Thursday, April 17, 2014

April's Night Out at the Movies!

It's an unexpectedly chilly night in April, and we're all lamenting and wondering if this winter will ever end. Warmed by our meal in the familiar old restaurant, we walk down the street to our usual movie theater...

First up is a seasonable short from 1907, directed by Segundo de Chomon. Appropriately, it's "The Easter Eggs."



And then, the main feature....a twisted thriller from 1932, "Midnight Warning"!



The show over, we wander up the street to our favorite cafe for a drink and further conversation before parting ways yet again....


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

TALES FROM A GAS-LIT GRAVEYARD, edited by Hugh Lamb

Hugh Lamb was a great anthologist and literary historian, and he dug up quite a few previously unknown stories that have now become standards in anthologies and are studied by scholars and students. His many anthologies of Victorian ghost stories are almost required reading among fans of supernatural fiction.

So, let's run through the contents...

"The Haunted Station" is a great story of a haunted hut in the Australian outback, written by Hume Nisbet. It's a gloriously evocative and eerie tale, where the scenery of the outback is as menacing and ghostly as the hauntings themselves. Although the haunting is fairly standard, it's well-written enough to be worth reading on its own.

"The Hour and the Man" is a conte cruel by Robert Barr, reminiscent of "The Torture by Hope" by Villiers de L'Isle Adam. "Nut Bush Farm" by Mrs. Riddell is an OK haunted-house story, centering on a theft and unsolved disappearance. J. H. Pearce's "The Man Who Coined His Blood into Gold" is an interesting folk tale/dark fantasy/adult fairy tale that is unusual for the period; unfortunately, its avant-garde nature probably cost Pearce any fame. Not much is known of him today and his work remains obscure.

Next up is two short-shorts by Lady Dilke, who was involved in a scandal that rocked the Victorian age, and of course is almost forgotten now. "The Shrine of Death" and "The Black Veil" are very Gothic, and seem almost old-fashioned compared to the other stories here. Ambrose Bierce's "The Ways of Ghosts" is a collection of brief essays about ghostly phenomena, in his typical style, always dry and mordantly witty.

"The Fever Queen" by K. and H. Prichard is more of dark irony than ghosts; the same with W. C. Morrow's "The Permanent Stiletto." The former is of an artist who vanishes after his greatest work is a flop...but later it's acclaimed as a masterpiece. The latter is of a man seeking treatment after a murder attempt...and of the fear that leads to his eventual fate.

Richard Marsh's "The Houseboat" is a straightforward tale of a haunted craft and an investigation that leads to its resolution. It's good fun, vividly told. "Dame Inowslad" by R. Murray Gilchrist, one of the Decadents, is a good cruel tale of supernatural vengeance...or is it otherworldly fulfillment? It's a masterful work, and Lamb was responsible for Gilchrist being revived and studied again.

Two fictionalized Spanish legends, "The Mountain of Spirits" and "The Golden Bracelet," are by Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, and are a pleasant dash of dark folkloric fantasy. "The Tyburn Ghost" by The Countess of Munster is a very nicely grisly short piece that prefigures some of Elliott O'Donnell's "true" ghost stories.

"Remorseless Vengeance" by Guy Boothby is a cruel little tale from another specialist in Victorian Australia. And the volume is ended with two tales from Bernard Capes. First is "The Green Bottle" which is a pleasantly vivid story of a soul trapped in a bottle. And finally is the now anthologized-almost-to-death "An Eddy on the Floor," which is hardly worth going into as everyone's read it.

There really isn't a bad story in the bunch; every one is worth reading in one way or another. I really liked "The Haunted Station", "The Houseboat," "Dame Inowslad," and "The Tyburn Ghost," and I will keep this handy to refer to them from time to time. This is still in print, both in physical editions and as an ebook. Go get it now.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Skipping the calendar this month

Sorry, I've had a crazy week; getting rid of my old car, getting the new car all set up with the insurance company, doing my taxes (had to pay; ow), and having a stress test at the cardiologist today, so the calendar has been far from my mind.

I've been wondering about discontinuing it; not sure how useful it is to anybody. If readers have opinions, please chime in.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Phantom Ballad for April

Finally, spring is arriving and slowly warming the air. We're spending an evening at a nice little cafe near the waterfront, having some shrimp and beer and listening to a fellow on a guitar on the little stage.

At one point, he sings this eerie song...



Apparently of Canadian origin, this ballad has several versions (of course), but all revolve around a young woman mourning the loss of her drowned love...and most include his macabre visit. A few watered-down versions don't have him showing up; they just leave her mourning by the waterside.

Out on the water...what's the ripple? Nothing...it's nothing...

Monday, March 31, 2014

"The Homo Poe Show" from Iron Crow Theatre

So, I FINALLY have a car again, and am having fun doing stuff I wasn't able to do before, like going to the library or grocery store on impulse. I'm looking forward to be able to visit parks and have adventures. And going to the theater!

I found out about this by chance when browsing the Baltimore Sun's gay news page, got a ticket online, and braved an unexpected slush storm to get there. And I'm glad I went.

Produced by Iron Crow Theatre, a Baltimore-based LGBT theater group, this puts an interesting gay twist on the works of Poe. Of course, some of Poe's work kind of lends itself to gay interpretation; I always wondered about C. Auguste Dupin. Seriously, this is a fun, provocative work.

Something interesting about it, besides being a series of vignettes doing a gay twist on Poe, is the amount of aerial choreogrpahy (from Mara Neimanis), with characters climbing on large rings, and at one point, an arrow, hanging from the ceiling. It gives a unique aspect to the staging, which also includes some dance as well.

It kicks off with "I Dreamed of Poe," in which Neimanis engages in some aerial work, including making a pendulum of herself. Then up is "Thomas," a sort of gay twist on "Eleonora" with aspects of "Annabel Lee." Then comes my favorite part of the show, "Timothy," which is more directly influence by "Annabel Lee" but also tackles a gay man's obsession with youth, always chasing young guys who represent his long-lost first love, and being mocked all the while by Time, swinging on a pendulum. Then up is "Super-Hot Raven," an amusing satire on super-politically-correct intellectualism, as a lesbian poet comes home to find a handywoman in a Ravens jersey fixing the radiator...and then they fall in love.

The second part is rather dance-oriented, kicking off with an aerial piece by Neimanis, "Points of Grief," and then a forceful dance/choreographed fight between two men, "Do You Mark Me Well?" The last piece, "Grieving and Sequins," hits on Poe's themes of loss of loved ones, and borrows a bit from "Masque of the Red Death," as a man who lost his lover to AIDS confronts the specter of his infection and how it keeps him from engaging with life.

There's good performances all round, and a very literate and intelligent script. The combination of traditional theater with dance and aerial choreography makes for a blast of a theatrical experience. There is some brief nudity, which I certainly enjoyed but it's worth mentioning for those with delicate sensibilities. But if you have delicate sensibilities, what the hell are you doing reading this blog?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I MARRIED A DEAD MAN by Cornell Woolrich

But wait, I hear you cry. That picture says "William Irish"! Well, yeah. That was a pseudonym used by prolific pulp author Cornell Woolrich; when it's reprinted today (which is rare, for some reason), it's credited to Woolrich. (That's an old cover above; the version I have is much less interesting artistically.)

It's the 1940s. (The book was published in 1948, and no other time is given.) Helen is eight months pregnant, unmarried, and has been cast aside by her paramour, who has simply sent her a train ticket back to her hometown of San Francisco, and a five-dollar bill. Depressed and miserable, with nothing to live for, she is temporarily cheered on the train trip by meeting young married couple Patrice and Hugh Hazzard, who are on their way to meet his parents. Patrice is pregnant as well, almost as far gone as Helen. And she learns that Hugh's family has never met Patrice, and doesn't even know what she looks like.

Naturally, it happens. Patrice and Helen are in the washroom together. Patrice complains of her loose wedding band, and asks Helen to hold it for her. Helen puts it on her finger to keep it safe....and the train is in a horrible accident.

Helen gives birth in the wreckage, passes out, and wakes up in the hospital...and discovers she's been mistaken for Patrice. The Hazzards are dead, and the REAL Patrice was mistaken for Helen. Her first instinct is to set the record straight...but nobody takes her seriously, then she finds out the Hazzards are incredibly wealthy, and thinks of how they would provide for her child much better than she ever could. So she goes along with it, slowly adjusting herself to her new lifestyle and happily caring for her child.

Until one day, an envelope arrives in the mail. Inside, the letter has a single sentence. "Who are you?"

Really, if you think I've given away a lot, I haven't. This is the basic setup, and what follows is a dark and twisted tale of secrets, lies, blackmail, and murder.

If this sounds like film noir, or Hitchcock, you wouldn't be far off the mark. Countless classic films have been made from Woolrich's works. Rear Window. Phantom Lady. The Bride Wore Black. The Leopard Man. Night Has a Thousand Eyes. The Window. Mississippi Mermaid. Original Sin. Many more. And this novel was filmed in 1950 as No Man of Her Own, with Barbara Stanwyck. It's said that more films noir were based on his work than any other crime writer, and it's fitting. His style is spare but cinematic, lending itself well to dramatic interpretation.

But land sakes, it's DARK. I'm not giving anything away when I say it ends on a dark and despairing note, as it begins with that and the story is told in flashback. This is that dark, cynical universe where the bad guys might get theirs but the good guys may get screwed over in the process. After reading this I need a nice cozy ghost story to brighten my mood. Supernatural terrors are one thing, but man's inhumanity to man, and the cruelties of fate, are something else, and much worse.

Woolrich can be hard to find; much of his work is out of print (estate issues, saith Wikipedia), but every now and then you can find something in your local friendly used-book emporium. Once I even found a hardcover collection, "The Best of William Irish", that had PHANTOM LADY, DEADLINE AT DAWN, and an assortment of stories, and no mention of the Woolrich name. But keep your eyes open, you might find something. And note the titles of the movies based on his work; even when diluted for the screen, they're an experience. (And boy, was The Bride Wore Black diluted, robbed of a brutal, ironic twist at the end...)

Monday, March 17, 2014

March's Night Out at the Movies!

It's a snowy St. Patrick's Day, and we're avoiding the chain restaurants and bars and instead going to our favorite restaurant and then to a movie!

Opening the evening is a hopeful tale of spring, 1912's "L'iris Fantastique."


Tonight, it's the weird Western "Hidden Valley," from 1932, which mixes murder mystery with elements of a Lost World romance.


And then it's down the street for a few drinks and conversation before going our separate ways...