Wednesday, 29 July 2015

TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #01 - Devil Priest Pack Part I

Welcome to the first installment proper of Tomb of the Trumps, a series in which we shall attempt to identify all the diverse sources that the mysterious nameless artist of the infamous Horror Top Trumps drew his inspiration!  

And we are beginning our voyage into the shady origins of this demented art with the Devil Priest pack (see here for a  full listing of all the cards). First up we have an ugly looking cove who appears to be giving us the 'v's, the cheeky swine!
So here we have what will be two recurring features of the Horror Top Trumps - firstly a vague generic name, and secondly the sneaking suspicion we've seen this somewhere before... And in nearly all cases, that second intuitive feeling will be quite correct, for the unknown artist clearly copied from a great many sources to populate these packs of horror! 

Now this fuggly fella will not doubt rings bells for the legions of us who got a good scare as nippers from this movie - George Pal's The Time Machine (1960)

Yes, you remember now! It's a bloody Morlock! Granted the Horror Top Trumps version has dyed its hair and donned what appears to be some kind of sheepskin jerkin, but you're not fooling anyone, sunshine! The freaky three fingered hands, and that squashed fizzog with snaggly choppers are unmistakable for anyone terrified by the last section of that classic SF movie. And look it's even brazenly brandishing a whip - and we all remember you lashing poor old Rod Taylor that!   

We got you bang to rights sonny, now back the far reaches of future time with you "Alien Creature"! Now  then, onto the next exhibit in our rogue's gallery...
Here we have The Beast, who thanks to a high Horror Rating was a good card to have handy! Heh! Heh! Heh!  Now who the blood-spurting appendage belongs to we will sadly never know, but there's been a few good guesses to The Beast itself's identity. 

Seeing as this is a werewolfy fellow, some have thought it may be a take on the titular creature from Amicus' lycanthropic whodunnit The Beast Must Die (1974). A good guess but sadly incorrect, for the werewolf in that movie appears not a hominid man-beast but a monstrous four legged wolf (actually a dog in make-up on screen). Other cinematic werewolves have been suggested too, with some seeing a similarity with the big haired Werewolf of Washington (1973). But in fact you are all barking up the wrong tree with the lycanthrope idea.   

Our mysterious man-beast actually is copied, I mean, inspired, from a famous episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery TV series. In this follow-up show to the classic Twilight Zone, each episode the genial Serling showed us three curious paintings and each had a strange to tell. And in Episode 32 in Season 2, one of the paintings featured was Pickman's Model, a loose adaptation of a classic tale of terror by the great HP Lovecraft. The story - in both the text and TV versions - tells of an artist famed for his weird and macabre pictures, and the discovery that the horrors he is painting are not wholly imaginary. For Pickman is in contact with a race of bestial beings with links to witch cults, which Night Gallery created in fine style, becoming one of the best remembered monsters appearing in that series! 

Fun fact - the ghoul was created by make-up artist John Chambers - the man who did created the make-up for the original Planet of the Apes - and this legendary wizard  used the original molds for the Creature from the Black Creature to make the arms and legs of the monster!

And if you want to hear a reading of Mr Lovecraft's original tale go hither! - Hypnobobs #98 - Pickman's Model

Sunday, 26 July 2015

MICROGORIA 17 - Lee-viathan 99

In a stop-gap episode, Mr Jim Moon raids the archives of the Great Library of Dreams to uncover the tale of Leviathan '99 - a 1960s experimental radio play. This space age sonic drama was a riff on Moby Dick penned by the late great Ray Bradbury and starred Sir Christopher Lee as an obsessed comet-hunting captain on a space vessel...

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Leeviathan 99

Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOGORIA family here -

HYPNOGORIA HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links




Saturday, 25 July 2015


Last week in Great Ghosts of the Shelves, I reminisced about the wonderfully lurid Horror Top Trumps of the 1970s, and as promised we now start our epic journey uncovering the secret history of the packs. This entry #0 in the series details the basic important facts about the Horror range of Top Trumps, and provides a full rogue's gallery of both packs of cards.

In 1978 Dubreq launched the Horror Range of Top Trumps, and they were re-released in 1982 when Waddingtons acquired the rights to Top Trumps. Both packs consisted of 32 cards for game play, plus several additional cards - a title card whose reverse had the rules of the game printed on, another showing the title card of the other Horror Top trumps Pack, a Top Trumps reference card listing the other packs available (with handy tick boxes to keep track of your collection), and a Special Offer card.

Both packs came in clear plastic cases, and both packs of cards featured a vampire bat design on the reverse. In rarer editions of the packs released both by Dubreq and Waddingtons this beastie is printed in blue rather than black. The card stats for both packs were -

  • Physical Strength
  • Fear Factor
  • Killing Power
  • Horror Rating
And the rules of the game were -

And the card listings for both packs are as follows -


  • Alien Creature
  • The Beast
  • Colossus
  • Creature From Outer Space
  • Creature From the Black Lagoon
  • Cyclops
  • Death
  • Devil Priest
  • Diablo
  • Dr. Syn
  • The Fiend
  • Fire Demon
  • Frankenstein
  • High Priestess of Zoltan
  • Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • The Jailer
  • Killer Rat
  • The Living Gargoyle
  • The Living Skull
  • Lizard Man
  • Martian Warrior
  • Mistress Vampire
  • The Mummy
  • The Slime Creature
  • The Sorcerer
  • Talon
  • Terror of The Deep
  • Thor
  • Venusian Death Cell
  • Wolfman
  • Zetan Priest
  • Zoltan


  • Ape Man
  • Cannibal
  • Circus of Death
  • Dracula
  • The Executioner
  • The Freak
  • Fu Manchu
  • Gargantua
  • The Ghoul
  • Godzilla
  • The Gorgon
  • Granite Man
  • The Hangman
  • Headhunter
  • Incredible Melting Man
  • King Kong
  • Lord of Death
  • The Mad Axeman
  • The Mad Magician
  • Madman
  • Maggot
  • Man Eating Plant
  • Phantom of The Opera
  • Prince of Darkness
  • The Risen Dead
  • Skeleton
  • The Sorceress
  • The Thing
  • Two Headed Monster
  • Vampire Bat
  • Werewolf
  • Zetan Warlord

NEXT TIME on TOMBS OF THE TRUMPS, we begin our quest to discover where the art on these iconic cards was shameless ripped off from, I mean, *ahem* was inspired by! 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


Alright, alright, I know these aren't books per se... However they certainly lived on the same shelves as my growing collection of Armadas, Fontanas, and Hainings, and judging by the huge impression these sets of cards made on a whole generation of kids, there is a good case to made for them being two seminal unbound books of horror. 

First up though, some background history... 

In the 1960s, an Austrian company named Piatnik began making a card game called Quartets, primarily aimed at the educational market. Now Piatnik had been - pardon the pun - a major player in the card world, forming as Wiener Spielkartenfabrik Ferd Piatnik & Sohne in 1824, and therefore knew a thing or two about art and game design. In this new game, there was a deck of 32 cards, divided into eight groups of four cards each, and the goal of the game was to collect as many complete quartets as possible. Now the rules of the game were very similar to that well-loved card game Go Fish, but Piatnik's innovation was to create themed decks and give every card statistics to use in play, with the idea being that young minds could absorb facts while playing with colourful cards with appealing art. 

Quartets provided to be very popular and soon various other manufacturers were producing their own ranges of decks, with minor variations on the Go Fish rules. But by the early '70s, they also began expanding the scope of the themes, with a Germany company Alternburg-Stralsunder producing a variant series called Ace Trumps, aimed at appealing to boys,  featuring a range of decks themed on military and transport vehicles. Now other companies such as Schmid and Dubreq were doing similar lines, but Alternburg-Stralsunder had introduced new rules that simplified and sped up play, with the goal now being to win as many cards as possible. 

Not to be out-done, Dubreq launched new ranges of cards with an even more streamlined ruleset, and  the game of Top Trumps as we know it today was born. Launching in the UK in 1976/77 with a range of eleven different packs to collect and priced at 50p, comfortably in the pocket money range of most kids, Top Trumps became a genuine phenomena, with even adults enjoying the fun too. The game itself was simple to learn, easy to play, and involved the right mix of skill and luck. However soon the concept of collecting all the packs became a hobby in itself. Hence Dubreq were soon producing more and more decks, and as competitors and rivals began to hit the market, they began expanding the scope of their themes to appeal to a growing audience of players and collectors. And hence from the initial and profitable ranges focusing on vehicles, we soon had decks based on sports, history and animals, most of which largely held to the original ethos of Quartets in being factual, and therefore educational.

However as Trumps mania burned bright and fierce, roaring across the UK, evidently the over worked deck creators lapsed into some frenzied fever dream, for in 1978 a new range was launched consisting of just two decks. And these two packs would become infamous - the Horror sets! Appropriately enough the origins of these decks are shrouded in mystery, and despite the best efforts of Top Trumps historians and the propensity of the internet to turn up even the most obscure nuggets of trivia, no one knows who devised these sets or who did the notorious artwork. 

And possibly that might be for very good reasons, for these two packs, known as Devil Priest and Dracula to trumpologists, are dubious in the extreme, not so much designed but more flung together by some gibbering madman. Now all top trumps cards had statistics on them which you matched against each other in play to win cards. And usually these were derived from solid factual things about the cards' subjects such as height, weight, top speed, age etc. (although in fairness I did think that many vehicular decks needed more abstract categories such as Unobtainabilty and Boredom Factor). 

Now obviously for the Horror decks, providing the usual factual/educational basis was a real  challenge for the designers, apparently so much so that they ditched the entire concept and just made up their own nebulous categories. Hence each card gave its horror the following stats - Physical Strength, Fear Factor, Killing Power, and Horror Rating. Not a bad basis for some horror trumps you might think, and many would agree. However unfortunately the nameless designers decided to just bung in any old numbers in these categories, seemingly without rhyme or reason, leading to infamous playground enigmas such as why did Death only have a Killing Power of 95? 

However the discrepancies in the stats paled into insignificance compared to the actual subjects on the cards. Now in fairness we do have reasonably faithful portraits of the big names in the horror world, with the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Wolf Man getting semi-decent portraits albeit ones that appeared to be done in frenzied felt tip. But why is Godzilla wearing a tuxedo? Why is the abominable Dr Phibes purporting to be the Phantom of the Opera, while the famous Lon Chaney incarnation of the Phantom is moonlighting as 'the Hangman'? 

One might charitably assume that at some late stage it was realised that several horror icons and their images were under copyright and hence some desperate name changing was done. But then again,  just who in the name of Hades are some of these characters? Where the hell is Zetan and why does it have a Warlord and a Priest? And what is the Norse god Thor doing in here, and more to point why does he have four eyes? Just how hallucinogenic were magic marker fumes back in the '70s? 

Even monster-obsessed and Top Trump addicted kids at the time knew that these were a shoddy piece of work, but despite their numerous, infamous failings, we loved these decks. Yes, the art looked like something that had been rushed out by a lunatic ten year old hopped up on sherbet dips and Alan Frank's Horror Movies in a single rainy break-time. And yes, it's true that most of us could honestly claim to know better artists in our own classes. But despite the screaming crudity of the sets, these cards still cast a deep spell on the minds of a generation. While the artistic execution may have left much to be desired, the imagery had a manic energy, boldly mixing solid blacks with lurid colours, and attempting to be as horrible as possible with a gusto that bordered on unusually demented. 

And indeed horrible they were! In fact, I'm quite surprised that there wasn't a huge fuss and moral panic over these two decks. That might sound a bit far fetched, but consider this - I am very sure that you could not get away with selling a pack of cards called 'Devil Priest' to kids these days. And you certainly couldn't put a children's card game in the toyshops now that featured so many tortures, slayings and maimings, complete with severed limbs, spurting blood, and in one memorable case, shattered vetebratae. So then quite how there was never a huge outcry from self-appointed moral guardians back in the even more strait-laced '70s I'll never know.  

But certainly I think it's fair to say that Horror Top Trumps were much akin to the EC comics of the 50s or the video nasties of the '80s. They were the subject of playground rumour and it was a badge of honour to own a set. Horror Top trumps weren't so much played, but passed around like contraband - could you bear to gaze upon the bloody beheading in The Fiend? Brave the gruesome horrors of the Venusian Death Cell? Dare to ask again why is Godzilla wearing a fricking tuxedo?

With their gleeful crudity and unashamed gore, the visions on these cards made deep impression on all who saw them, haunting the imagination of an entire generation. And if you want proof of how  fondly remembered these sets are, just have a look at the prices of complete sets up for sale - at the time of writing, decks are regularly going for £50, a hundred times their original price. Yes, such is the power of these Horror Top trumps that people who should know better are prepared to pay large sums to relive their delights once more. Or possibly just to see if they are a as demented as they remember...

However despite the opiated nostalgic delights these decks bring us, they surprisingly still offer us a great game today... But I don't mean a round of Horror Top Trumps! Going to back the question of why some cards clearly have the wrong names on, looking through both decks now, it's very obvious that a large proportion of the art was heavily based on stills cribbed from assorted movies, hence Chaney's Phantom operating a gallows. But how many cards were sourced in this way? Where did our mysterious artist steal from? And was there actually a precedent for demented visions such as the Zetan Priest? 

Well, dear friends over the coming weeks we are going to unravel these mysteries in a new weekly series of articles - which I think I'll call the Tomb of the Trumps and hopeful reveal the secret origins of this iconic cards! 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

HYPNOGORIA 16 - A Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee Part IV

Continuing our epic journey through the life and works of Sir Christopher Lee, Mr Jim Moon charts his continuing work with Hammer and Amicus, looking at  I, Monster (1971) and To the Devil a Daughter (1976), and examines the only movie Lee made himself, Charlemagne Productions' Nothing But The Night (1972). We pay a visit to The Wicker Man (1973), indulge in some Bondage with The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), and hear how Lee broke the horror typecasting in movies such as The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970).

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - A Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee Part IV

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Friday, 17 July 2015


illustration by Russ Nicholson
Propped, or you might say sitting, on the edge of the bed was — nothing in the round world but a scarecrow! A scarecrow out of the garden, of course, dumped into the deserted room . . . Yes; but here amusement ceased. Have scarecrows bare bony feet? Do their heads loll on to their shoulders? Have they iron collars and links of chain about their necks? Can they get up and move, if never so stiffly, across a floor, with wagging head and arms close at their sides? and shiver?
from Rats by MR James,
first published in The Collected Ghost Stories of MR James (1931)

When we think of ghosts, inevitably three hoary old cliches spring to mind - namely that ghosts dress in white sheets, that they stroll about with their heads tucked under their arms, or that they are swathed in chains. Now the business of wearing bed linen and carrying one's own head has been much beloved by cartoonists down the ages, and must wait for another day to be explained. However the image of  phantoms bedecked in iron fetters, while also a staple of the popular imagination, is a somewhat darker business. Indeed while we chuckle at cute drawings of spooks wafting about, or taking their own heads for a walk along some castle ramparts, there is little laughter when the skeletal resident begins moving and clanking towards the door in MR James' famous short tale.

But why do we so often associate ghosts with chains? Well given the enduring popularity of the ghost stories of Mr James, his fettered phantom in Rats must surely bear some of the blame.  However even in James' day, the image of a ghost dressed in chains was already an established stereotype. And proof of this comes in Oscar Wilde's celebrated comic tale, The Canterville Ghost.  In this famous story, a spook in an old English stately home is rather perturbed when a family of brash nouveau rich Americans buy the place and, most annoying, fail to be terrified by even his best ghostly antics - 
Some time after, Mr. Otis was awakened by a curious noise in the corridor, outside his room. It sounded like the clank of metal, and seemed to be coming nearer every moment. He got up at once, struck a match, and looked at the time. It was exactly one o'clock. He was quite calm, and felt his pulse, which was not at all feverish. The strange noise still continued, and with it he heard distinctly the sound of footsteps. He put on his slippers, took a small oblong phial out of his dressing-case, and opened the door. Right in front of him he saw, in the wan moonlight, an old man of terrible aspect. His eyes were as red burning coals; long grey hair fell over his shoulders in matted coils; his garments, which were of antique cut, were soiled and ragged, and from his wrists and ankles hung heavy manacles and rusty gyves.

"My dear sir," said Mr. Otis, "I really must insist on your oiling those chains,"

from The Canterville Ghost (1906) by Oscar Wilde 
Wilde's long suffering phantom Sir Simon de Canterville has a whole repertoire of hauntings, which include all the usual ghostly cliches, including carrying his own head, and creeping about in sheet. Of course, here Wilde is gently mocking the famous tropes of ghost stories and hence in this vein his spectre also appears as characters such as Red Reuben, or The Strangled Babe, figures that satirise the assorted fiends and phantoms found in ghostly gothics and morbid melodramas. Hence if Wilde was affectionately sending up such spectral stereotypes at the start of the 20th century, then concepts such as spooks chains must be considerably older.

"I really must insist on your oiling those chains"
illustration by Wallace Goldsmith

So then let us turn our attention to folklore and local legends, and hunt for older sources. It has often been said that ghosts are so often seen sporting chains and moaning due to the barbaric forms of justice practiced by our ancestors, back in the days of the dungeon and the torture chamber. However looking at actual reported hauntings and legends of local ghosts a very different picture emerges. Now there are many instances of the sound of chains featuring in ghostly lore - for example the Wild Hunt lead by the mysterious Herne the Hunter at Windsor is said to be presaged by the sound of chains, although the phantom riders are not described as having fetters. Similarly there are many legends in the British Isles of phantom black hounds that likewise are accompanied by the sound of chains, such as the Barguest of Yorkshire, while his cousins Trash and Striker of Lancashire are named after the metallic noises that accompany their appearance. However, rather surprisingly, actual tales of figures swathed in chains are something of a rarity. 

Now that's not to say that there aren't tales of chained apparitions. Probably the most famous these days is the legendary Jack-in-Irons. Often now described as a giant or some species of faerie, Jack supposedly haunts lonely roads in Yorkshire, sporting a huge club and the severed heads of his victims, rattling his chains and menacing unwary travellers. From what I can gather, he came to prominence in this fantastical form through his inclusion in the hugely influential tome Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee. However references that predate this are thin on the ground with many Yorkshire folk having never heard of this supposed famous legend. Folklorist Kai Roberts however tracked down Jack to a book published in 1909, an anthology of historical writings entitled Memorials of Yorkshire. In a section on the folklore of that fine county, we discover that Jack-in-Irons  lurking - 
Jack-in-Irons, this seems to be a town ghost, who may be seen at any time after dark. He is a terribly strong man, gaunt, and at least ten feet high, with clanking chains at feet and wrists. He suddenly appears in quiet streets, or springs out of dark corners, in order to carry off the unwary pedestrian to unknown regions.
Yorkshire Folklore by Miss M. W. E. Fowler in Memorials of Yorkshire (1909)

Unfortunately Miss Fowler doesn't give us the town name where Jack-in-Irons was said to haunt, but his being a local ghost or bogeyman in one small Yorkshire town would explain the scarcity of references about him.  Indeed Jack-in-Irons only enjoys his current stature (if you'll pardon the pun) due to the fact that several games designers have pillaged Frond and Lee's book for creatures and adversaries, and hence several variant versions of Jack are found in fantasy games, both in old school tabletop adventures and modern computer epics.

Jack-in-Irons by Alan Lee

Similarly other phantoms in irons are only really locally known, such are the five manacled warrior ghosts that legend says rise from Warlake Hill in Devon and march to drink from the lake, rattling as they go. So then while we have some chained ghosts in lore and legend, we don't have nearly enough, or any well-known enough to explain why the image of manacled spectres is so prevalent in the popular imagination. The world of fiction on the other hand can provide us with a very famous example, indeed probably the most famous ghost in the world -
The bells ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-merchant’s cellar. Scrooge then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains.  
The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.
“It’s humbug still!” said Scrooge. “I won’t believe it.” 
His colour changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, “I know him; Marley’s Ghost!” and fell again. 
The same face: the very same. Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.
from A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens

Yes, the dear old shade of Jacob Marley, probably so familiar that you didn't even think of him as a chained ghost! Dickens goes on to provide us with an explanation of Marley's chains: they are the product of his sins, forged link by link while he lived. Furthermore Scrooge learns that all earthbound spirits (at least in the Dickensverse) are similarly shackled with manacles made of their own misdeeds - 
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
 Here Dickens' provides us with a very pleasing conceit - that your sins become chains that are  symbolic - the more you sin, the longer your chain -  but are also spiritual real, fettering your spirit to the mortal world. Indeed it is such a genius metaphor that it would be wonderful to credit Dickens with creating the popular notion that ghosts wear chains. Indeed given Dickens' influence in establishing many aspects of our modern Christmas celebrations, it would not be surprising that spooks in manacles began with A Christmas Carol. However unfortunately spectres in stories were sporting fetters long before Dickens.

illustration by John Leech

As we have found so often before, we can trace the origin of this idea back to the ancient world, and for much the same reason. For centuries the accepted authorities on any subject you could care to mention were the Roman and Greek luminaries, or rather their surviving texts. And right until the 20th century, their writings were the backbone of a Western education. Hence we cannot over estimate the influence such texts had for many centuries. 

Now on the matter of ghosts, Pliny the Younger recorded what is considered by many to be the archetypal ghost story. It is not the earliest recorded tale of haunting but it certain sets a template for a great many other fictional ghost stories down the ages. In a letter to Sura, Pliny recounts the tale of a haunted house -
There was at Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad name, so that no one could live there. In the dead of the night a noise, resembling the clashing of iron, was frequently heard, which, if you listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of chains, distant at first, but approaching nearer by degrees: immediately afterwards a spectre appeared in the form of an old man, of extremely emaciated and squalid appearance, with a long beard and dishevelled hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands. The distressed occupants meanwhile passed their wakeful nights under the most dreadful terrors imaginable.
from LXXXIII. To Sura in Letters of Pliny translated by William Melmoth 

As the house was uninhabitable, a philosopher Athenodorus rented the place for a knockdown price, and rather than being discouraged by the stories of the haunting, was highly intrigued. So he settled in and kept watch for the night. Sure enough, there soon came the sound of rattling chains and the ghost, exactly as had been previously described, weighed down with heavy fetters, appeared. Rather than fleeing, Athendorus followed the ghost who lead him to a certain spot in the house's grounds and then vanished. The next day, Athenodrus had the spot dug up, and sure enough, as I'm sure you have all guessed, they discovered the corpse of a man in irons. And once the bones were given a decent burial, this troubled spirit appeared no more and the haunting ceased.

So then, here we have the original ghost in chains (or at least as near to original as we can find). We do know that there was a real Athenodorus, who is thought to have have lived from around 74 BC to 7 AD, so presumably this story took place around the time of the birth of Christ. And not only do we have the precedent set for a phantom in fetters but also we have the first ghostly tale where the haunting is resolved when the restless spirit can find peace - something is a very common feature in ghost stories - as we have heard previously, one version of the Cauld Lad of Hilton legend has the haunting finish with a burial of bones, and indeed it is a similar rite than gives the hapless Sir Simon rest in The Canterville Ghost. 

We've had ghosts rattling chains for two thousand years or so now, thanks to Pliny's epistles, and I suspect that as long as Mr Marley still walks every Christmas, we shall have spectres in irons for a good while longer too.

illustration by Henry Justice Ford

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #17 - The Midnight People ed. Peter Haining

Another collection of vampire fiction! And one which oddly enough has a cover that seems to echo the cover of a contemporary paperback anthology also devoted to tales of the vampire, The Undead edited by James Dickie. And as the two volumes surprisingly one share on tale in common - When It Was Moonlight by Manly Wade Wellman - they made a very pleasing complimentary pair on my bookshelves. 

Now The Midnight People was one of the many anthologies edited by the late great Peter Haining. First published in hardback by Leslie Frewlin in 1968, this collection of tales of blood drinkers has had several paperback editions down the years from Popular Library in 1970, Ensign in 1974, and the above incarnation from Everest Books in 1975. Furthermore it has been also published in the US as Vampires at Midnight in 1970 by Grosset & Dunlop, and more recently surfaced under the same title in 1993 from Warner Book with a new introduction by Sir Christopher Lee. 

Now the indefatigable Haining often used to arrange his anthologies by theme, and this one was part of a series of collections, each tackling a different aspect of the macabre - so while The Midnight People dealt with vampires, The Evil People (1968) served up tales of black magic and witchcraft, and The Unspeakable People (1969) purported to bring together the most horrible tales ever written. And more on those tomes another day...

...But back to The Midnight People. Much like Mr Dickie's collection which came a few years later, in his introduction Haining explains that he endeavored to create a collection of vampire fiction that didn't overlap with other volumes. And for my money, I think he succeeded admirably, with only the extract from Dracula being  and the MR James tale 'An Episode of Cathedral History' being likely to being already known to most readers. In the present age, we could add the extract from Varney the Vampire but at the time this collection was published reprints of this seminal penny dreadful were few and far between. Additionally the passing years have revealed that it is likely that James Malcolm Rymer actually penned this Victorian vampire epic rather than Thomas Preskett Prest. And while on the subject of names and titles, "Stephen Grendon" was actually a pseudonym for August Derleth, while Matheson's tale 'Drink My Blood' has also appeared under the alternative title 'Blood Son'.

The full contents are as follows -  

Fritz Haarmann ‘The Hanover Vampire’ by Montague Summers
The Vampire of Croglin Grange by Augustus Hare
The Vampyre by John Polidori
The Storm Visitor (an extract from Varney the Vampire) by Thomas Preskett Prest
Three Young Ladies (an extract from Dracula) by Bram Stoker
An Episode of Cathedral History by M. R. James
Bat’s Belfry by August Derleth
‘And No Bird Sings’ by E. F. Benson
The Believer by Sydney Horler
The Drifting Snow by Stephen Grendon
When It Was Moonlight by Manly Wade Wellman
Over the River by P. Schuyler Miller
Drink My Blood by Richard Matheson
Pillar of Fire by Ray Bradbury
Dr Porthos by Basil Copper
The Living Dead by Robert Bloch
The Girl with the Hungry Eyes by Fritz Leiber
Postcript by Montague Summers

This volume is bookend with pieces by the noted vampire scholar Montague Summers, and we open with his account of the ghoulish crimes of a real life 'vampire' killer. W then follow it up with another alleged true story - 'The Vampire of Croglin Grange'. Now oddly enough when I investigated the Croglin case, having being fascinated for many years by the account here, I discovered a strange link to Varney the Vampire, and more curious still, the every section reprinted under the title 'The Storm Visitor' in this volume! Full details of this investigation can be found in Hypnobobs  #91 and Hypnobobs #92

Anyhow we then take a more or less chronological tour through vampire fiction through the ages. And refreshingly we have a wide variety of species of vampire on show here. Yes, there are the traditional blood-drinkers such as Dr Porthos, but we have plenty of unusual takes on the familiar fiend here. The Grendon/Derleth tale brings us a snow vampire, Bloch and Leiber explore in different ways the vampiric aspects of celebrity, Manly Wellman has the great Edgar Allan Poe meeting the undead, while Bradbury and Miller tell us tales from the vampire's point of view. And stranger things await too - there is little of the suave gentleman of the night, or even of the remotely human in EF Benson's 'And No Bird Sings', while some have questioned whether the thing unleashed in James' 'An Episode of Cathedral History' is actually a vampire at all - but whatever the creature is it certain fits in well here.

This book entranced me when I first got the hardback edition out of the library as a kid, and indeed I borrowed it several times to revisit its fine selection of tales. And while it was many years later that I saw a copy for sale, I was delighted to find it and bought it instantly. It is still a superlative selection of vampire tales and one can see why it has been reprinted so many times - essential reading for all lovers of the undead. 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

MICROGORIA 15 - A Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee - the Intermission

This episode we take a little sidestep in our journey through the life and works of the late great Sir Christopher Lee.  Mr Jim Moon takes a back at the tradition of having hosts with our horror stories, and explores the various volumes of weird fiction that Sir Christopher Lee hosted and co-edited with Peter Haining and Michael Parry.

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - A Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee - the Intermission

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Friday, 10 July 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Pickled Parson of Sedgefield

Among the hills and forests of County Durham in the north east of England, lies the little village of Sedgefield. It's a small place with a population of less than five thousand, and is most likely known for either being the former constituency of British Prime Minster Tony Blair, or the birthplace of Mark Gatiss. However while it may not be a huge place, its history is prodigious. 

The village dates back to Roman times, and is recorded in the Domesday Book. Its church, St. Edmunds was built in the 1300s, and in the 19th century, among the aristocracy it was a popular place to hunt. And there is a reminder of its bygone popularity with the great and good, in the shape of Ceddesfeld Hall, a manor house built just by the village green. This wonderful old building was built by two notable sons of Sedgefield, Samuel and Shute Barrington, one an Admiral and the other a Bishop of Durham. However the hall was not constructed for their benefit - rather it was built for their nephew, George Barrington, who was the rector in the village in the 1790s, as a lavish replacement for the old rectory which had burnt down. 

Of course, such a long established village has more than a few ghosts haunting its history, and indeed its most famous spectre is said to haunt the site of the old rectory. This alleged phantom is known as the Pickled Parson, and was reputedly to be responsible for a very spirited haunting. The story dates back to the 1730s, when a fellow called  Rev. John Garnage, A.M., was the rector of Sedgefield. He was responsible for the parish of St. Edmunds and lived just a short way away in the old rectory, where he dwelt with his family. 

However in the second week of December in 1747, the good Reverend passed away suddenly and this left his family in something of a pickle. For back in those days, the church collected an annual tithe from its parishioners, and every year by law, whatever was due was to be paid to the parson on the 20th of December. These tithes provided an income for the clergyman and maintained the church buildings, but in a case like this, should a parish be without a clergyman to collect the tithes on the 20th of December, all the money would go instead to the bishopric of Durham. Hence Garnage's family were suddenly facing the dire threat of poverty; indeed in that era, deceased clergymen's families had starved to death when the tithe money ran out.

However the parson's wife thought fast and came up with a cunning plan. According to an early written version of the story found in Legends and Superstitions of the County of Durham (1886) by William Brockie, the parson's wife preserved his body with salt until the crucial December day - which surely should make him the Cured Clergyman. Anyhow, the day after the tithes had all been paid, she summoned the local doctor, who suspected no chicanery and pronounced the parson dead and recently deceased. However his ghost's name seems to derive from another version of the legend, for some tellings of the tale hold that she actually kept her husband's body fresh by soaking him in brandy. What's more, these alternate versions go on to claim that she embroidered the deception further by propping up the preserved parson in the window of the old rectory so that the tithe payers could see he was up and about his business!

But whether by salt or brandy, with the death certificate signed and dated, all was legal and above board. And so, the parson's wife and her family were spared the horrors of a winter in poverty. However there was one person who was apparently displeased - the spirit of the parson himself. According to the old stories, because his body had been delayed in receiving a proper Christian burial, the parson's soul could not enter Heaven, and therefore the earth-bound spirit returned to vex the village. Apparently the rectory became haunted with all manner of disturbances and eerie events "making the night hideous". 

And apparently there was no placating the restless shade either. For the Pickled Parson continued to haunt the rectory for many years afterwards. Indeed, it is said that the violent haunting only ceased when the rectory building caught fire and burnt to the ground in 1792. However you can't keep a good ghost down, or at least, let a good ghost story come to an end. For it is said that the Pickled Parson is still haunting Sedgefield. Local legends say that there was a special tunnel that connected the old rectory with St Edmunds, and as the last surviving remnant of his old home, the unquiet spirit of the clergyman still haunts the gloomy passage. For course, the exact location of both the tunnel and its entrance in St. Edmunds is now long forgotten and lost in the mists of time, so who is to say that the Pickled Parson is not still walking abroad down there in the damp and dark...

Ceddesfeld Hall with St. Edmunds' tower in the background