Haunted Weekend Of Scary Peril

Dispatches from our Halloween party.

Here's yesterday's luminous ghost in his glowing form. We've still not quite got to the bottom of his mouth.

Here's a Black Mass altar we had set up.

Our Halloween costumes. Alex, on the left, is supposed to be the Slender Man and looks amazing. On the right is someone who's supposed to be Manuel Calavera from Grim Fandango. What a loser! Looks nothing like him. At this point it must be mentioned that she who is stood to the left is to take credit for every single photo you see here before you today. Shower her with praise right here.

And here's the end of the mystery, the moment for which you've all been waiting. When droning on about the English Book of Magic, I mentioned that I'd made another purchase in The Works but didn't give specifics. Well, I bought ten ghost-shaped sky lanterns. OK? The intention was to create a grave flotilla at the strike of midnight during the Halloween party. Conditions, though, were too windy. One made it to the sky, three perished and six are just sat there all listless in the utility room.

Some other time.


A Haunting of Ghosts

What's the collective noun for ghosts? We'll just assume that it's “haunting” and leave it at that.

Here are some pictures that were taken earlier today; during the last afternoon of what was, to all intents and purposes, the Halloween Weekend.

Our house is always full of ghosts. However, over the past few days, the collection has grown somewhat.

First, here's a picture of the pumpkin I carved – Lumpkin – in his natural habitat: overseeing the washing line. He looks a little bit like a troll, I know.

Here's a detail from the Garland of Ghosts. For the sake of supremacy, let's pretend I crafted them myself.

This guy was a gift. Wire him up to the natural grid and he's illuminated. Now, I want the opinion of anybody who's in any position to give it: What's going on with the bottom left hand corner of his head? There's a lump of some kind. To me it looks like his mouth's protruding in an “ooo” shape. Or perhaps he's sticking his tongue out? I can't be sure.

Here it is, my collection of ghosts. They're not individually named because I don't want to give anybody cause to think of me as a serial killer/disco mystic.

The twins converse with one of the luminous red ghosts here. The twins are interesting in that they both sport those fabulous capes and, should you tug them down from their chain links, they'll climb their way back up; chattering as they go.

That big guy, I think he was the first ghost I acquired. The little one before him is my pride and joy: A gift from America. I've arrived at a fantastic period of my life in that people periodically gift me with either ghosts or robots. I'm told I'm very easy to buy for, long may it last. The plastic candle to the right is a new acquisition. It cost a pound and, when you insert two AAA batteries, it flickered pathetically. It's stopped working now and will never work again, but I'm keeping it for the ghosts. I mean, just look at them.

The gaggle, here. Front and centre is the only ghost I own who doesn't look delighted to have transcended the mortal coil. Hiding behind him is a wax ghost candle I cannot bring myself to light. To his right a pair of salt shakers, one of which is black. Another gift, they remind me of a story I read when I was about eight. It was about a lonely ghost who lived in an attic. He had a rusty ring of keys which he could jangle to unlock any door he wished to enter. This ghost eventually turned black, a fate that befalls any ghost who spends too much time in the sunlight. The black ghost doubles, then, as a salt shaker and a warning for any ghost who wishes to sunbathe.

The stuffed ghost at the back, I'm ashamed to say, I liberated from a charity sideshow game. There was a man who said he could guess your age. You paid him £2. If he couldn't guess your age, you got to choose a prize from a boxful of goods at his feet. I took him up on his wager when I spotted the ghost. He said 24. I'm 25; so without a further word from either of us I snatched the ghost from the box and minced away.

I was later informed that he had given himself a year's bracket on either side of the age he was to guess. As a result, in saying 25 he had actually won the wager; which means that I'd inadvertently stolen a ghost from charity.

I don't feel bad. Had said ghost been sat on some white elephant stall I probably wouldn't have paid more than 20p. But for this guy I exchanged £2 and my dignity. The charity came out on top, no matter how you look at things.

This is the friendliest, happiest ghost I own. When viewed from outside it looks like he's waving at you. I realise that a good blogger would have taken a picture of that prospect, but it was raining and I'm not a very good blogger anyway. And besides; what have you done for me lately?

This one's made of gingerbread and was delicious.

This one's part of a trio of grim grinning ghosts; all of whom glow in the dark. In this picture you can also see more of the garland of multicoloured luminous ghosts as referenced above.

This one has space for a tea candle, and in our last house was attached to an in-built pulley system to achieve a unique “ghost mechanism”. He bobbed up and down when you pulled on a string.

Finally, here's my winning hand: A committee of ten foam ghosts for which I'm yet to find a use. With their sorrowful eyes and lack of mouths they're by and far the spookiest ghosts I own.

Before I die, I wish to open a museum of ghosts somewhere bleak and windswept. What you're seeing here is the genesis of my collection. It's too early to describe it as an “unhealthy collection”, but give it another year or so and you might be on to something.


The Dictator (2012)

"Why are you guys so anti-dictators? Imagine if America was a dictatorship. You could let 1% of the people have all the nation's wealth. You could help your rich friends get richer by cutting their taxes. And bailing them out when they gamble and lose. You could ignore the needs of the poor for health care and education. Your media would appear free, but would secretly be controlled by one person and his family. You could wiretap phones. You could torture foreign prisoners. You could have rigged elections. You could lie about why you go to war. You could fill your prisons with one particular racial group, and no one would complain. You could use the media to scare the people into supporting policies that are against their interests. "


Are You Desensitised?

I believe you know what I mean by desensitised.

When reading or watching genre fiction, you come across some really awful concepts with shocking regularity. Murder, torture, madness; torment at the hands of all manner of monster and an overdose of disgustingly horrific ways to die.

We take it in our stride, these days. But it wasn't always this way.

I must have been six when I first saw the box-art from Carrie. It was when they still sold VHS in HMV. Those wide-eyes staring from a blood-soaked face, I was horrified in the truest sense of the word and suffered many a disturbed night's sleep.

Waking, too, was transformed into a harrowing experience when, at a young age, I saw that horse's head scene from The Godfather. All of a sudden, the bright light of morning offered no reassurances. For a while I was terrified that I'd find a horse's head in my bed upon waking.

Now, though, I find I'm rarely scared by what I see or read in fiction.

Of course, I'm frequently disturbed. I found the remade from China Mieville's Perdido Street Station quite hard to take. And, more recently, the trans-time mutilation in Looper has been plaguing my mind with images I'd have rather not seen.

I suppose I'll only be truly desensitised when I cease to be disturbed by the things I come across in fiction. At the moment, though, it's quite rare that I should be scared by anything.

I don't believe I've ever found myself scared by a book. Nothing in the complete works of Poe, Lovecraft or M.R. James was enough to make me refrain from sleeping in the dark. Films can still be scary, but, again, it's a rarity. Not since [rec] have I been properly scared by a film. Of course, you could attribute this to the laziness of modern horror, but were that truly the case, then the classics would surely render me paralysed with fear?

It's not the case, though.

Can films or books still be scary? Of course they can. It's just that they will never scare people in the way they used to. And I know why.

It's video games. As an art-form they're still very much finding their feet, but their worthiness as a medium lies in the interactivity – that which happens doesn't just affect a character. It affects you.

If horror fans really want a visceral experience, it's likely that they'll find no finer chills than in the world of video games.

This notion was hammered home in a short sixteen minute burst of gruelling terror this very evening.

Slender is completely free and might just be the most frightening piece of fiction I've ever encountered in any medium.

Whilst playing it, I felt a rare feeling in my chest – exactly that which I've been missing in my explorations of films and literature these past few years – a delicious mixture of wariness, anticipation and lovely, lovely fear.

I won't say too much about it, because the fear of the unknown is what gives this game its devastating chops. But I will say that it's simplicity itself – just you, a torch, and a seemingly empty forest in the dead of night.

It's wonderfully atmospheric and creepy as hell. It mixes psychological scares with visceral fight-or-flight run-for-your-life punches to the gut. Everybody seems keen to describe that which is frightening as being potent enough to cause you to soil yourself. I'd say that Slender is so scary you might vomit.

It says a lot about the fearful potency of something when even the readme file's enough to fill you with a sense of wary foreboding

Slender can be downloaded for free from here. Do so now. Then turn the lights off and prepare to spend the next fifteen minutes in a state of sustained abject terror.

Then spend the rest of your night reading up on the slender man mythos. Then spend the rest of your life living in fear.

The Book Of English Magic

The Book of English Magic is perhaps worthy of the definitive article in its title. Written by Philip Carr-Gorman and Richard Heygate, this weighty 2009 tome takes it upon itself to cover pretty much everything that has anything to do with magic in England.

I don't quite know what I was expecting from this book.

I got it from The Works. You know The Works! They sell the sort of books that would, otherwise, be clogging up a warehouse.

What brought me to The Works? Providence. But what made me refuse to leave before having bought something?

Was it magic?

Maybe. Or maybe I was just really attracted to the cover.

What would have been nice would have been a detailed history of magical practice in England. Instead, here you have a vague and sweeping history of far too much with far too little focus or detail padded out with practical advice for those who want to learn more.

So, I suppose it's an excellent starting point for those who are interested in the world of magic but too frightened to speak to a witch.

The chapters on Dr. Dee and Aleister Crowley were engrossing enough but frustratingly lacking – at the very least I've identified two areas there in need of further investigation. I was also pleased to learn that the conclusion I've reached in regards to the Tarot is a generally accepted conclusion. And I arrived there myself, through personal experiment and exploration! For one glorious moment, I felt like a gnostic.

The problem for me, though, was twofold. First of all, the tone used was such that I found it hard to devote my attention to numerous chapters. Airy and wistful; I'd have preferred something more scholarly and impartial. Second of all was the amount of practical information and advice offered throughout. You can learn how to do everything: From dowsing to scrying.

Now, don't get me wrong. I've no problem at all with those who practice magic, and I like to think of myself as having an open mind on the existence of forces beyond our scientific comprehension. Hell, I even had a bit of fun exploring the numerogical implications of my name. For what it's worth, it was right on the money. I'm a Seven!

It's just that, were I to sit beneath the Hogwarts sorting hat, I believe that I would immediately find myself placed in Ravenclaw. I much prefer to read and learn about things over actually doing things. Those nasty Slytherin and self-righteous Gryffindor types can keep their Quidditch trophies and their invisibility cloaks. I'll be in the library, wrapped up in books, engrossed in the History of Magic.

So an instruction manual such as this was never going to be of much use to me. As a reading list, though, it seems like it might come in handy.

Was it worth paying so much for a reading list? Hey, we're talking The Works, here. It cost me £1.99.

And, besides. On the same trip to the same shop I picked up something so beautiful that I don't care a hang for having blown so little on something of such disappointing substance.

About which more later.


Death Line (1973)

Here's one I've been wanting to see for some time. Since – oh, I don't know – probably since I read a gushing article about it in a book left in the bathroom by my then-flatmate. I can't remember the name of the book, but it was a pretty insufferable collection of tragically iconoclastic essays concerning various aspects of British cinema. There's “celebrating the less familiar” and then there's “hey, let's stubbornly pour scorn upon anything that's beloved of more than ten people”. This book unfortunately went for the latter approach on far too many occasions, which might explain why I never deigned to remember the its title.

I'm an awful fickle rat sometimes.

But Death Line. Death Line.

They were right on the money when it comes to Death Line.

I know I moan a lot on this site about the state of modern horror. Death Line, though, takes pretty much every single one of the tired tropes about which I'm so fond of complaining and demonstrates how to treat them in such a way as to make a film that's oh so much more than a sum of its parts.

It's about a dying tribe of cannibalistic inbreds who live in the “rabbit warren” that is the London Tube. Trapped beneath the rubble after having been abandoned in the wake of a cave-in, it's implied that life is bleak, damp yet ultimately quite touching underground. Though they've all but lost language, they still communicate; and that they cling to such customs as defined clothing for men and women and even burial rites makes this film, on one level, a subtle exploration of what makes us human.

Only emerging to feast on the flesh of the living, it's likely that their existence would have continued unnoticed but for two reasons. First of all, their last remaining pregnant female just died. Second of all, they made the mistake of choosing, as their prey, one James Manfred – gentleman, pervert, OBE.

Being an OBE, not only does his death invokes the involvement of MI5 (a marvellously creepy cameo from Christopher Lee, above), but it also forces adorably lazy Inspector Calhoun to actually do his job for a change.

Played brilliantly by Donald Pleasence, Inspector Calhoun appears to be the reason as to why so many people rate this film so highly. In that you can tell that, at any given moment, he'd much rather be sat alone with a lovely cup of loose-leaf tea, he's wonderful and strangely cuddly despite his caustic chronic grumpiness.

There's a very long scene in which he and his second in command outstay their welcome in a grotty little pub – getting hammered and eating sausages whilst playing pinball and being really quite rude to the ever-tolerant barman. It contributes precisely nothing to the plot but goes in a long way to explain the appeal of this film: Death Line doesn't appear to take itself at all seriously, but with its fully-drawn characters and carefully considered cannibals, scratching beneath the surface reveals fathomless depth.

The only downside is the American – the eternally dour Alex Campbell, whose character doesn't seem to stretch too far beyond “student”. He's boring and almost threatens to ruin the fun for everyone else, but even he's saved thanks to his really, really lovely girlfriend and the gorgeous book shop in which it works. Wall-to-wall Penguin paperbacks and a big poster of Dickens? If I'm good, that's probably where I'll go when I die. The tea will flow like rivers, and there'll be a really comfy chair in the corner.

Region 2 DVDs of Death Line are surprisingly hard to come-by, but this is one I want to own forever and never give away. It's this close to entering my beloved pantheon of horror alongside The Wicker Man, Eraserhead and Evil Dead 2. I'm almost certain that I've found a new favourite here.


We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

We Need To Talk About Kevin tells the story of a high school massacre from the perspective of the killer's mother.

Does that sound like the sort of thing you'd like? Then read the book. Lionel Shriver's novel approaches its subject matter with a chilling restraint. Lynne Ramsay's film adaptation, though beautifully shot and brilliantly performed, ultimately comes across as little more than a nuanced remake of The Omen.

It's worth watching for two things. First, the haunting soundtrack which blends scratchy blues with a strange mix of ethnic instrumentation and industrial droning. Second, the incredible career-best performance of Tilda Swinton.

Swinton is fantastic throughout. She doesn't say much, but she exudes the sort of sadness that you can almost feel as a pressing weight on your chest and stomach – an all-encompassing grief that manifests itself as debilitating fatigue and nausea. Her Eva radiates an unbearable pity which makes the whole film emotionally draining.

But that's part of the problem. We aren't exactly supposed to pity Eva.

In the translation from the page to the screen, we are inevitably robbed of many things. Most obvious is Eva's narration. And, as a result, we also lose a delicious slice of ambiguity.

Eva has a son called Kevin. Kevin is an insufferable monster. But was he born this way?

The book insists that he was indeed born a monster. However, there's the subtle implication that Eva simply didn't lavish him with a sufficient amount of love, patience and attention to prevent his inherent mental health problems from developing into full-blown nihilistic sociopath psychosis.

The film, on the other hand, quite explicitly implies that, despite Eva's best efforts, Kevin was just a bad egg. He was always going to do what he ends up doing.

And that's really quite hard to take. It reduces what is supposed to be an intriguing and gruelling exploration of the nature/nurture debate into the realms of quasi-supernatural horror.

Also, halfway through the film, Kevin grows up and is suddenly played by Ezra Miller. This is the first time I've ever seen Miller in anything, so I'm in no position to assess his chops as an actor. His Kevin, though, just feels wrong. Of course, Kevin is supposed to be an amoral superior husk. But is he really supposed to be so irritating?

In any case, I'm sure he's not supposed to be so attractive.

So yes. Read the book. Apart from anything else, it fills in many, many plot holes concerning “the incident” and even manages something of a happy ending.

At least, it manages a poignant ending which, thinking about it, sort of makes me want to stop living. The film, though, ends in such a way that seems specifically designed to troll those who like closure.


DC Ghosts!

I think the entire run of DC's Ghosts comic has been uploaded to the amazing Cover Browser website.

I've not read any of these comics and, in all honesty, I'm not sure if I'd like to. The best of these covers present a chilling and complete story in one beautifully drawn tableau. How could the full stories do anything but disappoint?

Below are my favourites, presented without further comment. With just a brief glance you can see exactly what's happening and, in many cases, the implication is bloody terrifying.


Pictures Of Haunted Houses!

I might as well face it, I'm addicted to Tumblr!

Recently, I discovered the marvellous world of Hallowe'en Tumblrs. You can spend all night looking at aggregated images of ghosts, costumes, sweets, stills and haunted houses. Tonight, we're looking at haunted houses.

Each of these was found on Tumblr, so I've no idea at all where they came from, who drew them, or anything. Hey, I wish I did, alright?

This one's more a haunted village than a haunted house. Evil flows down the hill like green vomit. I bet it smells like damp. Interesting how it seems to stem from the church, isn't it?

This one's not necessarily haunted, but it certainly looks that way. I love the sickly autumnal sunlight, the washing hung feebly out to dry, but I think the artist missed a trick by not putting a decaying bovine carcass at the bottom of that well. Actually, there is something down there, but I can't quite make it out. Any ideas?

They say you haven't made it until you've made the cover of The New Yorker. On October 27 1943, the haunted house had its day. None of those kids were ever seen again.

Ah, here we go. This is the sort of picture you could look at all night. Look at the skeletal fiddler on the roof! The strange clown woman looking out the window. Dr Jeckyl has a laboratory in the west wing. He frequently complains about the noise coming from the hunchbacked organist and the flamboyant magician who live above. Meanwhile a witch shares a cup of tea with The Mad Hatter; a slime creature melts in the bell tower; a cat gets struck by lightning; and Frankenstein's monster does some gardening. Also, for some reason, a mummy. And what are those cheerful little chaps standing by the front gate? And look at that Morticia type woman, letting her pet dragon do its business.

Look to the bottom left! This is a jigsaw puzzle. A very easy puzzle judging by the size of the pieces, but that just makes it the exact opposite of a Lego model: More fun to look at than it is to build.

This one's lovely. I'd like nothing more than to have this blown up and framed with a canvas sort of finish to it. Again, there's nothing to suggest it's haunted per se, but why would somebody leave out so many pumpkins unless they were trying to ward off the inexorable forces of evil? Like all the best horror films, it's what you don't see here that makes all the difference. A fire's burning in the house. Are they having a cosy evening in, or are they getting rid of the evidence? And those pumpkins. What if they were originally facing the other way, but they're slowly turning, one by one, to greet an approaching visitor?

Hey, skeleton child. Stop looking at me.

And finally, this one. Quite underwhelming compared to the others, but still not without its charms. Look at that pumpkin sat grinning on the mound. In his mind, he's Jack the Pumpkin King, and everybody's here to see him.