Monday, October 20, 2014

An October Monday Night at the Cinema

It's time for our monthly night out at the movies! The pre-show dinner involves quite a bit of conversation about our plans for Halloween, the difficulty of coming up with costume ideas, the obscene cost of decorations, and nostalgia for our own days of trick-or-treating.

Then it's up the street to that slightly shabby old cinema for the classic film!

This month, it's one of the first sound Sherlock Holmes films, A Study in Scarlet, starring Reginald Owen as Holmes, and co-starring Anna May Wong!



The show finally over, we go up the street in the increasingly cool air for that final drink before going our separate ways...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

After a busy weekend

I was busy last weekend...

Monster-Mania was this weekend. I've attended this Philadelphia-area convention a few times in the past, but now they've started having a second show in  Baltimore so it's pretty much a given that I have to go.

There were a lot of neat people (like the couple above) but it was mostly a dealers and autographs event. I'm not much of an autograph person, and most of 'em charge of autographs anyway and that's money that I can spend on books and DVDs. There was a movie room as well, but not much real programming aside from that. The dealer's room was mostly collectibles, and that's also something I'm not big on; the manufactured "collector's item" stuff usually leaves me cold. (I'm a picky bastard.) But I did find some cool handcrafted things, like a boutonniere made from old playing cards and with a skull at the center that I'm going to wear to a picnic soon, and a comfy pillow made to look like Sam from the delightful Halloween anthology film Trick'r'Treat. I also got a dozen DVDs, including a few I've been unable to find for a while, like The Big Crimewave (a Canadian noir comedy) and The Unnamable and The Unnamable II. DVDs were surprisingly cheap; I wonder if the trend toward streaming is making them more affordable.


I did get to meet independent filmmaker James Balsamo, which was pretty cool. Yeah. that's me on the right.

Sunday was a small ceremony at Edgar Allan Poe's Grave.


It was organized by the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, a group I should look into joining at some point. Yesterday was the anniversary of his death, so every year about this time they arrange a flower-laying ceremony. It was a quiet, calm observance, and everyone in attendance was invited to lay flowers if they wanted. This was followed by everyone retreating to the Poe Room of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in downtown Baltimore, where they had arranged a lecture on Poe's precarious finances.

The Poe Room is gorgeous and there's tons of rare editions in the shelves; I could while away many hours there. But anyway, the lecture basically confirmed that Poe made some bad financial choices, but was also hampered by the difficulties of earning a living writing, and also the reality of a bad economy at the time. There was some fun discussion afterward, and I got to raise the question of whether Poe was really the first to create the detective story or if it was E. T. A. Hoffmann. (My theory? Hoffmann started to piece together the elements, but Poe synthesized them better.)

I also read this oldie, after coming across references to it as one of the great gothic mystery classics. How was it? Well, badly dated in quite a few ways, but still fairly enjoyable. In WWII-era San Francisco, Hilda Moreau (whose husband is away in the Navy) goes to visit her sisters-in-law, who inhabit a crumbling Victorian house. Eldest sister Pauline controls the purse strings of the family trust, and browbeats (and sometimes blackmails) the other sisters into following her orders. Pauline ends up murdered, and a shady servant and an even shadier lady lawyer end up dead as well before things are resolved.

It's an interesting milieu; almost all characters are women, a reflection of the wartime days when almost all the men were off fighting. But every so often I had to look up some reference that I didn't get, and other aspects of the wartime life are quite alien to 21st-century readers. The resolution also seemed rushed, as if Collins was getting close to her page limit and decided to wrap things up. The solution comes almost as a mistake, rather than as the result of deduction and reason. I guess I'm too much of a fan of the Analytical school.

In personal news, I joined a gym! Yeah, in that photo above, I've got quite the gut. I went for the first time on Tuesday and just walked on a treadmill for a bit, but watch out. In another decade I'll be svelte and sexy.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

October at the Phantom Concert Hall

On a crisp October evening, we dress up and head to that old, partly-restored concert hall that lay forgotten in a shabby part of town until it was revived recently. Empty storefronts are turning into shops, clubs, and restaurants, and streets that were once a blight are now safe to walk again.

The hall itself still has a way to go; the seats aren't the most comfortable, and there are spaces where it obviously needs a coat of paint, but the acoustics are still good and there's a romance in the shabby grandeur.

The orchestra is a newly-formed one, doing their first concert. There's a few of the standard repertoire, some readings of autumnal poetry, and then this charming piece....



We exit, smiling, exchanging words with the conductor and some of the musicians, including that handsome violinist and that blonde oboist. This will be something to return to.

The night air has grown cooler and embraces us as we leave....

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SLEEP NO MORE by L. T. C. Rolt

L. T. C. Rolt (1910-1974) is one of those lesser-known writers you wish more people knew about. His ghost stories were a minor part of his literary output; his efforts were mostly spent in writing about waterways, railroads, cars, biographies of civil engineers, industrial history, and travel, and he was a promoter of leisure cruising in Britain's inland waterways. According to some he was also notable early on for his "green" philosophy. He seems like he was quite a guy.

Sleep No More (published 1948) is interesting as many of the stories eschew the usual manor houses and crumbling churches of M. R. James and his school, but embracing Britain's industrial and transit landscape, which makes him a somewhat different voice in the field of English ghost stories.

So, to give you an overview...

"The Mine" tells of subterranean horrors in a lead mine; brief, but with a punch. "The Cat Returns" is lacking punch, being a fairly standard tale of ghostly appearances with a final "surprise." "Bosworth Summit Pound" has a haunting on a ghostly stretch of canal.

"New Corner" is interesting in that it's a ghost story built around auto racing, with a strange series of accidents happening at a newly-developed turning in a racecourse. "Cwm Garon" is the longest tale of the bunch, the most literary, and the most abstract...but at the same time, fascinating. A man visits an isolated Welsh valley and becomes entranced by its beauty, but also feels a sneaking suspicion of some lurking evil in the landscape. It's a great example of the subgenre of "landscape horror" where it's not really an evil house or specific structure, but the land itself that radiates menace.

"A Visitor at Ashcombe" is probably the most Jamesian of the stories, with a nasty haunting in a rural manor house, purchased by a nouveau riche industrialist. "The Garside Fell Disaster" is a cracker, with a railroad accident and hints of an ancient evil in an isolated train tunnel. "World's End" is a brief tale of premonition and death.

"Hear Not My Steps" is extremely brief, a tale of a haunting, but also seems too brief, as if it's an unfinished fragment thrown in to fill out the collection. Or perhaps it's an experiment in the form. This is more horror fiction than ghost story, really. "Agony of Flame" is a tale of a haunting in an Irish castle, but is very interesting for being very traditionally Jamesian in content but also kicking off with a reference to the atom bomb and Bikini Atoll, setting the tale squarely in a post-WWII world.

"Hawley Bank Foundry" is probably the best example of Rolt's style and fascinations, as it deals with hauntings and unholy things in an old foundry re-opened for war work, and is in the halfway mark of the shift from the pre-war "antiquarian" school of ghost story and the post-war "visionary" school of ghost and horror fiction.

"Music Hath Charms" is also an excellent story that tweaks the form. It's got an old house and antiquarian content, with an antique music box having connections with sorcery and possession, but the story structure is much more modern. "The Shouting" is more landscape horror, with ancient evil suffusing the very land itself. The final story, "The House of Vengeance," is well-done enough but a standard story of ghosts replaying a violent scene.

So there you have it. An interesting and fairly unusual voice in ghost fiction, and also in some ways a transitional figure as proper and civilized ghosts of the Victorian and Edwardian period gave way to the more abstract terrors of the postwar era. His deft touch with industrial settings and for landscape horror make this volume (his only supernatural work) a worthy addition to one's library. I wonder about his other works, but they may be hard to get hold of here in the U.S.; I'll have to see.

I read a nice paperback edition from The History Press, now out of print, but the lovely folks at Ash-Tree Press have a very reasonably priced ebook version available.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

September's Night Out at the Movies!

It's a one of the first cool nights of September as we gather for our regular dinner before the movie. There's tales of work, of various adventures, and of school starting. Tonight's specials are quite good, and there's much good-natured joshing over the bill. By now the waiters are finally used to us.

We go up the street to that old movie theater and settle in for the show...

First up is a 1903 confection from George Melies, "The Infernal Cakewalk"!



(Who says there isn't dancing in Hell?)

The feature presentation is the 1933 thriller "A Shriek in the Night," starring Ginger Rogers!



The show over, we wander off in search of a drink at the local cafe. You need something to fortify you against the chilly night air of autumn!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE GHOSTS OF BLY by Donald Thomas

This was a random find at the library, and turns out to be Thomas' fifth book of Holmes pastiches.

Three stories are contained therein. The first is "The Case of a Boy's Honour" in which Holmes is summoned by the real-life Sir John Fisher, a noted admiral, to investigate an accused theft by a schoolboy at a naval-oriented school. The mystery itself is rather low-stakes, but it involves a good middle-class student with a bright future being besmirched by spoiled, privileged upper-class students. It's nicely resolved by a bit of bluffing, but is diverting enough.

The second is the longest, and qualifies as a novella. "The Case of the Ghosts of Bly" plunks Holmes down into Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw." Holmes comes on the case after the end of the James tale, with the governess (now named Victoria Temple) imprisoned in Broadmoor, and questions being raised about the deaths of both Miles and Flora (!). This is a decent job of turning James' supernatural narrative into a tale of crime and conspiracy. The spectral appearances are given a good explanation, and there's even an explanation of the "things" that Miles said at school that got him expelled. This is one of the better examples of shoehorning Holmes into an established story and having him resolve it.

The third, "The Case of the Matinee Idol," was a bit annoying as it rewrites some of Holmes' character. It's preceded by an essay called "Sherlock Holmes the Actor" which now adds some time on the stage to Holmes' resume; while it makes a certain sense, with Holmes adding to his disguise abilities, it's never referred to anywhere else. And in the story, with Holmes and Watson investigating the poisoning of a popular actor while performing in "Hamlet" on New Year's Eve, Holmes openly refers to having played Hamlet in the past, which is rather jarring.

On the whole, it's irregular pastiche, with the best part being "The Ghosts of Bly." The first story is slightly marred by a judgmental tone toward the school establishment of the time that takes one out of it, and the third so suddenly presents us with Holmes as a former actor that it's hard to get wrapped up in. It feels like a pastiche written by someone who only knew vaguely of the Holmes canon.

It was still entertaining enough, and I may check out the others by this author.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September Miscellany

I don't have anything worthy of a post itself, so here goes a few small things...


  • I turned 49. Been coping with the feeling that 50 is just around the corner and all that age stuff. Still, I probably shouldn't lament too much, my grandfather was 102 when he kicked off.
  • On similar lines, a recent doctor's appointment showed that my blood pressure, cholesterol level, blood sugar level, etc. were all doing very well...but my weight has gone crazy. So yeah, definitely joining a gym soon. I need to lose a few dozen pounds.
  • Saturday, I was tending to some business that didn't take as long as I expected (closing out a bank account, I'm shifting my business to a credit union) so on a whim I went to the Baltimore Comic-Con. I'm not much of a comics person, but I thought, what the hell, it may be worth the adventure. I only spent the afternoon, but it was fun. I ran into my friend Denise who's a MAJOR comics person and through her I got quite a few introductions to various artists. I only bought one comic, a one-shot from Rocket Ink Studios called "Portraits of Poe," but I got some other swag, like a t-shirt with an expressionistic portrait of Poe, a pair of horror novels from ChiZine Publications, and (ahem) a collector's market DVD of the first season of PENNY DREADFUL. Not a bad haul.
  • Coming up on the weekend of 10/3-5, the Monster-Mania Con at Hunt Valley, MD (just outside Baltimore), a horror movie convention, and on 10/24-26 is Hallowread in Ellicott City, MD (just south of Baltimore, and a short drive from my digs in Catonsville), a gathering of "authors and fans of paranormal/urban fantasy, steampunk, and horror." In other words, I'll be at both.
  • Reading a couple different things right now; will report & review when I finish.