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Lurking on the Bookshelves: Queer for Fear: Horror Film and the Queer Spectator

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As a filmic genre, horror has always contained subtle Queer undertones and themes. Even before explicit representation was accepted, queerness was present in subtextual form. From the work of out gay filmmaker James Whale in the 1930s (including Frankenstein  [1931] and The Old Dark House [1932]) and the coded lesbian characters of Dracula's Daughter  (1936) and Cat People  (1942), through to the pansexuality of Dracula (1958), the internalised homophobia of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2  (1985) and the genderqueer Cenobites of Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987), horror has always discreetly (and not so discreetly!) featured stories of the marginalised and the outsiders, vilified and rejected by society, 'othered' and rendered monstrous.  Published in September last year, Queer for Fear: Horror Film and the Queer Spectator is a ground-breaking academic study of the relationship Queer people have with horror films. Author Heather O. Petrocelli is an interdisciplinary schola

Faceless Men, Women in Black, and Crossroad Phantoms

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Head over to YouTube to check out the latest instalment of Ghosts with Goblin , a series dedicated to the exploration of ghost stories and real life encounters with the paranormal and supernatural (selected and read from www.yourghoststories.com ). Written, presented and produced by my good friend Marie Robinson, each episode relates to a particular theme, and relevant aspects of science, folklore, psychology and parapsychology are discussed. This week's episode focuses on spooky encounters with apparitions without faces, spectral women in black, and various crossroad phantoms. 

Ghost Stories at Christmas

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“It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story.” Jerome K. Jerome, Told After Supper (1891)  The peculiar British tradition of sharing ghost stories at Christmastime is an old one. Historically, December 25th has a close link to pre-Christian solstice festivals that regarded mid-winter as a significant time when the light dies, the nights grow longer, and (similarly to Samhain) the veil between the world of the living and the dead becomes wispy. The earth sleeps, ready to reawaken in spring. Early Christian beliefs held that souls in purgatory ‘were most active on the day before a holy day, and thus more likely to intrude into our world’ (Kirk, p7, 2020). During the dark nights of Yuletide, Christmas Eve is one of the longest nights of the year in the northern hemisphere. The tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas, particularly on Christmas Eve, dates to the Victorian period, a time of great scientific and technological advancement. Perhaps the more people came to understand

Raw (2016)

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Written and directed by Julie Ducournau, Raw tells of veterinary student Justine (Garance Marillier), who is subjected to a series of humiliating and cruel initiations by the older students. Among the degrading rituals, Justine, a lifelong vegetarian, is forced to eat raw meat by her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). This act awakens within Justine an insatiable bloodlust and craving for human flesh… Raw is an unsettling, full-blooded odyssey of self-discovery and actualisation told from a fiercely feminist vantage. It stalks similar territory to titles such as Ginger Snaps and The Company of Wolves in its unwavering exploration of female sexuality (which historically has been shamed or out-rightly denied by patriarchal discourse). Indeed, there are several irresistible parallels with  Ginger Snaps , not least the complex, often toxic bond between the sisters, and the intense cravings Justine experiences as her body reacts to her new appetites. And, like the Fitzgerald sisters, Jus

Stories of High Strangeness

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UFO sightings, encounters with fairy folk and glimpses of shape-shifting dogs are but some of the subjects featured on the latest instalment of Ghosts with Goblin . Head over to Goblin Kwain on YouTube to listen to my friend Marie and I as we read a few spooky tales of paranormal encounters... 

For Night Will Come (2023)

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When they move to a quiet suburban neighbourhood, the Ferals appear to be a very normal family. However, they have a dark secret concerning their teenaged son Philémon, and as he begins to fall for his neighbour Camila, his thirst for human blood becomes harder to resist, threatening the family's well rehearsed cover... Read my full review at Eye for Film . 

It Follows (2014)

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It Follows is a deeply unsettling, yet beautifully produced coming of age creeper. The story of a young woman (Maika Monroe) who is relentlessly stalked by an unknown supernatural force after a sexual encounter, it taps into primal fears such as death, abandonment, betrayal, and social ostracism. Hailed as a modern horror classic, it entrenches itself in the logic of grim and bloody fairy tales in which youngsters must fend for themselves and use their wits to outsmart and survive an evil adversary. A brand new 4K UHD/Blu-ray release by Second Sight Films boasts a plethora of rich, full-bodied bonus features for the connoisseur and casual viewer alike. Read my full review of the bonus features over at Eye for Film. Read my review of It Follows here . 

The Vourdalak (2023)

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Based on a 19th century Gothic novella by Aleksey Tolstoy (previously adapted for cinema by Mario Bava as a segment in his 1963 anthology, Black Sabbath ), The Vourdalak is the debut feature film from French writer-director Adrien Beau. It tells of the Marquis d'Urfé (Kacey Mottet Klein), an emissary of the King of France who seeks shelter with a family when he becomes lost travelling through Eastern Europe. The family are anxiously awaiting the return of their patriarch, Gorcha, who has gone to capture an outlaw. Before leaving, he forewarned his family that if he does not return within six days, he has been killed and, if he reappears, they must refuse him entry to the house as he has become a vourdalak; a walking corpse returned from the grave seeking the blood of its loved ones... Head over to Eye for Film to read my full review.

Bitten (2023)

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Convinced she has only one more day to live, Françoise and her friend run away from their convent boarding school and hitch a lift to a party in a vast chateau in the middle of the woods. Here, amid decadence and occultist dalliances, she encounters various lost souls, including a sullen party guest who claims to be a vampire, as she struggles with fiery, prophetic visions and a sense that time is running out. Read my full review at Eye for Film .

Harbingers of Death

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My dear friend Marie Robinson, a writer and folklorist from Missouri, has recorded a new video for Ghosts with Goblin , her YouTube series dedicated to eerie folklore, ghost stories, urban legends and tales of the paranormal. The latest instalment is an exploration of harbingers of death from around the world, including the Welsh Gwrach y Rhibyn (Witch of Rhibyn) and the Irish Death Coach (Coiste Bodhar, meaning 'silent coach'). Join us, as we delve into and read spooky accounts of people's experiences with harbingers of death... You can watch/listen here . 

Summoning The Spirit (2023)

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A city couple relocating to a home in the forest discover a commune on the neighbouring land is home to a cult of sasquatch worshippers harbouring sinister secrets...  Head over to Eye for Film to read my full review.

Jekyll and Hyde

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Written and directed by Jennifer Dick, and adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Gothic novella, Jekyll and Hyde is the latest production from Glasgow based theatre company, Bard in the Botanics. It tells of Gabriel Utterson, a solicitor who investigates a series of strange, horrifying occurrences involving the renowned Dr Henry Jekyll, and a murderous brute named Edward Hyde. Utterson eventually discovers that the two men are one and the same, as Jekyll's primal, violent urges are made flesh in the form of Hyde. Performed by a cast of three against the backdrop of the stunning Kibble Palace, an ornate Victorian glasshouse in Glasgow's botanical gardens, Jekyll and Hyde stars Stephanie McGregor as Gabriel Utterson, Adam Donaldson as Henry Jekyll, and Sam Stopford as Edward Hyde. As Utterson, McGregor guides us through the story, remaining an anchor throughout, as her investigations eventually lead to the horrifying truth about her friend Dr Jekyll. The chemistry betwe

Burning Bright (2010)

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Akin to titles such as Cujo (1983), Crawl (2019) and Bait (2012), Burning Bright is a high-concept horror about a young woman and her autistic brother who are trapped in a house with a ravenous tiger during a hurricane. After a brief set up, which establishes the fraught family dynamics (mother recently died, stepfather is struggling financially, daughter Kelly desperately wants respite from her responsibilities so she can attend college) director Carlos Brooks cuts straight to the chase. From the moment Kelly (Briana Evigan) realises there is a wild animal in the house and finds herself in a situation that threatens to eat her alive, the tension never abates. Using low-level camera work to suggest the POV of the stalking predator, Brooks exploits the limited space of the family home to crank up the claustrophobic suspense and offer some incredibly striking imagery. Kelly not only needs to evade the tiger herself, but also keep safe her younger brother who can’t fully comprehend th

'The Man in the Woods' by Shirley Jackson

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My friend Marie Robinson has recorded a special reading of Shirley Jackson’s short story, 'The Man in the Woods'. A dark, mythic tale that takes place in the heart of a mysterious wood, this story conjures echoes of Folk Horror ritualism and is thick with classic fairy tale tropes. Sound effects are weaved subtly throughout the narrative to provide an immersive experience, so it is best listened to with headphones. Listen to it here . Read and recorded by Marie Robinson. Additional voices provided by Mark Longden (Mr. Oakes) and myself (Christopher).  If you would like to download a free mp3 version of this recording, you can find it here .  Finally, a PDF of the full source list material is available here . 

Childer (2016)

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Nominated for Best International Short at the International Women in Horror Festival and the Nightmares Film Festival, Childer (an Irish colloquial word for children) is written and directed by Aislínn Clarke ( The Devil’s Doorway , 2018). It tells of Mary (Dorothy Duffy), an introverted single mother, who suspects she and her young son are being stalked by feral children living in the woods surrounding her home. She spends her days obsessively cleaning, trying to maintain order, and preventing her son from playing with the forest-dwelling children. Clarke’s screenplay explores ideas concerning parenthood, obsession, loneliness, and mental illness. The spectre of Shirley Jackson drifts throughout proceedings as domestic, homey spaces become veiled in quiet menace and the seeming innocence of childhood takes on sinister qualities. The beautiful photography by Ryan Kernaghan and art direction by Claire Fox help imbue the story with an eerie fairy tale quality: the little house, neat and

Chained (2012)

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Held captive by a serial killer since the age of 8, a teenaged boy must choose between escape or becoming his captor's unwilling protégé. Written and directed by Jennifer Lynch (based on a screenplay by Damian O'Donnell) Chained is an unflinching exploration of how monsters are made. As with her earlier titles Boxing Helena (1993) and Surveillance (2008), Lynch invites us to explore the darkest corners of human psychology, and the violent depravities people inflict upon one another. Shot in two weeks on a very low budget, Chained at times resembles a stage play, with its singular location and story driven by two characters. After a queasily suspenseful opening in which a woman (Julia Ormond) and her young son are abducted in broad daylight, the story, like its young protagonist Rabbit, becomes bound to the grim interior of the killer’s house, with its boarded-up windows, yellowing wallpaper, and harsh lighting. Lynch conjures a moody, ‘homey nausea’* which speaks to the rot

Master (2022)

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Written and directed by Mariama Diallo, and inspired by her own experiences as a student at Yale, Master tells of two Black women struggling to navigate life at a predominately white university ‘as old as the country.’ Their experiences of casual racism, micro-aggression, and tokenism, play out against a backdrop of whispers of an ancient vengeful witch who haunts the campus… With its combination of shivery supernatural horror and real-life horror, Master is a powerful, unsettling and at times distressing watch. Gail (Regina Hall) and Jasmine (Zoe Renee) not only encounter suggestive supernatural menace lurking in the dark corners of the vast, spooky university buildings, but every-day menace in the form of racist adversity from colleagues and fellow students. Gail has been appointed the first black 'Master' (while it has uncomfortable connotations of slavery, it's an esteemed faculty position overseeing halls of residence) of the university. Tellingly, when she arrives

Amulet (2020)

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Written and directed by Romola Garai, Amulet tells of a troubled, displaced ex-soldier who is offered a place to stay at a decrepit old house in London, inhabited only by a young woman and her dying mother (who resides in the attic, no less). Before long, he begins to suspect something sinister is afoot... Flirting with various tropes from demonic possession and haunted house films (warnings to stay out of the attic, things heard moving in the walls, horrifying discoveries in the decaying plumbing), Garai masterfully sets the scene and creates a portentous, gloomy atmosphere before eventually lifting the curtain to reveal a truly original and terrifying fable of feminist revenge. With its exploration of forbidden spaces, depictions of the monstrous in its myriad forms and reflections on trauma, abuse and gender, Amulet is a highly unsettling and atmospheric work that wields a strange, undeniable power. Throughout, Garai maintains an insidiously creepy approach, her deliberate directi

You Are Not My Mother (2021)

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When her missing mother reappears, teenaged Char begins to suspect she is an otherworldly imposter. Written and directed by Irish filmmaker Kate Dolan, You Are Not My Mother taps into some truly primal fears – parental abandonment, being harmed by those meant to protect us, and being ostracised from our community. The carefully nuanced screenplay ensures an enthralling ambiguity throughout. Char’s mother has a history of depression and mental health issues – are the changes she exhibits due to her ill health? Her medication? Or something more unnatural ? Dolan’s writing and direction are bolstered by incredibly strong, compelling performances, particularly from Hazel Doupe as Char and Carolyn Bracken as her mother Angela. Char is a subdued, quiet girl with no friends. Doupe’s ability to convey so much internalised emotion, worry and pain is especially captivating. Bracken also delivers a memorably striking performance, the physical aspects of which create a sense of unease and eventu

Labyrinth (1986)

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Written by Monty Python’s Terry Jones and directed by Jim Henson, Labyrinth tells of fairy tale-obsessed Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a young woman who must venture through the ‘dangers untold and hardships unnumbered’ of a nightmarish other-realm to rescue her baby stepbrother from Jareth (David Bowie), a cruel Goblin King. Along the way she befriends an array of misunderstood, misfit creatures who inhabit the labyrinth, and overcome attempts to thwart her journey by Jareth’s many meddling minions. The eighties produced a plethora of spectacular and oddly edgy fantasy films which, while aimed at younger audiences, possessed certain adult sensibilities and a curious darkness which would feed into their later cult status. Titles such as The Dark Crystal (1982), The Never-Ending Story (1984), Dragonslayer (1981), The Princess Bride (1987), Return to Oz (1985), Willow (1988) and Legend (1985), invited audiences to join valiant underdog protagonists on perilous quests to defeat evil

Lurking on the Bookshelves: The Diving Pool by Yōko Ogawa

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This collection of three novellas by Japanese author Yōko Ogawa is a deeply unsettling and atmospheric work. As subtle as it is quietly powerful, Ogawa’s brand of psychological horror explores the ‘horrific femininities’ of daily life, conjured by a gentle, sparse prose frequently serrated by striking, disturbing imagery. 'The Diving Pool' tells of a lonely teenage girl who falls in love with her foster-brother as she watches him leap from a high diving board into a pool - sparking an unspoken infatuation that draws out darker tendencies. 'Pregnancy Diary' follows a young woman who records the daily moods of her pregnant sister in a diary, but rather than a story of growth the diary reveals a more sinister tale of greed and repulsion. The final story, 'Dormitory', involves a woman who visits her old college dormitory on the outskirts of Tokyo, where she finds an isolated world shadowed by decay, haunted by absent students and the figure of a lonely caretaker. Og

Lurking on the Bookshelves: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed & Things We Lost in the Fire

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These collections of short stories by Argentine writer and journalist Mariana Enríquez feature creepy, sad, and unsettling tales of spectral homeless children, witches and black mass ritualism, domestic abuse and violence against women. They feature deeply flawed, at times downright unsympathetic characters - usually troubled, lonely, and marginalised lost souls - and self-harm and abuse are recurring themes throughout. Described as ‘a writer whose affinity for the horror genre is matched by the intensity of her social consciousness’ (1) Enríquez’s stories are largely set in present-day Argentina, a backdrop of corrupt government regimes and police brutality haunts proceedings. The political undercurrent speaks of a society haunted by its past, ghost stories informed by poverty, institutional violence, and economic ruin. Among all the very real horror, Enríquez subtly introduces otherworldly, supernatural elements, situating her stories in recognisable reality and mundane domestic set

Black Roses (1988)

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Directed by John Fasano and written by Cindy Cirile (credited as Cindy Sorrell),  Black Roses tells of the eponymous metal band, fronted by the darkly charismatic Damian (Sal Viviano), who begin their world tour with several special concerts in the small town of Mill Basin. Naturally the local teens are psyched to see their favourite metallers, but their parents and the town authorities are concerned because of the band’s reputation as heavy metal hell-raisers. Turns out these parental fears are not unwarranted, as the band are actually demons whose music corrupts listeners and transforms them into minions of chaos and evil. As the town’s youth run wild and succumb to the band’s diabolical influence, it’s up to an open-minded, down-with-the-kids high-school teacher to crash the concerts and try to save the day.  Stage-diving onto screens hot on the heels of  Hard Rock Zombies  (1984),  Trick or Treat  (1986) and director Fasano’s own feature debut  Rock‘n’Roll Nightmare  (1987),  Blac