Spring Fling

Bubbly cocktails to make your spring pop by Laura Macfehin

It is that time of year when we emerge blinking from our winter cocoons of tv binging, woolly layers and pudding marathons (o.k. maybe that last one is just me) and realise that it is actually quite nice outside. The sun is finally shining, there’s pollen in the air and the trees are full of new foliage and birds hooking up. Standing at the window, tea in hand the thought occurs– “maybe I’ll drink this on the deck/porch/concrete area by the backdoor?”.

Later still when the seasonal frenzy has gotten into your blood and you’ve actually swept your al fresco living space and increased the ambience by moving the bin back round to the side of the house and picking up the sodden dog toys that have lain untouched in the weeds by the path to the washing line you think “it would be nice to have some drinks out here”.

Springtime is about a renewed enthusiasm for life. It’s about freshness and sunlight and the smell of freesias on the breeze. It’s about fooling ourselves into thinking we are looking forward to summer and don’t know that in fact it will a sweaty nightmare. That’s why you want drinks that reflect this (the fresh freesias part; not the sweaty nightmare part).

French 47

60ml London Dry Gin

1 tsp superfine sugar

15ml lemon juice

145ml champagne

Add the sugar, lemon juice and gin to an ice-filled shaker and give it a good shake to dissolve the sugar. Strain into a glass and top with the champagne or sparkling wine.

Elderflower cocktail

60ml elderflower liqueur (like St Germain)

90ml sparkling wine

30ml soda water

Add the liqueur and sparkling wine to a glass and swizzle slightly, top up with a little soda water. You can also make a totally teetotal version with elderflower cordial, sparkling grape juice and soda water.

Paloma

60ml tequila

15ml lime juice

120ml grapefruit soda

Combine the tequila and lime juice in a glass with ice and give it a swizzle before topping it up with the grapefruit soda. Garnish wit fresh grapefruit and a sprig of mint.

I hope these help put some swing in your spring- let me know what your favourite springtime tipple is!

Win friends and irritate people

Laura Macfehin presents three simple strategies to make your flatting lockdown experience unforgettable.

O.K.  We’ve been in lockdown for several weeks now, and if you are in a flatting situation you may have noticed your housemates starting  to chafe a little at the circumstances.  They might be a little terser than usual with you, you may even have had some burst into tears when you enter the room.  These feelings and reactions are all perfectly normal, but if you are a go-getter who knows what’s best for other people you don’t have to accept them!

Not everybody has the brains or passion to lead a group of unwilling people to where you think they should go, but you do, so appoint yourself Chief Officer in charge of Morale and prepare to buck the living heck out your flatmates spirits.

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You probably exhausted your usual repertoire of games and japes early on into lockdown, or perhaps haven’t had the chance to suggest any as your flatmates kept to themselves and took to their rooms, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many opportunities to enforce a good time.

Putting fun back on the menu!

Do you have a cooking roster?  Then the next step is obvious– I am of course talking about re-creating a historical feast.  Pick an era (the medieval period is always popular) and the use that fantastic resource the interweb to find authentic recipes and decorating suggestions–  allowing your fellow house-pals to travel back in time with you via your culinary wizardry.  They have probably never heard of deer humbles, or even know what caudle is, so don’t hold back on educating them– there is no better sauce than un-asked for knowledge.  Of course this won’t work unless everybody fully commits, so feel free to insist on period details like only using the correct utensils for the era and refusing to answer questions unless they are spaketh in ye olde tongue.

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Of course with a lockdown larder to contend with you may have to make some substitutions– instead of a suckling pig baked beans; instead of pheasant pie, also baked beans.  Don’t forget to separate each course with a suitable musical interlude to extend the whole experience.  With sufficient compulsion your flatmates will soon be proclaiming you a fine fellow indeed!

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Panic stations!

Vibrant, interesting people like you and your flatmates will probably be missing the usual fun pursuits of the outer suburbs like indoor rock-climbing  and mandatory paint-ball afternoons.  Of course, you can’t recreate those sorts of team-building activities in your home… or can you?  One extremely popular fad can easily be replicated in a domestic setting and is sure to blow the minds of your flatmates.

Imagine the surprise on the faces when they assemble for the house meeting you have called only to find themselves in their very own Panic Room!  A Panic Room is an entertainment where a group of people are locked into a space where they have to listen to the loudest member of the group decipher what they think are clues, until either the event manager relents or someone throws up and they are released.

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In a residential context you have two choices when setting up a Panic Room entertainment– choose a room that already has a lock on it or do a bit of sneaky carpentry in the night.  In can be hard to convince folks that a flat meeting has to take place in the bathroom though, so really the trick is to install a lock after they have gone to bed.  Play some soothing music loud enough to cover the sound of your chisel and drill and the a new lock can be installed in a matter of hours!

After that all that is required is luring them in with a fake meeting agenda (re-use one from a past meeting– they never pay proper attention anyway) and shutting the door.  If your lock is sturdy and your clues oblique enough you can keep them entertained this way all day, by which time a lot of pent up frustrations will probably have been released.  Cathartic entertainment at its best.

 Be my Boo!

My final suggestion will certainly to the practical joker in you.  You may have heard the term ‘ghosting’ used in recent times.  To ‘ghost’ someone in this modern sense means to simulate a haunting in which you take on the role of mischievous spirit or poltergeist in someone else’s life.  The traditional pranks will suffice– moving or hiding their belongings, writing threatening messages on the steamed up bathroom mirror as they shower, making their walls appear to drip blood.

Focus on each flatmate for a couple of days before moving on to the next victim– the feelings of persecution and subsequent recriminations will really distract your fellow housemates from their lockdown malaise!

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Anyway, there’s not long to go now as far as lockdown continues to move through the different alert levels.  With a little ingenuity and no scruples about imposing your will upon others you can come through this as the one flatmate your acquaintances will never want to remember never forget!

 

Pussy riot: An interview with Caroline Moore from Fang & Fur

Fang & Fur founder Caroline Moore tells Natasha there’s no shame in being a crazy cat lady, why our feline friends deserve more than tacky plastic toys and how she’s always happy to be on the receiving end of a pussy pic!

Auckland purrveyer Caroline Moore has scoured the globe to curate her stylish range of products for cats and their human devotees.

Whether you’re after sleek, designer pieces such as the beautiful Bendo Cat Bowls, handmade quirky pieces or items with an edge such as the Purrvana Catnip range that delights in playing off the catnip/weed comparison, everything she sells is sourced from small companies and independent makers.

The longtime cat lady first launched her online business, Fang & Fur in 2019 after realising that New Zealand had a huge gap in the market for high quality cat products.

She soon built up a core following and loves nothing more than receiving photos of her customer’s cats  ‘meowdelling’ their latest Fang & Fur swag.

When she’s not slinging pet products on the net, you can find Caroline working in high-end jewellery retail, checking out a local band, taking day trips in her 1975 Datsun 120y or chilling at home with her cat (and her man).

Read on for a tour of her product catalogue, to hear about her Cats of the Lockdown competition and to find out how you can become a member of her pussy posse!

Caroline and Suzi Q on Seafoam Sheepskin

                                        Fang & Fur founder Caroline More and her muse Suzi Q.

What made you start Fang & Fur?

The idea came about after trying to find quality, leather collars for my cats Suzi Q and Django a few years ago. There was nothing available in New Zealand, but I found some really beautiful ones being made overseas.

This prompted me to assess what else was available for cats in New Zealand and I realised that it was pretty grim! It was mainly mass-produced plastic stuff and super tacky.

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About last night: One of the greeting card series featuring inebriated cats by Arna Miller and Ravi Zupa.

I’m sure everyone who has a cat knows what I’m talking about: nasty vinyl collars, plastic toys that look like they’d break after two plays – you get the drift.

For some reason there are lots of beautiful products available for dogs in New Zealand but there was a clear gap in the market for cats. This, along with the fact that New Zealand has a really high rate of cat ownership, got me thinking.

Hot under the collar: Cheshire & Wain’s Caviar Collection for cats who demand the finest things in life!

How did the business cope during COVID-19?

I’m very lucky to say that Covid hasn’t had much of a negative effect on the business. Obviously I couldn’t send parcels out during level 4 of the nationwide lockdown, but it did give me time to run the Cats of Lockdown Competition!

There were 4 categories: Best Cat Gone Crazy, Best Work From Home Helper, Best Snugglemuffin and Best Hygiene Freak. Comedian and SnapChat Dude Tom Sainsbury came on board as judge, and we received heaps of downright hilarious entries!

For the Auckland lockdown, I ran a Sexy Kitty Competition. You heard that right.

Strike a pose: Sexy kitty Monty shows how it’s done.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

As far as the product range is concerned, there’s a bit of a mix of aesthetics but I think it all ties in together well. There are sleek, designer pieces such as the beautiful Bendo Cat Bowls, handmade quirky pieces like the felt catnip toys, and a bit of a naughty edge with things like the Purrvana Catnip range that delights in playing off the catnip/weed comparison.

The fact that I’m a bit of a rock n roll gal also comes through! I’ve really wanted to keep things fun, I don’t get pet brands that are all beige, grey and white – it’s just so boring. Especially when you consider how hilarious cats and dogs are!

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                                     Portrait of the artist as a young cat: Frida Catlo greeting card

What makes Fang & Fur different from your average pet supplies store?

The main difference is quality. All the items for cats are made by small companies or individual makers from really good quality materials so they last. Another big difference is that Fang & Fur’s products are cool!

I always think generic pet supplies stores look like toy stores – everything is made from cheap plastic and covered with cartoony pictures. Another element that is really different is the ‘For Humans’ section which includes books, cards, t-shirts, bags, and other “hooman” accessories.

Cat Coven Magickal Protection Slouchy T-shirtCat coven: Kjersti Faret’s designs have a strong witchy aesthetic.

Can you talk us through your range of products?

Sure! The products for cats include leather collars and charmstoysbeds and housesbowlsscratchers and treats. All the collars are handmade and there’s also a range of really cool collar charms including some made from semi-precious stones.

The toys include beautiful wands made by a small Japanese company and handmade catnip pillows by Cat Coven. I’m really pleased to sell a selection of extremely luxe NZ sheepskins in dreamy colours, and for cats that prefer a more enclosed sleeping space, there are diamond-shaped houses in an array of designs.

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The bowls are by Australian company Bendo and are super sleek and cool, and a Melbourne-based maker creates the beautiful scratchers. The organic catnip range is by a Colorado company and includes titles such as Cat-O-Tonic and Get Soused!  

The pieces for humans are by a few different makers and companies. One of my favourites is Cat Coven which is the creation of a Brooklyn-based artist called Kjersti Faret who has a strong witchy aesthetic. Another is Monmon Cats by Japanese artist  Horitomo who uses a lot of traditional Japanese imagery and symbolism.

The brand that produces the most laughs is definitely Pussweek. It’s a series of publications ‘by cats, for cats’ that tackle important issues such as: what’s your licking style?, and which windowsill is best for your body type? Some of Pussweek’s more hard-hitting stories include: ‘My big fat gender identity crisis’, ‘My human says it’s my fault he touched my belly’, and ‘I lost eight lives in two weeks – the diary of a catnip addict’.

The store also stocks a great range of kitty-related gift cards and accessories, as well as books and magazines. I pushed the cat theme out a bit by stocking Jo Weldon’s beautiful Fierce: The History of Leopard Print.

Fierce - The History of Leopard Print by Jo Weldon

How has the brand evolved?

The biggest change of focus has been on having products made. This started with the Fang & Fur face masks – available in black and white leopard print, and a fun pink and yellow leopard design. Now, I’m in the middle of having cat collars made. I’ve found some dreamy leather and am working with a local leather craftswoman. Next year will hopefully see Fang & Fur cat toys and bowls too.

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Puss Puss in the lounge with diamonds: My cat proudly shows off her diamond cat bed from Fang & Fur.

Do you test drive the products on your own cats?

Absolutely!! There’s only one way to find out if the products are up to the job! Suzi Q is really, really into the Purrvana catnip blends – so much so that we have to hide them from her! She also loves her beautiful Kitska Scratcher which saves the furniture (some of the time). 
Unfortunately we lost our dear Django on New Years’ day which was really hard, but he looooved his Jet Sheepskin. He would always spend at least 10 mins kneading it with his toes outstretched before going to sleep, and it was a real comfort for him in his final days.

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The look of love: Suzie models her white leather Fang & Fur collar with Swarovski crystals.

Why are cats so eternally popular?

There are so many aspects to cats that make them irresistible to humans. Obviously they’re cute and cuddly (when they want to be), but I think humans also admire their aloofness and independence which gives them an air of mystery. Most cats have a life that their humans know nothing about – when they come in after a jaunt outside, we don’t always know where they’ve been, who they’ve met or what they’ve been up to.

Another element that humans seem to have always loved is the aesthetic pleasure they offer. The cat’s form is deeply embedded in human culture – from Egyptian hieroglyphs to ’50s kitsch and beyond. Having said all that, cats can also be big idiots and endlessly hilarious – there are so many things to love!!

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125558424_1262888787445169_8577423678331822380_oCat got your butt: Be reminded of cat butts wherever you go.

Where can people find out more and do some shopping?

Just pop over to fangandfur.co.nz and follow Fang & Fur on Instagram and Facebook!  Or join the pussy posse here

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Playing Favourites (The Best Podcasts of 2019)

Laura Macfehin lists some her most recent favourite podcasts.

I’ll say it now– if I’m awake I’m usually listening to a podcast.  Perhaps because I work from home, perhaps because life doesn’t allow me to read all day but podcasts fill the need in my life for both company and a constant influx obscure information.  These have been some of my favourite this year!

Passenger List

Passenger List is an audio drama from Radiotopia– the podcast company that makes some of my favourite podcasts like Criminal and Radio Diaries.  It follows Kaitlin Le (played by Kelly Marie Tran) whose brother has disappeared along with the plane he was on.  Determined to get to the bottom of his disappearance and the truth of what happened to Flight 702 Kaitlin goes down all kinds of rabbit holes and intrigue to find answers.  If you love suspense and great audio production you’ll love Passenger List.

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Dolly Parton’s America

I will admit right now that I am a Dolly superfan; one of the greatest disappointments in my life was missing out on a phone interview with Ms.Parton (I may or may not have gotten celebratory mugs made in anticipation).  Dolly Parton’s America is a podcast that much like the Appalachian Angel herself has something for everyone.  For music nerds and superfans there are all new interviews and for people who maybe have always wondered about the phenomenon that is Dolly or why she brings such diverse people together there is an examination of why she is so beloved by everyone and why her music is for all.

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Forgotten Australia

If you love obscure history; if you go down rabbit holes scouring old newspapers and marvelling at the items that were big news but now have passed from our common consciousness then Forgotten Australia is the podcast for you.  The stories of Australasian history that had everybody talking a hundred years ago but are now largely forgotten.

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Visitations with Elijah Wood and Daniel Noah

Courtesy of the streaming service Shudder (that unfortunately for New Zealand horror fans is unavailable here) Elijah Wood and his producer buddy Daniel Noah bring an interview podcast that talks to some of the most interesting players in genre filmmaking and television.  They have unprecedented access to some amazing creative folk– people like The Rodarte Sisters, Panos Cosmatos and Guillermo Del Toro and the result is a fascinating collection of conversations about horror film that are a must listen for horror fans or anyone interested in the creative process.

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Hitman

In 1983 a book was published that purported to be a manual for hitmen– a book that wreaked havoc amongst the lives of families and caused many to question the meaning of free speech.  Jasmyn Morris has produced a very sensitive story following the history of a book and the real life people who have been affected by it.

 

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Dressed: The History of Fashion

As the hosts April and Cassidy tell us– we all have one thing in common; each day we all get dressed.  Dressed covers fashion history from the inside out– from the big haute couture stories to the history of jandals.  Absolutely a must listen for anyone wears clothes!

Other big mentions for the year are Ephemeral – which is like a passport back to the 90s when in the pre-digital age collectors were a special breed- if you love found footage, odd audio, the miscellanea of the past then Ephemeral is the podcast for you.  Retrogasm has a special place in Eclectic Ladyland’s heart– ‘retronauts’ D.D. Deluxe and Hettie La Bombe bring together everything vintage in New Zealand from muscle cars to music.  Family Secrets (as the name suggests) brings some heavy subject matter into the light– the content might be full on but the podcast is so gentle and real that it is relatable to all humans who have families.

What have been your favourite podcasts this year?  I’m always looking suggestions so give me yours!

 

Ghouls on Film!

Laura Macfehin

I’m not going to lie– I love spending time in haunted houses.  Not real ones, mind, but a vicarious thrill from the screen or page is one of my favourite things.  Because of this I’ll watch pretty much every haunted house film that comes my way, from the sublime (“Stay out of the light, Carol Anne!”) to the ridiculous (see 1988’s Ghosthouse, although that does have some of the creepiest music linked to a clown doll in cinematic history*).  There a far too many to make a list, but lets chat about them anyway, shall we, and I’ll share some of my favourite ways haunted house movies scare me.

In a dark dark wood…

…there was a dark, dark house, and in the dark, dark house there was… the perfect setting for a horror film.  When you say ‘haunted house’ the image that springs to mind is usually a creaky old mansion and movie makers were not slow to utilise this in the early days of horror.  The Old Dark House (1932) is not a haunted house film per se, but it did set the template for many films that followed.  Based on the hit book Benighted by J.B. Priestley it was one of the few early films that played spooks for scares instead of laughs, with the winning pairing of director James Whale of Frankenstein fame with Universal horror star Boris Karloff.  It follows the now familiar storyline of strangers forced by circumstance into spending the night in a spooky old mansion and the tension and atmosphere created by Whale and the excellent cast (as well as Karloff there are excellent turns from Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Gloria Stewart and Eva Moore) means it still stands as one of the creepiest films around.

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Gloria Stewart looks apprehensive in The Old Dark House (1932)

Being forced to stay in a creepy old house is also the premise for one of my other favourite films– The Woman in Black.  But just to be pernickety I have to say that I prefer the BBC version from 1989.  Although the later Hammer version with Daniel Radcliffe was fine the TV version just seemed to capture the awful feelings Susan Hill was able to conjure a little better.  And although reading the book I always pictured Geraldine Chaplin as the titular dark-garbed lady, Pauline Moran (Miss Lemon from Poirot) gives a surprisingly freaky go at the role.

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Pauline Moran in The Woman in Black (1989)

One of my all time favourite haunted house films just about fits into the spooky mansion type, although with significant differences.  The Changeling is on just about everybody’s list as one of the best haunted house movies, and with good reason– it is almost the perfect ghost story on film.  George C. Scott is a bereaved composer who takes up residence in a beautiful but run down mansion only to discover it is not as empty as he had thought.   Funnily enough this movie also features Melvyn Douglas– who was the dashing young Penderel in The Old Dark House and plays the elderly scion Senator Carmichael in The Changeling.

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George C. Scott gets ready to hear dead people in The Changeling (1980)

Suburban Nightmare

Although The Changeling is definitely a story with a spooky house it also straddles this next category as well.  Part of what is so frightening about the 1980 movie is that so many of the scares happen in the bright light of day.  We all know about things that go bump in the night but there is something about the supposed safety of daylight that make daytime bumps even more scary.

This is part of the creepiness for me in films like The Amityville Horror (1979) and Poltergeist (1982).  Rather than strangers being stuck somewhere spooky these films bring the terror right into the comfortable family home.  I have lost count of the number of times I’ve watched Poltergeist but it is the contrast between the cosy normality of the Freelings and what happens to them that still gets me every time.  And if you love Poltergeist as much as I do I suggest you check out Steven Spielberg’s 1972 TV movie Something Evil for spooky times in rural Pennsylvania.

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Zelda Rubenstein as Tangina in Poltergeist (1982)

Another film that does this is the under-seen based-on-a-true-story TV movie The Haunted (1991).  In this film the Smurl family move into a suburban duplex, only to become seriously bothered by spirits and demonic forces.  None other Ed and Lorraine Warren (of The Conjuring fame) have to step in and help them out.  I have heard that The Haunted is finally going to get a dvd/bluray release which could help it get the audience it deserves– although you can still see it at the moment for free on youtube.

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Sally Kirkland and Jeffrey DeMunn pray hard in The Haunted (1991)

The other true story haunted house movie I recommend at every opportunity is actually a mini-series– The Enfield Haunting stars Timothy Spall as the hapless Maurice Grosse who investigated the strange occurrences in North London in 1977.  Directed by Kristoffer Nyholm (The Killing) it came out 2015 and is the perfect antidote to those who found the treatment James Wan gave the same subject matter in The Conjuring 2 a little cheesy ( I should say I love James Wan and the first three quarters of The Conjuring are some of my favourite haunted house cinema moments ever).

A more recent and excellent example of the Suburban Nightmare is The Pact (2012) a tasty little film that makes creepy use of Californian afternoon sun and suburbs to highlight the hidden horrors of returning to your childhood home.

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Caity Lotz in The Pact (2010) 

Paranormal Period Pieces

Just because the I love ghosts in mundane and modern settings doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of love (a LOT of love) for Victorian/Edwardian ghost stories as well.  As a bit of a costume freak I love a nice period drama and if you whack some ghosts in there as well I’m in nerd heaven.  Which is why I have a lot of time for The Awakening (2011).  Rebecca Hall is a professional skeptic on a personal mission to de-bunk the psychic frauds preying on the bereaved after the first world war, only to have her own beliefs shaken at a spooky school for boys where there are funny goings on.  Dominic West in suspenders AND a ghost story– hello!  If you liked The Others (2001) then you’ll probably enjoy this.

 

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Rebecca Hall is having none of your nonsense in The Awakening (2011)

I’m Freaking Out, Man…

Another type of haunted house film I am particularly fond of is the slightly psychedelic, totally psychological haunted house freak out film.  The Haunting (1963) based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is a sterling example of this– strangers are brought together in a reputedly haunted house to capture evidence of the supernatural.  Their interpersonal dynamics and personality, as well as the trippy house itself are just important as the ghosts as sources of scares.  In particular the tenuous friendship between the very different characters played by Julie Harris and Claire Bloom, and the interior dialogue provided by Bloom’s fragile Eleanor Lance make this movie such a stand out for me.

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Julie Harris and Claire Bloom freak out

A film in a similar vein is the 1973 British feature The Legend of Hell House, based off the book by the same name by Richard Matheson (who wrote the screenplay as well).  Here it is full 70s victoriana as the sinister Belasco House seems ready to consume the paranormal investigators itself before they get a chance to probe its insides.  The saturated colours and psychedelic decor seem as much of a paranormal presence as the purported ghosts– victims of a six foot five Victorian serial killer.

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Pamela Franklin as medium Florence Tanner in The Legend of Hell House (1973)

The more modern version of this trope comes from the mini-series Rose Red (2002), penned by Stephen King and featuring our own Melanie Lynskey.  It is another ‘team of psychics’ film in which the house itself seems be the entity responsible for unearthly happenings.  It’s a ‘twisty hall’ story where the walls and rooms won’t stay put and everybody has to face their own personal freak-outs; something that King always writes well).

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Kimberly J. Brown as telekinetic teen Annie Wheaton in Rose Red (2002).

Are you a haunted house fan like me?  Let me know what your favourites are because I am always on the hunt for a new creepy mansion or spooky duplex to spend an evening in!

*see what I mean?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of the Answer Song

Oh answer song, why do I love you so?  The sixties were undoubtedly a great time for pop music… one of the great celebrations of teenage angst where pop stars were able to create these great mythic landscapes where star-crossed lovers lived out extended dramas involving heartbreak, parental disapproval and gory and/or fiery deaths.  The answer song allowed these fantasies to be extended beyond their natural three-minute life span.

Of course it started before the 60s– there are probably some snappy 18th Century broadsheets spilling some sassy replies to popular ballads of the day.  But certainly by the first half of the twentieth century folks were hearing a hit and chiming in with their two cents worth.  Thus when Big Mama Thornton sang “Hound Dog” and it stuck around at number one on the record charts Sam Phillips got local DJ and Memphis celebrity Rufus Thomas to answer back with “Bear Cat“, which got to number three but nearly bankrupted the label with a copyright-infringement suit.

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Big Mama Thornton

Some songs were so popular they spawned multiple replies.  “Get a Job” by doo-wop group The Silhouettes must have really hit a nerve because it got several replies– The Miracles and The Tempos both declared “I got a Job“, while The Heartbeats sang “I Found a Job” and The Mistakes energetically declared “I got Fired“.

 

Often times the answer song was a ‘right of reply’ type of affair when the original seemed a little unbalanced.  One of my favourites of this type is by The Teen Queens (of “Eddie, My Love” fame) who answered Bobby Marchan’s somewhat creepy revenge song “There’s Something on Your Mind” with their straight up “There’s Nothing on My Mind

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The Teen Queens

Whether it was LaVern Baker propositioning Elvis the Pelvis or Ginger Davis putting down Dion’s put-downs answer songs were often a welcome comeback in a time with such rigid gender roles.

You could even reply to your own song– The Bobbettes did so well with their song “Mr Lee” (apparently about a Maths teacher they didn’t particularly like– the record company made them re-write the original lyrics dissing the teacher) they followed it up with “I Shot Mr Lee” (I guess he hadn’t gone up in their estimation in the meantime).  Their last hit was also an answer song– this time a reply to Chris Kenner’s “I Like it Like That” pointedly called “I Don’t Like it Like That”

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The fabulous Lesley Gore also answered her own songs– most successfully with the sad story of “It’s My Party (and I’ll Cry If I Want to)” which she updated with the wonderfully bitchy “Judy’s Turn to Cry“.  These songs were firmly in the world of teenage drama and high stakes necking/partying/exchanging of rings but the weren’t the full melodrama of the teenage death song.

That tragic sub-genre held the likes of “Teen-Angel” “Leader of the Pack” “Give Us Your Blessing” and “Ebony Eyes” and for myself the crossover between answer song and teenage death song in this pinnacle of both sub-genres.

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Lesley Gore

I can’t remember the first time I heard “Tell Laura I Love Her” but I certainly heard it many times over the years sung at me by the parents and older siblings of friends.  Even through the cringing self-consciousness of adolescence I loved the song with its dark romantic story of death at the race track.

It was almost inevitable that an answer song would be penned in response to Ray Peterson’s over the top ballad, but it wasn’t until I heard Skeeter Davis singing the tearful-prayerful reply that I really fell in love.

Skeeter Davis had already made several answer songs that were more in the country music line– her songs “I Can’t Help You (I’m Falling to)” and “Lost to a Geisha Girl” were both answers to Hank Locklin songs, and “I Really Want You to Know” was a reply to Eddy Arnold’s “I Really Don’t Want to Know”.

“Tell Tommy I Miss Him” was a Marilyn Michaels song, and it was also recorded by Laura Lee but is Skeeter Davis who does the song full justice for me.  Her voice has that suggestion of a catch, that suppressed sob while at the same time the strength and resolution that perfectly delivers the melodrama of the song.  It is the same quality that makes “The End of The World” everybody’s favourite heartbreak.

Answer songs didn’t end with the sixties of course– but to my mind it remains the golden age of this art form.  But tell me– what is your favourite musical comeback?

 

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).

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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!

Everything but the kitsch-en sink with Danielle Korzeniewski 

Welcome to the sixth installment of Everything But the Kitsch-en Sink. This week American collector Danielle Korzeniewski shows Natasha Francois around her marvellous mid-century abode.
While trawling Instagram one day, I stumbled across the feed of Danielle Korzeniewski and immediately fell head-over-heels for her home which is packed to the rafters with mid-century collectables.
The kitsch-obsessed mother-of-five lives in America’s midwest and hoards everything lemon yellow, aqua and pastel pink and her shelves groan under the weight of her collections which include Pyrex kitchenware, fibreglass lamps, starburst-shaped clocks, whimsical poodle figurines and sought-after anthropomorphic porcelain made by the likes of Lefton and Napco!
Desperate to see more of her home? Step this way!
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Although she wasn’t born until 1980, Korzeniewski has a penchant for everything mid-century and lives the vintage lifestyle to the fullest.

A keen thrift-shopper and stay-home mother, Danielle raises five children [ages 2-20] while hubby takes care of the bills. 

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“I collect a ton of different things from the 1950s and 60s. Lefton is a very favorite of mine! I love Miss Priss, Thumblina etc (cookie jars, tea sets etc) . I collect Napco Miss Cutie Pie, blue birds and anything aqua.
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“However I adore all pink, yellow and aqua from the turn of the century, valuable or not.
“My favorite collection is probably my Lefton/Napco/Enesco /Chase Japan tea-sets, while Pyrex comes second, but really I can’t decide.
“I LOVE LOVE LOVE atomic lamps and have a ton! Yet not enough!”
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Pyrex is her first love and is what started the ball rolling.
“When I bought my first piece of Pyrex I had NO IDEA it was so big or even a “thing” to collect Pyrex and slowly I started wanting to do a retro-style diner style kitchen and bought a lot of reproduction offline,” she says.
Thanks to Instagram, she soon realised how phenomenally popular Pyrex was in the antiques and collectables world.
“Seeing other kitschy homes sparked the fire in me and there’s been no turning back.”
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The first piece to start her collection was a 403 Amish butter print that was half DWD [dishwasher damaged] which she bought blindly off eBay (“and paid way too much for”)
From there, she purchased several other DWD over priced pieces not realizing the difference.
“So til this day I have my DWD overpriced eBay collection that started it all.”
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Danielle finds the bulk of her scores via Facebook, Craigslist and estate sales or eBay.
“Very little do I find at thrift stores as it’s become harder and harder,” she says.
With five kids to run around after, she seldom gets the chance to go treasure-hunting anymore, however she remains passionate about her collections and her goal is to be published in a magazine.
Danielle’s home was recently used by Susanna Vestige as the backdrop for a pinup photo shoot featuring Tami Savoy as the model.
Check out the results below!
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“Vintage brings me so much happiness, it doesn’t have to be pink and aqua. I truly love it all! I love the 70s avocado green and oranges too!”

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I would drive 400 miles and I would drive 400 more, just to be the woman who scored these incredible lamps ….

When it comes to some of her noteworthy scores, her husband recently drove 900 miles in order to pick up a highly collectable pair of Leslie China atomic lamps. He then went on to drive a further 400 miles in order to collect a 1957 atomic boomerang couch and chair in mint condition!

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1957 atomic boomerang couch

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Danielle has always had an affinity with “old things- especially children’s items” but it wasn’t until 2013 that she became more focused on collecting vintage.
“I had my first son at 18 and if you look back at his baby pictures you would notice I would thrift a lot of vintage clothes for him and continued to when I could find them easily for all my kids. I’m not sure what the change was exactly…”
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Since then her taste hasn’t changed much with the exception of “weeding out reproduction in favor of authentic mid-century.”
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“My children have all grown up surrounded by breakable items so they are all used to it and are very good about respecting them. Very little has ever been broken (knock on wood) lol. The one living room set up is just a extra room (we have two other more normal living rooms so the kids freely use those. “

 

 

I don’t see any signs of my kids following in our foot steps yet and that’s totally OK if they don’t. They don’t seem to mind it and all their friends seem to love it!”
What do you think of Danielle’s kitschtastic home? Let me know in the comments!
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Pulp Pictures: the erotic art of Margaret Brundage

Laura Macfehin takes a look at the startling art of Pulp illustrator Margaret Brundage.

Margaret Brundage’s art caused shock and consternation in her lifetime, as well as selling countless magazines of fantasy literature and inspiring artists like Frank Frazetti.  She also campaigned for free love, free speech and civil rights in a lifetime that encompassed an ongoing art practise and a commitment to a bohemian lifestyle.

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Sweet Home Chicago

She was born Margaret Hedda Johnson on December 9th 1900.  She was raised mainly by her mother and grandmother, both devout Christian Scientists, after her father died.  She attended McKinley High School in Chicago alongside Walt Disney (she graduated; he didn’t).

Upon graduating High School she immediately got work providing fashion illustrations for Chicago newspapers, and she continued her education at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, where Walt Disney was again a fellow student (Disney later said that he had approached Brundage with a view for her providing design work for the animated feature Snow White, but that the distance between Chicago and Los Angeles precluded her involvement).  She did not graduate and later said it was due to her poor lettering skills, but she soon found a publisher for her work in the form of Weird Tales magazine.40136495_2073509642902297_5293789948673248270_n

Weird Tales

Weird Tales was established in the early twenties as a pulp magazine that focussed on pulp stories in the fantasy and horror genre.  They were early publishers of writers who would later become cult favourites like H.P Lovecraft and Seabury Quinn.  In the Cthulu mythos was first presented to readers in its pages with The Call of Cthulu being published in 1928.  Other genre classics such as Conan the Barbarian and the occult detective Jules de Grandin were also introduced to the public through Weird Tales.

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Brundage had already illustrated covers for pulp publications like Oriental Stories when she had her work accepted by Weird Tales.  Her vivid style, featuring highly eroticised female characters were an immediate hit with the consumers of pulp fiction.  Not all the authors concurred, some complaining that her covers had nothing do with the stories featured inside, but others, like Seabury Quinn were enthusiastic about her art and even began including scenes in their stories that they thought could play into her style of illustration.

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Bohemian Life

During the prohibition years, and at the same time as undertaking illustration work Brundage had also found employment at the infamous bohemian speakeasy The Dill Pickle Club, and it was there she met her husband Myron ‘Slim’ Brundage; a hobo/house painter who was heavily involved in radical politics.

Together they would have one child, Kerlynn.  Their politics and attraction to each other were strong but their marriage had a lot of stressors– largely his drinking and womanising; and they divorced in 1939.  Kerlynn was raised as Margaret had been, largely by his mother and grandmother.

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Deviant Art

In the late 1930s Weird Tales and other pulp publications came under a lot of scrutiny for their cover art.  Bylaws were passed in some cities limiting what could be displayed on newsstands.  Brundage had always published as ‘M. Brundage’ leaving her gender undisclosed, but in attempt to assuage critics Weird Tales now revealed that their cover artist was a woman.

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The affect of this disclosure was quite the opposite.  That these pictures had been produced by a woman was largely received as proving more deviance rather than less for under the perceived notions of femininity it was an outrageous that such images could be conceived of by a female.

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Rumours that lasted for years arose around Brundage– including that she used her own daughter as a model.  This being fuelled perhaps by the double fantasy that there existed in life a woman such as those featured in the pictures and that her deviancy included some sort of incestuous bent.

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At this time Weird Tales underwent a change of ownership, moving its publishing to New York.  The controversy surrounding Brundage’s sex had thrown a bit of a pall over her work for Weird Tales, but this move was largely its death knell.  Brundage worked almost exclusively in pastels on illustration board, a medium that did not travel well, and the New York publishers therefore looked for other illustrators to provide their cover art.

Brundage continued to produce fantasy art in pastels, as well as oils and pen over the rest of her lifetime, although she never found a regular publisher again.  Today her work is highly collectible and has been published in several coffee table books celebrating her unique and uncanny style.  She also continued to raise her son and be heavily involved in radical politics until her death in 1976.

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!