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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 (sub-urban.com) 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.