Tuesday, 30 October 2012

king of the castle

King Of The Castle, which was first shown in 1977, is a frustrating watch for even the most obsessed 70s children's TV fan – a must-see but also must fast-forward through. That's if you can find the whole series, which is more elusive than half the episodes of Ready Steady Go. The story: Roland, an overweight choir boy, escapes the bullies in his tower block by jumping into a broken lift, which then plummets into a warped world below that can only be escaped from by solving clues and finding keys. It's a journey as much of self-discovery as of finding the way back home, as Roland deals with characters strangely familiar from the world above. Pitched somewhere between Susan Hill's I'm The King Of The Castle and Franz Kafka's The Castle, it's got plenty of oddness going for it. There's the literary references you'd never expect in a mainstream children's drama (Beckett, Ballard, Pinter). There's a bold embracing of the council estate reality of the times (and the urban postwar dream gone sour) while its supernatural 70s TV peers explored rural myths, megaliths and, well, owls. There's some amazing visual images (pictured), by turns expressionist and surreal. There's Fulton McKay. But ... it is slow and a little clunky. Just a warning. Best enjoyed with the incredibly detailed appreciation at Sparks In Electrical Jelly.

uncanny spaces – horrorgami

The kirigami horror houses of Marc Hagan-Guirey, otherwise known as Paper Dandy, have gone viral over the past few days, even prompting a BBC news video. It's not a surprise, given that his tributes to 13 famous houses of horror films – including The Shining, The Amityville Horror, The Addams Family and Beetlejuice – are a singular vision of spookiness, each carefully cut from single sheets of paper, then presented as silhouettes in lightboxes. Traditionally, the haunted house upends our ideas of livable spaces, upsetting our ideas of home as a place of safety and comfort and, certainly in cinema, they upset our sense of perspective, both psychological and literal. Here, those ideas are magnified by presenting the haunted house in an unnatural three-dimensional form, and then shrunk. Although small and fragile enough to crush in one hand, they have, like their cinematic reflections, driven out the inhabitants. Here also, the lit-up houses are not even haunted by a presence; it is the houses themselves that haunt us, luring us into the nightmare of being trapped in the demonic dolls house. They're so cute, it's terrifying.

Horrorgami, Gallery One And A Half, 1 1/2 Ardleigh Road, London, N1, 1-14 Nov

echoes - hp lovecraft

"Pleasure to me is wonder – the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty."

HP Lovecraft: The Defence Remains Open!, 1921

the innocents

(via ass-acid tumblr)
What shall I sing to my lord from my window?
What shall I sing for my lord will not stay?
What shall I sing for my lord will not listen?
Where shall I go when my lord is away?
Whom shall I love when the moon is arisen?
Gone is my lord and the grave is his prison.
What shall I say when my lord comes a calling?
What shall I say when he knocks on my door?
What shall I say when his feet enter softly?
Leaving the marks of his grave on my floor.
Enter my lord. Come from your prison.
Come from your grave, for the moon is a risen.
Welcome, my lord.

The Innocents, 1961, directed by Jack Clayton

Suspense, dread, phantoms, madness, repression... possession. Just as Henry James' Turn Of The Screw is, really, far scarier than Dracula in its hold on the imagination, so too the 1961 film version quietly digs deep into the psyche in a way unlike many other more obvious horrors, entwining like creeping ivy. Deborah Kerr's increasingly terrified wide-eyed expressions combine with ominous shots of some darkness just out of sight, seen as much in the frequency of shots of the children from behind as in candlelight trembling down long lonely corridors or the curtains of open windows shivering in the wind. This is the genuinely unsettling feeling of indefinable evil, made all the more so by an atmospheric soundtrack dominated by sinister effects and music. Cottage Of Electric Hell collated these sounds into a continuous piece, which is well worth hearing in its own right. In the dark, of course. It goes well with late night bumps in the night. Oh, we do love to be scared.

just another halloween playlist

There's a lot of playlists for Halloween. Even one from Ghost Box. So here's another one,  60s garage and psych.

First up, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown: Fire. When I was 17 a bunch of us went back to a friend's after a night out and someone put this track on. Then they switched on the TV, and there was a fire happening, on screen. Spooky.

Troyka: Burning Of The Witch - Downhome late 60s Canadian rock, with oddly unnatural baritone gloominess.

Open Mind: Magic Potion - A modern freakbeat dancefloor smash. 

The Attack: Magic In The Air - Unreleased 45 by the fantastically-bouffanted Londoners best known for Created By Clive. 

Christine Pilzer: Dracula - Swinging French mademoiselle racks up the enticing suspense. Everybody now, scream "Yeye!". 

Lollipop Shoppe: You Must Be A Witch - Guaranteed hard garage punk nuggetty goodness from 1968. Yeh, he don't need her loving (insert squawling guitar break here). 

Janie Jones: Witch In White - Saucy madame, literally, who first made old folk go "I say!" when she appeared topless at the London premiere of London In The Raw in 1964. 

Cindy Und Bert: Der Hund Von Baskerville - Black Sabbath's Paranoid, except in German, and by a lovely late 60s duo. 

The Lords: Death Bells At Dawn - Dark guitars (and squealing keyboard trills) ring out across the New Jersey night in 1966. 

Loose Enz: Black Door - Take the subway to the end of your mind (and don some Jim Morrison trousers) for this moody Pennsylvania 1968 tale of occult goings-on. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

find your way in the mizmaze

The Mizmaze, nr Breamore, Hampshire

mirror magic

Medieval woodcutting: "Frailty, thy name is woman"
Mirrors and magic are always entwined like light and dark - here's the double, the bad luck of the mirror cracked, the misty myths of Medusa or Narcissus, fairytales and horror vampires, the devil of vanity, the Sun King's Hall of Mirrors at Versailles or a million fairgrounds and the distorted projection that's never quite reality as we know it. See also Sabine Melchoir-Bonnet's The Mirror: A History.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

kai fagerström - the house in the woods

Finnish photographer Kai Fagerström captured a fractured fairytale in his photos of a house being reclaimed, not only by nature but also by the local wildlife. The resulting book, The House In The Woods, has lots more of this (thanks Jonathan Kilgour for the heads up).

Thursday, 25 October 2012

mandrake man

A modern charm, made from mandrake root, to bring the owner good luck.

scorpio the demon - "the dark centre of the cosmos"

Scorpio, Chartres Cathedral, France
"Leo, which is ruled by the Sun, is often placed on the facade of a cathedral so that it is the first of the Evangelists' symbols to receive sunlight in the course of the day. Scorpio, connected with hell and the dark centre of the cosmos (according to the medieval view of the world), is correspondingly placed so that it it is the last to receive the light."

Symbols In The Sky - The Unexplained File: Cult & Occult

rod serling's night gallery

From the endlessly imaginative head of Rod Serling, Night Gallery was the early 70s follow up to the mammoth success of The Twilight Zone TV series. Both inhabited similar territory – anthologies of stories from the other side that included fractured morality fables, surreal sci-fi, dream-like mysteries, macabre fantasy twists – but the Night Gallery had a dose more horror suited to those occult-obsessed times. It also had a dose of fantastic guest stars, not least among them Vincent Price, Roddy McDowall, Joan Crawford and Elsa Lanchester, with a bonus helping of John Astin, who popped up in several episodes. The moreishness of the series lay as much though in the variety of the narratives, which could reach the height of literary adaptation (Conrad Aiken's Silent Snow, Secret Snow) or plummet to the delightfully gory depths of sheer pulp (Adam West on how to mix a martini in With Apologies To Mr Hyde). You really never knew what the next canvas would reveal in Serling's gallery of the bizarre. For those whose whistle has been whetted, Rod Serling's Night Gallery has more about the episodes, show and the accompanying book.

where it starts: the usborne book of ghosts

I got this book for my birthday from my friend in the next garden, Rosina - when I was 8 years old. I liked the ghost photos the best. Was that monk beside the church organ really spectral or was it faked? I didn't care. I wish I still had it. There was an abandoned mansion high up on the hill behind our primary school playground where boys from the neighbouring school sniffed glue. I told younger kids they should watch out for a dead woman appearing at one of the upstairs windows. I persuaded several kids to go with me on a Red Hand Gang-like night-time exploration of the house. Luckily, it never happened. I loved Misty, the horror comic for girls. My dad banned it from the house on first sight. When I was 10 I borrowed The Ghost Hunter's Handbook from the school library. I gave it back a year later. Reluctantly. Around that time I watched zombie movies with my older brother and his student friends in his room. We laughed. His friends didn't. I still like the bit at the end of Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula where the little puppies come out of the grave with demonic eyes. At least, that's the way I remember it. I geeked out to Poltergeist ("you moved the headstones but you didn't move the graves?!?!") - and the MAD magazine parody of it. I wanted Gomez and Morticia to adopt me, but I wasn't into the Wednesday look. You want to know when this all started? It started young.

More about Usborne's World Of The Unknown: All About Ghosts at The Haunted Closet

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Monday, 22 October 2012

grisly guides : the new york grimpendium

Rolling Hills Asylum, East Bethany, via JW Ocker's OTIS: Odd Things I've Seen
Death - and the boundaries of the five boroughs - holds no terrors for JW Ocker, who follows up his New England Grimpendium with The New York Grimpendium: A Guide To Macabre And Ghastly Sites In New York State. Can we say he knows where the bodies are buried? Oh, go on, lets have some fun with this, because Ocker always does. Here's the dirt on ghoulish sites and stories, both sung and unsung, delivered in thoroughly researched but wry style for the couch-potato and real traveller alike. Revel in the abandoned asylums (pictured), murder sites, film locations (yes, Ghostbusters does feature) and tales of monsters in lakes, Sleepy Hollow, shrunken heads or Rod Serling - if you dare.

Friday, 19 October 2012

echoes : gaston bachelard - the poetics of reverie

"... the repose of sleep refreshes only the body. It rarely sets the soul at rest. The repose of the night does not belong to us. It is not the possession of our being. Sleep opens within us an inn for phantoms. In the morning we must sweep out the shadows ..."

In chapter two of Gaston Bachelard's
The Poetics Of Reverie - Childhood, Language And The Cosmos (1960

60s advertising - "bewitch him by day, make him mad for you under the moon"

Scanned from a 60s magazine, reminded to post by seeing The Pie Shops tumblr (thanks!)

chills and fever - eyes without a face

Eyes Without A Face (via flavorpill - 50 essential horror films)

I can't believe I forgot about this film. The gruesome surgery scene is the most famous and shocking part of Eyes Without A Face, Georges Franju's 1959 French horror, but this image of the moving eyes trapped behind a blank mask is the one that'll haunt your reveries. Beyond sensationalism and B-movie good and evil polarities, it's the complexities of identity and desire that make the film so unsettling, summed up here in that look.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

a fortean halloween - the ghoulish spirit of london

The spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, according to his widow (via Nationaal Archief)
Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor, John Constable of Crossbones Graveyard and the academic and author Roger Luckhurst are among the speakers at the London Fortean Society's London Ghosts Conference on 27 Oct. Capital tales (plus a couple of short films) for Halloween of mystery, horror and the occult, including cinematic vampires, haunted hospitals and the Enfield poltergeist.

the alternative Victorian reality of travis louie

Above, via Circus Posterus, from Spirits, the most recent exhibition of the finely-detailed and vintage photo-like otherworldly visions of Travis Louie, at Stranger Factory, Albuquerque.

1910 Frankenstein and the post-industrial soundtrack

Daniel Tuttle (Life Toward Twilight) gives electronic life to the 1910 Edison Studios version of Frankenstein in his 2008 soundtrack, adding unsettling, fractured atmospherics – even more sense of the un-natural at play – in a mixture of sparse piano, post-industrial drones, and dark ambient shadows and crashes.

Edison's Frankenstein with Life Toward Twilight - part one (part two here)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

carrie - then and now

In 1976, Carrie is "the girl no one likes", the freak who lives with her "crazy mother" and wreaks havoc on the prom with her telekenesis when the bullying goes too far. 

In 2013, Carrie is not "a monster, she was just a girl", her mother is "a fanatic" and mention of conspiracy comes before the supernatural. 

Except that Kimberly Peirce's new film is not a remake of Brian De Palma's sensationalist horror. Instead, it skips back to Stephen King's original apocalyptic 1974 book, the story of which ended with Carrie's rampage killing more than 400 townsfolk, telekenesis being taken seriously by the masses and a nationwide crackdown on bullying. So 70s, so, possibly, 2012.

The pig's blood is still in full-effect though, don't worry.

Friday, 12 October 2012

halloween is coming ... and so is the great pumpkin

photo by riptheskull
I haven't forgotten about Halloween, and don't tell me The Great Pumpkin doesn't exist.

echoes : sylvie germain - prague noir: the weeping woman on the streets of prague

Photo via Elspeth Owen's Weeping Woman artwork
"That day, in the opalescent mist, all the passers-by looked like ghosts who had mislaid their fleshly bodies."

"... she was an unfinished being ... A being endlessly on the verge of entering life, and endlessly on the verge of leaving it."

"The weeping woman limps endlessly between two worlds: the visible and the invisible, the present and the past, the living and the present."

Excerpts from Sylvie Germain's Prague Noir: The Weeping Woman On The Streets Of Prague, a prose-poetry evocation of a mythical giantess who protects the city, gathering the tears of the living and the dead and bringing memories to life before tucking them back into the folds of her skirts.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

derek jarman - a journey to avebury

A nod again to Derek Jarman's 1971 16mm film A Journey To Avebury, which ideally should be on permanent loop in some cupboard in your head, Coil's 1990s soundtrack adding a pulsing intensity to the atmosphere of a landscape where the accumulated past is present. More on Derek Jarman's film, his fascination with the Elizabethan magician John Dee, and why Jarman preferred Marcel Duchamp's alchemy to Aleister Crowley's black magic in a Tate gallery essay from 2009 about Magic And Modernity In British Art.

word magic

1950s anthology of poems for schools via the absorbing Stopping Off Place blog of finds.

the addams family - cousin it dries his hairdo

The Addams Family 60s View-Master reel

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

philippe halsman - visage superposé 1967

via Regard Intemporel
Philippe Halsman was born in Latvia in 1906, imprisoned for patricide in 1928 after a hiking trip where his father died in an accident that was said to look suspicious, and told to leave the country, never to return, when he was released four years later. Moving to France he made his name working as a photographer for Vogue, then fled to America after the Nazi invasion, where he continued working for Vogue, becoming a photographer of celebrities such as Pablo Picasso and Einstein. Halsman also collaborated with Salvador Dalí (including the famous photograph of those cats flying through the air), and published a book of photographs of people jumping, attaching the wry philosophy of "jumpology". His story adds several layers to this photo, but the spectrality of it is mesmerising enough.

guatemala, masks, identity and the uncanny

Guatemalan masks from Masks Of The World: (left to right) Spanish general Pedro Alvarado -
Dance Of The Conquest, monkey - Deer Dance, Maximon (San Simon), Ajiz the shaman
Animate and inanimate at the same time, living and dead, fascinating and sometimes fear-evoking, the mask comes to life as humans put it on and breath spirit into it. The wearer can be identified with the mask and yet hides behind it, is known by their mask and yet escapes into fantasy and away from conventional identities, creates a false guise and yet reveals many guises, protects themselves from others but also from their real self, transforms, is changed and enacts change through the rites associated with the mask.

"Like the uncanny, it is familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously. The mask stands in an intermediary position between different worlds. Its embodiment of the fragile dividing line between concealment and revelation, truth and artifice, natural and supernatural, life and death is a potent source of the mask's metaphysical power."

Efrat Tseëlon: Masquerade And Identitities: Essays On Gender, Sexuality And Marginality

photo by fiat luxe

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

masks of guatemala - the Diablo pyramid stuccos

The recently discovered five-feet high stucco masks within the Diablo pyramid at El Zotz, images of the sun god, were expertly crafted and lavishly painted, but the Mayans deliberately damaged the noses, the "breathing apparatus", because the stuccos were seen as living beings, which means "we're not only looking at them, they're looking out at us."

echoes : miguel angel asturias - the mirror of lida sal

Cover art for The Mirror Of Lida Sal: The Circus by Maximino Javier, 1983
“He took refuge behind the mask. He didn’t realize what was happening. He believed that it was he himself, still unaccustomed to the underground world, who bumped into the things used for his work. And to quell the assault, he paused quietly, and stood still, stubbornly glancing from side to side, as if asking all those inanimate beings the whereabouts of his smoking tube. It was nowhere to be found. As if to confirm this, he raised a fistful of tobacco to his mouth and chewed it. But there was something strange. The serpent and the jaguar began to move from his wooden drum, the drum with which he greeted the morning star, the light of precious lights. And if the tablets, rugs, benches, jars, baskets, mallets, and chisels had been quieted, now the giants of stone began to raise and lower their eyelids. Agitated by the tempest, they began to flex their muscles. Each arm became a river. Advancing against him. He lifted the quenched stars of his hands to defend his face from the punches of one of these monsters ... A second group of warriors, also made by him, sculpted in stone by his hands, spread out with the points of their cane spears to the slats of the bed on which he had set his marvelous mask. There was no doubt. It must save him. He put it on. He fled.”

From Legend Of The Crystal Mask, one of the stories in The Mirror Of Lida Sal: Tales Based On Mayan Myths And Guatemalan Legends, 1967, by Guatemalan Nobel Prize-winner Miguel Angel Asturias. "The Indians of Guatemala," he said, "are like fragments of the imagination."

Monday, 8 October 2012

michael robinson - victory over the sun

Victory Over The Sun

In the 1960s Michael Robinson's father filmed the World's Fairs in Seattle (1962), New York (1964) and Montreal (1967), capturing the Technicolor hopes of that period. Forty years later, Michael Robinson visited the sites and captured the other side of the dream. The American artist's 2007 film, Victory Over The Sun, named after a 1913 Futurist opera, mixes still long-shots of the long-abandoned architecture with sci-fi visuals, orchestral music and sinisterly chanted text from Oscar Wilde's Salome, Ayn Rand's Anthem and the Masters Of The Universe film to make a singularly strange work about failed visions of the future and the dark corporate undertow of utopian ideals.

the ghostly portraits of jason salavon

Portrait (Velázquez), 2009/10
You can't be sure of who or even what you see seems to be the message of the Portrait series by Jason Salavon. But although the Chicago-based artist's amalgamated computer-manipulations of these paintings of four Old Masters make the subjects ambiguous they're also recognisable, wraithlike and mushy yet somehow exact in their detail.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

karel zeman - baron prásil (the fabulous baron munchausen)

Baron Prásil, the baroque 1961 cinematic fantasy of Czech special-effects genius Karel Zeman, was surely the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's later version of the adventures of Baron Munchausen. The live actors here mix with drawings and prints as fantastical as the adventures that take them from the moon to the bottom of the sea, in scenes tinted with psychedelic hues and rhythms. Truly, the magic of the world made anew for our eyes.

echoes : spencer holst - the language of cats

"For there is a language of the cats, but all Siamese cats are crazy – always talking about mental telepathy, cosmic powers, fabulous treasures, spaceships, and great civilizations of the past, but it's all just meowing – they are impotent – just meows!" 

From the story of a code-breaking scientist who falls under the spell of a siamese cat by Spencer Holst (Greenwich Village storyteller of "nursery time Twilight Zone" tales) in The Language Of Cats, 1971

Saturday, 6 October 2012

kurt seligmann - la sorcière (the witch)

Kurt Seligmann, (1900-1962) Swiss-American painter and engraver of medieval danse macabre scenes that share a kinship to the works of his Swiss and German forebears Urs Graf and Albrecht Altdorfer. Also the surrealists' expert on magic (see his book The History Of Magic, which covers 5,000 years of the occult, with more than 150 illustrations).

helen stratton - the fairytales of hans christian andersen

"From every tree hung three or four king's sons, who had wooed the princess, but had been unable to guess her riddles"

Illustration by Helen Stratton, The Fairytales Of Hans Christian Andersen, 1899

via OBI Scrapbook Blog

Monday, 1 October 2012

randomness : october - unseen forces

The Golem, not a monster separate from us, but the other within us, manifest in human-like form. Tis the season – autumn getting into full swing, leaves falling, nature baring itself. Likewise, time (and not just because of the season), as Michael Dirda's piece in the great Lapham's Quarterly says, for the realist novel to make way again for stories by authors from Le Fanu to Kafka of the supernatural, metaphysical and the unseen forces at work all around us. Stewart Lee got to talk about the 70 children's TV drama Children Of The Stones in a piece about teenagers on a Charlie Brooker TV show a few years ago and on Thu 4 Oct on Radio 4 he'll explain why the show made such an impact, talk with cast members, fans and one of the co-creators of the series, and visit the stones at Avebury. Unseen forces also seemingly at work as Patrick Ffrench links cinema, literature, psychoanalysis in Spasms: Moving Bodies From Baudelaire To Beckett, a talk on Thu 11 Oct at The Last Tuesday Society in London. Discarded posters by Julian House for the film Berberian Sound Studio hooked me into the fantastic A Sound Awareness blog. Feeling somehow the need to get out of London though, go to a ruin, old or new, somewhere – not least after reading the poem Crosby Beach on another blog I like, Enchanted Isle - "The city becomes a museum of itself/Feasts on its own memories".