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!

Top picks for the NZIFF 2018

Laura Macfehin highlights her top 20 choices at this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival!

The film festival is in full bloom in Auckland, soon to be moving down the line and the array of films as usual is impressive if not overwhelming!  I’ve narrowed down my top 20 choices, and there is something for just about everyone in there.

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She Shears photo by Rebecca McMillan Photography

There are some fantastic homegrown choices year.  She Shears, by Jack Nicol, focuses the stories of five women who shear sheep.  Centred around their past and present involvement the Golden Shears, New Zealand’s national championships and the world’s top sheep shearing competition.

New Zealand does short films well– and I like them a little on the unsettling side.  Eight Uneasy Pieces features eight New Zealand short films full of disquiet.  In particular I am keen to catch Cul de Sac by Jake Mahaffy and Under the Bridge by Lauren Porteus.

Merata: How Mum De-colonised the Screen by Heperi Mita promises to be both deeply personal and profoundly political; an examination of his mother’s life, art and activism.

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Merata Contact Sheet by Gil Hanly

Five very different films I want to see centre their stories around the personal lives of women.

Leave No Trace, from Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik looks at a father and daughter relationship in an unusual context.  If it is half as sharp and beautiful as the film that launched Jennifer Lawrence it should be a most compelling watch.

The Mis-education of Cameron Post by Desiree Akhavan stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a girl sent to a gay conversion camp, in what looks like a softly realised drama.

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Little Woods by Nia Da Costa may be set in a North Dakota quite different from that in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, the themes of survival in a hostile environment are strangely similar.  Lily James and Tessa Thompson play sisters battling poverty and a broken healthcare system in a neo-western where their strength lies in sisterly solidarity rather than a quick-draw.

In a very different mood, Woman at War by Benedikt Erlingsson a piece of Icelandic whimsy with a steel backbone in this story of a woman in middle-age saving the world in some very fine knitwear when the Universe throws her a curveball.

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The Guilty

There is lots of suspense at the festival this year, with some very tasty thrillers on offer.  The Guilty, the debut film from Danish director Gustav Möller is a twisty tale, which promises tension aplenty despite being set entirely in an emergency call centre.

Veteran film-maker Paul Schrader has a new film featuring a tortured dude on a path of possible self-destruction.  Ethan Hawke stars a Presbyterian minister in First Reformed a crime thriller that highlights both politics and faith.

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Ethan Hawke in First Reformed

The genre-bending Swedish Border blends gritty scandi-noir with supernatural romance.  Based on a short story by Let The Right One author John Ajvide Lindqvist Border looks like a deciding intriguing film.

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Liquid Sky

The film festival is a great time to see on the big screen classic films from the past.  Two very different cult films from the Eighties are on show this year– both are films I’d love to see at the cinema!

Liquid Sky (1982) is a sci-fi fashion spectacle by Slava Tsukerman and Nina V. Kerovaset set in the New Wave New York club scene that has been restored to beyond its original glory that I would watch any time just for the hair alone.

Desert Hearts (1985) by Donna Deitch has been a touchstone of lesbian cinema since it’s release– seeing the celebratory love story and lush Nevada landscapes on the big screen would be dreamy!

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Chulas Fronteras

The great thing I love about the film festival is the chance to documentaries and true stories at the movies.

I first saw a Les Blank film at a film Society screening when I was a kid and his story-telling sold me on documentary film-making.  Chulas Fronteras is a beautiful film documenting the Tejano and South-West Mexicano music scene in the 1970s.  It is a beautiful world to lose yourself in and highly recommended.

Bisbee ’17 tells the often overlooked story of the deportation of unionised workers in 1917 from their hometown of Bisbee, Arizona.  2,000 workers were forcibly removed in an attempt to break the peaceful strike they had organised– a story that is resonant now as it was at the time.

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The fashion lover in me can’t resist McQueen, in which filmmakers Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui showcase fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s life and art through the lens of five of his stand out shows.

 

American Animals is a true crime thriller based on real events that took place in 2003.  Bart Layton’s film The Imposter stayed with long after it had finished and this insane heist film looks like a similarly sly and suspenseful film.

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The Field Guide to Evil

And of course me being me my list wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of horror!

Horror anthologies are often a hit and miss affair– and The Field Guide to Evil is no exception– but it is worth a look for its lush visuals and unashamedly gothic pretensions.  To paraphrase the immortal words of the Shangri-Las– its good bad, but it’s not evil.

For those who like their horror more straight out terrifying The Terrified looks like a delicious bloodbath filled with scares and splatter.  Argentinian director Demián Rugna has made a film that looks freaky in a satisfyingly insane way.

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The Terrified

So tell me– what flicks are you looking forward to?  What have you seen and what did you think?

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!

 

 

 

Meet the Mad Monster Lady!

Classic movie monsters like the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Phantom of the Opera have had an ardent fanbase from their first appearances on the silver screen; probably because of their ability to evoke terror and sympathy in equal parts.  One such fan is artist Audrey Funk; and her renditions of these monsters on canvas are garnering her fans of her own!  Laura Macfehin talks to her about her process.

How did you start making art?

My grandmother was a painter, and when I was young I would go and stay at her house during the summer and we would paint. She started my love for art, and taught me so much.

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What is it about monsters that makes you want to paint them?

I’ve loved monsters since I was a little kid. I’ve always been drawn to things that are “dark.” Monsters have always appealed to me. I think what I love most about them is that they’re just misunderstood. Like the Wolfman isn’t “evil,” he was cursed. 

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What else in your life inspires you to make things and paint?

I suffer from severe anxiety, PTSD and depression, and having a creative outlet helps me on a daily basis to cope with these issues.  

Your painting of Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster is going to be featured in Famous Monsters magazine in October! Nice one! How did this come about?

Well, Famous Monsters had a contest at their Dallas Convention and I entered it and won for the horror category. Being in Famous Monsters has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. It’s very surreal to me that one of my pieces is going to be in the magazine.

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The iconic Famous Monsters of Filmland was started in 1958 by editor Forest J. Ackerman and publisher James Warren.  The magazine celebrated classic movie monsters and the creative people who made them– bringing back into the spotlight many (at the time) overlooked innovators like Lon Chaney Sr. and Jack Pierce.  The original magazine folded in 1983 but was brought back into circulation in the 90s in a less than satisfactory way that led to original editor Ackerman suing the new publisher.  In 2009 a new Ackerman approved editorial staff reinstated the mag, which continues with a huge and enthusiastic fanbase to this day.  Famous Monsters has inspired artists in all mediums– from Stephen King to the Misfits.

What are some of your passions outside of painting?

I am a high school art teacher, and I love what I do. I love connecting with my students, and love sharing my passion for art with them. I am the weird art teacher, who’s classroom is covered with monsters, and that’s ok. I show my students that it’s ok to be yourself and don’t try to conform to what society thinks is cool or “normal.” I provide a safe environment for my student to feel comfortable expressing themselves.

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 Do you have a favourite monster and why?

Frankenstein’s monster has always been my favourite, especially portrayed by Boris Karloff. He’s always appealed to me the most. When I was in the 2nd grade I did a book report on Boris Karloff.  Karloff’s representation of the monster will always be first and foremost in my mind. Frankenstein’s monster to me  just represents someone who is shunned from society because of what they look like. He does things that appear monstrous, but he’s not really a monster, he just doesn’t know any better. 

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Where do you do your art and making?

A lot of my art making is done at school. While my students are working, I like to paint. I think it’s a good teaching tool, because they can watch me and learn from what I’m doing. I share my own techniques with them as well. I think it’s important that my students can see that I myself am an artist, and that way they will be more likely to trust the advice that I have for their art.

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How else do you spend your time?

I love to spend time with my husband and my three young boys, ages 5, 6 and 7. It’s like herding cats when we go out but it’s so much fun! We love to take them outside and explore.   

My husband is my pillar of strength and my own personal cheerleader. He has helped me overcome so much and I am eternally grateful for his unconditional love and support. We love antiquing together, where I try to hunt for more monsters to add to my vintage monster collection.

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Do you have any new projects on the horizon?  What are you looking forward to?

I will have some of my work displayed for sale at the Local Boogeyman’s House of Horror shop in Los Angeles opening this fall, which is very exciting. I always have a list going in my head for new paintings and ideas that I come up with. I’m looking forward to expanding my Etsy shop to include more of my original artwork. 

 
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You can find more of Audrey’s work at her Etsy shop here and on her Facebook page
 
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Ten Tales of the Terrifying and Fantastic

Laura Macfehin shares 10 stories that stay with you long after you’ve closed the book!  

I have to say my number one favourite thing to read is spooky short stories.  They are the literary equivalent of comfort food for me–  mashed potatoes in book form.  Ghost stories, stories of magic or horror or the unexplained–I love them all.  So because sharing is caring here are ten stories that have stuck around in my psyche – I hope you find some new reads!

  1. Margaret Atwood Death by Landscape

It seems fitting, seeing as the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has been giving everybody the chills recently, to start this shuddery list with another haunting story by Atwood.

The Canadian author has published many novels, short stories and volumes of poetry and whether she is writing dystopian futures or describing the protean friendships between girls there is always a cutting edge to her words; she is often funny but never safe.

Death by Landscape appears in Wilderness Tips (1991) and explains how Lois, now living alone has been defined her whole life by the disappearance of her friend Lucy, who vanished out of (or into) the landscape while they were on a canoeing trip as girls.

One of those stories that remains with you—a cumulative creepiness like that found in unconcerned nature, it contains what in my mind Atwood is best at—the description of formative female friendships, as well as an evocation of the instantaneous nature of tragedy.

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2.Caitlin R Kiernan In the Waterworks (Birmingham, Alabama 1888)

Kiernan is an Irish-born writer from the southern states of America, whose dark fantasy works are steeped both in that Southern Gothic genre and in her scientific interests—she has published articles on paleontology, among other things.

In the Waterworks first appeared in her short story collection Tales of Pain and Wonder (2000) and recounts the experience of spindly schoolteacher Henry S. Matthews, whose fossil-hound habits around the foothills of the Appalachians lead to his sharing with the men of the Water Works Company an unusual discovery deep inside Red Mountain.

The story has tendrils of Lovecraft creeping around its edges but the writing and the atmosphere it conjures is all Kiernan, and delightfully monstrous.

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3. Shirley Jackson A Visit

 Jackson was born in 1916 in California, and from the get-go chafed at the culture and society she found herself in.

Most famous for her short story The Lottery (1948) and for the novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) her stories exemplify for me the way anxiety blurs the boundaries of reality.

Her work has always a sense of unease, of something sinister in the seeming normality that the increasingly panicked protagonists find themselves in that conjures like no other writing a nightmare sense of sleep paralysis that cannot be woken from.

In A Visit Margaret is welcomed into the home of her school-friend Carla for the summer, and although she is so grateful to be there and the family are so pleased to have her there all the time reading it you will be shouting “but what is wrong—what is happening? Get out!” A Visit can be found in Jackson’s 1968 collection of stories Come Along With Me.

shutterstock_677627804. Dorothy K Haynes King of the Fair

 Folk horror has been having a bit of a resurgence on the cinema screen in recent years, and it has always been a favourite genre of mine in film and in literature.

The ‘King for a Day’ theme has always been a popular one for horror writers—where an unwitting outsider is jokingly made king by the locals in keeping with some longstanding rural tradition—often to find that he is to lose more than his crown by the end of the day.

Haynes re-writes this narrative into the context of a garish English seaside pier, told from the perspective of the fool/king’s wife and in doing so gives it a sticky, sherry glazed domesticity that makes it all the more horrible.

Haynes was a Scots writer whose work regularly crops up in horror anthologies—she wrote short stories and novels as well as articles for The Scotsman.

Her own childhood had in its outline more than a little of the gothic to it—she grew up in an orphanage with her twin brother Leonard, and later married a former resident of the same orphanage.

It is impossible to read this story without hearing in your head the sound of carousel music, screams and the voice booming “who-o-o’ll be King of the Fair?”

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5. Rosemary Timperley Harry

 Timperley was born in North London in 1920 and wrote prolifically right up until her death in 1988 (on my thirteenth birthday, as it happens). Her stories appear in many anthologies—some of which she also edited and introduced.

She also wrote scores of novels, as well as plays and scripts for television. This story, Harry, has been filmed many times because it is so creepy in its imagery—in what is both seen and unseen.

Such ordinary things make me afraid. Sunshine. Sharp shadows on grass. White roses. Children with red hair. And the name—Harry. Such an ordinary name.

Harry himself is unseen by most, but not all in the story—but that does not stop him from exerting his will, however loving—on those around him.

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6. Elizabeth Gaskell Lois the Witch

 Gaskell was born in 1810 and is well remembered for her novels describing life across the whole strata of Victorian society, with a particular emphasis on the roles and lives of women.

Books like North and South, Cranford and Wives and Daughters have been filmed as costume dramas and are well-loved both for her clever characterisation and for her satirisation of Victorian mores.

She also wrote exceedingly spooky gothic fiction. Most often included in anthologies is the The Old Nurse’s Story – which features a cold dead child who cries and taps on the window—but even more haunting for me is her novella Lois the Witch (1861).

There is something so precarious and awful about the predicament of poor Lois Barclay—the English girl who finds herself left with unknown Puritan relatives on the raw edge of the wilderness in seventeenth century Massachusetts.

Satan may be abroad in that splintered settler community, but Mrs Gaskell knows that a girl’s greatest danger has always been the unrequited affections of an unwanted suitor.

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7. Jean Rhys I Used To Live Here Once

 By far the briefest story on this list, with I Used To Live Here Once Rhys shows that you the simplest moment—some pretty children in the sunshine, a split second realisation—can outlast some of the most verbose tomes in its power to stick with you.

Rhys was born on the island of Dominica in the Caribbean in 1890 and is best remembered today for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which functions as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. As someone who felt themselves a perpetual outsider in the British society she mainly lived in she had a knack for presenting a perspective unlooked-for in most literature of it’s time.

I Used to Live Here Once can be found in Rhys’s 1976 collection Sleep it Off, Lady

shutterstock_583602858. Delia Sherman Mrs Carstairs and the Merman

 Of all the authors on this list Delia Sherman is my most recent discovery.

Born in Tokyo in 1951 this American writer has published young adult and adult fiction in the Fantasy genre, and her first short story collection—Young Woman in a Garden—came out in 2015.

She is a most satisfying world-builder whose fantastic environments look much like our own except for the presence of werewolves, paper-poppetts come to life or witches practising space bending magic.

The titular Mrs Carstairs is a late nineteenth century Massachusetts spinster and naturalist, with a ‘reputation of being very sound on the Mollusca of the New England coast’.

Then one day the stormy sea brings her a very interesting specimen indeed.

Not so frightening as fantastical I like this story very much—perhaps my penchant for the creature of Black Lagoon fame makes me a little biased— I can only hope we get more from her soon.

34736241781_12278bf357_o 9. Joan Aiken Furry Night

Ok, so strictly speaking Furry Night isn’t really all that terrifying either, despite having lycanthropy at it’s golden-eyed heart.

Joan Aiken wrote plenty of stories that are really very spooky—she was a dab hand at the creepy—but perhaps because of the title or perhaps because of her distinct take on werewolves I love this story very much and often come back to it.

Aiken was born in Rye, in Sussex, in 1924 and is best remembered for her alternative history books for children, known collectively as the Wolves Chronicles.

She also published many collections of spooky stories and one supernatural novel for adults as well as novels that act as companions to some Jane Austen titles.

In Furry Night Dr Ian Peachtree is employed to act as secretary/physician to Sir Murdoch, a renowned Shakespearian actor who has had to retire from the stage due to his being a werewolf.

All seems to be alright until the local tradition of ‘furry night’ threatens to bring trespassers onto his land. Furry Night can be found in the collection A Bundle of Nerves (1976). main-qimg-aaf50f6018618c3a580d0cc529af02bf-c

10. Kelly Link The Specialist’s Hat

Unlike the last two stories, The Specialist’s Hat is as spooky as all get out.

The first time I read it I found it so disturbing I had to read it again immediately to try to inoculate myself against its creeping horror.

Like all really good horror it is hard to put your finger on what it is about it that brings such chills; it taps into something inside yourself you didn’t know was there.

Kelly Link was born in Miami in 1969 and now lives in Massachusetts where she writes and co-manages Small Beer Press with her husband.

She has published several collections of stories as well as individual stories like this one, for which she won the World Fantasy Award in 1999.

And lucky for you, you can read The Specialist’s Hat straight away, for here is a link to it. http://kellylink.net/specialists-hat 

Be sure and let me know what it did to you.

shutterstock_377486215 Surprise! Because you are such very good readers here is a Bonus Story: Joyce Carol Oates Where Are You Going Where Have You Been. Because no list of creepy stories should be without a story by Oates, the author of some of the most horrifying of short horror fiction. You are very welcome.

Surprise surprise!  I am always on the look out for new reading suggestions.

 Comment with your favourite creepy or fantastical story is (any author, any story) and I will put you in the draw to win a brand new copy of Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier.  

This competition is open to any blog reader anywhere in the world but only for a week!  I will draw a winner on August the 9th 2017, so hit me with your story suggestions and good luck!

This competition is now closed!  Congratulations Helena!

 

Small Screen Screams

Laura Macfehin retrieves some made-for-television goodness from the golden age of TV movies- resurrecting some her childhood faves and pointing fans to some seventies gems.

Goggle Box

There was a time when the television set was the central screen in most people’s lives, and broadcast television was what was on it. Before personal computers and streaming and smart phones and downloading—hell before DVD rentals—before VHS!—you came home, switched on the tube and what was on was on was what there was until the end of broadcasting when there was nothing more till morning time.

It was a weird, boring, beautiful form of entertainment—a sort of static filled magic-mirror that as a kid you lay on the floor in front of and waited for whatever cultural artefacts were going to bob up to its surface in front of you. It could be some studio audience sitcom making references to a culture you didn’t fully understand, or a Forties matinee with beautifully lettered title cards or late at night an English horror set where bouffanted ladies in Technicolour negligees ran through Gothic castles.

Things appeared and were gone with broadcast television and there was no way to revisit them or find out how or why they existed. If you tuned in half way through you might not what you were watching until the ad break— sometimes you might never know what it was you just saw and with no context the strange images stayed in your brain and formed their own neural networks.

What I did I just see?

As you grew up there would be conversations that started “did you ever see a movie set on a plane where Captain Kirk was a priest fighting evil druid ghosts?” or “what was that thing we saw once with a house that killed the families who lived there? And Bette Davis was in it? That scared the shit out of me!” Then eventually the internet came along and most of our questions and some of our prayers were answered.

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If you could turn back time

Not every thing from your childhood can hold up to adult scrutiny.  Having re-watched MacGyver I speak with bitter experience.  On the other hand sometimes what caught the attention of our half-formed psyches turn out to be even better than we remember.  The Legend of Lizzie Borden was made for television in 1975, but I saw it some time in the eighties, when it confirmed my suspicion that the Victorian era was full of tainted meat, gender inequality and dark parlours containing bludgeoned corpses.  It was released on DVD in 2014 and you can also watch it on YouTube.  Elizabeth Montgomery (everybody’s favourite TV witch) is fantastic as possible axe-murderess Lizzie (who in real life was Montgomery’s sixth cousin!).  Although not a horror as such the film has such a creepy vibe and is so chillingly told it is likely to spook you long after the credits roll.  Be sure and watch the European cut if you can – it is four minutes longer and features essential nudity!

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Devil or Angel

When I was 10 years old I read and re-read the Lois Duncan teen horror Summer of Fear.
It featured a teen witch who inveigles her way into a family and displaces the heroine of the book; stealing her boyfriend and most shockingly- tricking her into sewing an unflattering prom dress!  I was chuffed when I found as an adult that the book had been adapted for the small screen in 1978.  Directed by Wes Craven and starring Linda Blair Stranger In Our House aka Summer of Fear captures all of the weirdness of the book in full seventies fabulousness.  Added bonuses include Fran Drescher (and her voice) in a supporting role and the craziest perm you’ve ever seen on Blair.

stranger in our house

Something Evil was one of those films that niggled away at the back of my brain for years.  I didn’t know what it was called, who was in it or much of the plot but that didn’t stop me from trying to track it down.  Luckily then Google came along and all I needed was ‘creepy film with barn’ to tell me what I needed to know.  Something Evil is the second of four television films Steven Spielberg was contracted to direct for Universal.  The first, Duel with Dennis Weaver, has become a cult classic whereas Something Evil doesn’t get a lot of love.  I think that’s a shame because it is a perfectly formed little film- even weirder than I remembered it- with a marvellous Sandy Dennis who I find mesmerising to watch.  

something

Prime Time

The seventies and eighties were a special time for creepy television.  I’ve only mentioned three here and haven’t even gone near the British stuff, but tomes could be written (actually, if they have let me know because I’d love to read them).  The films made had to be safe enough for general viewing and not too budget heavy, which meant filmmakers had to be a lot more creative with their scares.  True, some just replaced the gore you’d get in theatres with histrionics instead, but through the lens of some forty years even the screaming and fainting can have a kitsch appeal.  There are loads more wonderful tv movies out there but tell me — what are your favourites? Or is there something you half remember seeing as a kid that scared the bejesus out of you?  You never know… I might have seen it too!