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Where no one can hear you scream

11 Dec

Science fiction horror has a long and venerable tradition on both the small and big screen. At the very dawn of the movie age, science fiction films were hopeful, almost idealistic in tone, looking forward to a bright age of exploration and discovery. It did not, however, take very long for the visions of film-makers to darken considerably and between about 1930 and 1950 the first true ‘horrors’ of the sci-fi genre were made. Classics such as The Day the Earth Stood StillThe Thing from Another WorldThe War of the WorldsForbidden Planet and Invasion of the Body Snatchers were notable for the genuine terror that they could inspire in their audiences, just as much as for the more traditional qualities of a science-fiction film, like special effects and imagination. These films really set the tone for the creature features that followed in successive decades, from the Creature from the Black Lagoon to the more sophisticated horror of Alien, Predator, Terminator and Species. This revolution on the big screen was reflected to some extent in television series which veered away from purely ‘futuristic’ science fiction to stray into horror territory, probably the best examples of which being Doctor Who in the 1970s and, of course, The Twilight Zone.

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The Whispering Knights

4 Dec

The Whispering Knights was written almost forty years ago by Penelope Lively and my own copy of the book, which is so worn that the pages are falling out, is almost that old. This bears testament to how enthralling I’ve found the story, which I’ve read many times over the years since coming across it for the first time in a dusty old school library. Set in the Oxfordshire countryside, the story makes use of the many stone circles which are a feature of that part of England by referring to the Whispering Knights – according to legend knights frozen in stone many centuries ago by a magical spell that allows them to come to life again when the country’s need is greatest. Three children stumble across this legend and unwittingly awake an ancient evil that the Whispering Knights (who are so called because even as stones they are rumoured to mutter to each other constantly) were designed to combat – the wicked enchantress Morgan Le Fay. Full of magic, danger, ancient legends and mystical monuments, the ensuing story is easy to read, as befits what is essentially a children’s book, but as haunting and powerful as any adult fantasy novel. What makes The Whispering Knights even more fascinating in my opinion is the fact that it is rooted in real history as well as myth.

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Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere

14 Oct

Although it first appeared at the end of the eighties, Neil Gaiman is still best known as the creator of the wonderfully dark and imaginative Sandman comic series. Whilst this approbation is undoubtedly well-earned, it does something of a disservice to this multi-media writer’s other fine contributions to literature, film and TV (including the movie Stardust, the American Gods novel and some of the best episodes of shows ranging from Doctor Who to Babylon 5, not to mention his involvement in the formative stages of other landmark comics such as The Books of Magic and Spawn). I cannot think of another creative talent who has excelled in all of these areas as Gaiman has and this is best illustrated by Neverwhere – a story which has appeared in book, television and comic format.

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Downton Abbey and The Great Game

8 Oct

This may seem an odd thing to say but when I watched the latest episode of Downton Abbey the other day I was inspired to re-read a work of fantasy I once came across that now seems to have been largely forgotten by the book-buying public. Dave Duncan’s Great Game trilogy is now about a decade and a half old but remains as bold, unique and sometimes shocking as it was when I first read it as a Law student many summers ago. The reason why Downton Abbey reminded me of Duncan’s books is because they partially share the same Edwardian/First World War setting of Julian Fellowes’ popular drama serial. Intrigued? Let me tell you more…

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The Hooded Man

5 Oct

There have been many screen versions of Robin Hood, ranging from the swashbuckling derring-do of Errol Flynn in the 1930s flicks to the classic 1950s teatime serial starring Richard Greene. The end of the last century saw Kevin Costner don a mullet and a shaky English accent for a film that was nonetheless a box-office smash but more recent incarnations of the legend of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men have unfortunately been rather less well loved. There was the best-forgotten BBC TV version in the noughties, starring Jonas Armstrong as Robin ‘in a hoodie’, and the equally unloved recent Russell Crowe film. Perhaps the reason why latter versions of the Sherwood myth have failed to hit the right note is simply because we have already been given the truest, most perfect re-telling of the old folk tale in the form of Robin of Sherwood, the eighties TV series which remains one of the finest fantasy series the UK has ever created.

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The Stone Tape

22 Sep

The term ‘Stone Tape’ relates to two things: first, the theory that inanimate materials such as buildings can record the resonances of living things and ‘play back’ those memories in the form of ‘ghosts’; and secondly, a little known original screenplay broadcast on BBC television way back in 1972. The Stone Tape theory is interesting enough, if a little mundane in the way that it explains away ghosts as ‘recordings’ rather than spirits, but the TV serial based on it is quite simply one of the most disturbing things that I’ve ever watched (which is perhaps why it has not been shown on TV again – it’s difficult enough to find it on DVD/video).

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