Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Shadow Over Innsmouth by HP Lovecraft Chapter III

In this chapter our hero hears strange and troubling tales of Innsmouth's shadowed history...

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Sunday, 9 September 2018

The Shadow Over Innsmouth by HP Lovecraft Chapter II

In the second chapter, our hero reaches the legend-haunted seaport of  Innsmouth...

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Wednesday, 5 September 2018

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Horror Bags Giveaways Galore (Part III)

Welcome once again dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Over the last few weeks we have been exploring the spooky world of Horror Bags, the snacks that went crunch in the night! This range of crisps from the mid 1970s carved out a place in our hearts, but also an eerie empire of their own monstrous merchandise! And in this visit to the archives of the 'Orrible Ouse we are going to take a look at the bestest items Dracula ever offered!

As we have already seen, Horror Bags seemingly always had some mail-order offer going, which followed the then traditional format of collect so many empty bags, plus sometimes a small sum of pocket money, to get the latest proffered ghoulish goodies. However a few packets and a handful of loose change went a long way back in the 1970s... or possibly the ghouls in charge of the Horror Bags merch has miscalculated the exchange rate between the UK and Transylvania. Anyhow, whichever way it was, there was some top-notch tat up for grabs for very little indeed.

And it should also be noted that the gruesome gifts offered by Horror Bags were especially created for the range - it was all bespoke stuff, no shifting of cheaply acquired leftover stock here! A perfect example is the Serpents and Stairs game. Now this marvellously macabre board game, which could be yours for just three empty bags and 30p, was obviously just a horror-themed version of that old family favourite, Snakes And Ladders. But what a gloriously ghoulish redesign it was! Not bad at all for a third of a quid and some litter!

However other giveaways were even more elaborate. The Fiendish Faces kit was a wonderfully simple idea that offered hours of eerie entertainment and imaginative play. Basically the kit consisted of a cadaverous but blank face and a large bag of assorted eyes, noses, eyebrows, lips and fangs. And the idea was that you could create your gruesome ghouls by combining different fearsome features. As I said, a simple concept but one that delivered hours of fiendish fun. And I should know, for although I  never got my grubby little mitts on this particular giveaway, I did have Remus playlist that was very similar - however thanks to the said playkit being too obscure to date, I can't say who borrowed the concept off who.

But perhaps the best ghastly gift offered by Horror Bags was the Identi-Kit game - again yours for just a few wrappers and thirty of your earth pence. And unlike the previous two ghoulish giveaways, this appeared to be a wholly original game. In it were six familiar fiends - the Wolfman, a Skeleton, Dracula, Dracula's Bride, the Mummy, and Frankenstein's Monster. However each of them had sadly suffered a horrific fate - they had been chopped into six pieces. So then, each player got a gravestone to make a tomb, and all the monster body part cards were shuffled into a deck. On your go, you drew a card and tried and reassemble one of the monsters on your tomb... Something that was not quite as easy as it sounded in play.

Again, the concept was a simple one but beautifully executed, and it was a great looking little game that had straightforward rules, challenging gameplay and a great theme and atmosphere. Things that was often very lacking in other board games that cost much much more... Yes, Tank Command I am looking at you! In fact, it a shame that Drac and co., or at least the suits at Smiths hadn't taken the bolder move and had all these marvellous games available in the shops. For with great games like these sold for real pocket money prices, Horror Bags could certainly have given the big boys at Ideal, Denys Fisher and MB a run for their money.

Indeed it is still somewhat surprising to me that given the popularity of the range, Horror Bags were somewhat abruptly phased out. And while their successor to the snacks crown is still around today, even the mighty Monster Munch never boasted such a marvellous array of macabre merchandise and mail-order magic. But you never know, some one might one day resurrect the brand. Let's face it, there a whole range of snacks with the marketing and merch already planned out just waiting to return to the shelves. Plus of course, traditionally Dracula never stays dead in his coffin too long...

Sunday, 2 September 2018

The Shadow Over Innsmouth by HP Lovecraft Chapter I

The first chapter of HP Lovecraft's classic novella

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GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 49 - The Shadow Over Innsmouth by HP Lovecraft

We are about to embark on the most ambitious reading Mr Jim Moon has so far attempted - the classic novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth by HP Lovecraft. In this episode we introduce the tale which will follow in five chapters over the next month!


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Friday, 31 August 2018

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Dying for a Sit Down

Last week we learnt the strange tale of the cursed bottles in a pub in Alnwick, however they are not the only seemingly innocent but actually very sinister items to be found lurking in a British bar-room. Take for example the Busby Stoop Inn  in North Yorkshire, a pub whose very name is steeped in death!

In 1702, Thomas Busby murdered his father-in-law Daniel Auty. However this was no ordinary family squabble, for Busby and Auty ran a small criminal empire between them, whose main operation was coining - that is the forging of currency. They were based in the small North Yorkshire village of Kirby Wiske, and it said they had disagreed over Busby's relationship with Auty's daughter. He was arrested, tried and condemned to death by hanging. After his execution his corpse was suspended in chains from a gibbet erected at the lonely crossroads at the Sandhutton crossroads. This notorious criminal and his execution were long remembered. In 1859, the English antiquarian and poet, Yorkshire historian, William Grainge wrote:
The bones of the poor wretch who had committed murder were hung to fester in the sunshine and blow in the tempest until they fell piecemeal to earth and tradition yet tells tales of night wanderers being terrified when passing this dreaded spot.
Now by the crossroads, which now forms a junction of the A61 and A167, was an inn. According to one version of the legend, it was here that Busby was arrested, while another variant proposed that he was taken into the inn for a final drink before his execution. It has long been said that Busby's ghost haunts the place. However there is a more famous, and more sinister, legend. For it is said that Busby had sat in a particular chair in that inn and consequently a terrible curse was laid upon it. In the version where Busby was allowed a final tipple, legend claims he proclaimed "May sudden death come to anyone who dare sit in my chair". And indeed it is said that anyone who sits in this particular chair will suffer the same fate as Busby i.e. a sudden and untimely death shortly afterwards. The legend of the death chair became so famous that the pub eventually took the name The Busby Stoop Inn - a stoop being the post the gibbet hung from.

And indeed the chair appears to have been rather lethal. For there are many tales told about those who have dared to sit in the chair and paid a terrible price. In 1894, a chimney sweep who sat in the chair was said to have been found the following morning hanging beside Busby's gibbet post. During the Second World War, it was claimed that Canadian men from the nearby Skipton-on-Swale dared each other to sit on the chair, and those that did never returned from the missions they were sent on. 

In 1967, two Royal Air Force pilots sat in the chair, and then when driving home from the pub, crashed into a tree and were killed. A handful of years later, a builder was dared to to sit in the infamous chair, and just hours later, he fell to his death from a roof. Around the same time it is claimed that a cleaner had accidentally sat down upon the cursed chair after stumbling into it while mopping the floor. This time death came in the form of a brain tumour.

Eventually in 1978, the current landlord Tony Earnshaw decided enough was enough and moved the chair out of the public's way and placed it in the cellar. However a delivery man was curious as to why a chair was among the beer barrels and sat in it. He was killed minutes later in a crash a few miles down the road. And so the chair was donated to the Thirsk Museum where it remains to this very day. But the chair is now suspended from the ceiling to prevent any more incautious folks from trying to sit in it. 

However experts have cast doubt on the legend of the chair, for when it was examined by historian Dr Adam Bowett, he found something peculiar about it. Apparently its spindles were machine-turned, whereas in the 17th century, chair spindles were made usually with a pole lathe. Therefore he concluded the chair was probably made after 1840, at least 138 years after Busby's death. However as the stories related above all come from after 1840, while we could discount a link to Thomas Busby, we perhaps should not be so quick to discount the curse. Certainly no one has proposed taking the chair gone again so folks can sit in it again. Perhaps it is best to err on the side of caution...

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Horror Bags Giveaways Galore (Part II)

Hello dear fiends and welcome back to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat, a place where your collection of old crisp packets are history - and not in a Mum's just binned them way! This week we are continuing our exploration of the legendary snacks that went cruch in the night, the Horror Bags range from Smiths Crisps. Flourishing for a few marvellous spooky years in the mid 1970s, Horror Bags were a smash hit, and spawned an eerie empire of their own macabre mail order merchandise which you could only get your grubby little mitts on by sending in empty packets (and a smidge of pocket money sometimes). And what was on offer was very good indeed! Last time we looked at the standard stuff - the expected cards, t-shirts and bags, but this time we are looking at the more outre items that were only a mere 28 days for delivery away!  

The Grizzly Growler

Now the 1970s was not only the home decade of Horror Bags but also the golden age of the 7 inch single, and so it perhaps not surprising that records were a common free gift back then. Now obviously slabs of vinyl weren't quite cheap enough to just give away, but that was why the flexi disc was invented. For those of you blessed with enough youth not to remember the days when vinyl was king, a flexi disc was a floppy circle of plastic that had a groove printed on it, and essentially were an ultra-light weight, and hence also ultra-cheap, way of making a single. Now Horror Bags actually did two of these. Or rather it would seem the same disc was released twice. As far as I can tell, one version was a flexi that proclaimed it featured the sound of bats, and was somewhat confusing marketed as the Grizzly Growler mask. Yes, I know bats don't growl. 

To add further bewilderment, the mask wasn't a mask but an admittedly rather nice cardboard print of a snarling vampire which glowed in the dark. And just to muddy the waters even further, the flexi disc that came with it was also reissued later sans the non-mask. However the fun does not end there, for at least one version, if not both judging from some arrows on the packaging, featured the novel innovation that you didn't even need a record player to enjoy this spooky sonics. For each sleeve came with a tiny stylus built-in, so that you could spin the disc yourself by whirling the flexi around with your fingers. Yes, by all accounts it did sound as horrible as you imagine... 

Rather easier on the ears, were a couple of ranges of novelty items that were heavily promoted with tie-ins with popular British comics. In April 1976, if you were to pick up a copy of long running weekly humour comic Whoopee! you could get hold of a Horror Bags Gripper! And what in the name of Frank Windsor was a Gripper I hear you cry? Well, it was a spring-loaded clip, in the shape of a creepy claw, a spooky skull or a bitey version of the Horror Bags Dracula, that well, gripped things.

I am not sure what exactly they were meant to grip - there was vague talk of using them as ad hoc decorations or bookmarks, but personally I suspect much Gripper action involved minor attacks on the flesh of younger siblings, classmates and family pets. And if you didn't get the free one with Whoopee! you could get the full set of three by sending in 3 empty bags and the princely sum of 10p! Bargain! 

In a similar vein, and promoted in a similar fashion were the Creepy Clutchers! These were little printed plastic cards featuring versions of famous monsters on them, with a slot in them so they could be employed as once again as bookmarks and decorations. And while they presently no real risk of nipping any passing target, they were far more impressive visually, with lovely painted renditions of iconic creatures from the horror movies. And, as you can see below, several were clearly based on the old Universal monsters. There were six in the range - Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster, a Vampire Bat, and a Witch (although an ad I found does show an alternate design featuring a skeletal ghoul). 

However the wrinkle here was that the offer was for a trio of these Creepy Clutchers, for 3 bags plus 10p. So then, if you wanted the entire set, you had to eat more Horror Bags in order to send off twice! And to promote this offer, you got one free with an issue of another long-running comedy comic Buster

But as creepy and cool as all this swag was, they weren't the best that Horror Bags had to offer! Next time we will take a look at the very coolest mail-order merch that came direct from Dracula's Castle! Or at least the one located suspiciously close to Smiths HQ...  

Sunday, 26 August 2018

HYPNOGORIA - The Nameless Horror of Berkeley Square Part II

This episode we continue our investigation of Victorian London's most notorious haunted house and finally uncover the truth about the Nameless Horror of Berkeley Square!

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Friday, 24 August 2018

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Dying for a Drink

For centuries the local pub has played an important part in British society. Much like churches, pubs have long been important social hubs in communities, and so it is not surprising that the traditional British boozer frequently serves up a generous helping of local folklore alongside the usual fine ales and good food. Most old pubs worth their salt can boast of having served some famous (or infamous) patron at some point, have at least one ghost, and even their names may tie into local legend and history. Obviously much of this lore is the kind of tale that can be enjoyed over a pint and a packet for crisps, but there are some very dark and curious tales lurking behind the bar room banter. 

Take for example an ancient watering hole in the North of England. The Northumbrian market town of Alnwick is steeped in history, and its castle has appeared in many films and TV shows. However on Narrowgate, not far from Alnwick Castle, there is an old pub which is believed to date back to the 1600s at least. For most of its life this bar was known as Ye Olde Cross Pub. Historians believe its name comes from an actual cross on the front wall of this old inn, thought to be a cross of the de Vescis, the former Norman Lords of Alnwick, and was probably looted from the castle at some point. 

However what the pub is famous for is the weird display in one of its windows - a quartet of ancient and filthy bottles. Ye Olde Cross actually closed down in the 2000s but when it reopened in late 2014, the pub was renamed after its long-standing local nickname - The Dirty Bottles. And naturally there is a strange tale behind this most odd window dressing. Over 200 years ago, in 1725, the  innkeeper dropped dead of a heart attack after moving the bottles. According to the old tale, his wife proclaimed that anyone else doing so would likewise die. And so the bottles lay touched for years, gathering dust and cobwebs. 

At some point, the bottles were safely sealed away behind another interior window, but whether this was for historical purposes or to just to keep patrons with wandering hands safe from the curse I do not know. However it should come as no surprise that this old pub also boasts of having a ghost as well as a death curse. For allegedly the ghost of  the unlucky landlord is reputed to still haunt the pub, reportedly rattling glasses and swearing at patrons. Whether this is true or not I cannot say, but comedy tradition demands I point out that while you might not see a ghost there, there is a fine selection of spirits... 

And if you fancy popping in for a pint or a bite, their website is here The Dirty Bottles 

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Horror Bags Giveaways Galore (Part I)

Hello dear fiends! And welcome back to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Now then, over the last few weeks we've been nibbling away at some spooky snacks from the 1970s - the Horror Bags range from Smiths Crisps! And while these creepy crunchables only were around for four years or so, they spawned a whole empire of macabre merchandise which little horrors could get their grubby paws on by sending in empty packets from Fangess, Bones, Claws, Ribs and Bats! So then, hold on to your hats as we take a whistle-stop tour through all their gloriously gruesome giveaways! (Well at least all the ones I've been able to find... there may be more lurking out there!) 

The range launched with Fangs (cheese and onion) and Bones (salt and vinegar) and in late 1974 there was an offer to send away from a free Dracula mask! Yes, by posting off six packets - and especially for the hard of thinking, they deliberately mentioned in the blurb that they had to be empty packets - you'd get a Dracula mask. Or to be exact, a mask of the top hatted Horror Bags version of Dracula who fronted the range.

Now the mask was pretty cool, but this was only the beginning! For many more ghoulish giveaways would follow, and would grow steadily more ambitious. For example, another early give-away was an iron-on T-shirt transfer offer that again featuring our top hatted fiend's features, but later on a similar offer delivered a proper printed shirt - yours for only 4 bags and the princely sum of 69p. And clearly the Horror Bags Dracula was a hit with the kids as he would feature on a great many of these giveaway items.

His grinning features would adorn a rather nifty bag. This was a drawstring knapsack kind of affair, and was apparently very well made, for quite a few seem to have survived in excellent condition! He would also pop up on a toothbrush, an appropriate but perhaps not terrible exciting item for a range of crisps that included Fangs. The packet tried its best to talk this giveaway up - the brush had a head made by "HALEX" whatever in the name of Cliff that was*, but this one was ultimately probably more appealing to grown-ups than kids. However for 4 empty packets and 25p you couldn't really go wrong. 

Far more exciting was the Dracula Hand Puppet offer (4 bags plus 50p). Admittedly it turned out to be neither a marionette or a glove puppet - rather it was the most humble of the puppet family, a sock puppet, but the design was nice and the packet had pictured the puppet so you knew what you were getting. Also in the cheap but fun category, Horror Bags knew that kids loved puzzles, cards and stickers and hence there were a range of smaller giveaways that were simple but packed with ghoulish delights. 

There was the Horrid Picture Cards set. For sending in just 3 bags, you got a set of six cards each with a suitably spooky picture on the front and a story about Dracula on the back. But the fun thing was that the cards all joined up to make one huge eerie illustration with a massive skull on it! Obviously very cool, for as any school kid will tell you, as massive skulls are always very cool, der brain. 

Equally simple but also cunningly elaborate was the Shivers Stickers set - yours for 3 bags and 28p. Now these were not quite your usual paper with gum on the back affairs, for these were designed for sticking in unusual places! There were spooky cobwebs, spiders and staring eyes that stuck on windows, and for even more gruesome fun there were what the adverts termed "Ghastly Gashes" (stop laughing at the back!) and vampire bite puncture holes to stick on yourself in a primitive horror make-up fashion! 

Rounding off this do and make section of giveaways was the Horror Bags Fungames Set. Now this was a chunky folder jam-packed with goodies. There were two masks - a Dracula one, doubtless identical to the one given away in the earlier offer, but also a rather fabulous Frankenstein mask too.

There were several sheets featuring stuff to do and make, such as a hanging bat mobile and a set of cards to cut out to making a matching pairs game. And there were quizzes and puzzles too. Admittedly these weren't terribly taxing, the little girl always quickly escaped the Baron for example, but they looked cool. 

Best of all though was the Glow-in-the-dark Castle Poster. Now actually this was two posters - one showed a crumbling castle but had lots of doors and windows cut in that you could open. The second poster showed assorted ghosts, ghouls and monsters faffing about. However - and this is the clever bit - you put the castle poster over the monster one, and so when you opened the doors or windows you could see the 'orrible beings that dwelt inside. And hence you had a sort of spooky version of an advent calendar. 

Now the glow-in-the-dark bit was perhaps a tad misleading as these posters did not involve the usual phosphorescent or luminous paint, rather you made the windows light up yourself. The pack presented two methods of doing so - firstly you could put the posters together and hanging them in front of a torch or lamp (not hugely practical really), or you could stick the posters onto a window (a more practical option but not so popular with parents who insist on worrying about stupid things like marks on glass rather than the important things in life such as ghosts and monsters glowing). 

Anywho, which ever way you did it, it actually worked rather well. I know it sounds lame - and indeed I even thought that when I received this set in the post as a kid - but the clever folks at Horror Bags had ensured the posters were exactly the correct thickness, so that when they were put together, they did block out light. But the second poster was also thin enough on its own so that when you opened the windows and doors of the castle the scenes inside would light up rather nicely. Completely brilliant! Or at least it was for the brief time Mum allowed me to stick it to the window...

Sadly my Fungames kit poster is long gone, but here's another creepy puzzle instead that features a little version of the same castle... 

Next time, yet more ghoulish giveaways, looking at the most luxurious of all the Horror Bags tat!

* actually a venerable but now defunct makers of plastic and bakelite items apparently - see here 

Sunday, 19 August 2018

HYPNOGORIA - The Nameless Horror of Berkeley Square Part I

In this episode, Mr Jim Moon begins an in-depth investigation into one of the most notorious hauntings of Victorian London - the strange case of the Nameless Horror of Berkeley Square. In this first part, we will hear the macabre tales told about this most horrific and violent haunting and try and trace the stories to their original sources.

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