Sunday, 28 October 2012

Gale Sondergaard - Sinister, Scary and Simply The Best


Back in the 1930s and 1940s, if you were making a film and wanted a sinister, manipulative, thoroughly scary woman who could send a shiver up your spine with just a glance, you need have looked no further than the brilliant character actress Gale Sondergaard.

Born in 1899, University of Minnesota educated, she chilled and thrilled in films as diverse as The Cat and the Canary, Maid of Salem, The Cat Creature, The Mark of Zorro, Anna and The King of Siam and even played a villainous character in a Bing Crosby/Bob Hope caper, Road to Rio.Of all her roles though, she is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Mrs Hammond, the sinister wife of a man murdered by Bette Davis's character in the 1940 classic The Letter.

 
As you might expect, while Sondergaard was adept in sinister, evil dark roles (whether in comedy or drama), in her real life, she was a woman of principle and loyalty. Sadly her career stalled in the 1950s during the McCarthy era. She publicly stood by her film director husband Herbert J. Biberman - one of the Hollywood Ten, blacklisted as a result of the 'Red Trials' - and she refused to testify, so suffered a similar fate. Her career never recovered, although she continued to make some film and TV appearances until she retired after her final film - a horror - called Echoes, in 1983. 


Gale Sondergaard died of cerebrovascular thrombosis in 1985 and her ashes were scattered over the Pacific. In my opinion, the world lost one of its greatest character actresses and certainly the best at the kind of roles for which she is best known.

Here's a short clip of her in action, feeding her 'beautiful creature' in The Spider Woman Strikes Back in 1946. Just click on the link below the poster:

  

You just know it's going to end in tears, don't you?

(Sigh) They don't make 'em like that anymore...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Nightmare Project - Jo-Anne Russell




I have been fortunate enough to receive a copy of this excellent Dark Psychological Thriller, by Horror writer Jo-Anne Russell, prior to its publication by MuseItUp Publishing, scheduled for October 26th.

Before I tell you what I thought, here's the blurb:

When Julia Montgomery’s mind, body and soul become the rope in a tug-of-war between the living and the dead, there is nothing she won’t do for the right side to prevail; if she only knew which side was right.

  
 My Review

The Nightmare Project is the first in the Dangerous Minds trilogy and the first story of Jo-Anne Russell's I have read. In this riveting book, the main character - Julia Montgomery - has suffered from violent nightmares for years; nightmares so vivid that in one she became convinced her husband was murdering their children. To save them, she killed him and must now suffer the consequences by being incarcerated, restrained and medicated an an asylum. But Willow Creek is no ordinary asylum and Julia soon finds her mind invaded by another, controlling, presence. But is it a force of evil - or of good?

When it is decided to include Julia in 'The Nightmare Project', all her boundaries are moved and the only key to her survival appears to come from inside her head. But can she really trust that personality inside her? 

ForJulia, reality appears to exist on a number of different levels. Is anyone who they appear to be? Who can she rely on and turn to for help? As the tendrils of this story wind around the main character, so they entangle the reader and I was really caught up in this story right from the beginning.

Julia's personality radiates strongly and I wanted her to come through. Remember though that this is described by the publishers as a 'Dark Psychological Thriller'. It also contains enough Paranormal Horror to satisfy addicts of the genre (like me!) The intricacies, twists, turns and blind alleys of this story kept me stuck firmly to the page and I read it in one hugely enjoyable sitting.

I'm glad this is just the first part, as there is clearly a lot more to come. I'm already looking out for Part Two! 
  
 Here's an Excerpt:
 
The sound of someone’s shuffling feet brought her attention to her door where she caught a glimpse of Gun as he passed by, looking in as usual. He spoke not a word but gave her that “look,” as if he was up to something. The deformed side of his face disappeared before she looked away.

To her, he was the scariest patient on her floor, and not just because he botched his own murder-suicide, or the fact he had partially blown off half his face; but his silent stare with his one good eye sent a chill over her that Death himself couldn’t contest.

Julia slipped off the bed and quietly stuck her head out the doorway. Gun was still walking down the hall to the TV room. Once there, he stopped and turned back as if sensing her presence. She quickly pulled herself back into the room, but knew he had seen her.

As if the asylum itself knew she needed a diversion, the meal bell rang. She was relieved and realized that she was hungry. Julia walked to the dining area and sat alone, as usual. Veronica stared at her from the next table, her eyes glaring from behind lids heavily made up with black shadow. Julia stared back and ate as though nothing was going on at all. She barely tasted the bland chicken and salad, but she was too hungry to care. Veronica sat frozen for several moments. She suddenly sprang to her feet and upended her plate. She kicked her chair back and went straight at Julia. Julia readied herself for the fight to come, but her view of Veronica was suddenly blocked by a blur of gray and blue stripes. The man had his back turned to her, but she knew who it was right away.

“Sit back down, and don’t make me say it twice.” Gun raised his arm as if to strike.

Veronica stopped dead, and then made a run for the door.

The petrified look on Veronica’s face would have brought a small measure of pleasure to Julia, had she not been so preoccupied with Gun’s peculiar intervention.

“Thank you,” she started to say, but he didn't turn to look at her. He left the dining area—and his full plate of food—behind.

No one else seemed to realize what had just happened. The other patients, too medicated to care, continued eating their meals.

Julia finished eating and returned to her room. The day’s strange events whirled around in her head like clothes in a tumble dryer. Her head ached and her mouth felt parched. She sipped water from a plastic cup. The water cooled her mouth but did not quench her thirst. She’d had nothing but problems with Veronica since day one, for no apparent reason. But after several attempts at making nice then simply ignoring her, she realized Veronica wanted a fight.

“May I come in?”

The voice was quiet.

Julia turned from the sink and nodded at Ben.

He rolled the medic-cart through the door and readied her medical cocktail.

“I’m sorry for what I said earlier, Ben. I’m just not feeling like myself today.” She took the little cup and downed the pills all at once. Ben cringed as he watched.

“I don’t know how you can do that,” he said.

“Do what?”

“Take that many pills all at once. Except for Suicide Suzanne next door, I’ve never seen someone else do it. The very thought makes me gag.”

A small giggle escaped her. He really did look like green at the gills. Ben’s skinny frame stood behind the medic-cart. Hunched over it, he looked shorter than his six feet. His bleached-blond hair didn’t really look out of place on his tanned body, although she had heard the goons making fun of him. Ben was not a goon to her. He was different from the others, friendly. And he really seemed to care.

“You’re not the only one,” said Ben as he put the little cup in the garbage. He picked up his chart and put a check mark beside her name. “Gun’s been acting a bit strange too. I saw him in the dining room tonight.”

Julia sat on her bed and looked up at him. “I don’t get it either,” she said. “He walked by earlier and looked in, but kept on walking. After the Veronica thing he didn’t even say a word to me. He just walked away.”

Julia could feel the medication taking effect. She didn’t have much time to change, before Marge would be there to tie her down for the night. Ben put the clipboard down and wheeled the cart to the door.

“Hard to say what goes on in the minds of the insane,” said Ben as he wheeled the cart out.

“Hey!” Julia tossed her pillow at him. In her medicated state, her hindered timing caused the pillow to hit another target; Marge. She stood in the doorway, unimpressed, and growled, “Time for lights out.”

Julia assumed “the position”—her hands at her sides and her legs straight out, ready for the ties. Marge looked at her and flicked off the lights.

“What about the ties?” Julia asked in surprise. Marge had never forgotten them before.

“Dr. Jamison said no, not tonight. He wants to try something new.”

“But, what about the nightmares?”

“Your door will be locked, so don’t worry. The doctor knows what he’s doing.”

Marge walked over to the bed and handed Julia her pillow. When she left, Julia faintly heard the door’s lock click into place. She drifted off into the darkness.


Contact/Buy Links:

You can find out more about Jo-Anne Russell on her Website 
 Also, MuseItUp Publishing are offering a special 20% PRE-ORDER DISCOUNT (sadly, only to customers in North America at present) Details can be found here: MuseItUp

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Witches of Hollywood

One of the scariest films I ever remember watching was an old black and white called, simply, Witchcraft (now released on a Region 1 DVD packaged with Devils of Darkness).



I remember I was around seventeen and BBC had a 'Midnight Movie' every Saturday night. It was usually something scary and they showed some real classics, but there weas something about Witchcraft that really got to me. This was a British film and the storyline concerned a 17th century witch, buried alive, whose grave is disturbed and who then wreaks vengeance on the progeny of those who brought her to her fate. The camera shots of her manic stare, the dark and sinister atmosphere and the terror of her victims all conspired to make me grab my cat, hide behind her and, when the film finished, scamper upstairs to bed and hide under the blankets.

Ah, they don't make 'em like that anymore. Maybe it's me, maybe it's my age (quite likely!). Possibly I've watched so many horror films over the years since then that I've become desensitised. Or maybe it's just that there's something about black and white movies that makes the scary even scarier, but I just can't remember seeing any recent films featuring a witch that have made me gasp, hide or shudder.

These days, Hollywood witches are like their vampires - generally sparkly, cuddly or out to save the world.

 So when did the Witches of Hollywood turn into Stepford Wives? There has always been a tendency towards the humorous. Leaving aside films aimed at children, 1942 saw the film, adaptation of a Thorne Smith story, said to be the template for the long running TV series, Bewitched. I Married A Witch saw the glamorous Veronica Lake as Jennifer, a witch who, along with her father, was burnt at the stake in the 17th century and cast a spell on the male descendants of their accusers, the Wooley family  that they should endure miserable marriages, until in the 20th century, she falls for the latest in the line, Wallace. This film is witty and charming. Scare rating -10.


  
Bell, Book and Candle in 1958 featured a sexy and sultry Kim Novak as the hapless lovelorn witch - although the real star was, of course, her cat familiar, Pyewacket. Another lighthearted comedy. Scare rating - (well, just minus infinity really)

 Then in 1987, The Witches of Eastwick burst onto the screens with not one, but three, witches (plus a devil). Now, don't get me wrong, I really like this film. I am a big fan of Cher and the whole film is great fun. It's funny, escapist and pure entertainment. Scare rating -9


Still searching for a scary one. Well fortunately 1968 saw Roman Polanski's truly terrifying Rosemary's Baby with a whole coven of evil, scheming witches. Hurray for Roman! The film still makes good viewing today. Scare rating: 5


So we move into the Nineties and beyond. The rise of the teenage witch. 1996 saw the release of The Craft, with four troubled teen witches. This spawned a TV series, Charmed, and many emulators.Then along came Practical Magic and for me, it was downhill from there.


Of course there's room for them all but, as a horror writer who loves the potential of witches as a source of pure evil (PLEASE NOTE, I am NOT talking about Wiccans here, or any true modern witches, for whom I have the utmost respect), I crave a frighteningly good Hollywood Witch to scare the living daylights out of me. 

Any nominations?

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Of Witches and Black Cats - Halloween Draws Near


Has there ever been such a misunderstood animal as the black cat? This ebony beauty is maligned in some cat circles (and they really should know better) as lacking facial expression. What utter tosh! I grew up with a jet black sweetheart of a cat named Penny and she had more expressions than most humans. She could wither you with a look at twenty paces, or melt your heart - depending on her mood and what you had done to either upset her, or please her, at the time.


Penny - R.I.P.

Taking a more global picture though, feelings run high - both for and against. Worshipped by the ancient Egyptians (along with every other colour of cat), black cats have traditionally been lucky in Asia and Great Britain. But, if a black cat crosses your path in the USA, you'd better look out, as it is extremely unlucky. However, the poor feline can't escape evil connotations even in supposedly friendly Britain. There, should a black cat cross the path of a funeral procession, be assured the death of another family member will follow while, in contrast, ancient Scottish folk lore states that, if a strange black cat arrives on your porch, it will bring prosperity to the owner of the house.

In Yorkshire, the situation is even more confused. While it is lucky to share your home with a black cat, if one crosses your path, beware, because misfortune will surely strike you.


And so the confusion goes on. But a certain consistency emerges when the subject moves to the relationship between witchcraft and black cats.

The connection between the two goes way back, certainly to the Middle Ages, where black cats were often believed to be witches in disguise. It was also said that their nocturnal habits meant they were natural servants of the devil (although why that belief should specifically apply to black cats is anyone's guess). Nevertheless, the superstitions went further and even held that, should a witch turn human, her black cat would no longer live with her and must find another to serve. 


Black cats were the archetypal witches' familiars and often suffered the same fate as their mistresses (or occasionally, masters), being killed by fire or other vicious means.

When the witch cast her spells, the cat would look on, doing her bidding, shapeshifting at will. It seemed the witch was virtually powerless without her familiar. Yet, in order to protect their homes against witches, people would often wall up a black cat. I would like to believe they used roadkill or animals that had died of old age, but evidence shows that the cats were frequently (if not always) alive at the time. In Britain, mummified remains have been found in archeological investigations of homes over many centuries, even up to the 19th.



All this would now, to our twenty-first century sophisticated eyes, seem like daft old superstition and ignorance if it weren't for the prejudice that still exists towards these beautiful creatures. Many animal shelters will tell you (even in the UK) that black cats and kittens are difficult to rehome because people shy away from them, preferring the lighter or multi-coloured felines.


 Meanwhile, through all this controversy, the black cat continues on his/her own majestic way, with a knowing look in those emerald, blue or amber eyes. After all, once they were worshipped. They have never forgotten this and one day, normal service will be resumed.






Monday, 8 October 2012

Narragansett - Elson Meehan

Today, Elson Meehan, author of the scary short horror story, Black Habits and fellow contributor to Touched by Darkness tells us about a very strange encounter:

I used to live in Boston and on afternoons when the weather was good and I had time to spare, I would walk from the train station to my house. 

In the spring of 2010, I was walking just so and feeling vaguely overheated when I came upon a rough-looking woman drinking beer on a stoop across from the package store. Her hair was auburn. Her jeans were weathered. Her sneakers were white. She probably could have used a better moisturizer, but winter had only just gone and maybe her skin was unusually sensitive to the dry cold. I didn't know. That wasn't really any of my business anyway. 


She had a six-pack of beer beside her and she drank from a can that bore, in an inscrutable font, a proper noun. A place name, I wondered? Was it an American Indian tribe? I didn't know! I had seen this beer before in bars and since it was the cheapest beer, I usually wanted to order it, but I was a rube and I couldn't pronounce its name, so I never did; I didn't want to shame myself. As I continued walking, I tried not to stare too much at the woman with the beer. The sky was blue and bright, the air was clear, the zephyrs were gusting, and children were playing in the community recreation area next to the package store. I wished that I was drinking cheap beer on a stoop, and I thought to myself, in my head as I passed the woman: how do you even say that word?

“Nar-ra-gan-sett,” she shouted after me. 
 
Oh my god, I thought, she read my brain! How did she know? Justifications for what had happened, both insipid and mundane, did occur to me, but I refused to accept that this moment was anything less than profound. Suddenly, I felt light-hearted. The clamminess about my person no longer troubled me. “Narragansett!” I repeated proudly. I smiled. I gave her two thumbs up. I was giddy. There was magic in the world again, and I was filled with wonder. 

 
You can buy Black Habits as a standalone short story Here and you can find out more about Elson Meehan Here 



 Touched by Darkness is available from:

Thank you, Katie (aka Elson)!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

A Quiet Moment - Dee Pratt

Dee Pratt - author of the tense, gripping short horror story, Attachment and fellow contributor to Touched by Darkness - shares her strangest experience:




My strangest experience occurred midflight on a trip across the Atlantic.  I was still in college, heading to Europe to study abroad.  Because the other program participants were scattered all over the country, each of us had booked our own flights and travelled separately.  I didn’t know a soul onboard.   

This particular trip was only the second or third flight I’d ever taken in my life, and it was the first time I’d flown at night.  Out the window, the lights of New York were fading into the distance, and the vast blackness of the ocean stretched out in the other direction.  We hadn’t yet reached our cruising altitude when the captain came over the loudspeaker.  He wanted to let us know that we were about to go through a rough patch of weather and might experience some turbulence.   

Just as the captain finished his warning, brilliant light flashed on the left side of the plane, followed immediately by a loud crack.  The cabin lights dimmed for what could not have been more than a second, but felt like an eternity.  I could almost feel the understanding pass over my fellow passengers:  we had been struck by lightning.


 The really bizarre part was what happened next—nothing.  Total stillness.  

Absolute quiet.  No one cried out.  There was no commotion.  Preternatural calm filled the cabin.  How many people were on that flight?  Two hundred?  And no one made a sound.  It was completely surreal.  I’d like to think that it was a kind of communal acceptance of our collective fate, but probably it was just that fear had reached up and grabbed us all by the throat.  Either way, we were all connected to some sort of universal, primal emotion in that instant.

The silence was finally broken when the captain came back on over the loudspeaker to confirm, quite casually, that we had, in fact, been struck by lightning.  He then talked for a few minutes about how that sort of thing happens all the time, how planes have backup systems for their backup systems, and how we were never in any danger.  I’m sure we weren’t.  We didn’t plummet into the ocean.  After an otherwise unremarkable flight, we arrived safely at our destination.  But I’ll never forget that moment, that quiet moment.



You can buy Attachment as a standalone short story Here and find out more about Dee Pratt on her Website

 
 
Touched by Darkness is available from:
Thank you, Dee!

Monday, 1 October 2012

A Strange Encounter...Peter Giglio

In this, the third in my series featuring the strangest experiences of my fellow Touched by Darkness authors, multi-published, bestselling Horror writer, Peter Giglio, tells us a very strange tale...and it's all about a chipmunk:


Chipmunks
Not the kind that sing in cartoons. The real, living animals. They’re pretty cute. For those who’ve never seen one before, I’ve included a visual aid. Now look at that little guy (or gal). Very cute, right?


Chipmunks hang out around my house. Other than getting the cats all fired up through the glass, they aren’t a nuisance.

I was standing outside when one of these cute things scurried right past me. It stopped in the road, not too far from where I was standing, and looked up at me. I approached slowly, as I often do with wild animals that don’t look capable of making a lunch out of me. To my amazement, it didn’t run. It just…looked at me.

I studied the animal for a few minutes, admiring its beautiful markings. I didn’t try to touch it. It didn’t try to touch me. We just looked at each other.

Man and nature. No fear. Just good old curiosity.

Satisfied with my “nature moment,” I stepped away from the animal and started back towards the house. When I got to the door I turned around. The chipmunk was still there, and it was still looking at me.

Did it want some food? Had it known other friendly humans that fed it?

No sooner had I started pondering those questions, a car rounded the bend, heading for my new little friend.

Closer…closer…

Chipmunks—they’re wild animals that know how to move out of the way when a car is coming, right? They’re not the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights variety of—

SPLAT!

Right under the tire of the car. Alive and curious one second. A flat and dead and bloody mess the next.

All I could do was whisper, “Goodbye, chipmunk.” Then I walked into the house and made a nice lunch.

But I haven’t stopped thinking about that strange moment. Maybe it means something. Maybe not. I'll let you be the judge. 



You can buy  Peter's short story, Trust,as a standalone Here and find out more about him on his Website.

Touched by Darkness is available from:

Thank you, Pete!