Sunday, 28 February 2016

HYPNOGORIA 29 - The Mysteries of the Mummy Part 1


Mr Moon begins an epic journey through the history of a horror icon - the Mummy! In this episode, we journey to ancient Egypt to unwrap the mysteries of mummification, unlock the secrets of the dead,  discover the truth about tomb curses, and encounter legends of bandaged ghouls! 

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Friday, 26 February 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Monkey Business on the Union Canal

by Clifford Harper

Folklore abounds with tales of curious creatures and strange beings, however in most instances for all their weirdness, these odd apparitions usually do have the common courtesy to fit into existing archetypal patterns. Hence woodland imps slot into local faerie lore, scaly beasts and loathy worms loll comfortably under the dragon umbrella, and folks in silver suits accompanied by coloured lights may safely be assumed to have wandered out of a UFO parked nearby. 

However there are many oddities encountered in the realm of strange tales, which leave the folklorist perplexed as to where to file them. One such baffling tale was recorded in the book published in 1883, Shropshire Folklore: A Sheaf of Gleanings by Charlotte S. Burne and Georgina F. Jackson, and this tome they relate the following curious events -  
On the 21st of January 1879, a labouring man was employed to take a cart of luggage from Ranton in Staffordshire to Woodcock, beyond Newport in Shropshire, for the ease of a party of visitors who were going from one house to another. He was late in coming back; his horse was tired, and could only crawl along at a foot’s pace, so that it was ten o’clock at night when he arrived at the place where the highroad crosses the Birmingham and Liverpool canal. Just before he reached the canal bridge, a strange black creature with great white eyes sprang out of the plantation by the roadside and alighted on his horse’s back. He tried to push it off with his whip, but to his horror the whip went through the thing, and he dropped it on the ground in fright. The poor, tired horse broke into a canter, and rushed onwards at full speed with the ghost still clinging to its back. How the creature at length vanished, the man hardly knew. He told his tale in the village of Woodseaves, a mile further on, and so effectively frightened the hearers that one man actually stayed with friends there all night, rather than cross the terrible bridge which lay between him and his home.
A very strange tale no doubt! The case of the Man-Monkey has been the source of much speculation over the years. A possible explanation was uncovered recently by writer and researcher Mike Dash who happened upon another odd tale that might shed some light on the matter. In an edition of  Sheldrake’s Aldershot & Sandhurst Military Gazette dated 8th December 1878 - note a mere six weeks before the report in recounted above - the following story was related - 
For a fortnight past the district around Madely Wood, Salop, has been in a state of intense excitement, by the alleged depredations committed by a gorilla, which is said to have escaped from a wild beast menagerie travelling to Bridgnorth. The animal was stated to have first made his appearance in the neighbourhood of that town, where in the darkness of the night it was severally seen by a clergyman and a policeman, both of whom fled. It is also said to have appeared at several places in the immediate neighbourhood. A few evenings since the occupier of a house in Madely Wood went to bed at a reasonable hour, with the greater portion of his family, leaving his “gude wife” up, who took the opportunity to visit a neighbour, leaving the door open and a candle burning. Returning in a short time, she was horrified at seeing a bent form, with a goodly array of gray hair around its face, crouching over the expiring embers of the fire, apparently warming itself, the light having gone out. Too frightened to shriek, she ran to her neighbours, who quickly armed themselves with pokers, iron bars, guns, and pitchforks and other instruments of a similar character, and marched in a body to capture the gorilla. The form was seen sitting at the fire, but evidently aroused by the approaching body, rose to its full height and revealed the figure of an eccentric character well known in the neighbourhood as “Old Johnny,” who seeing the door open had quietly walked in to light his pipe, accidentally “puffed” the candle out, and was very near being captured, if not exterminated, in mistake for an escaped gorilla. The animal has not been heard of since.
Now having checked some maps, it is perfectly possible that a wandering gorilla may have covered that distance in six weeks or so, with the two locations being only roughly 15 miles apart as the crow flies. That is of course, if there had been an escaped gorilla in the first place. 

by Richard Svensson

We should also note that if it was a gorilla, it has been a very long-lived one, for the Man-Monkey has been sighted around Bridge 39 of the canal many times since, over the years. And fairly recently too! For example, in 2002 Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways) appealed for reports and stories of ghosts on canals, and one respondent related the following encounter on the Shropshire Union Canal - 
He told us that during a boating holiday on the 'Shroppie' in the 1980s he took the tiller while the family were inside the boat preparing lunch. Passing under a bridge he looked up to see what he described as "a huge black, hairy monkey" staring down at him.
Interestingly this gentleman was unaware of the local tales of the Man-Monkey, and was reportedly quite relieved to discover that he wasn't the only person to have seen a strange simian apparition in that area.   

However to return to the original source, folks at the time had their own theories that seem to fit the tales better. For the account in Shropshire Folklore goes on to relate that a few days after the fellow's encounter on the bridge, a policeman came to call having heard that a man had been accosted and robbed. The erstwhile officer of the law was quickly put right and assured that no robbery had taken place, just the encounter with the strange phantom beast. 
"Oh, was that all, sir" said the disappointed policeman. "Oh, I know what that was. That was the Man-Monkey, sir, as does come again at that bridge ever since the man was drowned in the Cut!"
And this is interesting for several reasons - firstly it suggests that the Man-Monkey had been seen prior to the quoted tale, which casts more doubt on the gorilla theory. But secondly, and more interesting from a folklore point of view, is the idea that this weird beast was actually the ghost of a man who drowned on that particular stretch of the canal. And on this second point, Mr Nick Redfern who has written a whole book delving into the mystery (a look here) uncovered an interesting theory proposed by Charlotte S. Burne herself - 
I believe this to have originated in the classical and medieval notion of werewolves, living men who could assume the shape of a wolf at pleasure. Sometimes also a corpse would arise from its grave in the form of a wolf, and might do incalculable damage if it were not at once beheaded and cast into the nearest stream. This is a Prussian fancy, and the English King John too is said to have gone about as a werewolf after his death. Wolves have been extinct in England long enough to have disappeared from popular tales though not so many centuries as most people suppose, but the Man-Monkey seems very like the old fable in a new guise
Now while this writer feels the werewolf connection is perhaps somewhat tenuous, Burne does hit the nail on the head in the last line - that the Man-Monkey is a new form of older legends.

And while it might seem bizarre to us that a malevolent spirit might reappear as a monstrous monkey, it would have not have been strange at all a few centuries earlier. For in medieval ghost stories, we often find that spirits of the dead have the power to appear in strange and unusual shapes. In her essay Ghosts in Medieval YorkshireJacqueline Simpson lists many examples of shape-shifting spectres, who not only appear as assorted animals, both natural and monstrous, but even transform into surreal forms such as "a whirling heap of hay with a light in the middle of it". 

And stories of spectres appearing in assorted forms persisted well into the 19th century, and even find their way into fiction. As Simpson notes Charlotte Bronte's classic novel reference the old Yorkshire folklore concerning a ghost hound called Gytrash which appears "in the form of horse, mule or large dog". Furthermore the great MR James, who was definitely very familiar with all the old medieval tales of ghosts and spooks, incorporated this sinister shape-shifting after death in several of this famous tales. For example, In The Haunted Dolls' House a murdered old man rises from the grave to seek a terrible revenge in a form that "might be described as a frog – the size of a man – but it had scanty white hair about its head". And perhaps closer to the Man-Monkey, the spectre in The Diary of Mr Poynter appears as a human-like shape completely covered in thick hair.

The Man-Monkey's bridge

The stretch of the Shropshire Union canal where the Man-Monkey haunts dates back to the 1770s, and one can't help wondering just how old the tale of the drowned man the policeman related actually was. Quite possibly it had been doing rounds for a century or more. But certainly the account we have in Shropshire Folklore shows that the idea that the dead could return in monstrous animal forms was still circulating toward the end of the 19th century. 

Now all of this might seem strange to us, for we have definite ideas about how ghosts should be portrayed - usually all ethereal and transparent, often floating in slo-mo and a tad decayed. But the popular image of the returned dead was somewhat different in other eras. For stories, whether folklore or fiction, reflect the prevailing ideas of the society that spawn them. If the Man-Monkey had manifested a few hundred years earlier, we would be more than likely be discussing some species of ape-like hobgoblin, while if the strange events had occurred in more recent times, we may well be looking at a tale of a British Bigfoot or perhaps a furry alien. 

An Interesting Post Scriptum - in his seminal tale of a murderous mummy on the loose in Cambridge, Lot No. 249, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has sightings of the resurrected Egyptian interpreted as an escaped monkey or ape of some kind. Given that this tale appeared in 1892, one wonders if Sir Arthur had heard of the escaped gorilla of Madeley or the monkey business on the Union Canal...  


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #19 - Dracula Pack III


Welcome once again to another thrill-packed installment of Tomb of the Trumps... OK, maybe not trill-packed... But hopefully moderately entertaining! Anyhow, enough of my yakkin', let's boogie! So first off the deck we have this fella... 


Now you might think that this is just some generic dude with an axe, the kind of guy you always used find hanging out on metal album covers circa 1985. However note, the odd squatness of his figure... yes, I know, it's like watching telly  in an an elderly relative's house who hasn't worked out what the 'Change Aspect Ratio' button on the remote does, and hence everyone looks squashed as if they came from a high gravity planet! 

However to this seasoned Horror Top Trumpologist, this card doesn't say "Hey a medieval dude from Jupiter" - rather it suggests some one had to flatten their tracing in order to make it fit the card format! So where is this sinister headsman from then? Pinched from a comic? A rip-off of a great fantasy artist? Well, in this case it's both! For the original image is a painting by the legendary Frank Franzetta, which is called simply 'Executioner' and here it is - 


It was one of a number of paintings Franzetta did for magazine covers, in particular for Warren Publishing, who in the mid 1960s had successfully resurrected horror comics. The Comics Code introduced a decade earlier had effectively outlawed tales of monsters and murder, but the ghouls at Warren spotted a loophole and published their tales of terror in black and white and in a monthly magazine, effectively in a format that the Comics Code Authority didn't define as a comic. But as the likes of Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella only had monochrome art for the strips inside, Warren had a policy of adorning their mags with glorious fully painted covers, and that's where the likes of Franzetta came in.  

Interesting last titbit of horror comics history - this was actually the last cover Franzetta painted for Warren, appearing on the cover of Creepy #17 in October 1967. Apparently by this point low rates of pay and a lack of artistic freedom led the legendary artist to move to pastures fresh... 

...And move on so must we! Here's our next card, the charmingly titled Freak! 


Now I'm sure the source for this trump needs no introduction to fans of classic horror movies, for this is a creature from the legendary house of Hammer, the titular beast from The Reptile (1966).  

Hammer of course had made their breaktrhough with a creepy adaptation of Nigel Kneale's The Quatermass Experiement, and had built the foundations of their house of horrors with new versions of Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. However by the 1960s the studio was keen to create its own original terrors and The Reptile was an early and very successful step in that direction. The movie tells the tale of a remote Cornish villager with a highly unusual secret - it is the lair of a... well, what can we call the Reptile? A were-snake? Snake-person?

But whatever you call it, the titular terror looked great, whether in fully monstrous mode with a make-up created by Roy Ashton or in her human guise as Anna Franklyn, played by cult leading lady Jacqueline Pearce, who is probably best known by genre fans for her later portrayal of sexy space tyrant Servalan in Blakes' 7.   


However as is often the case with these cards, there's actually a secondary source here. I often wondered why the artist had given the Reptile what appeared to be a black coat with a big collar, and comparing various stills from the movie I soon realised why - these are the Reptile's mitts at all! In fact, that's not her body either! 

Yes, this is another hybrid picture, created in the mad lab of the Unknown Artist's deranged imagination from two separate images. Oh yes, the head is Jacqueline Pearce adorned with that iconic monster make-up, but the body is stolen from an old horror magazine... 


As you can see, the body and hands actually belong to another Hammer star, Sir Christopher Lee, in his break-out performance as the creature in Curse of Frankenstein, as seen here on the cover of the fondly remembered House of Hammer! Jacqueline Pearce's head on Chris Lee's body - now that truly is a Frankensteinean creation! 

Sunday, 21 February 2016

MICROGORIA 25 - The Final Programme


The future is cancelled! Find out why as Mr Jim Moon dons a black car coat and loads up his needlegun to go on the trail of one of Michael Moorcock's more offbeat SF heroes, the legendary Jerry Cornelius, in the cult classic The Final Programme, directed by Robert Fuest. 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  MICROGORIA 25 - The Final Programme

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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #18 - Dracula Pack II


Welcome dear friends to another of our strange voyages through the realm of vintage Horror Top Trumps! Once again we shall be rooting through obscure tomes and old magazines in search of the images and stills that inspired these delightfully lurid and frequently demented cards. And first up, we have a real tough one...


Now I'm guessing that several of you are bouncing up and down and shouting 'Killer Klowns from Outer Space'! But sadly, despite the uncanny resemblance to those fabled celestial circus psychos, these decks of cards were made many years - in fact about a decade by my reckoning - before the Chiodo Brothers' kult klassic was unleashed on an unsuspecting world. And before you mention him, the same goes for the shape-shifting cosmic horror that is Pennywise from Stephen King's It too.

Now this is a card that is naggingly familiar, and yet has proven very hard to identify. Indeed it's got all us Horror Top Trumpologists completely stumped! I've looked through countless stills from circus-based horror flicks, I've leafed through a myriad of horror comics, but sadly, to no avail! So if you recognise this nightmare in greasepaint, please do get in touch!

However in the meantime, here's the afore-mentioned Killer Klowns...



Fortunately though our next card is far easier to identify! Indeed it is the title trump of this pack, and obviously needs no introduction....


Now not only is Dracula instantly recognisable, but here we quite clearly have his celebrated incarnation on screen in Hammer movies, with the immortal Count being played by the late great Sir Christopher Lee! If memory serves, this particular image is modeled on a publicity still from the very first Hammer Dracula way back in 1958. Directed by the great Terence Fisher, Dracula or Horror of Dracula as it is known in the US, is rightly regarded as one of the great movie versions of Stoker's immortal tale, and it would spawn nine sequels, although Lee only starred in seven of those, bowing out of the first follow-up Brides of Dracula (1960) and the last entry Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1973). 

We don't normally remark on the often contentious figures bandied about on the stats, but as the star of one of the most frequently adapted horror novels, one of the most recognisable monsters in the world, and indeed the role model for nearly all fictional vampires, Dracula certainly deserves his horror rating of 100!




Saturday, 13 February 2016

HYPNOGORIA 28 - The Dark Crystal Commentary


Due to popular demand, here's a commentary for the earlier collaboration between Jim Henson and Brian Froud - one of the stand-out fantasy films of the '80s and a landmark in puppetry and SFX, The Dark Crystal from 1982!

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Friday, 12 February 2016

TOMEGORIA extra!


Next month on Tomegoria, Odile and Jim are looking at Bram Stoker's classic tale of Egyptian gothic horror The Jewel of Seven Stars. And as this work is in the public domain, you can play along at home if you like, by snagging a nice free edition!

However there is a catch - there are two different editions of this work. It was first published in 1903 but when it was reissued in 1912 at the end of Stoker's life, his publishers insisted he made some changes - and hence a chapter - Chapter XVI "Powers Old and New" was snipped out and the last chapter of the 1912 was rewritten to give the tale a very different ending. However all editions can be found in the links below -

The 1903 version of this novel is available as a:

  • Free text download
  • Free PDF download
  • And the 1912 version of this novel is available as a:

  • Free text download
  • Free PDF download
  • Free audio download from the Internet Archives

  • Valerie Leon in Blood From the Mummy's Tomb  - the Hammer screen version of the Jewel of Seven Stars 

    Wednesday, 10 February 2016

    TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #17 - Dracula Pack I


    And welcome back to the the Tomb of the Trumps! Today we are cracking open the second horror themed deck issued by Top Trumps back in their heyday! Commonly known to collectors and trumpologists as the Dracula pack, let's have look at the first couple of cards! 


    So then, what do we have here then? A tribute to an old Kinks song perhaps? Sadly not... although a movie inspired by Ape Man would be pretty cool. However, believe it or not, the truth is far stranger! Oddly enough the inspiration for this Stone Age horror would appear to be an old Joan Crawford movie - admittedly the last one she made, but a Joan Crawford picture nonetheless.

    This movie was Trog - a 1970 British production, which was originally developed for cult Brit horror studio Tigon, the folks who gave us classics such as Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan's Claw and The Creeping Flesh. However this SF horror, directed by Hammer stalwart Freddie Francis, would eventually be made by Herman Cohen, an American producer who had been the driving force behind classic B movies such as I Was A Teenage Frankenstein and I was A Teenage Werewolf in the 1950s for AIP. The movie boasted further notable horror connections too, being co-scripted by John Gilling who made Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile for Hammer, and co-starring with Crawford was genre regular Michael Gough.


    However despite an impressive pedigree, Trog did not join the ranks of the classics mentioned above. Rather it went to the other end of the table, and is now often recognised as a gem of a different kind in the murky world of so-bad-its-good  movies... But hey, Trog made for a cool looking card!

    So then, what do we have next? Well, we have this fellow, who is actually isn't quite what he first appears....


    Now this vicious looking savage actually comes from The Phantom Creeps a 1939 serial from Universal. This tale, told in 12 episodes, sees government agents battling the sinister Dr. Zorka played by Bela Lugosi (in his last role in a movie serial). Doc Zorka is - of course with a name like Zorka -  a mad scientist possessing all kinds of super weapons, including an invisibility belt, robot spiders, and a fragment of meteorite capable of sending whole armies into suspended animation! But his star invention showcased in the serial was this creation, dubbed simply 'the Robot'!    


    ...So yes, the Cannibal is actually a rather cool looking android! A cut above the usual tin box and TV aerials look that most early screen robots sport, I'm sure you'll agree! And speaking of design work, I particularly like the way that the fabled Unknown Artist has turned the flexi-tube sleeves of the Robot's arms into tribal war paint/tattoos for the Cannibal! Nice work fella! 

    However our work is not yet done here... For as regular readers will know, these old Horror Top Trumps often 'borrowed' from multiple sources, and hence I had the sneaking suspicion that I had seen that severed head before. Using my best detective skills, I noted that little bonce's wonky eyes, and this gave me the lead I needed... For there is one famous monster that usually sports off-kilter peepers - Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. And sure enough, this severed head bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the Hunchback's more obscure movie appearances - namely when he was played by the great James Cagney!

    Now before you rush off to IMDB or dust off your tomes on horror movies, let me confirm that Cagney never actually appeared in a screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's famous novel. But Cagney did play the role of Lon Chaney Senior, in the 1957 biopic of that legendary actor Man of a Thousand Faces. And in that movie Cagney donned to latex to play Chaney shooting the classic 1923 silent version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Now the make-up job in Man of a Thousand Faces is actually significantly different to the Quasimdodo created by Chaney, but it is a dead ringer for the blood dripping noggin on the Cannibal card! 





    Sunday, 7 February 2016

    TOMEGORIA 14 - Revenants




    This month Odile and Jim take a trip back in time to 17th century New England for a tale of historical hauntings and horrors! In Revenants by Daniel Mills we'll encounter madness, murder, missing girls, and something nasty lurking in the woods...


    DIRECT DOWNLOAD - TOMEGORIA 14 - Revenants

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    Thursday, 4 February 2016

    COVER ART-ROCITIES #26


    Possibly the worst ever cover for any edition of Stoker's classic! Mr Dennis Wheatley might have been a leading authority on the occult but whoever approved this cover evidently had no clue as to what Dracula was about! To this today I suspect there was a ghastly mix up at Sphere Books and somewhere there's a paperback guide to yoga with a cover featuring a fanged chap in a cape crawling out out of a coffin! 

    Wednesday, 3 February 2016

    TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #16 - Devil Priest Pack Part XVI


    Welcome dear guys and ghouls, to the benighted world of Tomb of the Trumps! And I'm afraid my dearios, we are now reaching the end of this particular vault, with a pair of very bizarre characters brought to you by the letter Z! 

    Now then, you would be forgiven for thinking that this particular card is merely the result of a nervous breakdown on the part of a rushed artist overcome by the fumes from his own magic markers. And indeed, many Horror Top Trumpologists have conclude that this is indeed the most likely explanation for the Zetan Priest! I mean, a cyclopean horror in a purple and orange cape made seemingly from the finest eye-ball searing 1970s wallpaper and wearing a nice lacy bonnet! Surely this clear evidence of an over-wrought mind affected by hallucinogen art materials! 

    However as regular visitors to this den of terrible old tat know, unusual ocular features are a clear clue that this is in fact a disguised rip-off! And as it turns out, this alleged "Zetan Priest" is actually another denizen of the Doctor Who universe. It appears in the Third Doctor story Colony in Space which aired back in 1971, and  he/she/it is an alien from the planet Uxarieus in the year 2472, and surprisingly this walnut-bonced chap is actually a priest too. I particularly like the way that the Unknown Artist has turned the head ridges into lacy crinkles, and how if you look closely there's every indication he was going to do this fella with two eyes and then thought "sod it, let's go cyclops again!". 




    Of course, we have no clue as to what all this Zetan business was all about, but in the companion deck it would crop up again... But more of that another another day. Meanwhile however we have the second half of our Z pair coming up next!  


    Now then, as you may remember, a while back we encountered a similarly seemingly made-up for this deck clerical horror figure, the High Priestess of Zoltan (see here) and now, we have the lad himself! Quite why this green-faced, spikey-headed google-eyed freak warranted a High Priestess is sadly some thing I'm guess not even the deck's designers knew. However like his priestess, old Zoltan has his origins in demented early '70s horror. For as you can see, "Zoltan" is very obviously this creation from the 1971 Italian horror flick Lady Frankenstein 



    Now under all that latex is a Mr Peter Whiteman and, as far as I can tell, this was his only role. Funny that... Anyhow, this odd little movie introduces us to Baron Frankenstein's daughter Tania, played by Rosalba Neri, and this plot sees her returning from college to help out dear old dad, played by Joseph Cotton, with his notorious experiments. Of course, the first monster they make promptly runs amuck and escapes, and Tania continues her experiments by planning to transplant her lover's brain into a new younger body. Needless to say it all ends in tears, with a pitchfork wielding mob of villagers deciding they had enough of the Frankensteins' shit. 


    Some have seen this movie as an attempt to put a feminist slant on the Frankenstein mythos, but I fear more have seen it as a chance to ogle Miss Neri with her kit off... It's a fine line between sexual liberation and sexploitation... But anyhow, Zoltan brings us to the end of the Devil Priest pack, but fear not dear friends, for our investigations will be continuing with the second deck, the Dracula pack, very very soon!