The Curse of Yig

Yig ledger art

The Curse of Yig was a collaborative effort of H.P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop.  Bishop provided the idea of a pioneer in the Oklahoma Territory who was terrified of snakes. Lovecraft recrafted this basic concept, making it a psychological horror made manifest–and incidentally adding a new god to his pantheon: Yig, “an odd, half-anthropomorphic devil of highly arbitrary and capricious nature… not wholly evil, and was usually quite well-disposed toward those who gave proper respect to him and his children.”

But those foolish enough to harm the children of Yig (that is, snakes) could expect to feel the wrath of his terrible curse.

The text is online at https://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/cy.aspx

The story is one that I’d read some years ago, but not one of the Lovecraft stories that I could say I was extremely familiar with. I mean, I knew who Yig was when I first saw that Dark Adventure Radio Theatre was planning to do an adaptation of The Curse of Yig for their next audio drama, but could remember very little about who had been cursed, or why.

Listening to this new DART adventure before re-reading the text, I’m struck by how closely this adaptation has stuck to the structure of the original story, and I make note of the changes the DART guys have made to allow for the very different sensibilities of people nearly a century later.

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Casting the Runes

I’ve written blog reviews of two other adaptations of this, the most influential story written by M.R. James: Night/Curse of the Demon, the 1957 Jacques Tourneur film, and the 1970s ITV version starring Jan Francis. Both adaptations moved the story to a contemporary setting and made changes to the characters and plot, while retaining that central idea of a curse that you can only get rid by passing it back to the man who gave it to you. Three months were allowed.

You can read the original story on the Thin Ghost site.

I was somewhat surprised when I first watched this dramatic recitation by Robert Lloyd Parry; it, too, is an adaptation of James’s story and not a straight reading of the text.

Although the setting hasn’t been changed, there are some notable emendations to the cast of characters with some of the smaller roles in the drama are cut, or their parts revised.

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Dr. Who: The Stones of Blood, Part 4

Vivian and the Stones. It looks like they're performing at an awards ceremony.

Part 3 ended with Vivian Fay (a.k.a. the Cailleach) gloating over trapping the Doctor in hyperspace.

Part 4 starts the same way, but Vivien’s gloat doesn’t last very long. The Magara, those sparkly justice machines the Doctor accidentally unleashed, now float in to intervene–and bring just about everything that was interesting in this story to a screeching halt. They announce that they’ve tried the Doctor while he was busy elsewhere, and in spite of a spirited defense from Sparkly Magara 2, Magara 1  has judged the Doctor to be guilty. The punishment is execution.

Vivian would like to see this execution happen right away, but the Doctor gets the Magara to grant a 2-hour delay so he can appeal the sentence. This “appeal” will take up the greater part of this final episode. Nothing really finishes off a good horror story about blood-absorbing stone monsters quite like a farcical trial with comic robots.

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Dr. Who: The Stones of Blood, Part 3

Vivian zaps with her wandAt the end of Part 2, Romana was zapped by Vivian Fay and beamed out into some other as-yet unspecified place.

Sadly, this story, which has started out so well, begins to go downhill from here. While there are still some good scenes in the next two story parts, there’s a distinct shift from the trappings of folk horror to some rather silly science fiction.

It’s Doctor Who, so you have to expect all things that might be otherwise taken for supernatural events to have a scientific explanation, even a wonky sci-fi one. But did it have to be so- 

Well, we’ll get to that when we come to it.

Over in the secret cellar at the Hall, formerly the home of Mr. DeVries before the stone-monsters got him, the Doctor and Professor Rumford are examining those paintings that were removed from the wall upstairs. All three ladies who used to own this house and the meadow where the stone circle sits look just like Vivian Fay.

Professor Rumford is surprised that Vivian never mentioned that she belonged to the Montcalm family.

She isn’t, the Doctor makes it clear. “She is the Montcalm family,” as well as the two other families that have owned the Hall since the Dissolution. Not to mention being the Mother Superior of the convent that was there before the house. And she probably manages the company that now owns the property that the stone circle is on.

Rumford, who’s still adjusting to these new kinds of ideas, objects. There’s a span of over a 150 years between the three women in the paintings.

The Doctor replies, “What’s 150 years when you’ve been around for 4000?”

For Vivian is the Cailleach, the Celtic goddess whom the Druids have been worshipping. (But that’s not who she really is either.)

Prof. Rumford and the Doctor look at portraits

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The Devil Rides Out

Also known as The Devil’s Bride in the US, which is the title as it appears on the film in the version I have on BluRay.

The Devil Rides Out

This 1968 Hammer film, directed by Terence Fisher with screenplay by Richard Matheson, is adapted from a 1934 novel by Dennis Wheatley. Wheatley had researched into ancient religions, and had made the acquaintance of people like Aleister Crowley; much of what goes on in this story is grounded in the actual practices of black magic.

After the opening credits, which are full of occult symbols and demonic iconography, we meet our heroes, the elegant Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee), and the square-jawed and solid Rex van Rys (played by one actor but voiced by another, which is probably why he always seems a little detached even when he’s in the middle of the action).

It’s April of 1929, and the Duc is worried about the son of an old war buddy, Simon Aron. Even though Simon is now of age, de Richleau had promised his  father that he’d look out for him, and the Duc intends to keep that promise no matter what. He tells Rex that he hasn’t seen Simon in three months.

Together, they pay a call on Simon at his new house and find that there’s a party going on. The drawing room is filled with an international group of well-dressed and sophisticated looking people with odd names like the Countess d’Urfe, Tanith Carlyle (Niké Arrighi), and Mr. Mocata (the suavely menacing Charles Grey, last seen here in The Legacy). There are 13 of them.

Satanists party

Simon tells his friends that these people are just a gathering of a little astronomical society he’s joined. Rex has no clue what’s going on, but the Duc knows very well and is appalled.

When the two are asked to leave before the meeting begins, the Duc asks to see the observatory at the top of the house. Simon takes them upstairs, but de Richleau seems more interested in the décor of the room than the telescopes–there’s a distinct astrological theme on the walls and the floor.

When he hears a noise coming from the closet, the Duc investigates and finds chickens in a basket. Not a catered dinner. Literally, two chickens in a large wicker basket.

After he sees the chickens, de Richleau grabs Simon by the lapels and tells him that he’d rather see him dead than dabbling in black magic.
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Dr. Who: The Stones of Blood, Part 2

Continuing the Doctor’s and Romana’s somewhat spooky adventures in contemporary Cornwall as they search for the third Key to Time.

At the end of Part 1, Romana was lured away from the stone circle by a voice that sounded like the Doctor’s calling to her, and luring her off a cliff. Part 2 begins with a literal cliff-hanger.

Romana hanging on the edge of a cliff

Romana is clinging to the edge of the cliff over the ocean and shouting for help. It’s a good thing she’s barefoot; her toes can find tiny footholds in the rock face and help to keep her from falling to her death and turning into Lalla Ward a few months early.

When we last saw the Doctor, he’d been conked on the head by a couple of Druids. They’ve since conveyed him to the stone circle and called an emergency meeting for their grove (which is the proper name for a group of Druids). He now lies trussed up on the flattish stone in the middle of the circle as the Druids prepare him for a human (or, in this case, Gallifreyan) sacrifice.

The Druid leader’s best friend Martha doesn’t like the idea. Cutting an animal’s throat to get some blood for their ceremonies is okay with her–but this is murder!

“It is the will of the Cailleach,” says the leader, DeVreis, as he draws a big, curving knife from its decorative scabbard. They can’t question the will of the goddess, and the Cailleach demands blood.

DeVreis ready for sacrifice Doctor rescued

DeVreis and Martha argue about it for a bit, until the Doctor regains consciousness and asks if that knife is properly sterilized.

The question of whether or not he would have talked them out of sacrificing him remains answered. They all hear the sound of the Doctor’s rescue arriving in the form of an elderly archeology professor on a bicycle.
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Dr. Who: The Stones of Blood, Part 1

My second venture into 1970s Doctor Who and folk horror for this Halloween season.

Stones of Blood

The Stones of Blood is one the Key to Time stories from Tom Baker’s 5th series as the Doctor, an overarching plot that connects all of the stories during that year. The Doctor and his new assistant, a younger Time Lady named Romanadvoratrelundar (Mary Tamm) are sent to various places around the universe by an entity known as the White Guardian to hunt down and collect objects that make up the Key to Time. These objects can be transformed into large crystal fragments once they’ve been found. When all six pieces are collected, they must be assembled to create a device that gives the wielder absolute timey-wimey powers.

Before we get to the actual story, this first episode therefore begins in the Tardis’s unlit and minimalist kitchen with the Doctor and Romana attempting to assemble the two pieces they’ve gathered so far from Ribos and the fun but silly Pirate Planet. Behind them is a 1930s-style fridge, in which they store the Key to Time when they aren’t working on it.

The third planet, on which they have to search for the next piece of the Key, will be Earth. Romana’s never been there, but it’s well known to be the Doctor’s favorite planet so he’s looking forward to showing it to her.

Meanwhile, somewhere on Earth (Cornwall, as it turns out), a scene very like the one at the opening of K9 & Company is being enacted. Robed and hooded cultists have gathered for a midnight ceremony, but this group is meeting at the center of a circle of Stonehenge-like stones instead of a ruined chapel, and the name they’re chanting isn’t Hecate. It’s Cailleach (yes, I did have to look that spelling up).

The cultists pour small bowls of blood onto the stones–and the stones glow red and begin to pulse and make a sound like a heartbeat.

One of the cultists raises her head and cries out:

“Come, O Great One, come! Your time is near.”

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The Gorgon

Gorgon reflection

Overshadowing the village of Vandorf, stands the Castle Borski.

From the turn of the century, a monster from an ancient age of history came to live here. No living thing survived and the spectre of death hovered in waiting for her next victim.

The above, slightly incoherent, text introduces this beautifully atmospheric but not-quite coherent Hammer horror film about a creature from ancient Greek mythology who, for reasons of her own, has decided to menace early 20th-century Bavaria.

It’s in Vandorf that the story begins, in an artist’s studio with a bit of implied, bareback nudity from the artist’s model. There’s no reason to get attached to these two people, but what happens to them will start a chain of events to lead our main characters into the plot.

The model, Sascha, wants to get married. Bruno, the artist, promises that they will when he gets a bit of money to pay off his debts. But Sascha can’t wait that long; there’s a baby on the way.

This being 1910, Bruno perceives the urgency of the situation. He heads out immediately to speak to Sascha’s father, even though she’s afraid that Daddy will kill him instead of giving them his blessing to get hastily married.

Sascha runs after Bruno as soon as she’s got some clothes on and follows him through the woods during a moonlit night. Eerie music that sounds almost like a woman singing tells us that the pregnancy and Daddy s reaction to it are the least of their problems.

Artist and model Stone hand

Sure enough, Sascha sees something that makes her scream in terror and fall over.

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And Now the Screaming Starts

Phantom Hand

Britain’s Amicus film studio was in many ways a sort of Hammer Jr. in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Its output is often confused with Hammer’s–so many of its films also star Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee–but they can be distinguished by their wider use of source material. No Dracula or Frankenstein sequels here, but anthologies based on short stories by Robert Bloch and less well-known horror authors, plus original story ideas, and the occasional obscure novel brought to light.

This particular film, with its lurid title, is based on a ghostly gothic novella with the more sedate title of Fengriffen. Its implied horrors are spiced up with some shocking ’70s red-paint gore, and the extensive use of a bloody severed hand crawling around. Its heroine and hero, an extremely pretty young couple (played by the extremely pretty young Stephanie Beacham and Ian Ogilvy), are supported by a cast of distinguished actors in small roles. And, yes, one of them is Peter Cushing.

Like Dragonwyck, it’s a Rebecca-ish story, and this film gives us a Rebecca-ish opening voiceover:

“In my dreams, I go back to the year 1795, to a time when I was happy. I was on my way to be married. I was going to the house in which I was to find my days filled with fear, my nights filled with horror.”

Charles and Catherine

Sir Charles Fengriffen and his fiancée Catherine are riding toward his home, Fengriffen, in a carriage. The couple are not yet married, so they are accompanied and chaperoned by her Aunt Edith.  Catherine is viewing her future home for the first time.

Fengriffen House, when we first see it, is a place many people will immediately recognize.  Oakley Court is a 5-star hotel just outside of Windsor today, but in the 1960s and ’70s it was abandoned. British film studios often made use of its handsome exterior and rooms within. The Rocky Horror Picture Show would be the most famous example.  Some viewers may feel the urge to sing “There’s a liiiiiiiiiiight, over at the Frankenstein Place” at the sight of it.

I’m a little bit sad looking at it for this review; I had made reservations to have tea there in July, and of course that whole trip had to be cancelled.

Inside, Catherine tours the rooms of her new home. Her first impression, and question are, “What a lovely old house. Is there a ghost?”

“Ghosts galore,” Charles assures her, and lists a few in a joking manner. He doesn’t mention the one that will be so destructive to both of them. At this point, he doesn’t believe in it.

Fengriffen House

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The Horror at Red Hook

The Horror at Red Hook was written in 1925, during that period when H.P.  Lovecraft was living in Brooklyn after his marriage to Sonia Greene. New York City came as a culture shock to this retiring Providence boy, especially given the diverse ethnicity of immigrants who came from all over the world. The story expresses something of his suspicion of foreign people who didn’t look like the kind of people he was familiar with, enacting odd customs and speaking in languages he didn’t understand, as well as reflects his general, personal unhappiness with his surroundings.

Confidential Personnel Records: NYPDLovecraft’s original story is about a man named Thomas Malone, a New York police detective who has been sent to recover in a rural part of Rhode Island after a traumatic experience involving the collapse of a brick building and the deaths of a number of people in the slums of Red Hook. He can’t even abide the sight of a brick building.

In this Dark Adventure Radio Theatre adaptation, Malone (voiced by Sean Branney) is under a psychiatrist’s care during his enforced stay in the country. His story is told as part of his psychotherapy; the doctor urges him to speak of the horrors connected to that experience–everything he’s tried so hard to forget.

Malone tells the doctor that he wouldn’t understand. He lacks imagination.

“To hint to an unimaginative man of a horror beyond all human conception, a horror of houses, and blocks, and cities diseased with evil dragged from Elder worlds…  I’d be pacing inside a padded cell instead strolling country lanes.”

But of course the doctor insists on hearing it, and Malone’s story of what happened in Red Hook unfolds in flashback.

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