Guest Blog: Journey into Darkness by Alyson Faye

Journey into Darkness

by Alyson Faye

I didn’t spring fully formed into writing for the horror genre; it’s been a gradual slither in that direction with side detours including children’s stories (albeit supernatural in plot) and poetry. However, the seeds were sown early on, for I was a voracious reader as an only child and trips to the local library where a highlight for me. I can recall vividly the covers of those Alfred Hitchcock Mystery compilation books and the Pan Horror paperbacks, which I consumed in vast quantities in my teens. Even now the mere sight or touch of one of those paperbacks makes the years roll back. Books are powerful. Portals to alien lands – including your own past.

Robert Westall’s oeuvre was raced through; two particularly stick in my mind:- ‘Scarecrows’ which sparked a real terror of the straw men in my heart, and his ‘The Watch Tower’ set in his own seaside hometown, Tynemouth in the UK. The creepy messages written in the dust really gripped my imagination. Another Northern British writer for teens was Robert Swindells, who doesn’t just write horror but when he does like his ‘Room 13’, it sticks with you.

I managed to trace a much-loved book (long lost to me) through the internet – joy!- It’s another time slip, supernatural haunting tale – ‘The Snowstorm’ by Beryl Netherclift, which I must have borrowed five times from the library. The children’s door to the past is via the snow globe in the library- hence the title.

No reading journey for a horror writer isn’t complete without nods to Stephen King and James Herbert. I read all of King’s early books, (particular faves ‘Cujo’ and ‘Carrie’). I did have a pet dog at the time which gave me concern whilst reading Cujo. With King of course the books were linked to the films/TV- so in 1979 the US TV movie of ‘Salem’s Lot’ starring a post- ‘Starsky and Hutch’ David Soul had me hooked and freaked out,  especially the scene where the vampire boy comes a-tapping at Mark’s window to be let in. Will he or won’t he gain admission? I slept all summer with my bedroom windows closed. Better to suffocate than be turned into one of the undead.

Let me not forget a nod in the direction of that TV staple, ‘Dr Who’. For me it was all about the Tom Baker years, which got surprisingly dark considering the show’s early screening time of 6pm ish. Monsters abounded in some cracking yarns:-  ‘Image of the Fendhal’ and ‘The Pyramids of Mars,’ especially influential though for me, was the classic show, ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’. I’ve watched it several times as an adult and it still gives me the creeps. That frisson of nostalgia and anticipation- I just love it. I relished the Gothic London Victorian setting and the demonic ventriloquist’s dummy equipped with the pig’s brain, which was in 1977, to an 11-year-old me, a real shocker.

Books and films have been my dual touchstones for all of my life; the two often being intertwined. The one leading to and feeding back to the other. I watched a lot of late night Hammer horrors on BBC2 growing up. Well, I watched a lot of movies, not just horror, period. I even used to review them in my diary and keep scrapbooks of cuttings and go to film memorabilia fairs.

In the days pre VHS and setting record on your TV- I know hard to imagine a world like that – you had to stay up late to catch something unusual- like John Barrymore in the silent 1920 version of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, and although special effects have come on a million light years since then there still is something visceral and feral in Barrymore’s transformation into the evil Hyde.

Lon Chaney’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ (1925) mainly black and white but surprisingly for the year, with some sequences in two strip colour, was another stay-up till the early hours job. But oh the moment where the phantom’s mask is stripped away has stayed with me for 40 years. Chaney, in one silent close up, showed the pain behind the mask and the man within the monster. Brilliant. I’d watch him in anything.

One year BBC2 dedicated a whole season to the films produced by Val Lewton at RKO in the 1940’s- so in succession you could watch, 1942’s ‘Cat People’, then on the next night, ‘I Walked with a Zombie’ and so on through his film career. These were all low budget B films, short of cash but rich on ideas, photography and story. You never see the big cat attack the girl in the swimming pool in ‘Cat People’, it’s all shot with shadows and clever soundtrack effects, but it is scary as heck and put me off swimming alone for years. True story- I refused to swim in a basement pool in a hotel in Norfolk,UK until someone else got in- I was about 13 years old though.

I wrote an article on Lewton’s career which is up at https://womeninhorrorblog.wordpress.com/?s=alyson+faye.  (Thank you to Claire Fitzpatrick for encouraging me to write this piece and posting it).

In the second phase of my writing life, post-40ish, I have turned my hand to writing flash fiction for the first time as well as writing longer stories. My natural tendency, it became clear to me, is to write dark, weird and haunted. So I people my tales with feral children, demons, ghosts, assassins, abused women, mermaids, killer teens and the occasional vampire (often for some reason called Vinnie). My début flash fiction collection came out in January this year from indie publisher Chapel Town Books and is called appropriately, ‘Badlands’. A title, inspired, yes you guessed it, by the Terrence Malick 1973 film, (another memorable late night TV viewing where Martin Sheen made quite an impact and I never looked at relationships the same way again.)

I kept writing and always kept reading horror/supernatural writers, following their stories through the small horror mags – folk like Alison Littlewood (her first novel ‘A Cold Season’ takes some beating but probably her latest ‘The Crow Garden’ is her Victorian Gothic tour de force), Simon Avery and Mark Valentine, whilst avidly consuming Susan Hill’s ghost stories and everything by Sarah Rayne.

I read all of Rayne’s back catalogue in less than a year; her novels are a mix of psychological terror/horror/history. Try ‘Ghost Song’, if you want to dip in, its one of her best. I even wrote her a (rare for me fan email) and she kindly replied. Happily I will be interviewing Sarah Rayne about her latest book, ‘Song of the Damned’ and her writing career, after I approached her publishers and she agreed, (hurrah) and the interview will go out on the Horror Tree site. I should mention that through another interview I conducted for Horror Tree a new name in horror came my way, Australian writer, Deborah Sheldon, whose prize winning short story collection ‘Perfect Little Stitches’, is very scary, original and well worth seeking out.

Currently I am reading Laura Purcell’s début Gothic chiller ‘The Silent Companions’ and I am happily revelling in the oh so familiar Victorian landscape of widows, diaries, mysterious deaths, creepy servants, attics, diamonds and those ‘Companions’ of the title.

Much of my own horror fiction, like ‘Mother Love’  is Victorian Gothic (Women in Horror Annual 2), https://www.amazon.co.uk/Women-Horror-Annual-Rachel-Katz/ and my latest story, all 6000 words of it, ‘Mr Dandy’ which I’ve written, on request, for an upcoming anthology, ‘DeadCades’ (to be published in October this year, by The Infernal Clock press, an indie co-run by Steph Ellis and David Shakes), http://infernalclock.blogspot.com/ has been influenced by many of the writers I’ve mentioned. ‘Mr Dandy,’ the ventriloquist’s dummy, is inspired both by Dr Who’s Weng Chiang and Ealing’s 1945 portmanteau horror/supernatural film ‘Dead of Night’ and the segment starring Michael Redgrave as the ventriloquist.

Tim Lebbon (especially his ‘The Silence’) and F. G. Cottam’s books require a mention too as significant influences. Cottam’s ‘The Colony’ trilogy are so well written you think it’s a real story happening to real people. Cottam is described, rightly as ‘one of the finest contemporary writers of supernatural horror.’ (Jan Olandese) I’d agree with that. He also writes real page turners.

One of the sites which published my horror drabbles and longer pieces regularly and thereby gave me encouragement, was The Horror Tree –  https://horrortree.com/. It is co-run by Stuart Conover (its founder) and the aforementioned horror writer Steph Ellis. https://stephellis.weebly.com/ It is a useful one- stop resource site for both reading horror fiction and for listing the many mags where you can submit. Lately the site has expanded into interviews with horror writers and book reviews.

I have watched a lot of horror films –some were seminal for me, like my first viewing of ‘Halloween’ and the 1980 version of ‘The Fog’ best watched at night, with drawn curtains in winter- I find. Remember Neil Marshall’s 2005’s ‘The Descent? where that foolhardy group of women cavers go down into the earth’s depths and you just know it will go pear shaped, they had no idea did they? I love the moment in a film/book where you know the characters’ world is going to topple into chaos, terror and death. It’s a hold your breath and feel the shivers creep up your spine time.

My top three films, probably, which I’ve watched in the last couple of years:- 2017’s ‘Get Out’/ 2018’s ‘A Quiet Place’/ 2017’s ‘Annabelle: Creation’. I often write about dolls in my stories, and have a habit of going to Museums of Dolls and Dolls houses in my spare time. I never liked them as a child, and I still don’t. Some girls do not play with dolls, ‘cos they know the dolls are watching!

I am a huge Guillermo del Toro fan, but it is a TV series he co-created, more than his movies which gripped me for 4 seasons – if you haven’t seen ‘The Strain’ ? Well you’ve not seen the best ever vampires/zombies post apocalyptic thrill ride of a show. So rush out and buy those DVDs now! Like I did. I was hooked. There were  human characters to root for and others to hate- each episode is in itself a mini movie (the supermarket zombie siege while just doing some grocery shopping is the best ever)- you’ll never late night shop at Asda alone again. Each episode had a horrifying jump scare every 10 minutes.

When I’m asked what I do – I say I write, and folk go ‘oh that’ s nice’ etc etc but when they ask what I write? That’s a different scenario- say horror, and their eyebrows go up and that look of surprise tinged with distaste creeps in. Know that look? For every horror fan out there and there are millions, there are just as many folk who really don’t like it. Yes my fiction might disturb or raise shivers, great! I want it to, but it is fiction, a story and a way I think of putting our fears out there and then putting them to bed in a story box. I think it is a genre which calls to you, why write it otherwise? You’ve got to love it to want to put in the hours, sweat and blood. Creatively speaking, not literally.


Badlands by Alyson Faye is up on amazon :- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Badlands-Alyson-Faye/dp/1910542253

My blog:- www.alysonfayewordpress.wordpress.com

 

Kbatz: Silent Film Scares!

Frightening Flix

 

Silent Film Scares!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Here are but a few early film frights to catch your tongue!

 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Sleepwalking, hypnosis, and a demented carnival atmosphere are just the beginning for this influential 1920 paragon. From the German intertitles complete with a madcap, unreliable narrator font to the eerie, off key merry go round score, the distorted perceptions and exaggerated visuals force the viewer to pay attention. Green patinas, teal evening scenes, golden up close shots, and opening and closing irises layer on the dream like retelling alongside askew, Expressionist angles and a stage like design – a play within a play to which we the audience are willingly privy. Contrasting triangles, shadows, lighting, and more surreal architecture parallel the lacking reality, for there is no external frame of reference and forced perspectives belie a fun house whimsy. The actors, makeup, and abstract period styles are fittingly macabre, and the stilted contortionist movements evoke a poetic but unsettling ballet where a misused seemingly innocent, forgotten pawn needlessly dies once his job no longer computes. Though very indicative of its early interwar time, this remains immediately progressive – man is misled, controlled, even compliant in his misdeeds but not willing to be responsible for his actions when it is easier to be led astray and defer your killing hand to the orchestrating puppeteer. Do we not let popcorn entertainment and social media dictate our needs because someone somewhere told us so? Are we living in a fantasy if we think otherwise? Maybe so. The mass sheep consequences are indeed frightening, and some may find it tough to view this picture objectively knowing the catastrophic calamities to come. The appropriately named Cesare, deadly predictions, a perceived loved triangle, escalating murders, and crazy case connections twist and turn while satirical police sit on high up stools like toy soldiers waiting to be told what to do – like us in our 9 to 5 cubicles. Ignorance is bliss, and that is mighty scary. This is must see genre at its finest thanks to heaps of real world fears and social commentary for horror fans and classroom studies.

 

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThis 1920 John Barrymore silent classic still looks good, with fine style and design and eerie organ music to match. There’s a lovely level of atmosphere for a spooky event- project this baby on some creepy cloth and you’re set! Granted, it’s a little slow to start and long for a silent film at 80 minutes. The presentation itself is almost Victorian in establishing the parlor goodness before its hint of pre-code sauce- the dance and proposition of Nita Naldi (The Ten Commandments). The posturing and makeup for Hyde may seem hokey, there isn’t that much of a visual difference compared to today’s high tech effects transformations. Nonetheless, Barrymore (Don Juan) sells the depravity without over exaggerating as the era often dictates, and the result is quite timeless.  There aren’t many title cards, either.  As the film progresses, the good and evil torment steadily increases thanks to the freaky pictures and creepy performance. A must see. 

 

Fall of the House of UsherThis very early 1928 silent adaptation of Poe’s macabre tale is only 13 minutes. There are no inter cards to read, nor what we would call dialogue. The fashions are decidedly Roaring instead of Victorian, too.  The visuals are so out there-even nonsensical-that it’s almost tough to see Edgar in any of it.  Nonetheless, this moody piece is perfectly disturbed with great, haunting organ music and eerie, distorted photography.  It’s trippy, unexpected, and a little scary. This is another one of those old films that makes for a great demented projection during a spooky party or ghoulish gallery presentation. Though not for everyone, anyone who is a fan of early film experimentation or audiences who just like weird shows should definitely check this out.

 

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Faust – This 1926 F. W. Murnau biggie waxes on all the good and evil one can muster thanks to its Old World appeal, supernatural surreal, and timeless story. Familiar strings and sweeping orchestration ground the Expressionist horror framework with frenetic ills or melodic tender as needed while stunning images of angels both light and dark are fittingly disproportionate with oversized wings. So maybe the mounted skeletons may seem hokey, but the smoke and mirrors, creepy eyes, and evil horns make for superb overlays and superimposed shadows. Why do we toy with spectacular effects when each frame here is like a seamless painting – unlike contemporary, noticeably shoddy CGI. Ghoulish makeup, severe looks done with very little, dark hoods, rays of light, and religious iconography loom large, telling the tale with symbolic light and dark objects dueling for our attention – just like the delicate titular ballet. The battle for one man’s soul is set amid our earthly plague fears, and despite the torment and somewhat odd, dragging domestic humor, the acting is not over the top but subdued for the weighty subject. This macabre is closer to the past than the present, setting off the repentance questions and plague as divine retribution debate. His Old Testament gives no answer, and evil enters in on Faust’s doubts, trading decadence with quills to sign in blood, hourglass measures, alchemy, superimposed flames, and mystical books to match the thee and thou spells. Our deceiving little old man becomes more traditionally devilish looking with each lavish temptation, duplicitous with his immediate tricks of pleasure and unfulfilling youthful elixirs that cannot be sustained. Could you do good with such power? Flight and winds show not how high one goes but how far we will fall, and despite a somewhat overlong hour and forty minute full length edition, the grim sense of dread here snowballs as the looming evil drapes the bedchamber within his robes. Will innocence and love triumph and restore the divine? This stunning attention to detail not only makes me want to tackle Goethe again, but shows what can be done when time is taken to ensure a picture lasts 90 years rather than be a consumed and quickly forgotten 90 minutes. The multiple versions and assorted video reissues will bother completists, but we’re lucky to have these copies at all and horror fans and film students must see this still influential morality play.

 

The Hands of Orlac – Art and music meet the grotesque for this 1924 tale of pleas, surgeries, and will power. Precious few newspaper clippings and streamlined, made to look old intertitles accent the ominous locomotives, vintage vehicles, smoke stacks, and well done but no less hectic disaster filmmaking before the macabre executions and madcap medicine. Doctors in white coats with terrible news, a saintly woman in white, bleak black trees against the clouded white sky – rather than our beloved silver screen, the picture here is truly a black and white negative with bright, symbolic domestic scenes and nighttime outdoor filming. Overwhelming buildings loom tall, and the sharp, gothic arches of a sinister father’s house reflect his uncaring. Eerie superimposed faces, phantom feelings, and impatience to remove the bandages build toward the eponymous hysterics, but the simple agony of handwriting changes and crooked hands so skilled with a killer blade but unable to master the piano wonderfully increase the torment and self doubt. Is it the mind doing these fatal repeats or the appendages themselves taking over? The full near two hour restored version feels somewhat overlong, with melodramatic scenes and unnecessary transitions interfering with the anguish. At times, contrived fingerprint exposition and solving the crime clichés pull the rug out from under the horrific hands possibilities, but fortunately, the blackmail, murder investigation, and bittersweet love anchors the monstrous appendage swapping. Where today we would have all kinds of bent, hairy, or special effects to hit the viewer over the head with how evil these hands should be, it’s amazing how these wicked hands psyching out our pianist don’t look evil per se but actually fairly normal. With our contemporary pick and choose genetics and scientific advancements, the concept of these influential limbs out for themselves is perhaps more disturbing. Could you loose your art and livelihood when calamity takes your hands or would you use extreme science to restore your limbs, accepting the inadvertent trade of music for something more barbarous? This is an excellent must see both for the ghastly what ifs and the inner turmoil at work.

 

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The UnknownLon Chaney (The Phantom of the Opera) and Joan Crawford (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) star in this short but memorable 1927 silent from writer and director Tod Browning.  Similar to Browning’s Freaks in many ways, the grotesque yet tender and sympathetic love triangle here is fast paced and well edited with intense twists and a great, revitalized score.  Sure, it may be a Leap of Faith in taking Chaney as armless and the carnival set-ups are hokey- but trust me.  There’s no over the top acting, only perfect expressions and emotions all around. Crawford looks dynamite, too, with great eyes and readable lips that don’t need inter titles. It’s not all Chaney’s footwork and bravo to his double Paul Desmuke; their combination is strangely delightful to watch. It’s probably a tough concept for some contemporary, effects-obsessed audiences to comprehend, but hearing or reading words aren’t required for the viewer to receive the trauma here.  Yes, some of the essential plot points are fairly obvious today. However, the performances keep it splendid nonetheless. This hour is by necessity of the silent style yet also very modern in its own way. It’s definitely a must see for classic fans, lovers of the cast, and film makers or would be actors- who should definitely take a lesson on the big reveal here!

 

Wolf Blood – This 1925 silent hour plus is the earliest remaining onscreen lycanthrope picture, complete with Canadian flavor, old fashioned logging, spooky forestry, railroads, and jealous love triangles to match the desperate titular transfusion and its would be consequences. A befitting green hue graces the outdoor scenes while standard black and white reflects the bleak interiors and golden tints accentuate the high society parties. The focus is blurry at times, the print understandably jumps, and the music is surprisingly loud. However, the rounded iris close ups add a dreamlike quality, and the vintage jazz tunes and period fashions are a real treat. If you’re looking for a time capsule logging documentary, this is it! Flirtations, camp injuries, company rivalries, drunken dangers, and medical debates give the first half of the picture a purely dramatic pace, but the wolfy fears, mob mentality, and deadly possibilities build in the latter half. Fantastic medicine, superstitious leaps, dreams of becoming the wolf – this isn’t a werewolf film as we know it but the key pieces are here. How fast people turn on you once you have wolf’s blood! The wolf footage is also quite nice, with what looks like real mixed wolf or husky dogs. No, there is no werewolf transformation and it’s all a bit of a fake out in that regard, but the community fears and early man versus beast melodrama is still fun to see.