The Intercessor

In ghost stories of old, little ghost-girls were more likely to be sweet, sad, and sympathetic than scary.  Such an example can be found in this episode of the 1980s UK anthology series, Shades of Darkness, based on a short story by May Sinclair.

I’m not familiar with the original story, so I can’t judge this as an adaptation. I found it a moving tale about a dead child who isn’t haunting to seek revenge, but to try to reach her guilt-stricken parents.

The Intercessor

Late in 1926, a young man named Garvin, no first name given (John Duttine), has come to the countryside seeking peace and quiet to work. He’s trying to write a book of county history–which county isn’t made clear, but it’s Oop North and from the accents I’m guessing Yorkshire.

Mr. Garvin has been staying in the village, but the room he’s in overlooks the schoolyard and there’s too much noise whenever the children are outside playing. The local doctor, MacKinnon, has recommended a nearby farm which might be willing to take a lodger. Garvin walks out to the farm to meet the Falshaws, a gruff middle-aged farmer, his wife Sarah, and a simple-minded niece, Rachel.

Would they be willing to give him a room? That “depends on the missus,” Falshaw says bluntly. There are no children at the farm at the moment, but there will be one in a month or so. Mrs Falshaw is expecting.

Mrs Falshaw doesn’t object, and Rachel shows Garvin to the empty room upstairs. At first, Garvin tries the door of another room down at the end of the hall, across from the Falshaws’ bedroom, but that door is locked. He does like the room that Rachel takes him to; spacious enough, and with a big window with a view of the yard. He’ll just go back into town and get his books and things.

“It’ll be all right,” Rachel assures him. Until then, Garvin didn’t think there was anything to be worried about.

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Searching for Miss Mapp: Explorations in Rye

Note: This article was first written for and published by the online Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society in 2003. It’s no longer in the archive there, so I’m reposting it here, with photos from the trip described below.
Me in the garden at Lamb House
Me in the garden at Lamb House in 2002

Although Edward Frederick (E.F.) Benson wrote over 70 novels as well as a number of biographies, ghost stories, and other works of fiction and non-fiction, he is best remembered today for his six novels chronicling the social squabbles and adventures of two middle-aged ladies, Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas (known as “Lucia” to her friends).

Lucia first appears in Queen Lucia (1920) as the autocratic but benevolent ruler of her small social circle in the village of Riseholme, a lady of artistic pretensions who affects to speak Italian when she knows but a few phrases, and plays only the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata because it is the slowest and easiest.  Mapp makes her appearance in Miss Mapp (1922) while spying on her neighbors from behind the curtains of her garden-room window.  “Anger and the gravest suspicions about everybody had kept her young and on the boil,” Benson introduces her.  Like Lucia, Mapp leads her own social circle in the town of Tilling.

The two ladies meet in armed combat for social supremacy in Mapp and Lucia (1931), when the recently widowed Lucia comes to Tilling, and the battle rages through two subsequent novels.  Joining Mapp and Lucia in their ongoing war are a collection of delightfully idiosyncratic neighbors: fussy and feminine Georgie Pillson; Mrs. Wyse, who wears her fur coat even on warm days and takes her Rolls Royce into the most narrow and unnavigable streets, and Mr. Wyse, her antiquary husband; gender-bending artist, “Quaint” Irene Coles; blustering Major Benjy; the Reverend Kenneth Bartlett, who affects a Scottish accent even though he is not a Scotsman, and his mousy wife Evie.  As a writer of the foibles of the upper classes in England between the two world wars, Benson’s work can be compared to P.G. Wodehouse’s, if Wodehouse had focused more attention Bertie Wooster’s aunts.   Like Aunt Agatha’s zeal in stealing a silver cow creamer, the quarrels that arise in Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels involve trivial objects and circumstances that take on ridiculously exaggerated importance; for example, one of the fiercest battles between the ladies concerns a recipe for lobster a la Riseholme.

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The Three Doctors, Part 4

At the end of Part 3, Doctors 2 and 3 willed their way out of their cell in Omega’s glittering cave hideaway and snuck back into the chamber where he harnesses the power of a singularity, in hopes of destroying it.

Omega catches them at it and subjects Dr 3 to the power of the Dark Side and a wrestling match with another creature of his making.

After a few flips, the creature gets Dr 3 into a strangle hold; it looks like he’s about to lose, and Omega gloats until Dr 2 warns him: “Destroy him and you destroy your only chance to live.”

Omega relents, and suddenly Dr 3 is back in the singularity chamber with Dr 2 and Omega, lying on the floor and gasping for breath. Dr 2 helps him up, but it’s Omega he thanks.

Driving BessieMeanwhile, the group of Doctors’ companions and friends also escaped from Omega’s cave base are running across the desolate landscape with  Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Mr. Ollis the groundskeeper until they find Bessie where Dr 3 left her parked. They all pile in and the Brigadier announces that they’re going to UNIT HQ. “It’s nearer than you think.”

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Afterward

Afterward

In the early ’80s, my local PBS station showed a few episodes of Shades of Darkness, an anthology series of ghostly and other paranormal tales from Granada Television in the UK, primarily based on short stories by women writers such as Edith Wharton and Elizabeth Bowen. I’d forgotten most of them over the years, until I saw that some (but not all) of these episodes were available in a DVD set.

This story was the one I remembered best and most wanted to see again; I think I saw it even before I’d read the Wharton story it’s based upon.

It’s around 1910. Mrs. Stair, who won’t be seen again after this first scene, is showing the Boynes, Mary (Kate Harper) and Ned (Michael Shannon), an American couple from Waukesha, Wisconsin, around an empty, old English country house that’s for sale.

All the things that would make the house undesirable for other prospective buyers make it the Boynes’ ideal home: It’s 7 miles from the nearest rail station, no electric light, and primitive plumbing. The couple have come into a lot of money through Ned’s sudden windfall with Blue Star Mining stock, which has enabled him to retire 20 years earlier than planned. Looking around LyngHe intends spend his days  writing a book on economics, and he and Mary are looking for just such a place as Lyng to live out their long-standing dream of retreating to the remote peace and quiet of a “genuine Elizabethan manor.”

When they hear that there’s a ghost, they’re delighted. Ned doesn’t want to “drive 10 miles to see someone else’s ghost”; he wants a haunted house of his very own. But both he and Mary are puzzled when Mrs. Stair tells them that, according to local legend, you don’t know you’ve seen the Lyng ghost until a long time afterward.

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The Three Doctors, Part 3

UNIT HQ in the black holeAt the end of the previous episode, Dr 2 lowered the Tardis’s protective forcefield. Not only were he, Sergeant Benton, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart aboard the Tardis zapped, but the entire UNIT HQ was pulled through that black hole into the antimatter universe.

Already in that antimatter universe on a rather desolate planet, Dr 3, Jo, and Dr. Tyler are taken to a sort of throne room, where they and we finally meet the person who’s responsible for all this–that splendidly voiced person in cape and impressive mask whom we just glimpsed in Part 2 (played by Stephen Thorne). He introduces himself as Omega. (“Omegger,” if you speak in a posh British accent, as he and Dr 3 do.)

Dr 3 knows who he is, but thought he’d been destroyed eons ago.

Jo and Dr. Tyler are then taken to a cell in the glittery bauble cave with doors that vanish and reappear as needed; when the door reappears to shut them in, Jo does that thing that I know from Janet Fielding’s (Tegan’s) commentaries on Dr 5 episodes drives her crazy–where they point at an action and exclaim “Look!” before it actually happens, and then it happens.

Once the humans are gone, Dr 3 and Omega have a conversation that fills us in on Omega’s backstory:

Many thousands of years ago, Omega was a brilliant stellar engineer on Gallifrey.  This desolate world was a star, and part of his job was to detonate it and create a supernova to provide the enormous power needed for his people’s nascent time-and-space travel abilities. It was a dangerous mission, but he considered it an honor as well as his duty.  Mission successfully accomplished, but the Time Lords have always assumed that he was killed in the explosion; instead, he’d been thrown into this black hole of antimatter and he considers himself abandoned by them.

Omega

“They became Time Lords,” he grumbles to Dr 2, “and I was forgotten.”

“Not forgotten,” Dr3 tries to assure him. “I’ve always looked on you as our greatest hero.”

“I should have been a god!” Omega responds, which tells you all you need to know about his mental state after being stuck here alone for so long. What he wants now is vengeance. Continue reading “The Three Doctors, Part 3”

The Three Doctors, Part 2

At the end of Part 1, Dr 3 and his companion Jo were zapped by the multicolored blob-thing in UNIT HQ’s lab and disappeared. It’ll be some time before we find out what’s happened to them, The Doctor and Jobut during the activity that follows at UNIT, we’re given a very brief scene of them reappearing via that beam emitting from the so-called black hole and ending up unconscious in a quarry.

Back in the UNIT lab, after theorizing that Dr 3 and Jo have been transported somewhere, Dr 2 observes that the blobby thing has “gone off the boil” and he and Sgt. Benton venture out of the Tardis.

While Dr 2 is testing blobby’s limits, the Brigadier comes in. Being somewhat preoccupied by the blob-thing inside the HQ and the attack by the glittering shrouded creatures outside, it takes him a moment to register that the Doctor is now his old pre-regeneration friend again. He asks about some of their adventures together: the Yeti, the Cybermen attack, and  the Autons story which was Patrick Troughton’s last before he transformed into “that tall, thin fellow.” But this last hasn’t happened yet for Dr 2 at the point when he was taken out of the time-stream,  and he tries to explain this to the Brigadier and avoid spoilers on what’s coming up for him. He refers to himself as a “Temporal anomaly.” Not that the Brigadier really understands this, but he’s got enough to deal with at the moment and just goes along with it.

“You’ve been mucking around with that infernal machine of yours,” the Brigadier concludes, and tells Benton, “As long as he’s done the job, he can wear what face he likes.” He suggests that Dr 2 consult those “all powerful” Time Lords.

“Not so ‘all powerful’ just now,” Dr 2 replies. “That’s why it’s been left up to me and me and me.”
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The Three Doctors, Part 1

In 1974, Doctor Who had been a successful BBC program for nearly ten years; as November approached, the show’s producers were looking for ways to celebrate and make its 10th anniversary show a particularly special occasion. Producer Barry Letts, in his commentary on this DVD, says that one of the requests he’d heard most often from fans was an episode in which the three actors who had played the Doctor all appeared together. Everybody involved was game for it, but it took a bit of work behind the scenes to accomplish.

The first of the four episodes of this anniversary story starts at a wildlife sanctuary. Ducks, swans, and other birds are swimming along on a lake, and something that looks like a weather balloon, or Rover caught in a very large plastic bag, appears to be snagged just at the water’s edge.

Weather balloonAn old man in wellies and carrying a rifle–he’s the grounds-keeper–approaches to examine the box, which resembles a car battery, that’s attached to this rigging and anchoring it.

Soon after, a professorial-looking gentleman in tweed drives up to the sanctuary and is greeted by an elderly woman in a cardigan. She addresses him as “Dr. Tyler.” She’s phoned him about the box her husband found, and directs him down to the lake where hubby, Mr. Ollis, is waiting. He hasn’t touched it, she says, and asks if it’s got chemicals in it that might be a danger to the ducks. Dr. Tyler reassures her on that point and continues driving down to the lakeside.

Mr. Ollis has in fact touched the box, which starts making staticky noises. Then zap!–he disappears. The birds on the lake fly off in alarm.

By the time Dr. Tyler gets out there, he finds the box alone. There’s no sign of the groundskeeper, whom he had glimpsed at a distance just a minute before. He phones UNIT HQ.

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Best of H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Vol. 2

The second part of this anthology of the best short films from the annual Festival. There are more adaptations of Lovecraft stories on this DVD than on Part 1.

The Shunned House (2012)

This is a modern-day and pretty good retelling of Lovecraft’s story. Water drips from the leaf-clogged end of a gutter spout as Uncle Eli Whipple and his nephew Robert drive up to the house and park in the street out front.

“Jesus!” exclaims Robert as he looks it over. “Did they build this place knowing it was going to be a haunted house?”

The Shunned House

I’ve been to the Shunned House. It doesn’t look like this.

Later dialog will establish that Eli often goes on this sort of ghost-hunting adventure, and his nephew enjoys going along. The pair has brought along electronic equipment and a camcorder. Robert records his uncle as they enter the house; Eli makes an introductory statement about the Shunned House’s long history of “pain, suffering, misery, death.”

The dripping from the gutter stops abruptly as they go inside.

As they go down into the basement, Uncle Eli continues to tell us pretty much the same story of the people who died in the house or suffered strange illnesses as related in Lovecraft’s original story, but with the date of events moved up from the Colonial era to the 19th and 20th century. Robert makes note of a vaguely man-shaped dark patch on one wall, but his uncle says it’s probably water damage.

They settle down to set up their equipment. When Robert turns on the EMF detector, it fairly shrills with whatever energy it’s picking up. After checking the batteries, he decides that it’s malfunctioning and turns it off again while Eli carries on with his story.

Unnoticed by either man, that dark patch spreads across the ceiling.

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Haunted Palace

This film has been on my mind for a long time. A quick search of my own blog reviews shows me that I’ve mentioned it 4 times over the past 6 years:

“The same sort of thing happened to Vincent Price and Debra Paget in The Haunted Palace, and Debra stuck around too. Portrait of Joseph CurwinI don’t know why. It never ends well. When your husband’s been possessed by an evil ancestor he strongly resembles, it’s much more reasonable to leave your stately haunted home for a little while and wait to see if he has the willpower to reassert his own personality from a safe distance.”

-2014, Night of Dark Shadows

“…the Poe’d-up Haunted Palace, starring Vincent Price and Debra Paget in a Victorian gothic version with putty-faced mutants roaming the misty streets of Arkham.”

2016, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

“…AIP’s Lovecraft-dressed-up-as-Poe Haunted Palace starring Vincent Price (which I really am going to review one of these days)…”

-2018, The Resurrected

“The film shown here is the ending of that Poe’d-up adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” Haunted Palace (which I really am going to review one of these days; I’ve been saying so for years). “

-2019, Madhouse

That day has arrived finally!

The misty streets of Arkham

Continue reading “Haunted Palace”

Dr. Who: Shada, Part 3

At the end of Part 2, Cambridge University science student Claire Keighley accidentally brought Professor Chronitis back from the dead by discovering and activating the controls for the Tardis that is his room at St. Cedd’s College.

Once he’s explained that much to her–not that she understands Chronotis alive againeverything he’s saying about their present state of timelessness, he tells her:

“We must find Skagra. He has the book.”

Fortunately, Claire does know about the book, so this part isn’t completely bewildering to her. Chronotis continues to explain the situation:

Shada is the Time Lord’s prison planet, but they are conditioned to forget about it–which was why the Doctor couldn’t remember its name when he was talking about Salyavin earlier, but he knew what the name meant when he heard the professor’s dying words.

The book is the literally the key to Shada. It’s what you use to access it.

If Skagra is working with mind transference, says the professor, then he can only be going to Shada for one reason. The prisoner he wants is that Salyavin we’ve already heard about. He must be stopped.

Chronotis then boosts Claire’s intellect by entering her mind and “rearranging things,” as she later describes it, so she knows enough to help him get out of this timeless state and go after Skagra.

Over on his magnificent cartoon command ship, Skagra is explaining this to Romana. As they’re talking, he realizes that the Gallifreyan code the book is written in would have to have reference to Time, and he goes looking back through the Doctor’s memories for his last mention of Time.

Command ship

At last, he breaks the code. Time runs backwards for the book, and the Tardis is of use in unwinding it. Continue reading “Dr. Who: Shada, Part 3”