Saturday, 25 March 2017

HYPNOGORIA 53 - Zombi Zombi Part X: Reanimating the Dead

In this episode, Mr Jim Moon explores the original dawn of the dead... when the zombie first shambled from folklore into horror fiction. Hence we are taking a look the first zombie tales that appeared in the 1930s, including HP Lovecraft's early classic Herbert West: Reanimator

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Friday, 24 March 2017

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Man-size in Marble

Over the past few months we have been exploring the curious lore surrounding assorted ancient monuments that holds that at certain times, they move, rotate, walk, wander off for a drink, and even go for a swim. Along the way, we have frequently encountered theories that these strange old tales are perhaps rooted in the now lost and forgotten rites of our pagan ancestors; the legend of a standing stone that is said to dance or move around is a folk mis-remembering times when the locals would dance or move around the specially erected rock and so forth. However, we have frequently found that this magical power of animation seems to extend to assorted stones and monuments that have a far more recent origin. 

In the last instalment, while talking of stones that in a most surreal fashion that pop off for a drink or to take a dip, I could not help but be reminded of a book I read as a child - The Enchanted Castle (1907) by E Nesbit. Now in this classic children's novel, we learn that the statues in the garden of Yalding Castle enjoy a secret life of their own at night - 
Something white moved under a weeping willow; white hands parted the long, rustling leaves. A white figure came out, a creature with horns and goat's legs and the head and arms of a boy. And Gerald was not afraid. That was the most wonderful thing of all, though he would never have owned it. The white thing stretched its limbs, rolled on the grass, righted itself and frisked away across the lawn. Still something white gleamed under the willow; three steps nearer and Gerald saw that it was the pedestal of a statue empty.
"They come alive," he said; and another white shape came out of the Temple of Flora and disappeared in the laurels. "The statues come alive."
One of the castle's stone exhibits, a sculpture of a prehistoric saurian, also comes to life, and even goes for a swim in the lake, much like the standing stones we discussed last time.

At first, given that this is a magical tale for children, it would be easy to dismiss this coincidence as a mere piece of whimsy. However I then also recalled another tale by Nesbit, one that I heartily recommend not reading to the little ones! For E Nesbit also penned a great many tales for grown-ups, including a host of top notch macabre tales, and one of the most celebrated is a short story entitled Man-size in Marble. In that story, (which you can hear me read here) a young couple move to a country cottage where all is pleasant and idyllic, except for a curious local legend concerning some effigies in the the local church...
"They do say, as on All Saints' Eve them two bodies sits up on their slabs, and gets off of them, and then walks down the aisle, in their marble"--(another good phrase, Mrs. Dorman)--"and as the church clock strikes eleven they walks out of the church door, and over the graves, and along the bier-balk, and if it's a wet night there's the marks of their feet in the morning."
Now while the animated statuary in The Enchanted Castle sounds like imaginative fun for young minds, the account of stalking statues in Man-size in Marble very much has the ring of authentic folklore about it, in particular the detail that they animate annually on a certain night of the year. Was there perhaps a real legend that Nesbit had heard which had provided the inspiration for this classic horror tale? 

My first port of call was the excellent Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore (2000) by Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, and there was indeed a dedicated entry on statues. And aside from noting a widespread tradition of touching various statues for luck, we also have this - 
The other recurrent piece of folklore about a statue is the assertion that it gets down from its pedestal and walks about, or sits down for a rest, whenever it hears midnight strike; the lions at the door of Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge either roar or drink from the gutter
So then, it was indeed very likely that Nesbit's tale was informed by real folklore. And what's more, it did not take me long to find a possible candidate. At the Holy Trinity Church in the village of Ingham, Norfolk are the tombs of two knights, Sir Oliver de Ingham and Sir Roger de Bois. And according to local legend on the night of the 1st of August, ever year the stone effigies get down from their tombs and take a stroll down to the nearby Stalham Broad. In a highly dubious account related by Chas Sampson in Ghosts of the Broads (Jarrold 1976), it is alleged that when they reach the water's edge, the stone knights engaged in battle with the shade of a foreign knight.

However given that the same account claims that investigators not only witnessed all these strange events, but also photographed the now empty tomb plinths, and even took movie footage of the stone effigies lumbering away, we should perhaps take the claims of a battle with a chap wield a scimitar with a pinch of salt or two. One cannot help wondering whether the entire .Ingham story was completely fabricated to fill out a book of spooky Norfolk tales - something which I fear is quite likely as the volume was clearly aimed at tourists. But even if  that were case, the tale would appear to have been inspired in turn by actual folklore. For as I was to discover, there is no shortage of stories about statues that come to life...

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat #10 - Sounds of Death & Horror

Now then last time in the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat, we had wheeled out the ancient gramophone (ask your parents kids!) and had a delve into the wonderful world of BBC Sound Effects records. We reminisced about the classic first platter of SF sounds conjured by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop BBC Sound Effects Vol. 12 Out of This World, but this wasn't the only vinyl treat that is fondly remembered by genre fans. And the next addition to the series, appropriately enough Volume 13, was a disc that was to become infamous!  

For the next in the range, unleashed on record shops in 1977, was entitled Sound Effects Vol. 13 Death & Horror! The suitably gruesome cover art was created by Andrew Prewitt, who was actually the Head of Creative Services at BBC Records & Tapes, and by his own admission he went for the most lurid images he could possibly get away with back then. The record itself served up a whopping 91 different gruesome sound effects, with classic tracks such as "Red Hot Poker in Eye" and "Dr Jekyll's Laboratory". Weirdly enough none of these ever stormed the singles chart...

Much like its SF-themed predecessor, this infamous vinyl was divided up into handy themed sections. We open with Execution and Torture, featuring easy listening greats such as "Neck Twisted and Broken" and "Nails Hammered into Flesh", and then we move onto Monsters and Animals, which brings us soothing sounds such as "Mad Gorilla" and "Hellhound (Growling and Snarling)". Moving on, next we have some excellent chillout sounds for the busy maniac in the shape of Creaking Doors and Grave Digging, (featuring "Grave Digging (Stony Ground)" and "Grave Digging (Wet Ground)", while the following selection, Musical Effects and Footsteps delivers classics such as "Phantom of the Opera (Organ Sounds)" and "Ghostly Footsteps (With Chains)". The LP next brings assorted ululations for your delectation, with Vocal Effects and Heartbeats, offering smash hits like ("Three Men Screaming" and "One Long Scream (Female)". And finally this blood-drenched platter closes with Weather, Atmospheres and Bells (surely a band name waiting to happen), which serves up ambient classics such as "Midnight in the Graveyard" and "The Electronic Swamp". The full glorious track listing can seen below and be found here.

Helmed by Mike Harding (no, not the comedian/folk singer of the same name sadly), a veteran producer and engineer at both the Beeb and the Radiophonic Workshop, this LP seemed to cause something of a stir at the time. Mostly people thought it was hilarious that there was now an LP where you could hear classic cuts like "The Scaffold (Trap Opens, Body Falls" or "Sawing Leg Off", but of course there were a few who were predictably outraged and worried about the nation's yoof grooving to the sounds of "Branding Iron on Flesh". The dear old BBC itself however seemed delighted with the entire affair, and I vividly remember seeing assorted boffins turning up on several popular TV shows and demonstrating how they made all these delightfully ghoulish and gross sounds. 

Now a few of the tracks were real field recordings, although sadly "Dracula in Flight" wasn't actually taped in the wild. But the tracks showcasing the sounds of bats were recording of real creatures done by Eric Simms. However the bulk of the LP was down the ingenuity of the sound effects wizards, with the more gruesome sounds being mainly the sound of violence against vegetables. I remember being very impressed you could make such hideous noises with ordinary kitchen implements and the week's groceries. And if you want to see this kind of thing in action, you can see a whole variety of horror sound effects being created in the exact same way in the movie Berberian Sound Studio which I reviewed on my podcast a while ago (on this episode here). 

While this record does not work as well as a complete soundscape like the volume before Out of This World did, all the same it was a great favourite with monster obsessed kids everywhere, and many folks have fond memories of scaring themselves daft playing these tracks over and over again. Of course these days, copies of the original release are highly prized, and go for a pretty penny. However last year, it was re-issued by Demon Records, and on 180g blood splattered vinyl too! 

But back in the late '70s, the LP proved to be so popular, that the BBC would issue, not one, but two follow-up LPs. And next time dear fiends, we'll be giving them a spin to see what they contain. However in the meantime, here's the Monsters and Animals section from the original!  

Sunday, 19 March 2017

GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 32 - Zombi Zombi Part IX - Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields

The Zombi Zombi series continues with a very special reading of the true origin of the walking dead. Mr Jim Moon presents the original account of zombieism "Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields" from William Seabrook's book The Magic Island. We go on to learn much more of voodoo, Haiti, its history and, of course, its zombies...
DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  Zombi Zombi Part IX - Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields

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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat #09 - Out of this World

Hello again dear friends, and welcome once again to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Now then last time our rooting about through the cobwebbed crates in here was inspired by my recollection of an ad in an ancient copy of Fangoria. Now while leafing through my boxes of old Fangos looking for the ad in question to scan, I chanced upon another little advertisement which prompted a whole new search through the dusty depths ofs the 'Orrible Old 'Ouse. 

As I've remarked before, and undoubtedly will remark again frequently in these articles, the pre-internet world now looks like a very strange place. For it was a place where if you missed a movie or a TV show, it was pretty gone forever. Now it is true that the dawning of the age of home video and cable TV did bring us endless repeats and boxed sets of video cassettes, but obviously these were just primitive, crude ancestors of the on-demand playground we now have, the all you can eat digital sweetshop that never closes. However for many decades, before VCRs and cable/satellite telly, there was another medium in which films and TV shows lived on, a strange netherworld where old favourites could be re-lived, well in part anyway. Welcome to the strange world of the tie-in record! Now to begin with there were releases of favourite theme tunes and soundtracks, and then assorted ill-judged stabs at the pop charts and tie-in novelty records. Sometimes you could even a purely audio version of a movie or show, admittedly often edited down and with inserted narration to make sense on non dialogue bits. And with the record industry enjoying its golden age in the 60s and 70s, it's not surprising that many broadcasters decided to cut out the middle man and began setting up their own record labels. 

Hence in 1967 the BBC began releasing all manner of assorted tie-in records as BBC Radio Enterprises. As the name suggests, in the early days it was drawing heavily on its extensive radio back catalog, with one of the earliest releases being a Goon Show LP.  The venture was great success, and by 1970 it had become the catchier sounding BBC Records, and the label would morphed once again in 1974 into BBC Records & Tapes when the new-fangled audio cassette took off. However aside from repackaging old shows in vinyl and cassette and releasing themes and music, something very odd happened. 

It was noted that the Beeb kept on getting requests from drama groups and amateur film-makers for sound effects. And well they might, for the BBC was famous for having its own dedicated sound division, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which had been founded in 1958 to conjuring up music, jingles and sound effects galore. Now often apparently the boffins at the Workshop would quite obligingly dash off a tape of the requested sound effects and mail it out, but then some bright spark had the idea of releasing whole LPs of sound effects, cutting out a lot of faffing around and making a few quid in the process!

And hence in 1969, the LP BBC Sound Effects No 1 was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. Now evidently the platter sold well, despite having a somewhat specialised market, as further volumes soon hit the records stores. Now the early volumes were simply assortments of useful sound effects, but as the series progressed they began to specialise, with Volume 10 being titled Music and Sounds for Home Movies. And judging from the track-listing, the home movies in question weren't the sort you mucky sods are looking up online these days. With tracks entitled "The Aegean", "Spain" and "Effects (French cafe)" I'm guessing this LP was intended for use with cine films of people's holidays. Although I grant you that "Effects (Dutch Carnival With Chair Dance)" does sound like an euphemism, and "Cup Bells, Vase Drum" could be a misprint... But moving on! 

And the themed approach continued with the next release, for Volume 11 was entitled Off Beat Sounds - and from the collection of splashes, creaks, squeaks, and doooinnnnnnng! noises, I'm guessing this was designed for amateur comic capers... Although if you were to argue that most home-filmed smut would benefit from a swannee whistle or two, I wouldn't disagree... But the discussion of the acoustic choices in what they used to call "stag reels" aside, it's was with the release of the next volume that things got really exciting!  

For Volume 12 was called.... deep breath... BBC Sound Effects Vol. 12 Out of This World, Atmospheric Sounds and Effects from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Yes, hitting the record stores in 1976, and if I remember rightly often plugged by the voiceover bloke after the final credits for Doctor Who or Blakes 7 had rolled, now you could enjoy a trip to a "Sea of Mercury" or a "Venusian Space Lab" from comfort of your own Parker Knoll. However it wasn't all just "Laser Gun, Five Bursts" and  "Flying Saucer Take-off", for this double LP was was composed of four themed sections, each taking up a  separate side of vinyl. We began our audio odyssey with "Outer Space", and flipped the platter for "Magic and Fantasy". While on the second record we had "Suspense and the Supernatural" and "The Elements". The full tracklist can be found here and you can sample the auditory delights on this video just below!

Now the BBC Sound Effects series would return to the interstellar audio realms once again later on, with 1978's Vol. 19 being Dr Who Sound Effects (see here for details), and again in 1981 with Vol. 26 Sci-Fi Sound Effects (details here). However undoubtedly this first excursion into fantastical radiophonic ambience is still the classic. Firstly because the credited artists are the stuff of TV legend. And if you watch a lot of classic BBC shows, and not just their SF offerings by the way, names like Dick Mills and Roger Limb you'll recognise from countless credit sequences. However the second reason why it is so great is that is because it actually works rather well as a complete soundscape in itself, for as well as spacey sound effects there were little soundscapes of what we would now call ambient music or electronica. Indeed the likes of Radiophonic Workshop alumni such as Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson are now recognised as pioneers of electronic music making. And certainly plenty of musicians listened very closely to this LP, and it should be perhaps no surprise then that the sounds of this double album have been sampled countless times over the years.

In this regard, BBC Sound Effects Vol. 12 Out of This World, Atmospheric Sounds and Effects from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is a truly classic record in its own right. This was an LP that was snapped up by kids obsessed with spaceships, robots and monsters, kids who later would be messing about with samplers and sequences and inventing musical genres like acid house, techno, trance and ambient. Given its landmark status and influence, it's only right and proper that the album was re-released on CD in 1991 as Essential Science Fiction Sound Effects Vol. 2. and was re-released on vinyl LP in 2012 by AudioGo and Discovery Records. 

However this wasn't the only legendary sound effect LP produced by the BBC, for the next volume in the series would prove to be highly memorable to genre fans of a certain age, although perhaps for very different reasons...

Sunday, 12 March 2017

GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 31 - Zombi Zombi Part VIII - Jumbee

In this special tie-in episode of From the Great Library of Dreams, we sample a tale of caribbean terror from Henry S Whitehead, the classic Jumbee, and learn more of the strange lore of the supernatural that lies within the origins of the zombie! 

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Friday, 10 March 2017

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Thirsty Stones

The King's Men at the Rollright Stones

In this little series of articles we have been discussing the curious lore surrounding the standing stones and ancient monuments of the British Isles. So far we have investigated tales of rocks that revolve and rotate, megaliths that move about the countryside on their own, and last time, we discovered that allegedly some stones even come to life and dance. And when discussing the animated antics of the famous Rollright Stones, we discovered that local folklore claims they have another peculiar habit, that of sloping off in the dead of night to go for a drink. Now obviously the ancient stones are not sliding into the bar of the Red Lion in nearby Long Compton for a swift half - that would be patently ridiculous - however it is said that the Rollrights make their way down the hill to sip from a spring in nearby woodland. 

Most curious behaviour I'm sure you'll agree. However surprisingly the Rollright Stones are not the only ancient rocks with a taste for water, for it would seem that many British standing stones have something of thirst. To begin with we have another tale of that baddest of rock stars, the Wimblestone (see here for details of its other exploits). According to an old story recounted by R Tongue in Somerset Folklore (1965), the often highly mobile and aggressive Wimblestone was prone to pay a visit to another ancient monument, the Water Stone near Wrington. Now this actually an arrangement of stones that are all that remains of a neolithic burial chamber, and this dolmen seems to take its name from the fact that rain collects in one of the large slabs. According to Tongue's tale, after an altercation with a pesky human, the Wimblestone wandered over the Mendips to carp to the Water Stone about how stupid mortals are, and help itself to a drink of cooling rainwater. 

Other ancient rocks however are somewhat better behaved. At Enstone is another arrangement of stones, the remains of a chambered tomb, known as the Hoar Stone. According to a local legend, the three largest standing stones here are the remains of a man, his horse and his hound who were turned to stone. Unfortunately the story of why this petrification occured seems to be lost in the mists of time. However local lore holds that on Midsummer Eve - a favourite time for stones to go a-moving about on their own it seems - the largest stone, sometimes called 'the Old Soldier' slips off down to the village to take a drink from the stream there.

The Hoar Stone

Nipping off from a drink would appear to be a popular pastime among the remaining stones of ancient burial chambers. Arthur's Stone, another cromlech near Gower in Wales, aside from numerous connections to Arthurian legend, is said to stroll off for a crafty drink of water when no mortals are around. Furthermore it would seem that the stones of Wales are particularly thirsty. Near the village of Evenjobb in Powys, are four standing stones known simply as the Four Stones. And while one may decry the lack of imagination in their naming, their lore is certainly colourful enough with local tales alleging that at midnight the quartet make their way to Hindwell Pool for a refreshing drink. Also in Powys is Maen Llia, or Llia's Stone - and this menhir too is fond of drink, supposedly favouring a morning stroll at dawn to have sup from the River Nedd. While at Reynoldston, another Arthur's Stone is alleged to make an annual trip down to the sea to take a drink. 

For a few stones though, just popping off for a simple drink is not enough. Once again in Powys, Wales, one can find near Crickhowell, the Fish Stone, a tall menhir whose tapering form is somewhat piscine. However it is possible that its name does not merely derive from its shape, but from an old legend that claims on Midsummer Eve once again, the stone not only makes its way to the nearby River Usk but goes for a swim in the waters. Likewise the King Stone, near Hay-on-Wye, in Herefordshire, likes a dip too. Although rather than observing some date of mystical significance, the Fish Stone apparently only bobs off for a swim on very hot days.

Quite why so many ancient standing stones have an attraction to water is something of mystery. However it would appear that it is something that has spread to other items of stonework. For in Langton Herring in the fair county of Dorset, is an ancient cross. Now much weathered by the passing centuries, this is a wayside cross, a small monument erected in the medieval period, considerably later than the assorted stones we have been discussing. However, mere whippersnapper it may be, local lore claims that on New Year's Eve, the Langton Cross makes it way to the River Fleet to take a drink.

Now in this series of little articles, we have discovered that a great many ancient standing stones are claimed to move about of their own volition. Now, the Langton Cross looks rugged and weathered enough to be mistaken for a more ancient monolith, but discovering a relatively recent stone behaving in the same way got me wondering... And next time, we'll discover if there are other modern stones and monuments that are alleged to magically move too

The Langton Cross