East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


The folk horror of Piedmontese Neogothic

Folk Horror.
Apparently the tag was coined by Mark Gatiss in 2010, and used to describe a certain genre of very British horror movies that focused on the countryside, its people and its folklore, its legends and superstitions.

sands1008The three movies that form the core of the genre are Michael Reeves’ historically accurate nightmare Witchfinder General (1968), Piers Haggard’s delicately-titled The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Robin Hardy’s classic The Wicker Man (1973). A lot of stuff follows, including some of the things that creeped me out the most when I was a kid, to wit Children of the Stones, a rather scary 1977 occult serial from ITV. It was supposed to be kid’s entertainment, but boy was it the stuff of nightmares.
But hey, even The Persuaders had a folk horror episode!

Now I am usually wary of labels when it comes to fiction – they make for good party games, but obsessing too much about such things often means forgetting about the story.
But there is a folk element in Arthur Machen, of course, and in M.R. James, and even in Lovecraft. The genre has a history, and deep roots, and more than a little pulp blood in its veins. Continue reading


A story for which the world is not yet prepared

Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, … It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.

holmes_wildcardThe reference to adventures that the good doctor never wrote down is one of the fun elements of the Sherlock Holmes canon.

As a Holmes reader I went through various phases – at first enthusiasm then irritation, and finally acceptance.
I will never be a Sherlockian1, meaning, I can’t quote you chapter and verse of Holmes adventures, but I like the Sherlock Holmes stories – and I saw the Basil Rathbone movies before I read the books, so there.
When it comes to the written word, I detest doctor Watson with a vengeance, but I’ve come to appreciate and respect Sherlock Holmes: anyone that can stand Watson as a housemate for any length of time is quite obviously a better man than I am.

And then there is the Gian Rat of Sumatra, which has that nice pulpy feel to it that it’s really a pity the facts concerning the Matilda Briggs were never published. It is obviously Holmes moonlighting in the territories in which his counterpart Sexton Blake was more at ease. Continue reading

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A second serving of Poirot: Evil under the Sun (1982)

It always goes like this: I re-watch Death on the Nile, and a week later I re-watch Evil Under the Sun. So why not write a post on the movie?

Four years after Death on the Nile, EMI made another Agatha Christie adaptation, choosing the 1941 novel “Evil Under the Sun”.
The ingredients were basically the same of the previous movie: a stellar cast (with Peter Ustinov, Jane Birkin and Maggie Smith returning, even if the ladies were cast in different roles), an exotic location (Mallorca, doubling for an unspecified Adriatic Island), the same screenwriter (Anthony Shaffer) and the same Oscar-winning costume designer. Even the poster concept was similar.

The result is on a par with the previous film: a good adaptation, with a cunning plot and an unexpected finale, with a beautiful look and a great selection of great actors. Continue reading


Yellowthread Street, the series (1990)

And so I went and started watching Yellowthread Street, the ITV-produced TV series from 1990 based on the wonderful – and highly recommended – novels by William Leonard Marshall.
So far I had only seen the title sequence… admittedly not much to express an informed opinion.

But Emma, in the comments, pointed me towards a handful of episodes available on YouTube. Only one season was produced, and there’s only six episodes available at the time of writing, but six is better than nothing.

Now, based on the general wisdom, I was led to believe that the series sucked. And it was easy to believe the general wisdom, because it is difficult to imagine someone being able to translate on the screen the mayhem and the intricacies of Marshall’s novels.
But talk is cheap.
What do the episodes really look like? Continue reading


The Second Annual Bette Davis Blogathon: Death on the Nile

And stay close to Bette Davis
‘cos hers was such a lonely life
[the Kinks, Celluloid Heroes]

Was she the greatest actress of old Hollywood?
To be completely honest, I don’t give a damn – Bette Davies had such power and subtlety, such an energy charge, that she “pierced the screen” like they used to say.


And this is the Second Annual Bette Davis Blogathon, and I invite you to follow the link to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood blog to find the complete list of all the fine blogs that will entertain you and inform you with posts about the movies of Bette Davis.
As for Karavansara, you know what our topics are, and so we’ll go for a true classic of exotic adventure and mystery – Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile Continue reading


Earle Bergey

23490709-LlyrdisJust a gallery of wonderful covers from old pulps.
I always liked the covers of Startling stories, and one of them in particular, that you see here on the right, is the image that flashes in my mind when I think about pulp covers.
All these covers were created by a guy called Earle Bergey, and this post and this gallery dedicated to him.
He was specialised in something that was called “Bim, BEM, Bum!” – a beautiful woman menaced by a monster of some sort, with a hero ready to act heroic.


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80 years with and without Lovecraft

Today is the 80th anniversary of H.P. Lovecraft’s death.
I think I read all of the Gentleman’s stories, multiple times, and I liked them quite a bit.
I discovered HPL in high school, when I was reading all the fantasy and SF and horror (but not much horror) I could lay my hands on. Then I re-read it while in university, back when all of a sudden HPL was starting to make the news, to be critically appreciated. And I still read some of his better stories now and then, for nostalgia’s sake.
Now, according to a sort of scientific study I did with my old friend Fabrizio, the Lovecraftian reader’s evolution goes through three phases: Continue reading