I love you to death!

Laura Macfehin looks at the horror flicks that best fit your every Valentine’s Day mood.

OK, so I’m a little biased in that I truly believe every holiday is made better with a horror film, but I think that a very strong case can be made for horror being the perfect Valentine’s Day match. 

Sure on the surface a Rom-Com might seem more appropriate– but I think we all know that these are by and large a tissue of lies and un-meetable expectations that do nothing for real-life romance except set us up for at best disappointment and at worst the inability to differentiate between romance and disturbing stalker behaviour.

Horror, on the other hand delivers no matter what your Valentine’s needs may be.  For those in a new relationship there is nothing more bonding than sharing a scare or discussing how you would have avoided the slasher’s axe. 

For those jaded with romance or happily dating yourself in a world obsessed with hetero pair bonding, what could be more cathartic than seeing young love literally getting its heart ripped out. 

And for those soft souls in a committed relationship with their beloved only horror provides stories of romance that defy time and space to endure.

Scream if you want to go faster!

If you’re on the new relationship buzz one of the best things you can do is watch a good old fashioned slasher flick.  You’ll be jumping into each others arms in no time! There are obviously plenty to choose from but some that  that might work particularly well are–

Urban Legend (1998)

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Although it’s not specifically Valentine’s Day themed it is one of the best slasher films of the 90s.  Students at a New England university start popping off in ways that suspiciously mirror the eponymous legends. 

It’s got a bit of the meta po-mo self-reflexiveness made popular by the Scream movies but it is also just great slasher flick.  The formula was at its peak here and a good time via a nostalgic trip back to the simpler late 1990s is guaranteed.

If you want to see all those horror tropes in their original incarnations then you have to travel back to the early 80s.  My Bloody Valentine (1981) hasn’t been lauded like other films in the genre–  movies like Friday the 13th (1980) or Halloween (1978) but its a great little picture. 

Twenty years after a Valentines Day dance is turned into a massacre by a traumatised miner the town decides to party again… with deadly consequences! 

Sure it might not be that scary to our 21st century eyes but it is set in Valentines Bluff on Valentines Day so you can’t get more on theme than that.

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Also with an on-the-nose Valentine’s theme is Hospital Massacre (1981) aka X-Ray aka Be My Valentine, Or Else…  In the same ‘killer returns’ mode Hospital Massacre features a woman who in her youth spurns a would-be valentine.  Twenty years later and– you guessed it– he’s back and still wants to claim her heart!

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In a similar vein but as yet un-viewed by me are Lover’s Lane (1999) and Valentine (2001).  The latter stars David Boreanaz of Angel fame and Denise Richards, and both films look trashy as all get out which is a bonus for me– the trashier the slashier in my books.

Love is for losers

In more recent years we’ve had a bevy of horror features with a somewhat more cynical take on romance and dating, so if that’s your current feels there are some fabulous films supporting that mood!

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You’re Next (2011) is still one of my favourite horrors to come out in the past ten years.  Centred around the already fraught ‘meeting the parents’ scenario You’re Next makes the idea that love is a trap literal with stellar turns from aussie Sharni Vinson and horror icon Barbara Crampton.  If you’ve ever shouted at characters not to be so stupid you’ll find this flick a very satisfying watch!

There are more aussies highlighting the dark side of love in The Loved Ones (2009).  When troubled but spunky teen Brent turns down Lola Stone’s invitation to a dance (he already has a girlfriend after all) Lola enlists her dad’s help to make her prom dreams come true– with decidedly twisted results.  It may seem odd to call something so gut-roiling ‘refreshing’ but The Loved Ones really is, and not just because its a gender-flip on the usual spurned-dork-becomes-killer storyline.  They are thrills and gore a-plenty here.

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If you’ve had first hand experience with gaslighting, belittling and other bullshit behaviour then last year’s Midsommar (2019)  is for you.  An American college student tags along with her (obviously the worst) boyfriend and his friends on a trip to a secretive Swedish commune.  Yes there are a couple of shocks along the way but cartharsis is the name of the game here and sometimes you need a good slap in the face.  

See also May (2002), Teeth (2007), Jennifer’s Body (2009), and Get Out (2017) 

Gothic Romance

It’s not all romance gone bad in horror films though– in fact some of the most romantic storylines (in my slightly gothy brain anyway) are contained in horror scripts.  So if you’re a loved up softy then horror is still the greatest genre to with which to celebrate.

I may have been at a somewhat formative stage when Francis Ford Coppola brought out his version of Dracula (1992), but I still think Gary Oldman’s Count is the most romantic to have graced the silver screen.  You couldn’t be an angsty teen in the early 90s and not swoon when he says this to Winona Ryder.

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To be fair by the time Coppola made his gothic period piece my penchant for creepy re-vivified ancient lovers had already been established by Boris Karloff’s role in The Mummy (1932).  Everything in this film is beautiful, from Jack Pierce’s masterful monster makeup to the romantic love that would bring Imhotep back from the dead looking for his re-incarnated princess.

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Ok it may seem like I’m just sticking this last one in here because I like to put Poltergeist (1982) on every list I make, but I genuinely think of this as a very romantic film.  Unlike a lot of horrors in which a family is divided by a paranormal experience, the Freeling’s stick together.  Ultimately it is the strength of their love and in particular Steve’s confidence in his wife that allows her to rescue her daughter and protect their little family and, corny as it sounds, that seems really romantic to me.

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For other genuinely romantic films see also: The Conjuring (2013), and The Lost Boys (1987),

So what do think?  Is horror the perfect accompaniment to Valentine’s Day?  What will you be watching?

Books you’ll love if you love Lovecraft

Before one of the most unexpected posthumous career upturns saw the unknowable Cthulhu suddenly culturally ubiquitous, H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was simply a very odd bod whose work was almost impossible to find in print and who was mainly of interest to other writers of weird fiction.

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H. P. Lovecraft

The prolific writer of weird fiction from Rhode Island published only in pulp magazines and in his lifetime was considered by many (if he was considered at all) to be a Bad Writer of Trash.  Acolytes like August Derleth, who founded Arkham House specifically to publish hard to find weird fiction like Lovecraft’s, collaborated with the Rhode Island writer and worked to expand the Cthulhu mythos himself, did much to turn Lovecraft’s writing into a genre in itself.

The cosmic horror that these writers explored can be identified by its focus on immense, unknowable and ancient powers encountered by a lonely protagonist who is often sent mad or left awed by their contemplation of this vast and previously hidden reality.

 

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Time was that Lovecraft’s work only came up randomly in the odd anthology– short stories like Rats in the Walls, The Dunwich Horror and The Colour of Out of Space were included once in a while in a larger collection, and stories like Pickman’s Model were adapted for the screen for shows like The Night Gallery.

Nowadays you can find a copy of The Necromicon and just about all his other writing with two clicks of a mouse.  So if you have read all the Lovecraft, and then all the Derleth and still haven’t got your fill what next?  Well luckily there is plenty to sate your Lovecraftian thirst.  There are the contemporaries of Lovecraft and those who inspired him, and there are modern writers who continue to draw upon the universe he created for settings and stories (Lovecraft’s work is now in the public domain, so if you are looking for a writing project maybe Innsmouth is where you need to go).

Algernon Blackwood, London, 1951; photograph by Norman Parkinson

Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951)

One of my favourite authors was also considered by Lovecraft to be a ‘modern master’ of the horror genre.  Algernon Blackwood tales of the supernatural traverse everything from the standard haunted house narrative (The Empty House) to tales of cosmic terror and human psychology (The Willows).  To my mind he is one of the best writers in any genre, and you can see his influence on Lovecraft in the latter’s portrayal of human vulnerability in the face of terrifyingly indifferent universe, but he also has a sweetness and a love for humanity that Lovecraft perhaps does not.  If you have not read him try The Listener and Other Stories (1907).

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William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918)

Another author admired by Lovecraft was William Hope Hodgson, who was sadly killed in the First World War at age 40.  Before he died he produced some outstanding weird fiction, including stories featuring the occult detective Carnacki (The Whistling Room), many set at sea, and novels like The House on the Borderland (1908) and The Night Land (1912).  The copyright on most of Hodgson’s work has now expired, which is perhaps why there are now several new reprints to be found, so that it is now much easy to experience his dreamlike, sometimes almost psychedelic horror.

If you have exhausted the work of Lovecraft’s influences and contemporaries never fear– writers continue to be inspired by the Lovecraftian universe and Lovecraft himself.

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Cherie Priest is one of my favourite fantasy/dark fantasy/horror writers so squeals were heard when I discovered the Borden books.  Combining two of my favourite things– a Lovecraftian horror and the story of Lizzie Borden makes for a Victorian action-adventure with moments of true spine-tingling horror.  What if the Borden sisters dispatched their parents not in cold-blooded murder but to defend the world from an eldritch horror threatening all humanity?  You’d be plenty pleased Lizzie is so handy with an axe then!  The Borden Dispatches, Mapelcroft (2014) and Chapelwood (2015) provide plenty of thrills and spills but Priest’s writing also delivers on emotional and aesthetic levels which makes for a super satisfying package.

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Unlike these other writers, in the The Broken Hours (2014) Jaqueline Baker has Lovecraft the author as the subject rather than his fictional world.  After replying to an advertisement protagonist Arthur Crandle finds himself secretary to a writer who won’t come out of his room, in a house that poses more questions than it reveals answers.  Baker’s cold and beautiful book is a haunted house story and a haunted person story– speculating on the kind of demons a character like Lovecraft may have wrestled with.

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Winter Tide (2017) and Deep Roots (2018) are my most recent discoveries in terms of Lovecraftian horror.  Like Derleth, Ruthanna Emrys has taken on the Lovecraftian universe entire in her series of fantasy novels, but she has also inverted it so that the monsters are now the heroes.  Siblings Aphra and Caleb Marsh, former inhabitants of Innsmouth search for the lost libraries of their kind within the halls of Miskatonic University while under continued suspicion from the twentieth century humans who have persecuted them and yet also want the waterfolk’s knowledge.

Emrys writes beautiful, lyrical and questioning fantasy that reminds me of Ursula Le Guin in its examination of the intersection between individuals, culture and lore– more than an homage to Lovecraft it opens up his work in ways that are both loving to the original and at the same time make you aware of its weaknesses.

So cosmic horrorheads– what are your favourite Lovecraftian stories?  I am always excited to find another awful tome to open!

Freaky Family Fun: Halloween movies for the whole household

Laura Macfehin lays out some spooky viewing suitable for the whole household.

Halloween season is upon us (and yes, it is a season) and if you are considering a family movie night as part of your celebrations here are a couple of suggestions I think are suitable for a wide range of viewers…

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Frankenweenie (2012)

Tim Burton’s 2012 animated feature Frankenweenie is a heartwarming boy-and-his-dog story, an homage to classic Universal horror films, an impassioned plea for the importance of the sciences and a revel in the spooky aesthetics of Tim Burton’s mind.  It is clever enough for the whole family, a party for the eyes and has a happily ever after ending soft enough for the most sensitive of tots.  Suitable for all ages but absolutely lovely for tweens and parents to watch together, especially fans of Burton’s world.

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The Addams Family (1991)

This 90s film adaptation of Charles Addams’ famous cartoon family is a lovely dark romp.  The enduring appeal of the Addams Family is that despite their macabre appearance they have a warm, family centred heart– they are oblivious to other’s response to their gothic life– they feel themselves to be the norm and it is their generous and optimistic receiving of others who would disdain them that makes them so endearing.  The film is not without its flaws but it remains a much beloved family flick full of fiendish fun!

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Goosebumps (2015)

With its sequel in cinemas now it might be a good time to check out this film adaptation of the much-loved book series by R.L.Stine.  You don’t have to have had read the books to watch (although there is plenty of fun to be had for fans seeing the various creations and creatures come to life) but you do have to have a reasonable tolerance for Jack Black as he Jack Blacks all over the show in this one.  It is not particularly scary but might of more interest to tweens with its high school romance sub-plot than to younger viewers.

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Coraline (2009)

Coraline is based of the Neil Gaiman book by the same name and as you might expect from its origins has a slightly darker tone than the other films on this list.  A small girl finds a door to an alternate world with parents who seem more fun and attentive than the ones in her reality– but it turns out to be a trap laid by a rather spooky entity who has been pretending to be her ‘other mother’.  Everything turns out ok but sensitive viewers might find this a bit freaky!

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Beetlejuice (1988)

One of my favourite films and perfect for freaky family viewing Beetlejuice does have a few frights and some scary effects, although it is all delivered with humour and a jaunty Danny Elfman score.  It was written by one of my favourite horror authors; Michael McDowell and has all of his amazing imagination in evidence.  The Banana Boat song sequence has rightly become a classic movie moment and the feel good ending will get the whole family dancing.  Definitely one to enter into regular rotation if it’s not already!

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Ghostbusters (1984/2016)

Who you going to call for Halloween viewing?  Any iteration of the Ghostbusters of course!  In my house we love all the versions so it’s up to whether you go for the 1984 original or the charming lady version of 2016.  There are some jump-scares but in general  they’re good ghosty fun– perfect for kids around the 8-12 year old mark and their older siblings and parents.

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Hocus Pocus (1993)

Although it bombed somewhat when released Hocus Pocus has rightly obtained a cult following since then.  It really has everything– an impossibly charming trio of ghastly witches, cute kids, full Americana Halloween action and a talking cat.  There’s even a musical number.  Great viewing for the whole clan, with just enough of a sense of danger but safely contained in a Disney package.

Is your favourite family spooky movie on this list?  Tell me what creepy creatures your family loves!

What’s the Story Mourning Glory?

To say the Victorians were obsessed with death and dying is putting it mildly. However, worse than death was the idea of dying and not being mourned, writes Natasha Francois.

She was her Most Eccentric Majesty. The monarch with the stratospherically high morals who gave her name to an entire era was one of the stubbornest and most opinionated women in history.

Queen Victoria hated; in no particular order: babies, breast-feeding, smoking, modern technology, motor cars, bishops, Catholics, and the Irish, but she also had a wicked sense of humour, never wore “drawers” and was totally devoted to her husband Prince Albert.

Queen-Victoria

Her Most Eccentric Majesty: Queen Victoria dragged the rest of the 19th century world into mourning with her when her beloved Prince Albert died of typhoid.

Upon hearing the news that her beloved Albert had died of typhoid in 1861, the pious and popular queen collapsed in a heap on the floor, clutched her youngest child Beatrice, wrapped her in her husband’s night-clothes and lay there until sunrise. She then plunged into a state of mourning that lasted four decades and dragged the rest of the 19th century world into mourning with her.

Victoria was a trend setter and unwittingly sparked the craze for mourning jewellery. Although mourning jewellery had been around for millenia, the Victorians took it to new heights. She even decreed that only mourning jewellery could be worn in court until 1880.

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Weep woman weep: Following the death of Prince Albert , Queen Victoria donned ‘widows weeds’ for the rest of her life.

The Queen wore black

Queen Victoria and her subjects were the first to wear black while mourning. The queen wore black ‘widows weeds’ for the rest of her life. She even slept with a cast of Prince Albert’s hand beside her pillow so she could hold him while she slept.

Under her orders, her husband’s clothes continued to be laid out each day, his breakfast prepared and hot water delivered to his room every mourning so he could shave– despite being dead and buried!

Following Albert’s death, the longest reigning monarch in British history exited public life until her death in 1901.

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Dearly departed: Queen Victoria was an ‘influencer’ in her day and sparked the trend for mourning jewellery.

Die, die my darling

To say the Victorians were obsessed with death and dying is putting it mildly. However, with the average lifespan a mere 50 years, with women commonly dying during childbirth, and diseases such as cholera and typhoid running rife- not to mention the widespread unsanitary conditions in which they lived, death was no stranger. This preoccupation with death filtered into everyday life, and the Victorians embraced it as much as they were repelled with it.

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Death becomes her: Death was a fact of life for the average Victorian.

Death is not the end…

From the 1850s, it became popular to snap post-mortem portraits of the deceased, which were given to relatives as pictorial keepsakes.

Death was not the worst thing for the Victorians; worse was the idea of dying and not being mourned. It therefore became of paramount importance that the living show their respect for the dearly departed in their outward appearance, no matter their social class or walk or life.

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Angel of the mourning: Mortality rates were also high during the Victorian age. This led to the practice of post-mortem photography.

Mourning fashion was widely adopted, particularly by widows and other women. Some wealthy women even dressed their servants for mourning and elderly widows often remained in mourning for the rest of their lives.

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The art of mourning

There was a strict protocol when it came to mourning in 19th Century England, a widow was expected to be in mourning for two years. There were also various stages that had to be observed.

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Full mourning lasted for a year and a day. Dull black clothing was worn without ornament: the Victorians considered it crass to wear extravagant jewellery in the first stage of mourning. Widows wore a weeping veil made of black crepe.

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Second mourning lasted nine months. Minor ornamentation was permitted by way of fabric trim and sombre mourning jewellery. The veil was now raised and could be worn back over the head.

Half mourning lasted between three and six months. More elaborate fabrics were allowed to trim the garments and colour was gradually phased back in. It now became appropriate to wear regular jewellery.

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Revering the dead

Mourning jewellery was worn by both men and women and often featured life and death symbols such as skulls, crosses or hearts. Mourning watch fobs, lockets, necklaces, rings, clasps, buttons, bracelets and brooches were all worn in reverence for the dead.

Mourning jewellery was suitably dark coloured, understated, elegant and made from materials including jet, Vulcanite and celluloid.

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Queen Victoria’s material of choice was jet, a fossilized coal. Jet, which resembles black glass, has been washing up on shores since prehistoric times. It was the only material allowed during the first phase of mourning. However, jet was very expensive, so it was also flaunted as a display of wealth and status.

When natural jet supplies began to dwindle in 1870s, dark mouldable alternatives such as shellac, dyed horn and celluloid were employed as replacements. Celluloid was the first man-made plastic and was nicknamed “the great imitator”, due to its ability to mimic natural materials which were becoming scarcer and more expensive.

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Vulcanite is a type of hardened blackened rubber that, like jet is lightweight and warm to the touch. Although it can be polished to a high sheen, it never has the same shine as genuine jet. Gutta percha is a natural latex found in East Asia evergreen trees, and was the first material to be used for costume jewellery.

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Forget me not: Victorian vulcanite tri-cameo mourning pendant.

Hair we go

Human hair was also used. Today it might sound morbid to make jewellery with hair from the deceased. But death in Victorian times was viewed in an entirely different context. There was far less division between the living and the dead, and hair ornaments served not only as a reminder of the person, but were considered a way for the living and the dead to communicate.

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Hair was woven and knotted in order to make brooches, bracelets and watch chains. These human-hair ornaments were suitable for half mourning. Preparation was important: before jewellery could be made, the hair had to be boiled in soda water for 15 minutes before being sorted into lengths and divided into sections of 20-30 hairs. Most hairwork was based around a mould or strong material.

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Sometimes the hair wasn’t made into an ornament itself but was hidden within into an item, such as a locket. By the late-Victorian era, popular women’s magazines included new hair art patterns.

Collecting mourning jewellery

Because Victorian mourning jewellery was made to last, it can still be found today. The internet is an excellent place to start: eBay is awash with examples that include brooches, bracelets, necklaces and lockets.

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Jet necklace

The most common pieces include jet, vulcanite and horn brooches. Necklaces, rings and bracelets are far rarer and therefore command higher prices.

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The most prized items are crafted from enameled precious metals and include intricate hair art examples.

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Personalised pieces are the most valuable, so look for items featuring photographs or a date.

Such was the nature of mourning jewellery that pieces engraved with a date- in particular the date of a person’ death are common. This makes it very easy to date an item.

Find out more about mourning jewellery:

Love after Death: The Beautiful, Macabre World of Mourning Jewelry

House of Mourning – Victorian Mourning & Funeral Customs in the 1890s

Victorian Mourning & Funerary Practices

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The Curse of Valentino’s Ring

Rudolph Valentino had the world at his feet when the star of the silver screen met an untimely death.  But did a mysterious ring and it’s supposed curse send him sooner to his grave? 

Laura Macfehin looks at the legend of the so-called ‘ring of destiny’ and the troubled lives of the people caught in its curse!

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The Star

By the time Rudolph Valentino came to Hollywood he had already left two lives behind.  In 1913 he arrived at Ellis Island as a teenager alone, leaving behind a doting mother in Italy, a certificate in agricultural studies he had no interest in using and the memory of a disapproving father.

In New York he waited tables and eventually became a taxi dancer (also called tango pirates) at Maxim’s.  His good looks made him a favourite amongst the older ladies that were his clientele, and he started a relationship with the Chilean heiress Blanca de Saulles. 

This tumultuous friendship saw Valentino testify in court at their divorce proceedings as to Mr de Saulles infidelity, after which de Saulles had Valentino arrested on trumped up vice charges.  When Blanca then shot her ex husband after he refused her court appointed custody rights, Valentino, fearing he would be called to testify again, left the East coast in a hurry.

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Mrs Blanca De Saulles

In sunny Hollywood Valentino began his third life– quickly gaining work in the burgeoning movie business.  He secured his first leading role in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in 1921, which was a huge success.  It was The Sheik, however, filmed that same year that cemented his sex symbol status as a ‘Latin Lover’.

Men and women alike found his presence on-screen mesmerising, and the studios capitalised on this with films like Blood and Sand  and The Cobra.  He was at the height of his popularity when, on a break from shooting in San Francisco he spotted a ring in the window of an antique store.

It was a large signet ring with a tiger’s eye set in gold.  The shop owner was reluctant to sell it Valentino, telling him it was jinxed, and describing it somewhat ostentatiously as ‘the ring of destiny’.  Valentino bought it on the spot.

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The Curse

He used it as part of his costume in his next film, The Young Rajah, which was a flop at the box office, and thinking of what the shop keeper had told him he put the ring away.  He got it out again though some years later to wear in The Son of the Sheik.

Shortly after filming had finished on the film Valentino collapsed in New York, where he was operated on for perforated gastric ulcers.  The doctors gave him a good prognosis but shockingly just a week later he died of peritonitis.  He was 31.

 

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Pola Negri supported by friends at the funeral of Rudolph Valentino.

The Vamp

His death caused a wave of hysterical grief across the United States, and at the centre of this maelstrom was his then girlfriend, actress Pola Negri.

Although Valentino had been seeing at least one other woman at the time, Negri insisted that she was the fiancee, and rode in be-veiled state in the funeral wagon that took Valentino’s body by rail back to California, stopping at every small town along the way so that mourning fans could pay their respects.

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Fans line the streets to witness Valentino’s funeral cortege.

As well as taking centre stage, Negri also took the jinxed ring as something of Valentino’s estate to remember him by.

After nine months she had recovered herself enough to marry a Georgian “prince” Serge Mdivani.  She suffered a miscarriage, something she mourned the rest of her life, and the marriage quickly faltered too.

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The Crooner

In 1932, Negri was performing with a young crooner named Russ Colombo.  Negri was struck by his resemblance to her former lover, and gave Colombo the tiger eye ring as a token of her affection.

She was not the only one to make the comparison– the baritone was known as ‘Radio’s Valentino’ not just because of his physical likeness to the silent movie star but also because the romantic image his crooning love songs gave him.

He and Negri parted ways, but the ring went with Colombo as his star rose.

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In 1934 he was at the height of his popularity with hits such as “You Call it Madness (But I Call It Love)” and “Too Beautiful For Words”.  The latter he had written for the beautiful blonde star he was in love with– Carole Lombard.

She returned his love, and on September 2nd 1934 had a dinner date with him planned.  In the day time he visited his good friend, photographer Lansing Brown.  He was wearing the ring.

Lansing Brown had a collection of antique firearms, and he was fooling with a duelling pistol while the friends sat in the library.  Unexpectedly the gun went off in his hands and a fragment of shot ricocheted off a table and hit Colombo above the left eye.  He died in hospital at age 26.

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Lombard and Colombo

Colombo’s siblings, fearing what the shock would do to their mother, who was at the time hospitalised with heart failure, maintained the fiction of Colombo being alive for the next ten years, Lombard herself helping by sending letters to the older lady she penned herself under Colombo’s name.

Little did anyone know Lombard herself would die a tragic death just eight years later when a plane crash would leave Clark Gable her grieving widower in 1942.

The Brothers

In the mean time, the ring went to Colombo’s good friend, fellow entertainer Joe casino.  Wary of the ring’s reputation as a bringer of bad luck, Casino kept the ring locked up in a glass case in his house.  After a while though he let friends convince him the curse was just superstition, and he took the ring out of its case and began to wear it.  A week later, the car Casino was driving was hit by a truck and he was killed instantly.

Del Casino, Joe’s brother, then inherited the ring.  He scoffed at the curse being nothing but coincidence and bad luck, and made a show of wearing it with no ill effect.  He lent it to a Valentino impersonator, who also suffered no bad consequences, leading one newspaper columnist to print that there was no curse on the ring.

Shortly after this a burglar named Joe Willis was accidentally shot by police fleeing Del Casino’s home– the ring was found in his pocket.

The Skater

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In 1938, producer Edward Small was working on a biopic of Rudolph Valentino.  For the main part he had in mind a young english man named Jack Dunn.  Dunn had been a world medallist in ice skating, until he quit his skating career in the hope of following his former girlfriend Sonja Henie onto a career on screen.

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In 1938 Dunn had already starred in one film, Everybody’s Girl, and had been cast in the lead of another, The Duke of Westpoint, when he was asked to screen test for the role of Rudolph Valentino.

The producer borrowed actual items from Valentino’s wardrobe to dress Dunn up in, and he borrowed the ring from Casino to complete the look.  Dressed as The Sheik, Dunn made a very convincing Valentino, and everyone agreed the test went very well.

Work done Dunn went with some friends on a hunting trip in Texas.  He was a novice hunter, and it is not thought he even did any shooting, and yet a week later he had died from the rare blood disease tularemia, possibly from handling a dead rabbit.  He was 21.

 

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After this, Del Casino decided to err on the side of caution, and had the ring locked up in a bank vault in downtown Los Angeles, where it remains to this day.  So far, no-one else has experienced any weird effects from the tiger eye ‘ring of destiny’.

The bank has perhaps suffered more than its fair share of robberies, strikes and other disruptions though.  After a heist that went spectacularly wrong the leader of the gang responsible supposedly said they never would have hit that particular bank if they had known what was in its vaults.

The curse sleeps?

Does the curse persist?  Did it ever exist?  The portrait above by Federico Beltrán Masses, which features Valentino with a guitar and Negri wearing the ring, was sold last September in London for NZ$285,444.  Masses, who knew the couple and painted many Hollywood stars likely incorporated the ring in his composition because he knew it added to the allure of their story– which is after all the flip side to any cursed object.

Scary Sisters: New horror directed by women

Laura looks at the current batch of lady horror filmmakers and the terrifying films they are bringing fans!

Genre films have always had a little more wriggle room for creators otherwise excluded from the mainstream… which is maybe one of the reasons women have a slightly higher representation as directors here than they have in big studio projects. 

In recent years directors like Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night ) have put women horror directors in the news in a way they have never been before.  So who are the new horror ladies on the scene I am most excited about?

Roxanne Benjamin

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Roxanne Benjamin is definitely a director on my ‘ones to keep an eye on’ list.  After producing and co-producing films like the V.H.S. series and Devil’s Candy, she made her directorial debut by contributing to the intriguing sort-of anthology movie Southbound (2015). 

She was then one of the five women who contributed to the horror anthology XX (2017) .  Her segment ‘Don’t Fall‘ involved curses and camping grounds and definitely delivered the scares.  XX is very solid anthology that delivers some spooky storytelling in delightfully different settings. 

Benjamin’s latest film, Body at Brighton Rock is currently in production and is set to provide more out-of-the-way scares as it features a park ranger guarding what could be a crime scene on a remote mountain trail.  I can’t wait!

XX can be found on Netflix,  The V.H.S. series of films and The Devil’s Candy are available on iTunes.

Julia Ducournau

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Julia Ducournau made her feature directorial debut with Raw (2016), which won her the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes Film Festival and garnered her plenty of attention as a perspective on the horror scene. 

The film follows the sheltered and decidedly vegetarian Justine as she enters into the chaotic and sensorialy overloaded environment of veterinarian school orientation, something which involves some decidedly carnivorous hazing rites, and something with which her older sister seems surprisingly au fait.

Raw is available on iTunes.

Leigh Janiak

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Leigh Janiak’s first feature film Honeymoon (2014) is a salutary lesson in what can be achieved with a good idea and a good eye even if the budget is not on the large side.  It asks the creepy questions “what if you don’t know the person you’re in love with?” and “what if that person is a monster?”.

The film proved her directing mettle so satisfactorily that she is now super busy developing projects for Sony and 20th Century Fox including a sequel to the 1996 witchy classic The Craft (oh my god I know– I am so excited too!!) and three, count them three adaptations of the R. L. Stine Fear Street books.  Did I mention how excited I am about The Craft sequel?

Honeymoon is available on Netflix.

Karyn Kusama

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Karyn Kusama is responsible for one of my favourite creepy films of recent years–  The Invitation (2015).  If the social dynamics of new partners, old friends, at a dinner hosted by your ex in your old home isn’t frightening enough throw in some California-style religious recruitment and a slow ratcheting of the creep factor and you will soon be deliciously unnerved by this beautiful and disturbing film. 

Her segment in XXHer Only Living Son‘ (2017) is similarly spooky tale of motherhood.  Also check out the (in my opinion underrated) Jennifer’s Body from 2009 which features Megan Fox as a demon possessed succubus working her way through the males of her high school.  

Jennifer’s Body and The Invitation are both available on Netflix.

Agnieszka Smoczynska

Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska is on this list even though I have not seen any of her films because the clips I have seen have been disgustingly enticing and because the woman made a goddamn musical-comedy-horror-mermaid film.  The Lure (2015), as far as I can tell, is about some mermaid sisters who become sort of cabaret/club singers, but jeopardise their careers by continuing to do what mermaids do– which is kill men. 

 She also has a segment in the upcoming The Field Guide to Evil (2018) which recently screened at SXSW and looks super-fantastic.

If anybody knows how I can watch this film and would like to tell me I would very much appreciate it!

Jovanka Vuckovic

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Jovanka Vuckovic made three short films before providing the anthology film XX (2017) with her segment ‘The Box‘.  Based on the Jack Ketchum story of the same name it is for me the stand out piece of the anthology– a terrifying story where nothing is seen or even suggested but which will haunt you long after.   

She has a feature film of her own– Riot Girls— in post-production which is a post-apocalyptic thriller set in an alternate 1995, and which I am seriously hyped for.

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Veronika Franz

In Goodnight Mommy (2014) twin boys move to a new house with their mother, whose face is covered after undergoing surgery.  The only thing is– the boys aren’t sure they recognise the woman  under the bandages. 

Goodnight Mommy is that rare film– both thoughtful and visceral (yes– some viewers did faint in screenings).  Veronika Franz is one half of a creative partnership with Severin Fiala and their blending of high and low brow filmmaking norms make for an intensely satisfying horror experience.  They also have a ‘chapter’ in A Field Guide to Evil (2018), and another feature film, The Lodge,  in post-production.

See a clip from A Field Guide To Evil here

Goodnight Mommy is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Tell me, what lady-led horror are you most excited about?  What have you seen? What are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

The Case of the Hauraki Sea Serpent

You have likely heard of cryptids such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster or the Jersey Devil.  But what if I told you there were similar strange beasts lurking in your own back yard?  Deep in the bush of the Coromandel Peninsula, beneath the apparently placid waters of the Hauraki Gulf, stalking the desolate hills of the Southland High Country?  In this first post on the crazy cryptids of New Zealand I look at the startling Case of the Hauraki Sea Serpent. 

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea, 
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height; 
And far away into the sickly light, 
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

The Kraken (1830) Alfred Tennyson

In the 1870s the Coromandel peninsula was abuzz with activity.  Gold had been discovered in 1867 and Kauri timber and gum were still in high demand. Despite this the area was still relatively inaccessible by land. The Hauraki plains were still difficult to travel being largely swamp, and there was no road-link between Auckland and Thames until 1930, after the building over the Kopu bridge in 1928 made such a thing possible. Until as late as the 1940s coastal shipping was really the main source of transport and commerce between big town Auckland and the smaller settlements along the peninsula.

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19091125-10-5

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19091125-10-5

Steamer ships took passengers and goods between Auckland and Thames daily. The trip took a route through the Hauraki Gulf, past Motukorea (Browns Island) and on to the Coromandel.

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 855-2'

Thames Wharf  1900s Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 855-2

The Leviathan

This routine journey was what was expected when the steamer Durham set out on a calm day in  February of 1878.  The Captain was in his cabin, but many passengers were on deck when there was a rather extraordinary break in the routine. As Mr A. Forde Matthews reported it to the Auckland Star

“At about three-quarters of a mile distant from the steamer we were greatly surprised at the appearance of a leviathan head, shaped like that of an eel, or, as some remarked, like a seal.  The monster reared its mighty form out of the sea to about 30ft. perpendicular height, remaining erect several seconds and then dashed its head forward into the water, creating a disturbance therein like the plunge of a ship downwards, and parting the sea in large foaming waves.  Then after a short time, and before we could recover from our astonishment, the stupendous animal rose again, and brought its head down in the same manner described and this for twelve or fifteen times in succession, as if the creature had been attacked, and was in great pain– at least that was the general opinion expressed.”

Mr A. Forde Matthews appears to have been a man of reasonable probity (he went on to hold various local council positions and the like), and there was quite a crowd of passengers who witnessed this with him.  But perhaps these folks were simply unaccustomed to marine life and what they saw was an amateur interpretation of the everyday?  Luckily for us the crew were also paying attention.

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, NZG-18910829-318-1

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, NZG-18910829-318-1

Captain Somerville speaks

A reporter from the Star sought out the captain of the Durham, and he gave a statement to which he was prepared to testify to under oath.  Unlike the passengers Captain Somerville was a man with substantial experience with coastal shipping.  He had this to say

“I was engaged at dinner in my cabin, when the mate called out to me to come and look at what he thought was a whale.  The vessel was then passing Brown’s Island.  On going on deck I saw a large monster which I thought was a common spouting black-fish, but on looking closely I found this was not the case.  It had a head like an immense eel, with a pair of flanges which looked very much like ears; the neck and part of the body were out of the water, and reached about 30ft. in the air.  The color [sic] of the whole body was jet black, and the body appeared to be 10ft. in diameter.  I believe the monster had lost itself, and got in water too shallow to allow it to swim.”

Captain Somerville saw the creature dashing the water with its head and neck and had time to run back to the cabin for his telescope.

“On examining the monster more closely (I) was convinced that it was neither a black-fish nor a threshing whale, as I am too well acquainted with these fish not to know the difference… If it had struck the stern of the vessel when beating water with the upper portion of its body, the blow would certainly have shattered it to pieces.”

The Auckland Star concluded that there were too many witnesses who concurred to be in any doubt of the facts of the case.  They did not, however hazard a guess as to what or who the creature may have been.  So what was it?

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Aerial view showing Motukorea (Brown’s Island) where the beast was seen

Taniwha?

Aotearoa has a strong mythology involving beings who dwell in water– the Taniwha.  Could this have been what the people aboard the Durham that day encountered?  Although taniwha are sometimes described as monsters, most of their direct interactions with people seem to be in the form of something more familiar like an octopus or a dolphin.  The most well-known taniwha of the Hauraki region is Ureia, who is sometimes said to live in Tikapa (Firth of Thames), and has been seen in the form of a whale passing by Pt Erin on numerous occasions.  Could Motukorea have a taniwha of its own?  It seems to me that the kind of behaviour the mystery creature displayed could only be explained in taniwha terms if it was either a warning to the people of some danger or showing some displeasure– perhaps at a lack of respect shown by the frequent steamers going by.  The island was at that time under the ownership still of Sir Logan Campbell— could the taniwha have been expressing a dislike for the ‘father of Auckland’?  Seeing as there weren’t any near or present dangers to the boat and nothing changed subsequently with regard to shipping lanes or island ownership and the ‘monster’ didn’t appear again, it seems unlikely to be have been a taniwha action in this case.  But if not taniwha then who or what?

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This carving of Ureia is in the Hotunui meeting house- formerly in Thames but now on display in the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Taniwha-out!

Some people believe Nessie to in be a living relic of a lost age—they argue that the lake monster is in fact a supposedly extinct plesiosaur. There are many logical counter-arguments to this idea in Nessie’s case, but could New Zealand waters possibly hold a similar pre-historic creature? Enter the Taniwhasaurus—a mosasaur from the Late Cretaceous period whose fossil was first found in the South Island in 1874. Mosasaurs were a type of marine reptiles who frolicked in our oceans until around 66 million years ago when they joined in with mass-extinction event that wiped out about three-quarters of the earth’s plant and animal species. Could a couple have hung around? They kind of look right and match up size wise—I’ll let you decide what the likelihood of our sea serpent being a dinosaur is.

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Taniwhasaurus–  a mosasaur of the Late Cretaceous period

Consider the Squid

By far my favourite contender for the  Hauraki Sea Serpent’s crown is not a serpent at all– it is a Giant Squid.  The Giant Squid (not to be confused with the Colossal Squid) can grow to 13 m (43 ft) for females and 10 m (33 ft) for males from the posterior fins to the tip of the two long tentacles.  Those two long tentacles have ‘clubs’ on the ends of them, which in shape could resemble an eel or seal like head.  Imagine, if you will, giant squid, partially submerged, flailing its long tentacle around and dashing it against the surface of the water.  It has (as Captain Somerville surmised) gotten in too shallow water and is finding the oxygen and light levels uncomfortable– hence its thrashing around.  The long tentacle with its club might be mistaken for a neck and head, while its partially submerged mantle could look like the body of a larger creature.

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It would not be the first time squid have been associated with sea monsters– The Kraken mentioned up top in the poem by Tennyson was based on a mythological cephlapod, as was the famous Cthulu of Lovecraft’s mythos.  Squid have also been used as an explanation/debunking of a sea monster before.  “But wait, Laura,” I hear you cry “what on earth would a deep-sea creature like a giant squid be doing in the relative shallows around Motukorea?”  I am so glad you asked!  The answer to that may come somewhat ironically in the dismissal of the story by another steamer captain.  On March the 8th it was reported that the captain of the Tamaki dismissed the claims of Captain Somerville and his passengers, saying that the creature was a sperm whale, that he passed close enough by to be sure of it.  Personally I don’t believe Captain Somerville would have misidentified a sperm whale– but if there was one in the vicinity it actually gives credence to the possibility of a giant squid.  Sperm Whales are the number one predator of giant squid– I think it is perfectly reasonable that one may have chased the other from the depths to the surface of the Hauraki waters, and that what those lucky folk upon the Durham saw that day was part of the long fabled battle between Squid and Whale.

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Whale with a squid in its mouth

But what do you think?  Was it a squid or a sperm whale?  A taniwha or a taniwhasaurus?  Or was it something else?  Let me know your theories!  Let me see your sea monster art!  Have any of you had encounters with something strange beneath the sparkling waters of the Hauraki Gulf?  And stay tuned for more tales of crazy cryptids in your own back yard!

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19101215-10-6

 Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19101215-10-6

Tears for fears: The Curse of the Crying Boy

Natasha Francois reveals how a mass-produced portrait of a tearful tot blazed a trail across the British Isles – and the tabloids fanned the flames. 

On September 4, 1985, Britain’s leading tabloid The Sun, published the tale of a distraught South Yorkshire family whose home of 27 years had been gutted by a mysterious fire. Bizarrely, the victims were blaming the incident on a ‘cursed’ portrait of a crying boy by G. Bragolin.

The cheap mass-market print which had been hanging on the Hall family’s Rotherham living room wall had survived the blaze unscathed.

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The fire had broken out in the kitchen after the couple’s 25-year-old son was trying to cook chips and the home had suffered extensive smoke and heat damage.

Ron Hall, a 59-year-old redundant miner, told the reporter he regretted ignoring the advice of his firefighter brother who had warned them to get rid of the picture and told them it had been hanging on the wall of every house fire he’d ever been called to.

However, after the devastating blaze, Ron told Sun reporter John Murphy he intended to dispose of Crying Boy print himself. “I want to burn it to make sure it doesn’t come back.”

“If I find out who painted it, I’ll sue him,” he said.

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Ordinarily a chip pan fire wouldn’t receive more than a few column inches but the revelations the painting was not only known to local firefighters but had also turned up, undamaged, in the ruins of numerous other burnt houses, gave this story the undeniable X factor.

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The ‘curse’ gathers momentum

Thanks to the Sun’s massive reader base, and the ubiquity of the picture in British homes, a fear of the curse quickly spread and the paper eagerly fanned the flames.

The next day, the paper followed up by reporting that scores of spooked readers had flooded the newspaper’s office with calls claiming to be victims of the ‘Curse of the Crying Boy’ and felt jinxed by having the painting in their homes.

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The Sun also estimated that 50,000 copies of the print had been sold in groceries and department stores throughout the UK. The picture had been particularly popular in the working class areas of northern England.

Although The Sun claimed G. Bragolin to be an ‘Italian artist’ in fact, Giovanni Bragolin (1911-1981) was a pseudonym used by Spanish painter Bruno Amadio, who was also known as Franchot Serville. The artist died in 1981, and no one has been able to trace him to verify his story.

Amadio was an academically trained painter who worked in Venice after the Second World War painting Crying Boys and selling them to tourists. The paintings date from the 1950s onwards and some say the artist produced up to 65 variations of Crying Boys (and Crying Girls) during his lifetime.

From there, similar stories poured in thick and fast. Dora Mann from Mitcham, Surrey claimed her home had been gutted just six months after she purchased a copy of the painting. Meanwhile, Sandra Kaske of Kilburn, North London told The Sun that she, her sister in law and friend had all suffered from disastrous fires since acquiring their own copies of the tearful tot.

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On October 24, the paper featured an interview with Kevin Godber, from East Herringthorpe, near Rotherham who had arrived home with his wife Julie to find it burnt down but the ‘jinxed’ picture remained undamaged. His family were left with just the clothing on their backs.

A South Yorkshire fire spokesman warned that “these incidents are becoming more and more frequent. It is strange and we have no logical explanation for it.”

A case of mistaken identity

The interesting thing was that the photograph which accompanied this particular article was not by G.Bragolin– it was a different picture altogether. The Godber’s version depicted a a crying toddler by Scottish artist Anna Zinkeisen.

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Teardrops are falling: ‘Childhood’ by Anna Zinkeisen

Zinkeisen’s paintings were very popular in the north of England, particularly among working class families of the 1960s and 70s. They were available through department stores and graced the living room walls, just above the mantelpiece in thousands of households.

Paintings of sad-eyed children were hugely popular in the 1950s and 60s and came in many different variations. There were crying boys, crying girls, crying velvet paintings  and this later morphed into the sad eye/ big eye children trend, spearheaded by the likes of Margaret Keane, Dallas Simpson and Maio.

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Crying all the time: A sad-eyed harlequin print by Maio.

Despite being written off as kitsch by art critics, the crying boy (and crying girl) prints remained extremely popular genre, particularly for female collectors.

The Fire Service enters the fray

Due to widespread public anxiety, the South Yorkshire Fire Service was forced to release a statement to debunk any connection between the mysterious fires and the prints themselves. They emphasized that one of the most recent fires had been caused by a heater left too close to a bed.

Chief Divisional Officer Mick Riley said a huge number of the prints had been sold and “any connection with the fires is purely coincidental…. fires are not started by pictures or coincidence, but by careless acts and omissions.”

Nevertheless The Sun continued to fuel the fire. Several readers also wrote in, explaining that after they’d read about the curse, they had attempted to destroy their copies of the paintings. However, the pictures refused to burn!

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Burn baby burn!

The article ended with a call to action asking its readers to send in their copies of the picture.

“Enough is enough folks. If you are worried about a crying boy picture hanging in YOUR home, send it to us immediately. We will destroy the painting for you– and that should see the back of any curse there may be.”

This resulted in the “biggest flame-up in the history of art” on October 31, 1985 when thousands of copies of the picture went up in smoke. Although they weren’t easy to burn, they did eventually succumb to the flames.

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Page 3 girl Sandra Jane Moore, who believed she had met the curse head on, was pictured feeding the fires.

She told the paper she had been decorating a friend’s home when and gave facelift to a picture of the little boy- “I painted him with red spiky hair for a giggle”, she said.

However, within days she heard that her friend’s home had been flooded out… and of course, the picture was undamaged.

One reader went on to say that since she purchased the picture in 1977, she ending up losing her only daughter, mother and husband in quick succession.

il_fullxfull.410692423_4hdeThe battle for readers heats up

The ‘Crying Boy’ exclusive occurred at a time when legendary editor Kelvin Mackenzie was involved in a war for readers with its Fleet Street counterpart, the Daily Mirror and was on the lookout for what was known in industry speak as ‘a great splash’.

His masterstroke was to spot the potential of a story buried in boring news agency copy and turn it into a scoop that none of his competitors could have conceived of.

After the bonfires, the curse itself began to smoulder, only to be reignited in the age of the world wide web.

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The legend gains a new life

The arrival of the internet helped give the curse a new lease of life, independent of the tabloid media which had spawned it. Soon it morphed into a fully-fledged urban legend.

According to internet message boards, mysterious Crying Boy fires again began to be reported from other parts of the world during the 1990s.

This rebirth helped provide it with the missing ingredient – a convincing reason for why the prints would catch fire in the first place. Thanks to the web, the idea surfaced that the spirit of the boy was trapped in the painting and ignited fires in a bid to free itself.

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Firestarter: The ‘curse’ resurfaced in the 1990s.

Others claimed the paintings depicted dead children and that’s why they attracted paranormal activity.

The notion that the crying boy had somehow been badly treated by the artist also gained traction.

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The tale of Don Bonillo

In 1995, as part of a series called Haunted Liverpool, a writer called Tom Sieman resurrected the tale in book form.

As part of his research, Sieman recounted the experience of “well respected researcher into occult matters, the retired schoolmaster George Mallory.”

Mallory was said to have tracked down the artist who painted the original – an old Spanish portrait artist Franchot Serville who lived in Madrid. According to Mallory Serville revealed the subject of his paintings to be a mute street urchin he discovered on the streets of Madrid in 1969.

A Catholic priest identified the sorrowful looking boy as Don Bonillo, and said he had run away from home after witnessing his parents die in a fire.

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The priest was said to have advised Serville to have nothing to do with the runaway due to a spate of mysterious fires following him around. The boy had been dubbed ‘Diablo’ on account of this.

Ignoring the priest’s advice, the artist adopted the boy anyway. However, one day his studio was burnt to the ground, the artist was ruined and the little boy fled in tears.

The above story is entirely unsubstantiated and likely fictional. The mysterious George Mallory is as untraceable as Franchot Serville. However this has done nothing to erode its popularity stoked by supernatural discussion boards on the web.

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Rumours persist that the reason for the reason the prints were able to survive infernos which generated heat sufficient to strip plaster from the walls included the notion that “the tears put the fire out.”

The curse reignites in the 2000s

The curse reappeared in 2002, after an episode of the reality TV show Scream Team chose six young people to travel around Britain on a bus investigating legends, curses and haunted places.

For The Curse of the Crying Boy, the team were deployed to Wigan, Lancashire to meet the owners of a transport cafe who had recently experienced a devastating fire.

Local media had connected the event to what they claimed was one of the last surviving copies of the print. It had been unharmed in the blaze and continued hanging on the blackened wall. The cafe’s owners, Eddie and Marian Brockley disagreed what to do about the painting. Eddie believed the fire was a mere coincidence, while Marian wanted the picture destroyed.

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The reality show hired a medium who conveniently detected a direct link between the painting and an artist based in Spain. She also reported a burning sensation and images of a car crash. She even hinted at his name.

At the end of the show, the painting was doused in petrol and set alight. It took three attempts before it eventually caught fire.

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Back with a vengeance

Later that year, The Star reported that the curse was back with a vengeance. This time the fire had destroyed a home in Rotherham– the town where the curse began.

Homeowner Stan Jones said it was after buying a two pound copy of the picture at a market 10 years earlier, he’d experienced a series of house fires, each which had the picture hanging on the wall.

These events have fueled further internet discussion.

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If you search the internet, you’re bound to stumble on interesting message board threads with visitors adding their own experiences to the mix.

Some report growing up with a sense of dread and foreboding as the picture hung on the wall of their family home. They sensed an evil presence and remembered feeling like the boy was watching them.

There’s also the story that when the paintings became popular in Brazil, Bragolin appeared on a TV show to explain that the paintings were all of dead children or at least represented them.

Craig and Natasha

Many say just looking at pictures today give them a shiver down their spine.

The only way to break the curses is to either give the painting away or you need to get hold of a Crying Girl picture. The two together will bring good luck, as the legend has it. Others believe being kind to the picture can also bring good luck.

As to why the paintings refuse to burn, this was scientifically put to the test by Steven Punt who found the reason for them not catching alight easily was twofold: firstly they happen to be printed on a high density hardboard which is difficult to burn, secondly, the print itself is covered in a heat resistant varnish.

I’ve collected these prints for about 12 years and I have a pretty decent collection. I often find the same ones pop up time and time again (Toby and Alfie are often listed on the likes of TradeMe) and it’s harder to get my hands on some of the more rarer ones. I even have a creepy paint by numbers version which has its own handmade gaudy gold frame.

I remember seeing some of the original oil paintings on eBay a few years back going for a few thousand dollars apiece and have always regretted not being able to afford one.

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The story of the Crying Boy has already been turned into a “disturbingly dark” book by Jane E James. Now I hear an indie filmmaker has plans to create a 90-minute supernatural thriller based on the phenomenon. If this comes to fruition, it’s bound to give the curse a third wind.

What do you think of this so-called curse? Have you ever owned one of these prints? Would you hang one on your wall? Let me know in the comments!

Stay tuned for a future post featuring my personal Crying Boy (and girl) collection! 

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