Archive for H.P. Lovecraft

Update 06/29/2020: Reopening of the Damned

Posted in Adolfo Martinez Solares, Barbara Crampton, C. L. Werner, Cecilia Pezet, Fright Night (1985), From Beyond (1934), Gilberto Martinez Solares, Gregory Maguire, H.P. Lovecraft, H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond (1986), Jeffrey Combs, Mondo Macabro, Nigel Wingrove, nunsploitation, Satanic Sonata, Satanico Pandemonium, Scott J. Couturier, Shout! Factory, Spectral Realms, Stuart Gordon (director) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Well, Arizona has been in reopening mode since mid-May and already our COVID cases have sky-rocketed as people return to congregating en masse: dining in restaurants, swimming in public pools and socializing at watering holes, going to church and or rallies, all without wearing masks or practicing social distancing, even though people are still dropping like flies from the virus. I am not trying to be political here, just stating a fact. People act as if the pandemic is over, when in reality we still haven’t gotten all the way through the first wave yet.

The ‘Rona in Arizona

That said, I did go out a bit this past weekend; not to restaurants, or crowded places mind you, but I ran errands and visited loved ones. First off, I took my car for an oil change at the Firestone near my folk’s house. I’d just recently been having some issues with my door locks and dashboard features, so I asked them to take a look. Turns out I have an electrical short that requires I replace a box of some sort so they suggested taking it to an electrical specialist. I took it to my car’s dealership and got a good quote, so in a couple of weeks (after the 4th of July weekend) I’m having them replace the part.

Whilst I waited for my car, I visited with my parents. Again, we all wore masks and I kept an appropriate distance from them at all time, but still felt uneasy about being there for such a long stretch of time. Before I left, my mom gave me a bag that contained three books by Gregory Maguire: Lost (2001), Mirror, Mirror (2003), and Son of a Witch (2005). I have mixed feelings about his books, but they are an entertaining read. To date, I have read Wicked (1995) and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999).

Online image of some books by Gregory Maguire (l to r): Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Lost, Mirror, Mirror.

I also visited my buddy Zach a couple of times over the weekend, and we watched two fun movies on remastered Blu-ray. On Friday evening we had Chinese take out and watched the Shout! Factory edition of H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond (1986). This is a pristine director’s cut which has a little more gore and an extended scene with the delectable Barbara Crampton slinking around in her BDSM outfit. Both she and Jeffrey Combs look so young in this film, it made me feel so old! Director Stuart Gordon and writing partners Brian Yuzna and Dennis Paoli really use the source material from 1934 as a springboard and go off on their own lurid tangent, but oh the places they go! I hope to do a blog entry just about this movie soon, so I won’t get into specifics here. 

Shout! Factory Blu-ray for H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond.

On Sunday, we had a small get together with about 2/3 of our usual movie night crew to see off our newest member who is returning to her home state. We had homemade chicken pot pie and watched the remaster Blu-ray of Fright Night (1985), which also looked great. This is an old favorite of mine, which I first saw on videocassette not long after it’s original release. It’s campy in spots, but the horror stuff is genuinely creepy. This is another movie I hope to write about someday soon.

Fright Night VHS

I have continued doing my recitation videos and was honored when fellow weird poet Scott J. Couturier did a video of himself reading my Satanic Sonata by candlelight! It was lovely and admittedly, not a little odd hearing my words on someone else’s lips. His post was popular with his Friends and even C.L. Werner chimed in on how much he enjoyed the recitation and the prose poem. I plan to reciprocate soon with a rendition of his werewolf poem, The Pack. Both poems may be found in Spectral Realms #12.

Speaking of Satanic prose poems, in honor of the 45th anniversary of it’s original release, I did a reading of my tribute to Mexican Nunsploitation film Satanico Pandemonium (1975), Sor Maria and the Devil, Luzbel. Sadly, it went by largely unnoticed.

Update 06/30/2020:

I re-watched Satanico Pandemonium last night, as it had been years since my last viewing. I had forgotten much, all of which came flooding back to me as the movie wore on. I still believe it is an intense movie with some interesting themes, but I find some of it hard to stomach in its more salacious scenes. SPOILER ALERT: I squirmed watching the more abusive scenes where Sor Maria is first raped by Luzbel, then she goes from victim to abuser when she attacks a sister who comes to her for help, then attempts to seduce a teenage boy and failing to do that murders both him and his grandmother. I am surprised they got away with the latter bit in particular, especially in Catholic Mexico, but I guess as the whole story ends up being dismissed as a fever dream, they could say it wasn’t put forth with any agenda or mal intent. It could be mooted as a precautionary tale.

That said, it has some striking images and of course it does, if in lurid fashion, show some of the hypocrisy of the church. I also find actress Cecilia Pezet fascinating to watch. She has a look, especially when done up in the nun habit that speaks of both innocence and sensuality. That said, I was uncomfortable with her nude scenes. I think my Catholic upbringing just cancels out the fetish for me. I am not turned on by the whole nunsploitation thing. I do like the way the story handles Luzbel and his infiltration into her life. I like the ample use of familiars and the way iconic imagery is turned on its head. I also noticed, if I am not mistaken, that the apple Luzbel offers to Maria, which she initially refuses, keeps appearing every time she transgresses, and each time a bite is taken out of it. Implying that she is complicit in those subversive thoughts and actions whether she admits it or not, and has indeed taken of the proffered fruit.

Luzbel makes an offer to Sor Maria. (lobby-card).

The DVD (now available in Blu-ray) from Mondo Macabro has an interview with the co-screenwriter Adolfo Martinez Solares where he talks about how he and his father Gilberto Martinez Solares came about to write and film the movie. There is also a featurette on nunsploitation with English director Nigel Wingrove.

Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book

Posted in Chris Riddell, Dave McKean, graphic novels, H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, Rudyard Kipling, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943), The Graveyard Book (2008), The Jungle Book (1894) with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

The Graveyard Book (2008, Harper Collins)

In 1985 author Neil Gaiman was inspired by the sight of his then 2-year-old son riding his tricycle around a nearby graveyard. However, deciding that his craft was not yet honed enough to do any potential story justice, he held off for several years before writing what would become the 2008 young adult novella, The Graveyard Book. Modeled after Rudyard Kipling‘s The Jungle Book (1894), it is the story of an orphaned boy who is taken in by the ghostly residents of an obsolete graveyard to shield him from a murderous cabal that want to keep him from fulfilling an ancient prophecy predicting their demise. Each chapter is a little story within itself usually taking place at two year intervals.

The boy, is given the name Nobody, Bod for short, by his adoptive parents, the late Mr. & Mrs. Owens and then given the Freedom of the Graveyard, which grants him special access, powers and protections within its confines. Since most of the spirits cannot stray far from their final resting places, a reformed vampire, Silas, agrees to take him under his wing and sponsor him, taking care of his corporeal necessities such as clothing, food, etc. As the familiar adage goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”, so Bod is reared and educated by the collective denizens of the graveyard.

Bod’s guardian, the vampire Silas by Chris Riddell.

Bod encounters many memorable characters during his adventures in the graveyard from whom he learns valuable life lessons, even sometimes in spite of their well-meaning but antiquated advice. Things get sticky when he is old enough to want to learn about the world outside the graveyard, thus exposing himself to the scrutiny of wrongdoers and the making his presence known to the people who mean him harm.

This is an amazing book! For a kid’s book it is very dark and complex, however it does have a lot of heart. There are some real tender scenes, particularly between Bod and his spectral foster parents, as well as his guardian, Silas. I also liked the endearing relationship between Bod and the Witch, Liza Hempstock. In her day, Liza was accused of ensorcelling the sweetheart of another woman and was dunked, burned and buried in the unconsecrated ground of the cemetery. Liza and Bod become friendly when she heals his injuries after he takes a tumble out of an apple tree. They remain fairly tight friends until he grows into a young man and she becomes unaccountably temperamental around him.

The Witch, Liza Hempstock by Chris Riddell.

Another great chapter for me was the Danse Macabre where, on a special night, the dead are given a temporary reprieve to leave the cemetery to dance the macabray with the living residents of the nearby town. Bod senses something is up, but no one in the cemetery will talk openly about it, and so he decides to follow them as they partner up with the living, who seem to be enchanted. As he walks the line between the realms of the living and the dead, Bod seems to be the only one who can interact with both sides and retain his self awareness. He dances for a spell with Liza, and eventually dances with the Lady on the Grey, who is an avatar of Death. Silas, clandestinely watching from the shadows, is the only one who cannot participate as he lives in the limbo of the undead.

Bod and the Lady on the Grey dance the macabray.

There are some genuinely scary moments, like the scenes featuring the minatory Jacks of All Trades, and the chapter on the ghoul gate is appropriately creepy, as well as reminiscent of Kaa’s Hunting, from the Jungle Book. In it Bod stumbles into the hands of the ghouls and is saved when he remembers to use a call for succor in the language of the night-gaunts, which he was taught by his occasional governess, Miss Lupescu. The episode is very tense and exciting, although I did have a hard time reconciling the fact that night-gaunts, a creature from the Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, are traditionally depicted as not having any face at all, much the less making any vocal sounds.

“..But Carter preferred to look at them than at his captors, which were indeed shocking and uncouth black things with smooth, oily, whale-like surfaces, unpleasant horns that curved inward toward each other, bat wings whose beating made no sound, ugly prehensile paws, and barbed tails that lashed needlessly and disquietingly. And worst of all, they never spoke or laughed, and never smiled because they had no faces at all to smile with, but only a suggestive blankness where a face ought to be. All they ever did was clutch and fly and tickle; that was the way of night-gaunts.” [excerpted from the novella, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath 1927/1943 by H.P. Lovecraft]

 

Night-gaunt

In 2014, artist P. Craig Russell adaptated the story as a graphic novel, which was originally released in two volumes. This is the medium in which I first read the story. It is beautiful rendition and well worth checking out. A few years later, when I began getting into Gaiman’s audio recordings (he is a superb reader and has done recordings of many of his own books) I checked out a recording of the book from the library and was enchanted with Gaiman’s attention to detail and the pristine prose as well as his charming portrayal of the various characters.

Cover art for volume 1 of the graphic novel adaptation by P. Craig Russell of The Graveyard Book (2014, Harper Alley)

The original book came out in two distinct editions in the UK and the USA, respectively, each with illustrations by distinctive artists. The US edition is illustrated by Dave McKean and the British by Chris Riddell, who has illustrated several of Gaiman’s books. Talk of a movie adaptation has been bandied about since 2009, but nothing concrete has materialized as of yet.

Updte 06/17/2020: RE: H.P.L. R.I.P.

Posted in Dagon (2001), H.P. Lovecraft, H.P.L. R.I.P., S.T. Joshi, Spectral Realms, Stuart Gordon (director), The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Weird Tales with tags , , , , , , , on June 17, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Yesterday afternoon I decided to take a look at my old tribute to the Old Gentleman, H.P.L. R.I.P. with an eye to knock it into publishable shape. I fixed the few odd lines that were a beat or two off but was able to keep the gist of the original poem intact. There was one particular couplet about the Innsmouth folk that I just can’t seem to find a satisfactory alterative for. I hope to work it out before the end of the week and submit it to Spectral Realms for issue #14. Last night, for inspiration, I watched my DVD of the Stuart Gordon film Dagon (2001), and today I plan to revisit The Shadow Over Innsmouth to see if there are any details that might spark an idea or two.

The Canadian edition of Weird Tales May 1942 featuring a depiction of the story The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

Update 06/18/2020: Finished the poem today to my satisfaction (I think) and sent it off to S.T. Joshi. I am a bit nervous, as he is a Lovecraft scholar, so if I made any faux pas he will certainly suss it out. I don’t want to look the fool if he finds anything wrong, but I think I used all the references correctly. Fingers crossed!

Update 06/12/2020: Lovecraft in the Time of Madness

Posted in C. L. Werner, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Lovecraftian Horror, Sentinel Creatives, The Burning Ember Mission of Helldorado with tags , , , , , on June 13, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I have submitted my tale The Burning Ember Mission of Helldorado to the editors at Sentinel Creatives for the upcoming anthology Lovecraft in the Time of Madness. I had been revising the tale recently, so when my friend C. L. Werner posted on FB that they were taking submissions for stories with a 5,000-9,000 word count, I sent it off straight away, with only minor adjustments; although upon reviewing what I sent them, I see a few things I would have changed had I taken more time to read through it (I really need a full-time editor). Still, I am just curious to see what they say about it. They have acknowledged receipt of the tale so now it’ll just be a waiting game till they respond with a verdict. It’s not overtly Lovecraftian, but there are some not-so-obvious nods to his work, as well as some mention of the dark mage from Clark Ashton Smith‘s Devotee of Evil.

Update 05/28/2020: The Emperor of Dreams

Posted in Ashley Dioses, Charles Schneider, Clark Ashton Smith, Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams, Darin Coelho Spring, Donald Sidney-Fryer, George Sterling, H.P. Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison, Hippocampus Press, horror host, K.A. Opperman, Ron Hilger, S.T. Joshi, Scott Connors, Updates, W.H. Pugmire, Weird Tales with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Last night I received my DVD of the documentary Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams from Hippocampus Press. I have been wanting to get this since it came out in 2018, but just never got around to it, but as Hippocampus Press has it on sale for the moment, I decided it was time to invest. I am so glad that I did! Director Darin Coelho Spring tells the story of the weird bard and outsider artist through interviews with various weird scholars (Donald Sidney-Fryer, Scott Connors, S.T. Joshi, Ron Hilger, et.al.) writers (Harlan Ellison, W.H. Pugmire), artists (Skinner, whose art graces the DVD cover) and other Smith enthusiasts to create a fairly vivid picture of the elusive recluse of Auburn, tracing his life from his childhood, growing up in his family home in the hills of Auburn, California with no electricity or running water, leaving school as a teen to self-educate, his brief moment in the sun with his entry into the California poetry scene, his tenure in Weird Tales and, ultimately, to his final days in relative quiet comfort at the home of his wife and step children.

Clark Ashton Smith (January 13, 1893 – August 14, 1961)

The film explores his apprenticeship under San Francisco auteur poet of the Bohemian sect, George Sterling, who encouraged his early forays in poetry. This fruitful relationship, unfortunately soured when Sterling tried to dissuade Smith from his tendencies toward the weird and the macabre, which Sterling dismissed as played out. It was around this time that Smith was introduced to H.P. Lovecraft, who encouraged this direction and became a valuable friend and ally until his untimely death in 1937. It was Lovecraft who encouraged Smith to try his hand at prose tales, and when he passed Smith lost the desire to continue, turning his focus back to poetry and eventually even deserting that for his idiosyncratic artwork and sculpture.

There is no film footage of Smith, but there were plenty of photos and even a recording of his distinctive resonate voice reciting some of his poems. Other partial recitations are peppered throughout by Harlan Ellison, Donald Sidney-Fryer, and in the bonus features there are full recitations by Charles Schneider, Ashley Dioses and K.A. Opperman. I highly recommend this documentary for anyone interested in learning about the one of the greatest weird talents of the 20th century.

Buy your DVD or Blu-ray at https://www.hippocampuspress.com/clark-ashton-smith/documentary

Cover art by Skinner for
Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams.

Parting related thought: I was so inspired after watching the documentary that I recorded myself reciting Smith’s poem Offerings to share on Facebook. Unfortunately, the video portion is really dark and murky. I need to find a way to light myself, before I bother to start a YouTube channel, so that my face isn’t lost in the shadows cast by the lamplight. I eventually want to do a show like a horror host, but with poetry and prose instead of movies. And not quite so campy, of course.

Update 05/15/2020: Quarantine Blues VIII

Posted in Alejandro Jodorowsky, Alucarda, Arthur Machen, Bela Lugosi, Bram Stoker, Cheryl Smith, Claudio Brook, Count Yorga Vampire (1970), Dark Shadows, Doyle Green, Dracula (1931), Edgar Allan Poe, Guillermo del Toro, H.P. Lovecraft, Juan Lopez Moctezuma, Justine (1791), Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973), Lesley Gilb, Mario Bava, Marquis de Sade, Mervyn Peake, Michael Weldon, Mondo Macabro, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Richard Blackburn, Robert Burn, Synapse Films, Updates, Vampire Films with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

The weekend before last my father and I met up (observing social distancing) and drove in our own cars to the Sprint store to update the phones on our family plan. In the past, my dad has been steadfast against getting iPhones so we had been using old school flip phones for years. However, this pandemic has shown him that some of the new fangled features he’d been so reluctant to embrace could actually come in handy during a time like this. So, after a prolonged discussion with the agreeable young man at the store, we both entered the 21st century with a pair of new smartphones. I must say it has been a challenge to work out all the ins & outs of this technology, but it has been worth it to finally communicate with friends whom I hadn’t been able to contact since mid-March. Thank you Dad!

Having gone through most of the regular choices in my DVD collection, I finally have begun pulling out some of the more obscure titles. One of the films I pulled was Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973) by (then) first-time director Richard Blackburn. Inspired by the success of Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), Blackburn and fellow film student Robert Burn decided to make their debut film a vampire tale. Blackburn took care of the writing and Fern handled the production aspects of the film.

Spanish poster for Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973).

In the commentary for the Synapse Films DVD release of the film Blackburn claims that his main inspirations were The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936) by H. P. Lovecraft, The White People (1904) by Arthur Machen and, to a lesser extent, Boy in Darkness by Mervyn Peake, but he also added elements from his personal life and upbringing in the South. The main plot revolves around a 13 year old girl, Lila (played by then 16 year old Cheryl Smith) who is the estranged daughter of gangster, Alvin Lee (not to be confused with the guitarist). Alvin broke out of prison and killed his ex (Lila’s mother, whom he finds in flagrante delicto with another man) and is on the run.

Alvin eventually ends up arriving at night in a remote area where he comes upon an old Victorian house. A woman appears on the porch shrouded in a hooded cloak. He shoots at her with his shotgun, to no avail. We later see that he is taken in by the woman and held captive in a room. Going through his personal effects, she finds a newspaper article linking Alvin with his daughter Lila, who has become a local celebrity at church for her angelic voice under the auspices of the Reverend (Blackburn), who harbors repressed longings for the girl. Posing as an envoy for the girl’s father, she writes Lila a contrite letter, claiming to be on his deathbed, asking her to come see him so he can die knowing she forgives him. The woman emphasizes that Lila should tell no one where she is going and that she should come alone. She signs the letter, Lemora…

Wanting to do the Christian thing, Lila packs a bag and sneaks out, leaving a letter for the Reverend explaining what she is doing, but not where she is going. Following Lemora’s instruction, she takes a night bus to the town of Astaroth, a neglected backwater that the neighboring towns won’t have anything to do with. The bus is manned by a weird character who acts as a stand in for town drunk Zadok Allen in Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth, essentially giving the backstory of the town and setting up the imminent attack of the mindless ghouls who are later explained by Lemora to be debased vampires whose intrinsic benighted nature eventually manifests in their bestial transmogrification.

Lila is saved when a group of Lemora’s vampire henchmen come to fend off the ghouls. She runs, at first, but is eventually caught and placed in “the stone room” where she is essentially held captive without any explanation. An old crone, Solange, comes to give her food and at first mistakes her for another girl named Mary Jo (In a chilling scene towards the end of the film, Lila will find the remains of Mary Jo in a storage room, propped up in a casket with a glass cover, her eyes darkened with kohl rather like a Gothic Snow White, her name written on the lid in dust). Lila implores her to explain what is going on but Solange just responds by singing a Southern version of the folk song Old Lady All Skin and Bones, while encircling the frightened girl. Eventually, during a later visit, she manages to knock Solange down and make a run for it, but is quickly recaptured by Lemora who takes her into the house to begin her slow seduction of the girl, which nowadays would raise a few eyebrows. Lila finds her father, but it is not a happy reunion, and the Reverend eventually catches up with his desiderated Lila but, as his motives are tainted, so is the result of his quest.

Lemora, as portrayed by actress Leslie Gilb, is an odd character. She is a striking figure, tall and pale, dressed in black, with her hair done up in some 19th century variation of the bouffant or pompadour. Her narrow face bears sharp cheekbones and large dark eyes that are just mesmerizing. Close ups reveal purple lips and rosacea, which Blackburn said he intended as a sign of having had consumption. Her little entourage of creepy vampire children all bear the same look. Some Internet trolls have complained that her delivery is stilted but, rather like Bela Lugosi‘s phonetic delivery as the count in Dracula (1931), I think it adds an eeriness to her overall persona.

Leslie Gilb as Lemora.

Likewise, Cheryl Smith’s insistence on giving a subdued performance despite Blackburn’s direction to be more skittery, actually adds to the mood of the piece. Blackburn admits now that the young actress’ choice was an perceptive one. He observed, in the commentary to the DVD, that, had the audience been made to identify with a heroine who was always screaming and carrying on for the whole feature, it would have been tiresome. Most of the action takes place at night under a blue tint, rather the early color Gothic films of Mario Bava. Like Bava’s films, Lemora is oneiric, lurid, yet artful. The narrative doesn’t always make sense, but some of the imagery is striking and gets under your skin. The main difference here being the shoestring budget, which shows in many spots and, despite his heart being in the right place and some naïve ingenuity, Blackburn and company don’t quite have Bava’s creative genius for creating masterpieces out of nothing using the tools at hand. Still one forgives, rather like fans of the original Dark Shadows.

Synapse Films DVD for Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural.

In the end, Lemora is an entertaining and somewhat original take on a vampire film that doesn’t use the same tired tropes, and if one gets past some of the amateur aspects of the production, it can be quite enjoyable. The DVD I watched is the Synapse Films release, which has a clean, uncut, print, with a photo gallery and insightful feature length commentary from Blackburn, Burn and Gilb.

Dealing with a similar theme, yet on the opposite side of the spectrum is the horror film Alucarda, by Mexican director Juan Lopez Moctezuma. The quote on the DVD from Mondo Macabro quotes Michael Weldon from The Psychotronic Video Guide as saying of the film, “More blood, loud creaming and nudity than any horror film I can think of.” According to his colleagues, Moctezuma was a big fan of Horror cinema and literature, and it shows. The script is essentially a retelling of Carmilla by J.S. Le Fanu, with Alucarda filling in for the young vampiress, and Justine (named after the hapless heroine from the eponymous novella by the Marquis de Sade) the victim of her deleterious attentions.

The film begins with the birth of Alucarda in a very stylized crypt, with bas-relief images of nude writhing figures on it’s ivied walls. Her mother, Lucy Westenra (Dracula’s victim in the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker, although sometimes swapped out with her friend Mina Harker née Murray, the book’s heroine, in some of the myriad film adaptations) gives birth and hands her off to a wild looking character to take before she is presumably done in by a menacing specter, whose presence is insinuated, but never seen.

Next scene, 15 years later, a young orphan, Justine is dropped off at an abbey-cum-orphanage, of no specific denomination, although it is intimated that it is some zealotic offshoot of Catholicism, where the reredo behind the altar is composed of multiple grim-looking crucifixes, and the nuns are almost shrouded in dingy, tattered garments that look like bloodied rags, which cover their bodies entirely, save for their faces. She is put in a room, which seems unoccupied at first, until a figure appears from the shadows, her apparent roommate, Alucarda. The two become fast friends and go for romps in the forest where they see a funeral procession, like in the Le Fanu story, and also come across an outré hunchback (actor Claudio Brook, who Guillermo del Toro calls the “Christopher Lee of Mexico”), who tempts them with charms and later indoctrinates them into the ways of witchcraft and devilry with the assistance of his gypsy companion. Before returning home, they stumble upon the ruined crypt where Alucarda was born. They find Lucy’s coffin and when Alucarda opens it they are shocked to find a mummified corpse. A groan is heard as some malefic miasma exudes from the coffin, engulfing the girls, who scream and run from the haunted edifice.

Alucarda (left) and Justine (right) pledge their troth to Satan.

The girls go back to the orphanage and cause a ruckus when they spout blasphemies at a catechism class. Alucarda revels in her rebellion, whereas Justine seems oblivious of her transgression. It is implied over and again that Justine is an unwitting pawn of the forces around her. She is pulled in many directions by Alucarda  the abbey superiors, and a nun, Sister Angélica, who seems to take an especial interest in her well being. Alucarda’s recitation of maledictions, beginning with the phrase “And this is what the devil does…” has been sampled by dark industrial band My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult on their debut album I See Good Spirits and I See Bad Spirits (1988).

As the movie progresses Alucarda becomes more defiant and embraces her new diabolic status as the brothers and sisters attempt to bridle her overwhelming personality, while Justine withers under their reins, and eventually succumbs under their torturous ministrations. Chaos is sparked in the abbey when Justine’s body disappears and the sister left in charge of her vigil is found dead at the scene. The dead sister is later decapitated when she attempts to rise from her bier as one of the undead. The scene where Sister Angélica confronts the undead Justine features startling imagery taken directly from Carmilla.

Alucarda’s revenge on the abbey for their censorship of her diabolic activities, as well as their mistreatment of Justine, is truly apocalyptic, but I don’t want to give away the end and spoil the film like an overly detailed trailer (I hate those things, why watch the movie? You’ve shown all the best parts already!) but there are some striking scenes and some heady underlying themes. Moctezuma clearly has some issues with religion, although his assessment of science, represented by Dr. Oszek (actor Claudio Brook in a dual role) is not much better. For a detailed discussion of this and some of the other themes in the film one may turn to Mexican Cinema of Darkness: A Critical Study of Six Landmark Horror and Exploitation Films, 1969-1988 by Doyle Green. I don’t always agree with his assessments, but he gives some interesting history on the Mexican indie/exploitation film scene of the late 60’s and early 70s and explains Moctezuma’s connections with avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and the influence of that scene on his own work.

The Mexican Cinema of Darkness, by Doyle Greene, the cover of which features the poster art for Alucarda.

I understand Moctezuma had planned a sequel provisionally called something like Alucarda Returns from The Tomb, but never got around to it. I have considered writing my own story along those lines with that title. Perhaps someday I will, but only if I can do justice to this masterful blend of the surreal with the Gothic. Moctezuma made another vampire film, Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975), but more as a hired gun. Oddly enough, that film has a protagonist (Mary) who drinks blood, but she has none of the supernatural powers of the classic creature, while Alucarda has many of the legendary vampiric attributes but, save for a ritualistic taste of Justine’s blood in their initiation into the coven, does not drink blood. He also filmed a loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe‘s tale The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, but that is a review for another day.

 

 

 

 

Peter S. Beagle’s “Lila the Werewolf” (1969)

Posted in Algernon Blackwood, Clark Ashton Smith, Dark Imaginings (1978), Gothic Fantasy, H.P. Lovecraft, In Calabria, Lila the Werewolf (1969), lycanthropy, Peter S Beagle, Werewolf Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

 

As I have little else to do on my down time but go through my book, CD, and DVD collections, I have discovered some gems I might not have noticed in normal times when I am more selective about what I read. Back in the 90s I bought an anthology entitled Dark Imaginings: A Collection of Gothic Fantasy. I was exploring the world of Dark Fantasy at the time and it seemed up my alley, so I picked it up but never really read through it because it wasn’t dark enough for my taste, despite the title.

Dark Imaginings: A Collection of Gothic Fantasy (1978, Delta).

It has some worthy fantasy tales for sure, by some of it’s most celebrated authors, but there are only a handful of tales in there which I believe truly fit the theme, and they are by the usual authors associated with the genre like Algernon Blackwood, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H.P. Lovecraft, all of whom I was very familiar with already. Anyway, I set it aside and eventually it ended up in my storage unit where it, unfortunately, got pretty banged up. I found it again in recent months and left it out so I could take a fresh look. I read the introduction by co-editors Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski, then I flipped through the pages looking for something that caught my eye. I settled on Lila the Werewolf, by author Peter S. Beagle, which had been touted in the introduction as a perfect example of contemporary Gothic Fantasy.

Chapbook of Lila the Werewolf (1974, Capra Press)

Without giving too much away, the story is told by a jaded New York bohemian musician, Sam Farrell, who finds out that his new girlfriend, Lila, is a werewolf. His blasé attitude and frankly cavalier handling of the situation are a bit off-putting and surprising, considering Beagle’s sensitivity and deft manipulation of the miraculous intruding upon the mundane in his 2017 novella In Calabria. Of course, there is an almost 50 year difference between the tales, and the author writing in 2017 had the benefit of experience and maturity to inform him. Beagle himself is quoted online as having said of Lila:

This story was written very long ago, in another world, by a young man to whom the idea of equating womanhood with lycanthropy, sexual desire with blood and death and humiliation, seemed no more at the time than a casual grisly joke. I would write ‘Lila the Werewolf’ today, but not for that reason, and not in that way.

There are some inspired moments and, at times, some humorous situations, but overall I think this is a werewolf story with no bite. Had he been more thoughtful, I think Beagle could have had a great story, as I feel that Lila is an interesting and sympathetic character. Most significantly, to me anyway, I found nothing at all Gothic about it. Lila’s lycanthropy is handled very matter-of-factly, with none of the customary allusions to folklore or the occult, and one never feels any impending threat save for the occasional menacing growl from the wolf. What’s more, had he not described her as a wolf in the beginning of the story, one would almost swear she was a just a peevish dog, despite her dietary inclinations. The story fell apart for me in the farcical third act, which I thought went on for way too long. As I said, I don’t think he took the material very seriously, which is a shame, as I think the idea had great potential. That said, I’d be curious to see what Beagle might have to say if he were to check in on Lila today.

Update 09/19/2019: Final Revisions for The Fell Fete

Posted in Averoigne, Clark Ashton Smith, Edward Stasheff, Grace Stillman, The Averoigne Archives, The Averoigne Legacy, The Fell Fête, Updates, Weird Tales with tags , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Just sent out the final draft for The Fell Fete. Hope I didn’t miss anything. Mr. Stasheff incorporated my initial revisions and just wanted me to do a quick read-through to ensure that everything looked good. Good thing he did, because there were a few very minor revisions that didn’t take from my last proof-read. I was making corrections on my blog in between calls, so I may not have saved some before I logged out.

I will keep you all apprised of any updates.

The Averoigne Archives (2019, Pickman’s Press).

PS: For anyone who is not familiar with Clark Ashton Smith‘s Averoigne story cycle, Pickman’s Press has published a companion book entitled The Averoigne Archives, containing all of the pertinent tales, which can be found on Amazon. The Spanish language version, Cuentos de Averoigne, even includes bonus translations of the poems The Woods of Averoigne (1934) by one-time Weird Tales contributor Grace Stillman, and To Clark Ashton Smith (1938) by Smith’s long-time pen-pal, H.P. Lovecraft.

Update 09/23/2019

Got my fee for the story, and it has been officially accepted. Now all there is to do is wait for updates on when the book will be available.

Impressions of Spectral Realms #11

Posted in Abigail Wildes, Ashley Dioses, Chelsea Arrington, Clark Ashton Smith, Dan Sauer, David Barker, Donald Sidney-Fryer, Frank Coffman, H.P. Lovecraft, Hippocampus Press, K.A. Opperman, Manuel Perez-Campos, Marcos Legaria, Mary Sinclair, May Sinclair, Pluto (dwarf planet), Robert Nelson, S.T. Joshi, Scott J. Couturier, Spectral Realms, The Coven's Hornbook & Other Poems, The Coven's Hornbook and Other Poems, Wade German, Weird Poets Society, Weird Tales, Yuggoth with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Spectral Realms #11 (Summer 2019) [2019, Hippocampus Press]

Tuesday night I received my contributor copy of Spectral Realms #11 and the cover art by Dan Sauer is even more gorgeous than it looks online; the colors really pop and catch the eye. I believe that is true of the last few issues, since Mr. Sauer has taken over the cover & art design anyway. This particular issue is dedicated to W.H. Pugmire, and opens with a very fine tribute to the late author by Wade German entitled The Tomb of Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire which references his works to great effect.

As soon as I got the journal I read all of the poetry in one sitting. I enjoyed most everything included in this issue, but there were some poems that thrilled me more than others. I of course gravitate towards the work of my friends, but there were some odd surprises. David Barker, who collaborated several times with Mr. Pugmire over the years wrote a great little prose piece called Altar of Yig, which seemed like an outtake from a vintage Weird Tales magazine. Liam Garrock‘s Doctor Fulci’s Fantastic Cure for Nightmares was creepy fun as well. Manuel Pérez-Campos contributes three prose poems, all of which are decadent and belletristic in their delineation, but I think my favorite is On Gustave Moreau’s Canvas The Apparition, for I am familiar with the painting he is referring to and he is right on point. Ann K Schwader‘s Solving for X is a clever poem about the connection between the dwarf planet Pluto and H.P. Lovecraft‘s Yuggoth [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuggoth#Links_with_Pluto retrieved 7/24/2019]

As for my favorite pieces by my friends and acquaintances Frank Coffman, the founder of the Weird Poets Society, offered a nice rondel about pagan celebrations called The Great Wheel. A.K. Opperman wrote a fun Halloween ditty called The Jack-o’-Lantern Hearted, and his ladylove, Ashley Dioses, contributed Plague’s Wake which is slated to appear in her upcoming collection, The Withering. Abigail Wildes wrote a sweet yet macabre little poem about a revenant avian called The Blackbird’s Ghost. Chelsea Arrington‘s femme fatale Witch of Hearts is gory fun. Adam Bolivar‘s Cruel Eleanora reads like a cross between the traditional ballad of The Cruel Sister and Classical Mythology. The Necromancer’s Charm by Scott J. Couturier was the one that impressed me the most, with its decadent dark fantasy themes of necromancy in the idiom of Clark Ashton Smith. There are a few lines in there that reminded me of my unfinished work, Helldoradomouth, although Mr. Couturier’s poem is infinitely more imaginative and sublime than my own necromantic foray. The classic reprints are entertaining, as usual. Notably, Fright, by May Sinclair is surprisingly modern sounding, despite it having been initially published in 1920, and has a wistful spookiness about it.

The third and final installment of Marcos Legaria’s article on the apprenticeship of aspiring weird poet Robert Nelson and his mentor Clark Ashton Smith contains several examples of the acolyte’s work and quotes extensively from their correspondence.

There is a very informative review by Donald Sidney-Fryer of Mr. Coffman’s latest collection The Coven’s Hornbook & Other Poems which made it sound even more intriguing than I had originally anticipated. Now I definitely want to snatch up a copy. You can get yours at https://www.boldventurepress.com/the-covens-hornbook-other-poems/

Finally, it was so rewarding to finally see my prose poem Vampire Vigil in print, although I was surprised to see the first word of the poem The Baleful Beldam changed from anent, which means beside, to around. I’m surprised Mr. Joshi didn’t mention it when he had me change the false rhyme in the same line.

“In all,” to quote the folks at Hippocampus Press, “this issue demonstrates why Spectral Realms has become the go-to venue for today’s weird poets.”

Get your copy here: https://www.hippocampuspress.com/journals/spectral-realms/spectral-realms-no.-11?zenid=ppi0dtcis656d390jmfc026271

“The Dreams in the Witch-House” (1933)

Posted in August Derleth, Gothic Horror, H.P. Lovecraft, Masters of Horror, Science Fiction (Sci Fi), Stuart Gordon (director), The Dreams in the Witch-House with tags , , , , , , on May 14, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

“The Dreams in the Witch House” first appeared in the July 1933 issue of Weird Tales.

Although often dismissed by critics, H.P. Lovecraft‘s The Dreams in the Witch-House is actually one of my favorite of his latter tales. I’ll admit that it is imperfect, but it is also admirable in it’s scope. Lovecraft mixes Gothic Horror with really high brow Sci Fi. And therein lies the problem. Lovecraft gets so technical and oblique in his descriptions of Walter Gilman’s night-time sojourns that it gets a bit distracting. Also, he introduces elements that don’t really pay off, like the mention of the Elder Things which goes nowhere or even the Black Man of the Witches (an avatar of Nyarlathotep) who never makes a proper appearance and is only glimpsed furtively running around with the witch, Keziah Mason, and her familiar Brown Jenkin. Then there is the all too familiar xenophobia creeping in with Lovecraft’s descriptions of the Polish immigrants, who are portrayed as brutish and uncouth.

Even so, I got a kick out of some of the scenes where Gilman sees Keziah and Brown Jenkin in the outer spheres either as weird geometrical congeries of bubbles and polyhedrons hinting at their earthly forms or when they are seen outright making cryptic hand gestures to guide Gilman to the desired portals into the dream dimensions. I also like the hints of how Keziah used her secrets culled from ancient tracts, like the Necronomicon, to find a way to escape Salem Gaol during the infamous Witch Trials of 1692. The horror elements of the tale are terrifying and very dark: witch’s Sabbaths, black books and child sacrifice, all told in a very effective and convincing way as only Lovecraft can do.

Variant title poster for Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968).

I think the tale has definite cinematic potential and indeed it has been adapted a couple of times before. First in the 1968 film Curse of the Crimson Altar, featuring the triple threat of Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and my beloved Barbara Steele! It is a very loose adaptation however that, although entertaining, has very little to do with the source material. Stuart Gordon‘s 2005 Masters of Horror adaptation H. P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch House is much closer to the story, but still makes some notable changes. For starters, Gordon and co-writer Dennis Paoli eschew most of the Sci-Fi parts and only hint at the geometrical basis of the dream travel. They focus on the horror elements but change Gilman’s college buddy Frank Elwood to attractive single mother Frances Elwood, who is presented as a potential love interest, and whose baby ends up replacing little Ladislas Wolejko from the original tale in the final confrontation between Gilman and Keziah.

DVD cover for Masters of Horror 2005 adaptation by Stuart Gordon.

All in all, I think it’s a much more daring and ambitious tale than critics give it credit for. Even August Derleth was critical of it, which made Lovecraft a bit self conscious I think. For more on that, check out the Wikipedia entry here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dreams_in_the_Witch_House#Reception.

It remains, in my estimation, a great work of dark fantasy and I also think, given a thoughtful reworking, it could make a fascinating film.