Tuesday, 29 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #18: Doctor Who, The Awakening (1984)

Folk horror, as something other than a genre of its own, often has visitors. Its themes and tropes bleed into things that might not otherwise be considered either folk or horror. British TV travels to its locals, and then leaves. The Avengers went there. Robin of Sherwood was rich with pagan signifiers and occasionally terrified me when I was a boy. Sapphire and Steel arguably spent three of their six serials in folk horror territories (and if I get round to turning this into a book, "Assignment Two" definitely gets an essay). More recently, The League of Gentlemen stopped by at least once an episode. Soap operas, comedies and serial dramas visited it. And then there's Doctor Who.

Monday, 28 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #17: The Stone Tape (1972)


As far as We Don't Go Back is concerned, Nigel Kneale already shares with Ben Wheatley the distinction of being covered more than once, and that's actually fairly obvious, since he wrote a lot of horror and he was writing much of his work in the period when this sort of thing was most in vogue.

Kneale, best known for Quatermass, had as his signature nightmarish tales of rationality and scientific knowledge powerless against the alien and the inexplicable. in Baby, the vets are at a complete loss to explain the thing in the jar, and simply don't understand the protagonist's revulsion towards it. in Murrain, the man from the council defends the scientific method and in frustration cries out, "We don't go back!" And it avails him nothing. Even in The Woman in Black, which as an adaptation of a straight ghost story might otherwise have been an outlier, Kneale adds a scientific element absent from the source material.

And in The Stone Tape, a television play first broadcast by the BBC in 1972, Kneale pits science against the inexplicable, a haunting. Science loses.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #16: Teatime Paganism for Kids


Children of the Stones (1977), The Moon Stallion (1978)

(Before I begin, just to note once more that with four days to go, The Age of Miracles is now sitting in a pretty healthy place, having gently rolled past its target. There's still time to support it! Please do.)

We take for granted our TV, but as a medium it is in constant flux. Formats die out; new formats come in. The television play and the anthology series are no more; instead, the episodic arc drama and the on-demand boxset have created new methods of storytelling. Back in the 1970s, there were no video recorders and few repeats, and no guarantee that you'd have seen the previous episode, so for example in every episode of a Doctor Who serial you might hear a line like "...and of course we can't get out of here until we find the teleporter ring and get back to the TARDIS! Isn't that right, Doctor?" And this sounds a bit clunky, but you needed it back then. The unavailability of a means of keeping a programme, and the expectation that you wouldn't, made for a very different experience. It moulded the form. 

One extinct format that hasn't been seen for a good twenty years now is the one-and-done children's drama serial. You had a single story told over the space of six weeks or so, broadcast at some point between four and six in the evening, beginning, middle, end. From the late 60s right through to the mid-90s, British children's TV depended on it. I was pretty much brought up by the TV, and kids' TV from about 1981 to 1993 is a fund of memories for me.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

For Common Things

(The Age of Miracles project just funded, with six days to go! That doesn't mean you can't get in and get a copy. There's still six days to get yours. In the meantime, have a poem.)

I find this talk of monarchy inadequate offensive even
But I can see the skin and bone and blood a spark
These things these common things one life

(The problem with her she said is when it's not
About her she don't wanna listen and I tried not to laugh)


I'd like to think you stood beside identified in
This battered flesh this ruined
History this skin and bone and blood this spark
These things these common things one life

There had to be a moment when you did not know
When you were defeated beaten
Lost to skin and bone and blood the spark
These things the common things one life

(You can never comprehend, he said, just what
I suffer now and you can't help me don't help me

And I thought oh grief it makes us selfish)

No cheating now not yet one choice
Free no answer enslaving foresight suspended
Victory in doubt wholly one of us in
These things these common things one life

You are here, stood beside, identified in
This celebration, this community, diversity,
History, this skin and bone and blood, this spark
These voices joined in common joined in
These things these common things. One life.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Not Yet Buried

I found this in a sketchbook, buried in a box.
OK, in preparing for my next We Don't Go Back post I'm in the middle of watching thirteen episodes of 1970s chidren's television, which isn't half as arduous as you think it is, because it was a good time for kids' TV. I'm actually really glad I did this project. I've revisited a lot of things I had meant to for a long time and discovered some new favourites. I've taken in more movies and quality TV than I have for years. I hope you're enjoying it as much as I am.To finish up then, I'm going to do Children of the Stones and The Moon Stallion in a post together, and then maybe The Shout, and then perhaps one Doctor Who serial. Along with those will be another guest post. You will know I'm done when I hit The Wicker Man. I'll miss it.

The Age of Miracles is so close to finishing. In its last week, I'm entering an imperial phase with it, I think, although whether that's going to be Eugenius, Aurelian or Marcus Aurelius, I don't know. I'll settle for Maximinus the Thracian, to be honest. Anyway! £137 from goal! SO CLOSE.
Support me!

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

We Don't Go Back – Guest Post: The Woman in Black (1989)

(Once again I have to mention before we start that The Age of Miracles is still funding. Kickstarter tagged it as a "Project We Love" and overnight it went from 67% to 82% funded. I have hopes that it will actually hit target. Don't dash them! Or do. I suspect my reaction will be entertaining either way.)

Today I'm very pleased to be handing over my blog to another guest writer. I've known Jon Dear for something like fifteen years He's one of the most knowledgeable people I know on the subject of British TV, and he's the one person I know whose name features on the wall of the BFI.

Monday, 21 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #15: Ben Wheatley, part 2

Kill List (2011); Sightseers (2012)

I've tried not to repeat myself in this project too much. But Ben Wheatley (with Amy Jump sharing scripting duties) made three films in three consecutive years that qualify in some way or another as folk horror, and they're all different enough and strange enough to be worth writing about.

I wrote about A Field in England a couple of weeks ago. I discussed the ending. I'm going to do that a little with Kill List, and somewhat less with Sightseers.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

News from Somewhere, News from Nowhere

(Before I go any further, did you see Dymphna's post yesterday about women in historical RPGs? It's going modestly viral, and it deserves to. It's a good post.)

The first thing is that The Age of Miracles is still funding. It has ten days to go and is £361 short of its goal. This is not an insurmountable barrier. Please, if you read my blog, pass that on.

If you've read my writing here and elsewhere, you'll know that I am really interested in how our personal experience and the stories that we tell ourselves shape the world. Indulge me. Let me talk a little about that.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Guest Post: Women in Historical RPGs

From the British Library collection.
First up, I have to tell you that my project The Age of Miracles is still funding, still crawling towards its goal. Help a neomystic cryptotheologian out, people?

While I'm working on it, I've commissioned some guest posts, which I've scheduled to appear in the next couple of weeks. First comes Dymphna, someone I've enjoyed interacting with over the last few months, and who very kindly agreed to supply some words for my Inner Worlds series on a subject that I felt very strongly needed someone more qualified than me to write about properly.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #14: Simon Magus (1999)

Somewhere on the border between Germany and Poland, somewhen on the border between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we find a small community of Jews. Boards over doorways leave forwarding addresses. One reads simply: Amerika.

Outside of the village stands a hovel. Painted on its door: Moved to Hell.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #13: Night of the Demon (1957)


In a conversation elsewhere, a colleague made the point that The Force Awakens is a better movie than A New Hope. I said, OK, it probably is, but Star Wars (its name in 1977) is a better 1977 movie than The Force Awakens is a 2015 movie.

Which is to say, on a par and to be judged against everything in its era. I am not a big Star Wars fan, I'll be honest, but this is actually pretty important. Sometimes you look at a film or a piece of TV – and I'm not just talking about genre stuff here – and it looks shoddy, old-fashioned, badly judged, inconsistent in tone.

The point being that while Night of the Demon (released in the USA as Curse of the Demon) might look a bit wonky, it's a decent 1957 movie, but like a lot of British genre films, including several I've looked at in the last couple months, it could have been made at pretty much any time in the preceding decade.

This will spoil surprises in the plot, of which the ending isn't one, because the monster at the end of the film is seen in full right at the start.  

Saturday, 12 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #12: Two Cult Movies

The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995), Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

(This post should also be considered Cult Cinema #0)

OK, so imagine you're a filmmaker. Here's a story: a young adult escapes a sequestered cult and winds up staying with a couple in an isolated, wooded place; the protagonist is so messed up by the cult that they aren't equipped to cope; it doesn't end well. Your homework is to make a film about it.

What does your film look like?

Friday, 11 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #11: Robin Redbreast (1970)

First things first. Most of the pertinent thoughts I had about Robin Redbreast depend on how it ends.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The Age of Miracles: On Narratives

This morning I saw the faintest of rainbows in the sky. Everyone who sees a rainbow, sees their own unique rainbow. 
I'm currently funding The Age of Miracles, a collection of my writings on this blog about irrational history and the popular occult. This is one of the posts that, in an altered form, will become part of the collection. If you like my writing, whether it's game writing, poetry, fiction, film criticism or history and literature, please think about offering some support.

We like to think we live in a rational world. We like to think that we know the world as it is. But if we've learned anything about the world in the last two years, it's that given a choice, we choose the irrational; and we choose the stories about the world that we would prefer to listen to. The illusion of the grand historical account is crumbling. I think when the big media outlets began to fracture, and social media (remember when it was called "Web 2.0"?) began to be a thing, some people thought this would be the beginning of an era where people would have unprecedented access to facts and a means to finding their way to the truth.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #10: Penda's Fen (1974)

Before I start, I'm bound to remind you that I'm still funding The Age of Miracles, a collection of essays, and if you like my writing, please support me.

You're going to have to excuse me.

Sometimes, I find it impossible to untangle the personal impact of a piece of media. I tie myself up in it. This is going to be a pretty personal post. Sorry.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #9: Scream Satan Scream! (2001)

Sometimes it's the act of taking the mickey out of a genre that gives you an idea of what it is. Parody picks up on prominent characteristics and tropes. It paints them on the screen in broad strokes, so you know that you're seeing a piss-take, and it gives you obvious tools to get the joke.

Which brings us to Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #8: A Field in England (2013)

I've mentioned a couple of times now that folk horror wasn't really a thing before about 2010; since then, filmmakers are deliberately going out of their way to make folk horror movies. But some of the most fascinating examples of folk horror are often films that aren't deliberately confined within that genre, films that try to do something different.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

We Don't Go Back #7: Recapitulation, Witchfinder General, The Blood on Satan's Claw

So last night I launched the Kickstarter for The Age of Miracles and it's got 28% of the way to its modest goal. While I'm waiting for that to fund, though, let's continue the folk horror watch, eh?