have to be a return to the Tales Of Unexpected boxset...

We'll have to wait until 11.11.11 for the The Awakening, and crossed fingers it'll be worth it, as the trailer's a proper tantalising teaser. A skeptic ghost hunter (Rebecca Hall) in 1921 England is forced to confront her past as well as her beliefs when a history master (Dominic West) asks her to investigate ghostly goings on at a boys boarding school.

The Monk, Dominik Moll's creepy thriller, came out in France in June but gets an English language premiere at the London Film Festival in October. Vincent Cassel stars as the revered, righteous monk tempted to carnal desires and the dark side, with magic, the Inquisition and Satan all playing their part in his downfall. It might sound vaguely Vincent Price-like, but this is definitely intense, moody, European arthouse fare.

It's not so much a case of Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (opening 7 Oct) as do revel in all the horror cliches in this remake of a 1973 made-for-television creature feature chiller. Katie Holmes meets Guy Pearce, and moves in with him and his little girl into an isolated gothic mansion, where hungry voices from the basement that only the little girl can hear - and no one will believe - want her to free them, setting off all kinds of frights in the night.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

echoes : einstein, you were right

The Cat's Eye Nebula Redux, 3,000 light years from Earth, from the Smithsonian Institution flickrstream
While we wonder about the implications of the science experiment that sent ghostly neutrinos through the Earth from Cern to the Gran Sasso laboratory and the possibility that our idea of past, present and time could be torn into tiny little bits, we can at least hold on to Einstein's belief in the wonder of mystery:

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."   
Albert Einstein, from the essay The World As I See It

Thursday, 22 September 2011

florida's coral castle - a modern megalithic mystery

coral castle
Photo by errrrrrrrrika on flickr

The Coral Castle may look like any other strange, kitsch theme park, particularly when you learn that it's in America's best-known tourist theme park haven, Florida, but this apparent modern take on Inca and Mayan architecture has another side to it.

Coral Castle, August 2002 040
Photo by Osseous
The 1100 tonnes of megalithic stone that make up this place, including a 23 tonne obelisk and a 22-tonne crescent moon block, were cut, moved and carved over 30 years from the early years of the 20th century by one man, a five-foot-tall, skinny Latvian named Edward Leedskalnin whose cult legend status had only just begun to blossom when he died aged 64 in 1951. The Coral Castle was meant to a home to bring Leedskalnin's lost love to him, but it became a tourist attraction and remains a place of wonder because of its apparently impossible construction. Like the Easter Island statues, the Pyramids or Stonehenge, the big question about Coral Castle is how Leedskalnin did it with just the simple tools that observers could see around the site as he was building. Leedskalnin himself said he had discovered the secret of how those mysterious structures had been built, and the principles of anti-gravity.

Coral Castle
Photo by violinha on flickr
The idea that Leedskalnin floated giant pieces of stone out of the ground, and used harmonic sound waves or magnetism or some other kind of amazing secret powers to construct the castle has its physical representation in the nine-tonne monolith which is the entrance gateway, a single block eight feet high that fits neatly within the surrounding wall and balances so perfectly on its centre of gravity that just pushing it with one finger makes the monolith open. Add to the myths Leedskalnin's celestial calculations for much of the castle's layout, with various stones standing in for the moon and other planets, and even a sundial timed to the winter and summer solstices and the seeds are sown for a very American kind of dream come true, with Leedskalnin a kind of Tesla-like hero.

the fleet river labyrinth of tunnels

That Junction
That Junction by Jon Doe ( at flickr

Sometimes good for something, the Daily Mail revives the link to Jon Doe's amazing flickr stream of the Fleet River labyrinth of tunnels. Where the River Fleet once flowed overground wide (up to 65 feet north of Camden), and eventually rampantly polluted, for several miles from Hampstead Ponds to the Thames, now it snakes under the streets from Camden down to to the Thames near St Pauls. Buried beneath the streets properly when Joseph Bazalgette's engineering marvel, the sewage system, was created in the 19th century, many walking above are only vaguely aware of what lies beneath. Underground is the otherworld, a maze inaccessible except, for the most part, the dares of urban explorers, with a rich history only bits of which have room to surface here: old gods and Romans, tanners and butchers, pirates and pagans, smugglers and mudlarks, wells and spas, Dickens and the wild hogs, eels and rats and, it's said, even scorpions. Visually, the tunnels are on a grand architectural scale, with Victorian brickwork and flagstones and, since they were built not only for sewage but also for snowmelt and rainwater drainage, in parts 20 or 30 feet height. A perfect place for all kinds of mystery and menace.  Paul Talling's London's Lost Rivers and, on the always fantastic Strange Attractor imprint, Tom Bolton's London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide as well as Peter Ackroyd's London Under are go-to books for more about these subterranean waterways.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

strange things to do and make

Yes, teach your child to try out telepathy, dowsing and moon worship, why don't you? After all, it's the 70s, that stuff's part of the school curriculum, right?

morgiana's ghosts

Because Imogen's Velvet Cave's fashions have been making me think of the psychedelic effect of the costumes and the camera effects in the 1971 Czech film Morgiana. Experimental angles, reflections, blurs and colours combine to create a fevered, gaudy effect of psychological and visual apparitions, like multiple ghosts behind and in front of the camera.

velvet cave - frightfully enchanting

Imogen Shurey's definitely moved into full-on late 60s/early 70s outfits in her Velvet Cave eBay shop, the kind of wardrobe suited to a backdrop screening macabre explorations of the demonic like Valerie or Morgiana, or Amicus compilation tinglers with Terry-Thomas and David Warner like From Beyond The Grave and Tales From The Crypt. Paisleys and purples, velvets and suedes, high collars and gothic sleeves, all yours to view and bid on, until late next Monday evening.

autumn harvest

Autumn shifts stealthily up a gear, leaves turning yellow, orange and red and conkers thumping on the ground, like these above, on the edge of the Heath at Highgate. A Bad Witch's Blog rounded up events around Mabon (autumn equinox, this Friday). It's the season of harvest and balance, when the hours of dark and light are equal, but it's also the start of the autumn cultural season and less than six weeks 'til Halloween, so maybe that's why it always feels like we're heading towards the start of the year rather than the end. 

Here in London, Conor McPherson's new play, The Veil, which opens at the National Theatre on 27 September, looks like a good opening gambit, with a Chekhovian tale of time's otherworldly properties based around an arranged marriage, a seance and a haunted house. The Wellcome Collection's pair of exhibitions from 6 October, Infinite Gracias and Felicity Powell: Charmed Life, between them cover Mexican votive paintings by local Mexican artists and 400 amulets from the museum's collection, talismens collected by an obsessive folklorist who bought them from mudlarks and sold them on to Wellcome. 

While catching up with films like Bryan Forbes' 1964 parapsychology melodrama, Seance On A Wet Afternoon (when I should, by rights, be going to see TrollHunter), reading-wise it's Chuck Palahniuk's Damned, a John Hughes 80s high school bunch of stereotypes on an aptly devilishly twisted Scooby-Doo adventure in Hell, that's providing a literary antidote to Deborah Harkness's A Discovery Of Witches, the alchemy, action and time-travelling bits of which were good, but the bodice-ripping (sorry, I mean Mills & Boon he-clutched-me-to-his-manly-chest ...) and nonsensical timeline of which were annoying. 

Damned also fills in time until I get AS Byatt's reworking of Norse myths, Ragnarok, Haruki Murakami's 1Q84, which features parallel realities and murders, but possibly no talking cats, and Curse Of The Wolf Girl, the follow up to Martin Millar's amazing Lonely Werewolf Girl, a book which, though probably aimed at teens, was, there's no other way of putting it, a far more believable adventure romp than Harkness's tale. The nights are drawing in; time to hibernate. Just a little.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

mind-reading challenges

Being "a collection of thrilling experiments in which the book itself plays the part of the mind-reader". An intriguing idea, much like the idea of the Ouija board that asks you questions rather than answers them, but actually a gamebook best for the cover itself, particularly the Boris Karloff-as-the-monster-alike Chan.

zodiac 3D postcard

The future. In the stars. In 3D.

corinne felgate : magic in the mundane

I'm easily charmed by an artist who takes the ordinary and with a twist, makes it magical, especially when there's a clear sense of humour involved. Corinne Felgate's glitter-enhanced Mondrians were on show at London's Pump House Gallery last weekend as part of their cheeky future-looking exhibition, Space Station Zsa Zsa, and previous work has included an umbrella made out of J-cloths, a pond filled with rubber ducks and a metal bucket which seemed to pump out an endless tube of soapy bubbles. You can see more of Felgate's work, including Deficit Denier (pictured below, unless she asks me to remove the pic, of course) at her website.

vintage by crystal

I love the strange and otherworldly spun cotton creations of Crystal, a New York state artist who makes these miniature figures according to traditional German artisan techniques. Her Etsy shop has a constant flow of genius mythic human-creature hybrids - human ladybirds, horned devils with cherubs faces, batwinged babies, even a bride and groom with deer antlers.

randomness September - ancient circuits are long and winding

I wanted to start this another way, but then I read the disturbing news that in Saudi Arabia a man has been beheaded for sorcery. Whatever else might be said, not least "Salem witch trials", as the New Statesman article today says "the disturbing fact remains that in the 21st century a key western ally is still executing people for a wholly imaginary crime". 

Switching back to reality, of sorts, John Landis has a new book out called Monsters In The Moves: 100 Years Of Cinematic Nightmares, and tells Wired magazine about the best celluloid beasts, among them Griffin Dunne's decaying werewolf victim in Landis's own An American Werewolf In London, Christopher Lee's aristocratic vampire in Dracula (says Landis on this "all monsters are metaphors") and Ray Harryhausen's Cyclops in The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad. 

At London's BFI cinema, the surrealist layers of Maya Deren's experimental film-making are celebrated next month in a Maya Deren season that includes the famous Meshes Of The Afternoon, (my unlikely introduction to Deren,  as a still from this was used for the cover of an early Primal Scream single), Deren's other "chamber films", her famous voudoun documentary The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods Of Haiti, a biographical tribute to Deren, a one-day symposium hosted by the London Consortium, outtakes, posthumously compiled footage, work by film-makers inspired by Deren and the wonderfully named Seance For Maya Deren, where those film-makers discuss Deren's influence. Ritual In Transfigured Time is still my favourite piece by Deren herself, a quietly pulsing, abstract exploration of time and fate through subconscious otherworld realities and ritualised choreography. And also it features Anais Nin. Meantime, I'd been noticing and noticing noticing the day to day sounds of everyday, like the bicycles and bells amid the traffic on Euston Road, and the ever-present hum behind everything, like a constant electric generator, even in the middle of the night. Then, by chance, though not so mysterious a coincidence given my radio listening habits, I caught Hearing The Past, a BBC Radio 4 documentary where Professor Jim Al-Khalili investigated time-travelling using sound and technology, otherwise known as archeo-acoustics, sound art, and the implications for sound design for the future. This tuned me in to the concrete Stonehenge in America and back to Thomas Hardy's description of Stonehenge at the end of Tess of the d'Urbervilles - "What monstrous place is this," said Angel. "It hums" said she, "Harken". I liked the idea that Stonehenge's acoustics match up to modern acoustic venues, (albeit that Stonehenge's stones were, notoriously, realigned and straightened along the way) and that it might be used as a template for outdoor venues, a reminder of the news a couple of years ago that Stonehenge itself had been an ancient music venue. So, going to a gig really is a visit to the temple, then. But that idea of history resonating all the more when other senses added to either reading or watching a video reenactment, now that really was a magical conjuring.

A couple more quick finds.

First, an 1846 guide to the meaning of Avebury, Silbury Hill and other ancient sites in The Druidical Temples Of The County Of Wilts, by the Rev E Duke, a fellow it's easy to warm to as he keeps apologising for potentially boring his readers, ponders the inclusion of certain herbs in the druids records in the manner of 'well, they were the wisest of the wise, so I suppose they had their reasons' and grumbles about the oversights of his peers in pondering the planetary worship and astronomical legacy writ large on the Wiltshire landscape.

Second, Michael Kinsella's book Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore And The Search For Ong's Hat, exploring the quests to follow supernatural legends and sometimes reenact them. Along the way Kinsella shows how the modern day overnight ghosthunting trips or under the radar urban explorers of abandoned asylums echo the spiritualists own legend trips, often using technology like the telegraph and particularly the camera, and documents the explosion of the part-mystery, part-game online legend trip of Ong's Hat in the 1990s. All of which reminded me of the times of wanting to visit the local 'haunted mansion' as a kid, or of friends sneaking into abandoned hospitals in recent years and getting a thrill from seeing doctors coats and other paraphernalia and ephemera in some kind of Marie Celeste kind of setting, and the potential for what might be around the next corner ...

Lastly, Now That We're Being Honest is an American website with a nifty batch of occult-related posts. Thanks, not least for tipping me off to a flickr set of vintage spirit photography and a Parapsychology Conference in the state of Virginia that I too wish I could attend.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

stay safe

The riots of the last few days in England have raised some pretty obvious spectres of former times as well as dystopian nightmares of a future yet to come. Haunted barely covers it. Thoughts are obviously with everyone affected by the violence and destruction, and massive thanks go out to all the emergency services and ordinary folk who've put in a massive effort. I hope we're past the worst, in more than one sense. One phrase dominated throughout for me – "stay safe" – which was everywhere, heartening and comforting, but also throwing me back to 1970s public information films. I should stay with the most recent morphing of Keep Calm And Carry On, turned by the riotwombles into Keep Calm And Clean Up but then, as with other reappropriated uses of phrases and images in rhetoric, that's also become Keep Calm When Rioting (& Always Mask Up). So I'm back at those 70s safety films, seeing another sinister side as they resonate a little too clearly.

After all ...

Below, pre-CCTV and yet ...

The images resonate even where they're not meant to, either in look or feel. This is a warning about not burning coal when there's fog.

 And the fella here becomes a totally different kind of stranger danger. 

We're not so far from the past, and yet a long way from knowing where we are. All I can do is say, wise words as ever from Mr Stardust. We could use some coo-ca-choo.

And, away from the film stills, this poster might be where the solution starts.

thanks to Nate Hill for the image

Monday, 8 August 2011

pledge for the new Superstitions issue of Craphound

Three hours and counting to contribute to the printing costs of the fantastic Portland-based themed art magazine, Crap Hound. In other words, snap up a copy. For this eighth issue, it's images all about Superstitions.

return to joy

pic by me, charityshopper
Hello. I really didn't mean to be away so long. Are you still there? Or maybe, like the Fifth Dimension installation in 1970s Girvan, one day you just suddenly disappeared. An accident meant I had a cast on for a couple of months. Yes, I was in a kind of spectral dimension. 

This photo is from a recent trip to Edinburgh, where the contradictions of utopian visions and sinister realities, gothic heart and brutalist fringes and the ever-present past create sights that are somehow never quite right but always mesmerising. Here the mixture of ionic columns, cold war numeric font, disintegrating, Victorian shopfront-style sign and a doorway sealed shut got me. The doorway could lead to a secret nuclear bunker or into the tunnels of the sealed up plague city of the vaults. This is Edinburgh. Anything's possible. 

More to come, from the borderlands of the supernatural and popular culture, from London to outer space. For now, liking Derby University's cultural studies MA in horror and transgression and looking forward to Simon Armitage's exploration of the Pendle Witch Child story on BBC4 (Wed 17 Aug). And go and see the Memory Of A Hope group exhibition in Liverpool if you can - 36 artists explore creation, destruction and nostalgia, with the twin pillars of Henri Lefebvre and JG Ballards as the goalposts of imagination.

Reality is never what it seems, and maybe that's the way we like it. It's good to be back. I'm putting the Soundcarriers back on. Loud. Mind how you go.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

journeying into the edgelands

I've been enjoying Edgelands, a spider's web collection of essays about the wild hinterlands (mainly in the north and midlands of England) between urban areas and the countryside that uses words, mainly about visuals, both art and what they see, to make noticed what often goes unnoticed. 

The two authors, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts are poets, and capture little worlds of atmosphere in words and phrases (my current favourites: "electric druids" and the furnace of a power station like a volcano). 

Jennifer Jenkins, Iain Sinclair and Roger Deakin are the obvious, if at times, unlikely (particularly Sinclair), touchstones (I haven't finished it yet, so I'm still undecided about where JG Ballard might fit in), with a mix of ghosts past and future, the unexpected interplay of humans and nature and ideas about, the borders of power, society's fringes and who we are. 

Farley and Symmons Roberts' journey is also a personal one into identity and memories (two memories surfaced for me - a vivid summer aged 10 on a wasteland near home where, with friends, we built dens and bike ramps, and the "haunted" abandoned mansion behind the primary school where we explored the overgrown garden while dodging the glue-sniffers). 

There's a couple of related videos that provide much-needed visual accompaniment to the text - The Bright Light On The Edge Of Town five-minute documentary and the authors' tour of Birmingham's "nameless spaces" for The Guardian, and it's well worth going back to Richard Mabey's book from 1973, Unofficial Countryside, to see how far, or not, we've come in this now pretty cluttered books and film territory of geocultural exploration. Meantime, here's a little Edgelands snippet: 
"There are many ghosts in the edgelands’ never-quite-dark. Post-industrial England is haunted by a future that never happened, and the inescapable truth that these are the results of our long reclamation of the night: a blackbird singing at midnight on a floodlit roundabout; the silvery lake surface of a deserted conference centre car park; the steadfast glow of bus-stop advertisements. Ballardian trickledown meant synth pop stars like Gary Numan could posit a future (from a vantage point sometime around 1980) where there would be no street lights, but no dark corners either." (published by Jonathan Cape, £12.99)

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

pitt-rivers museum, oxford

A day trip to Oxford a couple of weeks back to visit friends and a gladly accepted suggestion of going to the Pitt-Rivers - a return trip for all of us, but it's one of those museums you can't just visit once. They've spruced up the entrance, but the giant totem pole is still at the end of the room, and the original Victorian glass and wood cabinets still cluster together, packed full of curiosities – the spectral traces of the empire's looting and pillaging across the globe and folklore remnants from across the nations of the UK. 

There was enough in the cabinets alone to satisfy last time I was here: talismans and shrunken heads, bobbins and dulcimers, masks and insects in dresses, all arranged by type rather than location, but this time part of the pleasure is in pulling open the drawers underneath to find more. When you're looking at a cabinet titled Charms Against The Evil Eye or Magic And Trial By Ordeal, you really want to see what's hidden in the drawers underneath, and what there is is more of what's in the display cases, as well as whole drawers filled with woven wheat harvest tokens in plastic bags, or curative and fertility-enhancing wax molds of parts of the body, or devil doctor bone wands, miniature metal hands and plastic seaside trinkets for charm bracelets.

The labels are as compelling as the artefacts: handwritten at the time the items were brought in by different people on tiny, apparently random shapes of card and haphazardly formalized with a border and string. It all makes the cases even more of a visual maze. Everything is ordered and classified, but with a personal touch, so that although the items are out of time and place, disconnected from the real world rituals of sound, smell, touch and taste, in the end Pitt-Rivers really is a kunstkammer, or wonder-room, a reconfiguring of the world and the past through the curator's eyes, and a memory theatre for our eyes.

stuart kolakovic : under the damp earth

Eastern European folk tales, mythology, fairytales and family history all seep into the narrative-driven illustrations of Stuart Kolakovic. His day-to-day work has popped up in national newspapers and magazines, appeared on book covers (I first saw his work, aptly, on William Blacker's Along The Enchanted Way: A Story Of Life And Love In Romania), as well as on badges, tea-towels and recently on Marks & Spencer own brand teabag packs. He's set up a teaser trailer website for his new show of illustrations at the fine NoBrow gallery in east London (until 23 June), which veer off in a darker direction than his previous work. The teaser's a little animated, with music - go see.

Monday, 18 April 2011

randomness : april

When you're interested in something, and you're really focused on it, you see it everywhere, so I should've expected to come across something like the story that Lady Ga-Ga thinks she's guided by the ghost of Alexander McQueen. Moving along, my new favourite thing on Found Objects: The Witchmobile, an "anti-occult" van dreamt up by an evangelist in early 70s California. Also still mesmerised by photographs of Beautifully Eerie Abandoned Hospitals. I'm not so sure about David Tennant taking over Roddy McDowell's role in the forthcoming remake of Fright Night (out autumn 2011), particularly now the character's a heavy metal-styled illusionist rather than a friendly late night TV host, but we'll see. Enjoying the backlog of custom soundtracks at the Cottage Of Electric Hell, particularly for the Weird Tales For Winter. Likewise reading about the terror of tiny Marc Bolan on his tv show Marc at Unmann-Wittering's new blog, Island Of Terror, and the pure hauntology of The Hauntological Society. I'm having some "is it just me, or is there lots of more of this kind of thing around?" moments, and whether that's back to seeing signs of what you're looking for everywhere or real, I don't know, but decided it's a good thing. Whether I'll go and see Doctor Dee, Damon Albarn & Rufus Norris's show about Elizabethan mathematician, sorcerer, alchemist (allegedly) and astrologer John Dee, again I don't know. Might just stick with going to see Dee's black mirror in the British Museum again (permanent display)... when I've caught up on blog posts here ...

the king & the minotaur (a labyrinth gallery)

The King & Minotaur (until 30 April at the Labyrinth Gallery, The Courtyard, 7 St Pancras Way) plays with the idea of London's labyrinth myths, with sculptures, sound, film, dance and a pop-up cocktail bar on a weaving art installation trail within a 1850s barn. It's not on the grand scale of Jorge Luis Borges (who called London a labyrinth) or Iain Sinclair (whose visions of London's labyrinth myths travel back to the city's founding) but then those labyrinths are easy pickings in the city, whether walking around, or imagining, in the layers of history that keep being built upon but which never disappear, the gory histories in dark corners, the dark/light dream/nightmares of fiction and news, the ghosts of the underground, and all the rest.

the prefab modernism of the ancient astronauts

(originally uploaded to flickr by Fire Of The Mind)

When Frank Lloyd Wright dreamt up the textile concrete block way of building homes like the Ennis-Brown house in Los Angeles (pictured top) in the 1920s, it's been suggested that he may have been influenced by pre-Inca monuments in South America. Most likely, that means the Puma Punku monument (pictured below) in the central highlands of Bolivia, a megalithic complex thought to be as old as the last Ice Age, but which looks like it's inspired every cinematic sci-fi dystopia of the past 40 years. Puma Punka is made up of mammoth blocks of stone so hard they can only be cut with diamonds, and engineered with such precision that you can match the patterns on the interlocking stones exactly - and cut your fingers on the edges while you're doing that. It's prefab building on a grand scale, but with an otherworldly abstract patterning throughout that demands some op art fashion shoots be set there. The visual parallels with Wright's textile block houses are stunning, and if it wasn't stone age indians who built Puma Punku, then maybe those alien astronauts had a pretty sharp eye for abstract modernism. Or maybe Frank Lloyd Wright just liked their style. Incidentally, the outside of the Ennis-Brown house was used in William Castle's 1959 horror, House On Haunted Hill, and the inside has been used in shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Twin Peaks.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

horror bags 70s crisps advert

Jings, crivens, crisps in the shape of bats, advertised by Captain Peacock (as Dracula) and Mr Rumbold (as Frankenstein) of Are You Being Served in the late 70s. (Crisps also available in the shape of fangs, claws and bones). Related bat crisp eyecandy - flickr photos of the "batburger" 48-pack case.

horror top trumps 1978

When the Top Trumps themed card games first came out in 1977, they were an instant hit in the playground, albeit better known for arguments about the apparent random scoring of the various cards rather than any sense of cunningly designed gameplay. 

The Horror two-pack series, headed by a Christopher Lee Dracula and a Devil Priest, made such arguments pretty puny when it came out a year later, what with trying to work out exactly what a Venusian Death Cell was or how big a maggot had to be to be that scary. 

Issued in 1978 they were highly sought-after then, and still go for about £50 on eBay (*mint* packs only), despite being reissued (the cards glow in the dark, no less). Top tip, kids: mix up the packs and get monsters battling Harry Potter characters, Top Gear presenters or Disney princesses. The monsters will win.