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Horror quickies

Monday 8/21/23

M.R. James published four volumes of ghost stories and together they contain almost every short story he completed. The first book, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904) was originally supposed to be six stories long instead of eight. James didn't want to include "Lost Hearts," thinking it weaker, but did so at the urging of his publisher because the additional page count qualified the book to be sold at a higher price. James ordered the stories in the sequence he wrote them. He wrote "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book" first so it went first. "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad," was to have been the final story in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, but then James wrote "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" so it became an eleventh hour edition and concluded the manuscript.

The ghost story I am most likely to recommend to someone is Richard Middleton's "The Ghost Ship" (1912) because it's not like any other ghost story and is so surprising. It's a work of joy, wit, and magic.

One of the books I'm most likely to recommend to someone is Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (1859). It has a humdinger of a plot, characters of complexity, and is very funny, and it's also scary and ghostly, though it's not technically a ghost story. But it feels like more of a ghost story than ghost stories usually do. Like the Middleton story, it's a work that, once encountered and experienced, becomes like a companion in life and one keeps coming back to it.

Three of the scariest episodes of The Twilight Zone which are also episodes that strike me as being like really cool B-sides where there's standout work but only people in the know discuss it: "The Grave," "Night Call," and "Mirror Image."

Ambrose Bierce's story, "The Boarded Window," is sublime fiction. You have clarity and mystery, the natural and the supernatural, and you don't always know which is which. A lot is achieved with what someone might incorrectly term a little. Bierce's best supernatural fiction was better than Poe's. Both writers offered a great deal of value in their criticism. You wouldn't see this kind of versatility today, and we're only talking two things in this example, horror fiction and literary criticism.

The 1960 film City of the Dead made more use of a fog machine than any other film in horror history. They got their money's worth. Foggiest movie ever. It's meant to be set in Salem, though a fictitious name is used. Or one could even term it Arkham.

I like how it's always autumn in Hammer films.

When I listen to Erik Bauersfeld's Black Mass radio program, I feel like no one has ever heard it before and it's something that I alone am experiencing and no one else will ever experience. It creates a sense of isolation. The minimalist aspect is partially responsible, also the esoteric nature of the program and its host/creative force, which is like the esoteric nature of one's personal thoughts. The isolation is further increased with the knowledge that this was a time when dramatic radio programs had largely ceased to exist in the United States, but there was this one. Who was it for? Who was listening? Even now it feels like the answer to both questions is you when you do listen.

One of the best radio performances given by Boris Karloff was on the 4/23/38 episode of Lights Out, called "The Dream." Lights Out was created by Wyllis Cooper who would later leave to launch Quiet, Please and work with Ernest Chappell, "the man who spoke to you." Lights Out was fine--Quiet, Please came closer to art, though. A thinking person's radio program. Karloff elevates this episode, though, which is required listening for anyone wanting to know what horror radio was about in this country (a few months later Orson Welles would helm his radio productions of Dracula and The War of the Worlds, to give a sense of the timeline). It's almost Shakespearean. Karloff had appeared twice as the Frankenstein monster under the direction of James Whale, and would have one more go as the cadaverous character in Rowland V. Lee's Son of Frankenstein--a picture that would be held up as a horror classic, if it hadn't followed the two pictures that it did--the next year.

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