I saw Robert Lloyd Parry, self-described storyteller, perform twice last summer at the NecronomiCon in Providence, Rhode Island. Seated in a darkened theatre lit only by candles, he didn’t simple tell us stories, but rendered highly dramatic recitations of M.R. James’s ghostly tales with character voices, one or two props, and expressive emotion whenever the narrative called for it. He was the surprise sensation of the Con; I wasn’t the only person present who’d never heard of him before, but came away a fan of his work.
When I found out earlier this year that some of his performances were available on DVD, I ordered a couple. The one I was most interested in getting a copy of was Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You, My Lad, the first story I saw performed in Providence.
You can read MR James’s original story online. I’ve also previously reviewed the 1968 BBC adaptation starring Michael Hordern as the rationalist Professor Parkins, whose views on the supernatural are drastically altered when he finds an ancient whistle and accidentally summons a spirit that forms a body for itself from the sheets on the spare bed in his hotel room.
This tense and suspenseful story about the return of a young girl’s possessive lover–long after she’d grown up and given him up as dead–is another episode from the 1980s ITV series, Shades of Darkness. It’s based on a short story by Elizabeth Bowen.
In 1916, Kathleen was engaged to Keith Cameron, a somewhat forceful and intense young pilot. One evening at a party in her parents’ home he took her aside and quietly told her, “I’m off to war, but I shall be with you sooner or later. You need do nothing but wait.” He made her promise, although we never hear what exactly she promised him she would do.
“An unnatural promise,” Kathleen (Dorothy Tutin) recalls in voiceover, much later in her life. “I could not have plighted a more sinister troth.”
He grabbed her by the wrist, twisting her arm up to kiss her hand. Frightened, Kathleen broke away from him and ran back to join the others at the party.
Some months afterwards, Keith’s mother telephoned to tell her that Keith was shot down while flying a mission over France. He was reported as missing, believed killed.
Kathleen grieved, but lived on. Years passed. Eventually, she married a writer named William Drover (Robert Hardy) and had two sons, the elder of whom Robert (a not-yet-famous Hugh Grant) is now grown and has joined the RAF to fight in WWII. Robert, home on leave, wants to marry his girlfriend Anne right away before he returns to duty. While watching the young couple courting in the garden, Kathleen remembers her own wartime romance.
The Drovers have been living out in the country during the first years of the War because of the Blitz. Now that the bombing seems to be over, Kathleen is taking a trip to London to visit old friends and see how their townhouse in Kensington has held up. As long as she’s at the house, she intends to pick up a few things they left behind there, including some books her husband wants as references for a history he’s currently working on.
Most of what follows is a detailed picture of wartime Britain during the summer of 1941. There are ruins of bombed-out houses, surviving houses crowded with unusual boarders, plenty of people in uniform on the streets, rationing of food (Kathleen brings some carefully packed eggs from her own chickens with her as a gift for a friend).
One might almost take this for a drama about life during the War… except that when Kathleen arrives at her Kensington home–which is undamaged apart from some cracks in the walls and plaster dust over everything–she finds a letter addressed to her on a table in one of the rooms upstairs.
A clean square in the dust on the table in the front hall shows that the letter was lying there first. The doors were locked and the windows are intact.
How did it get there? Kathleen wonders. Did the caretaker bring it in?
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.
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.
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.
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. He 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.
At midwinter of 1921, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was something of a curmudgeonly and semi-reclusive young man, living in Providence with his two doting aunts Annie and Lillian and having no desire ever to live or even visit anyplace else. Unhappily employed as an editor and reviser of other people’s writing, while his own macabre stories in the style of Poe, Dunsany, or Machen were repeatedly rejected by the pulp magazines, he was afflicted with a frustrating case of writer’s block. As Christmas drew near, he rejected the friendly holiday overtures of his aunts, neighbor, and local acquaintances with a surly “Bah!” or even a “Humbug!”
But on Christmas Eve, he was visited by three spirits of the Past, Present, and Future…
Such is the conceit of the framing story for The Solstice Carol.
Dark Adventure Radio Theatre’s Yuletide audioplay is an anthology of three of Lovecraft’s shorter stories, all connected by a parody of Charles Dickens’ oft-retold tale that places Lovecraft in the Ebenezer Scrooge role.
What the spirits show Lovecraft isn’t the True Meaning of Christmas, but it does help him to find the inspiration to write in his own style and teaches him how to be a better and more generous person.
The story, narrated by DART guest announcer Barnaby Dickens (relation to the great Victorian novelist unknown) begins with:
“Old Mason Farley was dead as doornail, as the saying goes…”
Not John Carpenter’s best film (that would probably be The Thing), or my favorite of his (which is Prince of Darkness), but it’s the one that’s got a ghost story in it, so I’m including this one in my blogs for the Halloween season.
We start right off with the story, as told to us and a group of children gathered on a beach by an elderly man (John Houseman, who won’t be seen again after this introduction). As the hour of midnight approaches, he says that they have time for just one more tale.
It’s April 20, 1980; the 21st–which is about 5 minutes off–will be the 100th anniversary of the wreck of the Elizabeth Dane. The clipper ship lost its way in a sudden and unnaturally thick fog off nearby Spivey Point, when the crew spotted a light shining through the fog. The ship sailed toward it, perhaps mistaking it for the Point’s lighthouse, but the light was actually that of a bonfire–much like the one they’re all seated around. The Elizabeth Dane foundered on the sharp coastal rocks and sank. The old man makes much of the crew’s drowning, how their lungs filled with salt water and their eyes remained open as they sunk into the depths of the bay. After the ship had gone down with all aboard, the remarkably thick fog disappeared as quickly as it had come.
“But it is told by the fishermen, and their fathers and grandfathers, that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men at the bottom of the sea, out in the water by Spivey Point, will rise up and search for the campfire that led them to their dark and icy death.”
Goodnight, kids! Sleep well.
Nothing horrible happens to the group on the beach, but all over the town of Antonio Bay, strange things begin to happen after midnight. Continue reading “The Fog”
The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival is an annual event that’s held in alternate years in Portland, Oregon, and in Providence, Rhode Island. I haven’t been to the Festival, but the couple who organize it come to the NecronomiCon to show what they consider the best short films for that year. These films are based on Lovecraft’s stories or those of other macabre writers, or may just be Lovecraftian in subject or tone.
On my recent trip to Providence, I not only watched the latest batch, but bought DVDs of the best short films from earlier years. I’d seen some of them during my previous visit in 2017 and hadn’t forgotten them.
I’m going to look at the most recent set first, and go back from there.
Echoes in the Ice
The plot of this first short Canadian film recalls The Thing. A group of scientists in the Arctic arrives at an abandoned research station (the name of which is Pickman-Derby) to find out what happened. The researchers who were working there have all disappeared. The power is off and the rooms are freezing.
Exploring the station for clues, the group discovers a door that’s been chained shut on the lowest level. When they break the lock to get inside, they find a monstrous statue that looks vaguely Cthulhu-esque but without the face-tentacles. It’s sitting in the middle of what they call a “well” but looks more like a fountain pool to me. The statue and well appear to have been here for a very long time, and are perhaps the reason this base was built up around them.
The water in the well has glistening fragments floating on the surface that respond by forming into new patterns when one of the men reaches out toward them. The water is almost hypnotically attractive, and he almost touches the surface before one of others stops him.
So you think I got an evil mind?
Well, I’ll tell you, honey–
I don’t know why.
And I don’t know why…
Most Americans are probably more familiar with Quiet Riot’s cover of “Cum On Feel The Noize” in the 1980s, but it was originally a big hit in the UK for a band called Slade in the early ’70s. You’ll hear a lot of that song in The Quiet Ones, a Hammer revival film set in 1974; it’s just the kind of music you want to use to keep a suicidally depressed girl with a poltergeist from getting any sleep.
Now, why would anybody want to do that?
It’s a psychological experiment. Oxford professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris, the luckless Lane Pryce on Mad Men) explains it during a lecture just before he hires a cameraman to document his work.
“What if you could prove that the supernatural was merely a manifestation of what already exists in the mind, the subconscious?” The professor doesn’t believe in ghosts or demons, but that the negative energy of a disturbed mind can create the type of physical phenomena that looks like a haunting or possession. He thinks that he’s near to finding a cure for it; if he can externalize the phenomena, it can be removed like a tumor. “We cure one patient, we cure all mankind.”
The patient he has in mind is a young woman named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke). Orphaned at an early age, with no memory of her past, Jane has grown up in a series of foster homes but she’s never stayed anywhere for very long. Sooner or later, “things started to happen”–poltergeist activity that made it impossible for her foster family to keep her. After she was hospitalized for a suicide attempt, Jane came voluntarily into Coupland’s care. He’s currently keeping her in a house in town, under the observation of three student assistants. No, make that two assistants. One quits, angry and appalled at what he calls Coupland’s “unethical” practices before he storms off.
I’ve been left hanging about the fate of Quentin and Barnabas Collins after the fiery conclusion of The Rage Beneath. Unable to obtain the next episode in this particular audio series, or even to confirm what the next title is, I ended up purchasing a couple of other Dark Shadows dramatic readings, based on how interesting their descriptions sounded.
The Ghost Watcher, has the following description on its back cover:
As Maggie Evans leaves the Windcliff Institute, she begins to build a new life for herself away from the Collins family. But when an enigmatic stranger arrives in town, searching for phantoms, Maggie finds herself plunged into a world of intrigue and danger.
What is the Ghost Watcher’s secret, and what is the true cost of his gift to the people of Collinsport?
Dramatic readings, unlike audio dramas, are voiced only by one or two actors rather than a full cast. In this case, Kathryn Leigh Scott tells the tale through her character’s voice, assisted by Alec Newman as Nathan Hawkins, the Ghost Watcher. The Collins family are peripheral figures: Barnabas makes a brief appearance, Roger sort of floats around in the background, and Carolyn shows up a couple of times to converse with Maggie–but this isn’t their story. This one is Maggie’s own.
This audio drama begins with Maggie Evans speaking, “I remember when it all started. Quentin Collins… came home, and brought the darkness with him.”
Her voice is interspersed with those of other characters–Quentin’s, Angelique’s–but the focus of the story’s introduction remains with Maggie as she summarizes the events of previous audio-plays in the Legend Reborn series, alluding to the “The Lost,” “Charlotte Howells,” and “the Professor and his army” (which settles my question of when the Christmas Presence occurs).
“But the day I’ll always remember,” Maggie concludes, “is the day the Collins family perished.”
She isn’t referring to the Collinses who disappeared mysteriously before this series began, but to those two who are still around: Quentin and Barnabas.