Monday, May 26, 2008

Your Sinister Summer

It's Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. (The REAL start is the summer solstice, coming in a few weeks.) And it's our job to make summer as sinister as possible.

What is a sinister summer?

A sinister summer is where the shadows are still found in the corners, where you're sure that eerie adventures are lurking around the next corner as you explore and sniff out something new. It's taking time out on a hot afternoon to read a shuddersome novel, or retreat back into the air conditioning to watch a favorite horror film. Or taking a less stifling afternoon to do a little touring and exploring.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I first learned of William Sloane's work from an article about "weird mysteries" I read in college. I'll be damned if I remember the author or the book it was in, but I did copy down a list of titles and authors that I still have somewhere. And that was over twenty years ago. Sheesh.

The cover looks promising, but the lurid promise isn't carried out too well. (The edition I have is a 1967 paperback; the novel itself was published in 1937.) The story is the account of Richard Sayles, a college professor from New York, who visits a former colleague in an isolated house in coastal Maine. His friend, Julian Blair (rather Dark-Shadows-ish, that) has been engaging in some strange, secretive experiments. He just hasn't been himself since his beloved wife died, y'see. And staying with him are his young sister-in-law and the surly, arrogant, and mysterious Mrs. Walters.

The foreshadowing is laid on thick in the opening chapters. There's a lot of "had I but known!" stuff going on, and several paragraphs are dedicated to breathless, purple gloom-and-doom prose. He writes of the town near the house, "How can they look down their own streets and across the river to the point where Julian's house once stood without feeling the hairs lift on the backs of their necks?" Yeesh.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Go Out for a Walk

It's May, it's a lovely Saturday evening. Go out for a walk in the neighborhood, and let your imagination roam. Look for some of the dark and mysterious landmarks around where you are.

Walk by that small apartment building that's been condemned and has been standing empty for months. An recycling container stands empty on the porch. A doormat, now thick with pollen, is draped over a railing, abandoned. The bushes are growing high against one of the windows, where the blinds hang in a tangle.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Grande Dame Guignol: Reflections on BABY JANE

So Friday night I got together with some fellows and saw that 1962 masterpiece WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? on the big screen for the first time.


I have to say that I am a bit of a fan of Bette Davis, and I always felt the movie belonged to her. Sure, she was shrill, over-the-top, and theatrical; that was her character, a batshit crazy relic of a time gone by. Joan Crawford is more restrained but her facial expressions often seem more comical than anything else, and her famous scene of twirling around her room in her wheelchair is uproariously silly.

So, of course, it's all about how cruel Jane Hudson (Davis) is to her poor crippled sister (Crawford), and how Jane begins to slide into insanity. And the film's now-famous final confession turns everything on its head.

OK, so if you're spoiler sensitive, ignore the rest of this bit.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

First review! SATAN'S CHILD by Peter Saxon

Peter Saxon was a house name used by a clutch of British writers in the 60s and early 70s. The name was most notably used on a series about a team of supernatural detectives called "The Guardians," and for writing a novel called THE DISORIENTATED MAN that was filmed as that cinematic classic SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN.

This particular novel, written by Wilfred McNeilly in 1967, is a totally batshit crazy example of quasi-porno-gothic excess. It opens in Scotland, presumably in the 1700s, as the people of the village of Kinskerchan are parading Elspet Malcolm through the streets naked, on her way to be executed for witchcraft. Elspet is innocent, of course. She's merely a beautiful and free spirit who's being railroaded by the resentful and jealous women and priggish, self-righteous men of the village. Even her repressed, holier-than-thou husband is condemning her.

The book lingers almost lovingly on the descriptions of Elspet's torments, which only gives a hint of what's coming up. Her children Iain and Morag witness their mother burning and Iain swears revenge....REVENGE!

And then the fun begins.