Wednesday, 30 September 2015

TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #09 - Devil Priest Pack Part IX


Welcome once again to the dark and dubious world of Tomb of the Trumps! This week our investigations of the inspirations of the infamous vintage Horror Top Trumps, first dumps us in a very dank dungeon, the domain of Killer Rat! 

Now this was a very tricky fellow to track down! Indeed many of my predecessors who have probed the mysterious and arcane origins of the Horror Top Trumps concluded that this was a rare example of a wholly original piece by our Unknown Artist. And in all fairness, there seemed a reasonable assumption as there was no relevant rat-man in any monster movie that could have served as a model for this beastie. However there was something naggingly familiar about him, something I recognised even when I had these cards as a nipper, but could never quite place... That is until now! 

First up, the whole rodentine thing is something of a red herring, for what we have here is a bit of artistic collage. Yes, this is actually a rather better known monster disguised with a new head. Now the actual rat bonce could have been copied from almost anywhere - not wanted to sound rat-ist here, but they do all look alike! However given our Unknown Artist's usual selection of sources for images to copy from, I'd reckon a still for either killer rat flick Willard (1971) or its sequel Ben (1972) as the model for the rat head itself. But the main figure comes from a rather less obscure source. 

Now the key clues here are the barred window and the ripped white shirt. Ring any bells yet? No? Well, how about this... The bars suggest a scene in a prison cell, while the style of the shirt, one of those floppy affairs favoured by Romantic poets, suggests a ye olden days settings. Furthermore the fact it is torn rather suggests a violent bodily transformation has occurred. And the image of a rodent headed man does in itself conjure the words 'wererat'. So then, given that the rat head is paste-on job, we should be looking to werewolf cinema! 

Now then, can you name a movie in which a man transforms into a werewolf while in jail? Well, if you are in anyway acquainted with cinematic lycanthropy, I'm sure you know the answer - Hammer's 1961 classic Curse of the Werewolf. So then, I began scouring stills from that movie, and just for good measure it's demi-remake from Tyburn Legend of the Werewolf  (1975), which also features a floppy shirted wolf-man. However rather frustratingly I could not find a photo that matched, and it looked like the trail of the Killer Rat had gone cold...

...Until I remembered our Unknown Artist' previous form for cribbing from 1970s monster mags. Then it clicked - and I knew why this image had always been oddly familiar. In 1976, British comics maestro Dez Skinn launched the House of Hammer, a monthly mag devoted to the legendary horror film studio. And as well as articles and features on classic horror flicks, each issue boasted a comics adaptation of a classic Hammer movie by some of the finest creators working in the field at the time. Now Issue #10, published in March 1978, saw a gorgeous comicstrip version of Curse of the Werewolf, with art by the great John Bolton, and flipping through my aged copy, I found at last the template for the elusive Killer Rat! 


Note the pose and the distinctive shirt tatters - large drape on the left, and a pointy shred flapping out to the right!  On a purely personal and utterly self-indulgent note, I must say it's so satisfying to finally find the origin of Killer Rat - this one has been bugging me literally since I first got the Devil Priest pack three decades ago!

Thankfully the next exhibit in our rogue's gallery is far easier to identify!  


Now I'm sure this chap needs no introduction to kaiju fans, for "The Living Gargoyle" is in fact one of Godzilla's famous foes - the intergalactic space bastard Gigan. In the original cycle of Big G movies, the Showa series, this cyborg kaiju was first summoned to earth in Godzilla Vs. Gigan (1972) by aliens from the M Space Hunter Nebula, and called in once again by undersea miscreants from Seatopia the following year in Godzilla Vs. Megalon (1973). He would later appear again in more recent times in the third cycle of Godzilla movies, the Millennium series, in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), actually the final Big G movie from Toho (well, at least for now). In this flick, which features a whole array of famous kaiju, Gigan got to appear in two forms - in his original incarnation, and then later resurrected with new cybernetic enhancements, most notably twin chainsaws replacing his hook hands! Fun fact - Gigan was the first of Godzilla's foes to make the Big G bleed! And he was an utter bastard too - aside from some distinctly dirty fighting techniques, twice the big cyborg abandoned the monster we was allied, fucking off back into space when Godzilla was winning! Yes, there was a large element of chicken in Gigan, and not just in his design! 

However we do have a further possible mystery in this card. As we have discovered previously, our Unknown Artist was prone not just cribbing the monsters but also their victims. And given  the prone chap on this card has a very distinctive hand shape on his out-thrown arm, I rather suspect he has been copied from a movie still. But so far I've been unable to place the poor disemboweled sod... But if you recognise him, do drop me a line! 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

FROM THE GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 12 - The Dabblers by WF Harvey


Mr Jim Moon invites you once again to the cosy fireside of the Great Library of Dreams to explore a shadowy world of childhood rites and ancient traditions, in the shape of a sinister school story by the great WF Harvey, a tale of a mysterious group known as The Dabblers...

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Friday, 25 September 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - A Forgotten Feast


When the leaves start changing and the nights begin to draw in, we know that Autumn is here. However in centuries past, the turning of the wheel of the seasons was more definitely marked in the calendar. Roughly coinciding with the solstices and equinoxes were four quarter days that heralded the beginning of each season, and for Autumn that day was Michaelmas. As may be deduced from its name, this was the feast day of St. Michael, one of the archangels, and the Lord's champion who led the heavenly host against Lucifer's rebellion. In some branches of Christian lore, Michaelmas was actually thought to be the date of that celestial battle - indeed last year, we looked at this legend and its connection to blackberries. And it is commonly thought that it was St. Michael's reputation as the champion of light that inspired the early church to set his feast day at a time of the year when the nights were going to be growing longer. 

However there is a wealth of lore and tradition centred around Michaelmas that does not relate to that great war between the powers of the Light and Darkness. Once upon a time, Michaelmas was a very important time of the year and was marked by many festivities, and thus it was for centuries. In fact, its decline only came in the 19th century, when there was a seismic shift from an agricultural to an industrial society. And now in the 21st century, it is only largely remembered as an odd name occurring in some official calendars - for example, many old schools and universities still refer to the first term of the academic year as the Michaelmas term. 

Now over the years many of you may have wondered why the school year begins in September, and the reason for this is tied to the forgotten festival of Michaelmas. For the school year was modeled upon the university system, and to this day most university courses still begin at the close of September, usually literally just after Michaelmas. This is turn is derived from the church calendar (for the Church ran the first colleges and schools), and the academic year was chosen to begin then as Michaelmas marked the date of the last harvest. Now in ages past harvest was a most crucial time of the year: food had to be gathered in for the winter and the task of ensuring that all the crops were harvested, fruits and berries gathered, and livestock slaughtered, required everyone to muck in. Hence at harvest time, a communities needed all its young folks helping out, not sequestered in dusty classrooms. So then the academic year was set to begin after these vital tasks had been accomplished.

In a similar fashion, Michaelmas also saw the holding of what were called mop fairs. As the harvests were the end of the agricultural year, it was therefore now that contracts were renewed and that farms and estates looked for new employees. Therefore great fairs were held, often as part of the harvest festivities, where folks could tout for jobs. And the traditional way of doing so was to wander through the fair carrying something that signified your skills and profession; for example, shepherds would carry crooks, cowmen wisps of straw, and house maids would carry a mop. And hence, according to some, these gatherings were named 'mop fairs'. Although alternatively, some claim the name derives from tasseled tokens worn to signify different employers.  

It was also the traditional day for elections, where communities would appoint public officials and leaders to guide them through the winter, with mayoral elections traditionally being held at this time in many places. Like the other quarter days, Michaelmas was also a date when tithes, taxes and rents were due. And this is tied to a once very well-known but now largely forgotten superstition. For centuries it was said that - 
He who eats goose on Michaelmas day;
Shan’t money lack or debts pay
Even at the dawn of the 18th century, the belief was already so old that its origins had become obscure, as demonstrated by a query to the British Apollo on 22nd of October 1708 -
Pray tell me whence the custom'd proverb did commence, that who eats goose on Michael's day, shan't money lack his debts to pay?
Now firstly, there are a host of connections between geese and Michaelmas. In Shropshire for example, the shearing of the last portion of grain of the harvest was referred to as "cutting the ganders neck", while in other parts of the country Michaelmas is known as "Goose Day", with some places have celebrations known as "goose fairs". However a clue to the answer to the query above is to be found in an old Elizabethan text, in a poem by George Gascoigne written in 1575. In a verse about the quarter day feasts, Gascoigne wrote - 
And when the tenants come to pay their quarter's rent,
   They bring some fowl at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmas a capon, at Michaelmas a goose,
    And somewhat else at New-year's tide, for fear their lease fly loose
Now the eating of goose at Michaelmas was more than a mere tradition; again it actually relates  to the agricultural year. For after the crops had been harvested, geese were allowed to feed on the stubble. Therefore by Michaelmas the geese were as fat and well-fed as they were going to be that year, and so it was the perfect time to either sell or slaughter them. And therefore the goose fairs came into being, and the bird became the main course at Michaelmas feasts. Now going back to the paying of tithes and rents, in ages past it was a common practice to settle debts with goods, and therefore at Michaelmas a goose would often be offered as part of the payment.


Now as to the origin of that old proverb, we may speculate that if you were tucking into a goose on Michaelmas Day, you were one of several groups. You might be a well-off fellow who had just had his rents or debts paid up in full, and now probably had many new geese. Alternatively you could be someone who had paid up whatever was they owed, but still had enough to acquire a big roasting bird for your own table. Thirdly, you may have been a farmer who'd had a good harvest and had plenty of livestock for the winter. Further down the social scale, you may have been been fortunate in the local mop fair, and traditionally, employers sealed the deal with the payment of a shilling. And in some cases, at some times in history they would even pay your wages for the coming year in a lump sum. Therefore securing employment at the mop fair would normally mean you would be eating well on Michaelmas Day. In short then, if you had the cash for a goose on Michaelmas, that generally meant the coming year looked rosy. 

Being tied to the harvest and the close of the agricultural year, for many folks Michaelmas was the real end of the working year. And hence in the British Isles, and in many parts of Europe, the bounty of the harvest was celebrated with feasts. While it has been forgotten now, a sign that the Michaelmas feast was an important part of calendar in ages past is evidenced by the superstitions and customs that grew up around it, many of which echo several of our Christmas feast traditions. 

For example, in Ireland, special sweet pies were baked for Michaelmas, and it was traditional to hide a ring in one. To find a ring in one's Michaelmas pie was a sign of good fortune, much like getting the sixpence in a Christmas pudding. However thanks to the association between marriage and rings, to find a ring in your Michaelmas pie was a sign you would be wed in the coming year. And there was another echo of a Christmas superstition, the snapping of the turkey's wish-bone, found with the Michaelmas goose. It was said that if the bones of the cooked bird were brown, the coming winter would be mild. However white bones prophesied much snow and frost. And in Yorkshire, the condition of the meat itself held similar divinatory properties - 
If the goose breast at Michaelmas be dour and dull
We'll have a sour winter, from the start to the full
However despite once being a popular and important part of the calendar, the Industrial Revolution was to kill off the celebrations of Michaelmas. As factory work and urban life increasingly became the lot of the common folk, the old agricultural year and its traditions became less important. But while goose fairs and mop fairs still survive to this day, and Michaelmas still haunts academic and legal calendars, the great feasts and festivities at the end of September are now forgotten. However it is a tradition that perhaps should be revived, for as the nights draw in and the days grow colder, what better time to gather family and friends for a slap-up roast dinner?


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #08 - Devil Priest Pack Part VIII



Welcome once again to the Tomb of the Trumps! Our continuing series where we discover where the mysterious Unknown Artist of the Horror Top Trumps sets from the late '70s, ripped off, I mean drew his fetid inspiration! This week, we have a pair of rascals that any horror buff worth their salt should instantly recognise!


Hail to the king baby! Oh yes, here we have the great Lon Chaney Snr. as Quasimodo in the 1923 silent version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Directed by Wallace Worsley, this movie was a box office smash in its day and catapulted Lon Chaney Snr. from character actor to Hollywood star. Here he is in the title role and the very still the card was from copied from! 


Aside from Chaney's emotive performance as the tragic Quasimodo, what also really put him on the map was the fabulous make-up that he devised himself. Later Chaney would be dubbed as "the man of a thousand faces" thanks to the extraordinary lengths he went to to create his characters.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame was also the beginnings of Universal horror, and had Chaney not died, he was in line to play the Count in Dracula, and no doubt would have been the creature in Frankenstein... Which by a handy coincidence relates to our next card and another famous hunchback! 


Evidently our Unknown Artist had procured some large tomes on classic horror movies, for once again he'd been faithfully recreating stills in felt-tip! Despite the warts and green skin, here we quite clearly have a rendition of a famous scene in James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) where the mad doc's hunchback assistant Fritz, played by Dwight Frye keeps the newly made monster under control with a flaming torch. Get used to it kiddo, you're gonna be seeing ALOT of flaming torches in the future! 


Now in Mary Shelly's original novel, Frankenstein had no deformed half-crazy assistant, however it's highly probably that thanks the lasting impact of Lon Chaney's Quasimodo, Universal sought to up the horror quotient by adding the hunchbacked Fritz. Hollywood after all, still to this day cleaves to the rule that if it was successful once, it will be successful again. And they would return to hunchbacks many times in their horror movies, most famously with Ygor, played by Bela Lugosi in Son of Frankenstein (1939). Although this character strictly speaking only had a hunch due to a broken neck, the popular imagination has taken his name and fused it with memories of Dwight Frye, and so now many believe any Doctor Frankenstein worth his salt should be assisted by a hunchbacked Ygor. 

And it is also interesting to go back to the original trailers for Universal's monster rally movies House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), for in both cases, alongside the Count, the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster, hunchbacks are trailed as one of the monster attractions in these all-star creature features! Yes, the impact of Quasimodo was such that even over twenty years later, studio bosses, and presumable the public too, associated hunchbacks with Universal horror. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

COVER ART-ROCITIES #24


PUBLISHER - OK, we have a book of on assorted folklore, legends, and spooky tales from Devon...
ART DEPT. -  Like what?
PUBLISHER - Knockers...
ART DEPT. - (excited) I'll call the modelling agency!!!
PUBLISHER - No, not like that! They are some sort of gnome apparently...
ART DEPT. - Boo! So what else?
PUBLISHER - Oh witches, ghosts, phantom hounds, that kind of thing!
ART DEPT. - Witches? Maybe sexy ones? (excited) I'll call the modelling agency!!!
PUBLISHER - Stop that!
ART DEPT. - Ok then.... Phantom hounds eh? Well, my dog terrifies the postman... Do we get an expenses paid photoshoot in Devon?
PUBLISHER - No!
ART DEPT - Scissors and random stock photos here we come!
 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

MICROGORIA 19 - Usborne Supernatural Guides Haunted Houses, Ghosts & Spectres


Mr Jim Moon returns to the late '70s and the fondly remembered Supernatural Guides series of childrens books from Usborne, serving up a haunting helping of eerie delights from Haunted Houses, Ghosts & Spectres (1979).

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  Haunted Houses, Ghosts & Spectres

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Friday, 18 September 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Even A Stopped Clock...


Last time we examined the curious and sometimes sinister superstitions that have grown up around clocks over the years, and related how a stopped clock was often related to a death in many folk beliefs. Now this widespread superstition comes in two main variants, firstly there is the common tradition that a clock is stopped when some one dies. These days most people are familiar with it from a scene in the popular film Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), and the origin of  this funereal custom has prompted much speculation over the years.

A commonly touted explanation is that folks stopped the clock when a loved one died so that the time of death was recorded accurately for when the doctor or similar vassals of officialdom came a-calling.  However while this theory sounds all well and good, there is a problem with it - for it assumes that in ages past, our ancestors recorded deaths on certificates like we do today. However, death certificates requiring a doctor's signature and attested details such as time and cause of death are a relative modern phenomena, with centralized death records only coming into effect in the late 19th century, and in the US death certificates were not introduced until 1910. Before then, deaths were recorded in parish registers and required far less details. But there are many sources that record this superstition dating back well before modern death certification came into effect.

So then, what was the origin of the custom? Another theory that has been advanced is that in olden times, clocks were large and noisy, and hence to silence the loud ticking they made, they were stopped, so to allow mourners to grieve in silence. A variation of this theory states that clocks in the room where the deceased was laid out were stopped so mourners did not worry about how long they spent paying their respects! Again both of these theories sound ostensibly plausible, but actually do not entirely fit the lore we have recorded. For many variations of the belief hold that the clock should remain stopped until the body is carried out of the house for the funeral. Then, and only then, may the clock be started again. It was therefore, a kind of symbolic gesture, acknowledging that for the dear departed time itself had stopped. Indeed this is made clear in one of the earliest references to the belief. In 1825, the Newcastle Magazine reports that -  
At a northern latewake... the clock is shrouded and stopped, to signify that time has become a blank (for the deceased)   
It has been also speculated that stopping the clocks is also a sign to the deceased's spirit that their life is over and they must now move on from this life; quite literally a way of telling the dead 'your time has ran out'. However it is also very possible that it is related to our second famous superstition about stopped clocks - that a timepiece will mysteriously stop when a loved one dies.

Now in the world of folklore, cause and effect is often not a linear process. Many superstitions originate in the same magical philosophies that give rise to sympathetic magic. Everyone knows the famous example of this - the voodoo doll, but as we saw in a previous article on witch bottles, sympathetic magic was a two way street - hence an evil curse could be rebounded back to the sender by example the magical 'sympathies' that power the original spell. Hence stopping a clock when someone dies may be similarly exploiting a magical sympathy, in this case to prevent the Reaper making a second call to the household too soon.


Clocks that mysteriously stop when a death occurs is often thought to be merely a hokey old plot device, with many crediting a hit song, My Grandfather's Clock for being the origin of this superstition. Certainly this perennial favourite, written  by Henry Clay Work, is a very old work, being first published back in 1876 (and if you are not familiar with it, the lyrics will be reproduced at the end of this article). And it is true too that the song has been massively influential - for it is thanks to Work's song that we call grandfather clocks by that term - previous to this ditty they were known as long case clocks, floor clocks or tall clocks! 

However what few people realize is that the song was inspired by a true life case. In the north of England, there is a little town called Piercebridge which is home to an old pub, The George Inn. Some one hundred and sixty years ago, The George was a coaching inn, run by two brothers named Jenkins. Their pride and joy was a long case clock made by the famed Thompsons of Darlington, for at the time Thompson clocks were renowned for their precision and accuracy with many famous clock-makers learning their trade at James Thompson's workshop on High Row in Darlington. And by all accounts, The George Inn's clock was exceptionally accurate, a very handy thing for travelers to a coaching inn.  

However when one of the Jenkins brothers died, the clock began to lose time on regular basis. And when the surviving brother passed away aged 90, the clock, although fully wound, stopped.  The new manager of The George attempted to get the clock running again, and despite being examined and rebuilt by Thompsons, the clock would not run. And indeed it never ran again, and can still be seen to this very day in the foyer stuck at 11.30. Now Henry Clay Work stayed at The George in 1874 and heard the tale of the stopped clock, and was thus inspired to write his famous song.


So if My Grandfather's Clock wasn't the origin of this superstition, where did it originate? Well according to documents left by the King's Clockmaker, a Mr Vullamy, a clock in the royal household mysteriously stopped when George III died in 1820. And this historical oddity has been claimed to be the inspiration for the belief. However even a small amount of research will uncover a host of similar stories, and it appears that rather than being a folk belief, clocks do stop when some one dies. Now skeptics of course will claim that this is merely a trick of probability - and that obviously some people will die at the exact moment a clock that can be seen by relatives stops. 

However while invoking that old favourite agent of debunking, Coincidence, seems all very rational and scientific, at the same time it is hard not to feel a little chill when reading account after account of people reporting clocks and watches stopping at the moment of a death. Particularly when you have reports of modern digital and electrical timepieces suddenly stopping, and even multiple clocks stopping when the death occurs. It is apparently a common enough phenomena for many doctors and nurses to have noted it as something that happens often when some one dies. 

Some have even theorized it may be some electro-magnetic effect, generated biologically when some one dies that is to blame, for it is a scientific fact some people's bodies do carry a certain electro-magnetic charge that will stop any watch they wear. Perhaps when we start to see ourselves more as complex electromagnetic events than just bags of meat, when biology gains a deeper understanding of the electrical energies that are so vital to making us living, thinking creatures, science will get us an answer. Until then however we cannot rule out the Reaper's bony fingers stopping the clocks to say "Time's up..."  


MY GRANDFATHER'S CLOCK
by Henry Clay Work

My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopp'd short — never to go again —
When the old man died.
In watching its pendulum swing to and fro,
Many hours had he spent while a boy;
And in childhood and manhood the clock seemed to know
And to share both his grief and his joy.
For it struck twenty-four when he entered at the door,
With a blooming and beautiful bride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.
My grandfather said that of those he could hire,
Not a servant so faithful he found;
For it wasted no time, and had but one desire —
At the close of each week to be wound.
And it kept in its place — not a frown upon its face,
And its hands never hung by its side.
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopp'd short — never to go again —
When the old man died.
It rang an alarm in the dead of the night —
An alarm that for years had been dumb;
And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight —
That his hour of departure had come.
Still the clock kept the time, with a soft and muffled chime,
As we silently stood by his side;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #07 - Devil Priest Pack Part VII



Welcome boys and girls to another Tomb of the Trumps! Look, you lot all the know the score by now,so then lets get right on with it! And we open with a familiar face, although one with a title that will have pedants everywhere twitching as if they'd gotten a 1.21 gigawatt jolt from the Baron's own tesla coils!


Now then, no prizes for guessing what the origin of this card is! Yes, it's quite clearly sourced from the old Universal Frankenstein movies, and yes it is from a still of the great Boris Karloff as the monster. And yes, technically the card is quite incorrectly titled as it shows the creature made by Frankenstein. Happy now pedants? 


Actually the above still comes from The Bride of Frankenstein, and appropriately enough it was most likely this movie in particular that kicked off the long-running tradition of confusing of the name of the creator with the monster he made. For while Henry Frankenstein (as played by Colin Clive) does indeed get to marry his fiancee Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) in the course of this movie, the title clearly is referring to the bride that he and the villainous Dr Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger) make for Karloff's creature. And the resulting bride they create, as played by Elsa Lanchester, made such an impression on the popular imagination, that the creature took on his maker's name in most folks' minds. 

And our next card has a Karloff link too! Yes, this strange lady is not, as many have supposed, the product of a bad acid flashback. Although, come to think of it, perhaps in a way perhaps she is...


While our intrepid Unknown Artist often copied his source photos and stills very closely (as seen with Frankie above), sometimes he did embellish the images to make them that bit more horrific and outrageous. And hence when he found a picture of horror star Barbara Steele, dolled up in cult regalia, he just had to go the extra mile and make her a cyclops and add at bit of what looks like decay and rotting flesh! Here's the beautiful Babs in all her glory! 


And while she does look blue here, in some prints she does look green as shown in the card! The still is from a movie made by Tigon Films, Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)- a psychedelic tale of black magic  starring Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and of course the lovely Ms. Steele. Allegedly the movie is based upon a classic tale by the great HP Lovecraft, The Dreams In the Witch-House. But to be honest, other than featuring witches and dream sequences this Tigon feature has little to do with Lovecraft's famous tale. However it is a rather fun flick, simply because it is so colourfully demented! Certainly the High Priestess of Zoltan would not be out of place in the freakily costumed cult scenes in this movie! 

If you are wondering who 'Zoltan' was when he was at home, well it is NOT a reference to the not-so-classic Zoltan Hound of Dracula (1978) sadly (more on which you can hear about here). For there was another card simply entitled 'Zoltan' and we'll uncover his story in a later episode... 


Sunday, 13 September 2015

TOMEGORIA 09 - The Narrows by James Brogden


Odile and Jim are back together by the fireside and talking books! This time we are back in the realms of urban fantasy with an intriguing tale of earth energies and shortcuts in reality in the shape of The Narrows by James Brogden.

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - TOMEGORIA 09 - The Narrows

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Friday, 11 September 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Clocking On


Time often plays an important role in folklore, with many folk beliefs, rituals or events being tied to specific dates or times. Indeed, many folk beliefs evolved from a need to observe a certain time or date, and in earlier societies that were less technological advanced than us, marking such times and dates were very important tasks. We take for granted the luxury of owning the likes of modern smart phones that easily fulfill the roles of calendar, clock and almanac  - indeed we moan that we are too shackled to time. However in ages past, the common complaint was being uncertain of the time or even the precise date! So then, for many centuries, clocks were luxury items and whole communities relied upon civic timepieces such as the town clock or the ringing of the church bells. 

So then it is perhaps not that surprising that as revered machines, requiring very arcane knowledge to maintain and repair, many strange beliefs began to gather around the humble clock. After all, the idea that something that measures time might have some of the powers of Time itself is only a small leap for the ever agile human imagination to make. For example, there are a host of superstitions that related to clocks or bells sounding the hour. In many places it was considered unlucky to continue speaking while the hour chimes sounded - for you were acting with hubris, placing yourself in importance over Time itself, and you could expect that the powers that be would line up some sort of chastisement in the future. 

In a similar vein, to be unexpectedly interrupted by a clock chiming was seen as a dire warning. In many parts of England, especially in Sussex, Somerset and Cornwall, it was said that should a clock chime or bells strike the hour during the singing of hymn, it foretold a death in the parish during the following week. While in the north of England, it was believed that it was most unlucky for the hour to sound during a wedding service, for it foretold the death of either the bride or groom before the year was out.


However some beliefs actually evolved from the complexities of keeping an old fashioned clockwork timepiece not just running but running reliably and accurately. A long standing tradition stated that it was good luck to place a small cup or thimble of kerosene or paraffin inside a clock's case. Now while this is somewhat frowned upon these days as a fire hazard, particularly if said clock is on the mantle above your fire, there was a kernel of truth in it. Spirits such as kerosene and paraffin evaporate slowly and as they did so the fumes would coalesce on the gears and cogs of the clock, naturally lubricating them again and again over time. And hence your clock would run smoothly and accurately for longer and be less likely to break. However modern clock repairers do warn against this, for aside from the fire risks, the problem is that clocks are very delicate devices and not all of the parts of the mechanism need lubricating. For those that do not, the oily residue merely collects dust and dirt that may in the long term end up harming the working of your timepiece.

Another old superstition holds that it is bad luck to turn a clock backwards. Now partly this belief stems from the breaking of a common old folkloric rule - generally doing anything that goes against the ordinary processes of the natural world is to risk upsetting the balance of life. Time only goes forward, and hence so should clocks, even when having their time adjusted. However there is another origin for this superstition, one draws upon both supernatural beliefs and the technical lore of clocks. For until relatively recently, actually turning a clock backwards would damage the intricate mechanism within, as the clockwork was only designed to go one way. Modern clocks now are built so that you can turn them back without harming the movement, but this has only become a common feature within the last 80 years or so. Hence, until the last century, turning a clock backwards was to run a very real risk of it stopping or breaking completely. And in the days when clocks very rare and valuable items that was bad luck indeed! 

However this belief also relates to perhaps the most famous of all superstitions about clocks (and one we shall explore in more depth next week) - that a clock suddenly stopping or chiming unexpectedly portents the death of a loved one. Therefore to do anything to cause a clock to either chime erratically or to stop was to be tempting the Grim Reaper to make a call...


Sunday, 6 September 2015

HYPNOGORIA 18 - A Tribute to Wes Craven




In another sadly unscheduled episode, Mr Jim Moon pays tribute to the late great Wes Craven. We look back over his life and works, from his beginnings as a college professor doing films with his students to becoming one of the grand masters of the horror movie.

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - A Tribute to Wes Craven

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Friday, 4 September 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - All Hail the Conkerer!



Summer is fading away, the leaves are beginning to change colour, and the kids have been packed off back to school. Yes, September is here once again and autumn is beginning. Now here in England before Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas, the first of all the old rites and rituals of the last quarter actually begins in this month. Or at least they do for those afore-mentioned schoolkids, whose enforced return to the classroom is sweetened by an annual seasonal playground tournament - the game of conkers! 

For those of you unfamiliar with this peculiar practice, this is a centuries old game played with the nuts of the horse chestnut tree. The nuts - the titular conkers - are large, smooth and round, growing in spiked green cases, and around September time they are beginning to drop off the trees. Although thanks to the popularity of conkers with schoolkids, they are often "helped" down, and therefore should you be visiting the British Isles in early autumn and see a ring of children hurling sticks up into the branches of a tree, be assured that this is not some folk survival of an ancient rite to drive evil spirits from the boughs, but a method of harvesting conkers quickly! 

The collected shiny horse chestnuts are then taken home, and in most cases these days, a parent must be pestered to get out the electric drill and holes are bored through the centre of the nut, from top to bottom. A string or old shoe lace is then threaded through the hole, creating the conker proper - a nut that came be swung in deadly combat! Now despite the British youth's reputation for hooliganism, conkers are NOT an anti-personnel weapon, neither of the melee or missile variety, and conkers are only deployed against their own brethren. 


The game is played as follows - one player holds his conker hanging from its thread, and the other attacks it by swinging his conker at the dangling one. Then the roles are reversed, and the match continues until one conker smashes the other. And that is it - brilliant in its simplicity and violence, with the added twist that it may be the attacking conker that shatters. However this is a tournament based sport, for surviving conkers gain a score. A freshly made untried conker is a noner - having won no matches, where as a fresh victor is a oner! And a survivor of two matches a two-er and so forth! Of course there are regional variants to the rules and jargon - in Scotland, conkers are ranked as bully-one, bully-two, while in some areas the winning conker absorbs the score of its vanished foe - hence a newly strung oner that batters a three-er into fragments, would become a fiver - one for itself, one for the and match and then adding the three points from its vanquished foe. However whichever variation on the scoring system is used, possessing a battle-hardened  veteran conker such as a ten-er or even a twenty-er, has long been a ticket to playground fame and legend.

Due to the naturally superstitious nature of children, and the peculiar oral culture that is the lore of the schoolyard, there are ancient beliefs clustered about conkers. For example, in some areas, particular horse chestnut trees are said to give the best conkers, and coincidentally often ones in places that take some pluck to visit, such as those standing in graveyards or on private lands. Moreover there is a whole slew of beliefs about how to create the strongest conker. While such folk methods are considered cheating in official conker tournaments - and yes, there are such things,  the World Conker Championships for example has been held annual since 1965 - this hasn't stopped generations of schoolkids subjecting their conkers to bizarre hardening rituals. 


The simplest but the most annoying - for it requires planning an A LOT of patience and therefore is deemed heretical to most kids - involves keeping the conkers in a warm, dry place for a whole year. Yes, I know, a whole ruddy year! Needless to say this method is not very popular. Firstly because it's a very long time to wait, and secondly mothers tend to frown on discovering that the airing cupboard is now home to an autumnal arsenal. Boo! However for the impatient child - and let's be honest, that's all of the them - other more exciting methods are available, such as boiling the conkers in vinegar, baking them in the oven, or coating them in nail varnish. While the efficacy of any of these methods is very much open to question, there is however one really sure result - an irate parent whose kitchen now stinks of vinegar, burnt chestnut and spilled nail varnish.   

And thus it has been for generations! The game of conkers remains popular to this very day, although in recent years a new myth has sprung up around it. Usually just when kids are starting to collect conkers, some newspaper or other will resurrect a story that schools are banning conkers, thanks to that modern folk devil, the dreaded Health & Safety regulations. Now this bit of flim-flam is seemingly now annually reported, however it is a modern piece of folklore, that originates from a bit of fun in one particular school as related here intended to highlight safety issues for children. However it persists every year, despite the UK Health & Safety Executive having a special page debunking the myth.

Actually horse chestnuts are actually a relative recent addition to the European and American landscapes. With conkers being large and heavy, they weren't naturally distributed by birds and animals in the same way that most of our tree populations were. The tree was actually imported to Northern Europe and the US in the 17th century and only became a widespread part of the British landscape in the 19th. The first game of conkers recorded apparently occurred in 1848 on the Isle of Wight, although there is an earlier mention of a similar game played with hazelnuts in Robert Southley's memoirs in 1821. And game historians believe that such similar games had been played with other nuts and shells for centuries. 

However despite the horse chestnut tree's relative recent arrive in our lands, it has accumulated a certain degree of folklore to it aside from the game of conkers. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore and Occult Sciences Vol. 2 (1903) by Cora Linn Daniels records that it is considered lucky to carry horse chestnuts in your pockets, noting that "the Walloons carry three horse-chestnuts in the pocket, as a relief from giddiness!" - although quite why the folks of Belgium needed a cure for giddiness it sadly does not explain. However this superstition seems to have grown and spread, for it is claimed all across Britain and America that carrying three horse chestnuts in your pocket is beneficial. 


In many areas it is claimed that carrying three shiny conkers in your pocket will ensure you will always have money. While in other places, particularly in the US, it is claimed that carrying conkers - or buck-eyes as they are called over the pond - ensure virility in a man. In addition, buck-eyes are often found in hoodoo recipes, and again often in powders to promote *ahem* a gentlemen's strength. It is though this belief may have arisen from the supposed resemblance of the nuts in their spiky cases to the relevant pair of parts on the male anatomy. On a related but more polite note concerning the conkers in their spiked cases, in England it was claimed that the longer spines in the conker, the longer and harder the winter to come. Again this may be a belief derived from their shape, with the green conker spikes resembling icicles. 

However the most common folk belief about conkers, and one that persists to this very day, is that placing conkers around your house will repel spiders. And bizarre as it sounds, this method of keeping spiders at bay is sworn by by many arachnophobics. Now from a folkloric point of view, you would expect it was conkers in the spiky cases that were said to do this trick - for again the spiky shells roughly resemble the creepy-crawlies they are repelling, and hence worked perhaps through sympathetic magic or possibly just by acting an insect scarecrows! However surprisingly the lore states it is the conkers themselves, and what's more, they must be replaced every years to remain effective. 

Now as those who employ this method of spider control, assert that this is the case, it  would rather  suggest that the conkers themselves give off some kind chemical or scent that naturally repels spiders. However despite many tests, so far scientists have failed to discover any such compounds or substances in the humble conker. But apparently a natural property of the conker is an utter disregard of science, for it is still widely reported that conkers will keep spiders away. So possibly there is still some magic in the old horse chestnut tree after all... 


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #06 - Devil Priest Pack Part VI


Well it's that time again folks! Time once again to brave the dark corners of geekery and unearth the secrets found in the Tomb of the Trumps! And this week we have an effing exotic pair of ferocious frights for you! First up, we bring forward... The Fiend!
Ah The Fiend! Perhaps one of the more notorious cards in either deck of Horror Top Trumps, and certainly a strong contender for the most gratuitously violent too. You just wouldn't get a splatastic pic of a beheading complete with smashed vertebrae in a modern child's game! And people say there was no magic in the '80s...

But I digress... 

So then, assuming that this furry gore-monger wasn't just the product of a deranged imagination and a heroic lack of judgement on the part of Top Trumps, where did this fluffy decapitator come from? Well, surprisingly The Fiend's origins lie outside the horror genre. In fact, they lie in an old Steve Reeves movie - yes the same Steve Reeves as referenced by Dr Frank N Further in the iconic number Sweet Transvestite in The Rocky Horror Show.

Old Stevie was an US bodybuilder who won Mr Universe back in 1950, and parlayed his good looks and massive Greek god physique into an acting career - scoring a worldwide box office hit with a role he was born to play, the lead in Hercules (1957). In fact folks, Mr Reeves is very much the godfather of the muscle man turned action star school of acting, blazing a trail successfully followed by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. And although those who followed in his wake in the '80s made more successful movies, arguably Mr Reeves was a better actor than most of 'em put together. His natural charm made him a fun and memorable Hercules, a giant with a heart of gold, and a slew of sequels followed. 

In fact there was a whole wave of these sword and sandals movies coming out of Italy at the time,  featuring tales of Classical heroes, Roman warriors and brave gladiators, known as peplum (named after the Graeco-Roman tunics their heroes usually wore). And a great many starred our hero Mr Reeves, with one such outing being Il terrore dei barbari  from 1959, retitled Goliath and the Barbarians in the US to cash in on Reeve's fame as Hercules. In this epic on a budget, Reeves plays Emiliano (or Goliath in the English version), a hulking but kind guy who ends up defending beleaguered villagers from a mob of vicious barbarians. Now it's true that many peplum involve fantasy elements, and quite naturally too as they are often drawing on Classical myths and legends. However this isn't the case with Goliath and the Barbarians, leaving us wondering then where does the furry Fiend come from? Well, in his one man war against the barbarians, Reeves' Emiliano/Goliath initially fights back vigilante style, by taking a leaf out of Batman's book and dressing up in a lion costume to scared the pants of the barbarians while simultaneous knocking seven bells out of them! 

"Barbarians are a cowardly breed..."

And there we have folks! Sadly no, there's aren't scenes of him doing a splattery beheading by smashing a spinal column but you can't have everything I guess! However all credit to the Unknown Horror Top Trumps Artist whose deranged imagination, probably fueled by a deadline and the hallucinogenic fumes from '70s Magic Marker pens, managed to transformed a swords and sandal's hero into a furry Fiend! 

Anyhow, moving on, we come to our next card, which features a face that any old Doctor Who fan will recognise instantly!  
The Daemons was the fifth story and final story in the eighth season of Doctor Who, in five parts from 22nd May to 19th June 1971. It was the second season for the Third Doctor played by Jon Pertwee, and while this incarnation remained exiled on Earth, this second run of stories introduced a regular villain, the Doctor's arch enemy The Master, played by Roger Delgado. Hence in all the Season 8 tales, no matter what weird menace was threatening the Earth, the Master inevitably had a black gloved hand in it somewhere. 

Therefore when an archaeological dig at an ancient barrow was going to awaken an alien from the dawn of time with god-like powers, then naturally the villainous Master was on hand to exploit the situation. And as the alien in question, Azal, is from a race known as The Daemons, and whose image inspired our planet's legends of devils, the Master naturally forms a black magic coven to raise psychic energy to to waken this powerful slumbering ET... Anyhow, you don't need a full plot summary here - go watch the story instead! But here's Azal in in the very publicity shot copied for the card (and signed by actor Stephen Thorne who played him/it! ) 


Incidentally this is not the last time we will encounter a creature 'borrowed' from 1970s Doctor Who but more on that another day! Finally, we should also note that the erroneous, and probably for the purposes of copyright dodging, title of the card 'Fire Demon' may well have been lifted from another old classic. For 'Fire Demon' is what the titular beast is referred to as being in Jacques Tourneur's classic Night of the Demon (1957) (Curse of the Demon in the US). However it equally could have just been a lazy and generic title slapped on there... such are the mysteries of the Tomb of the Trumps!