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Cthulhu: Extreme Planets
Cthulhu: Extreme Planets
by Stephen Gaskell
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A great read, 7 May 2014
Way back in the 1960s the only solar system we really knew about was our own and despite there being billions of stars in the Milky Way and beyond, the existence of other planetary systems was a matter of sheer speculation. While it was possible to investigate stars of all spectral types to gain information about size, temperature, rotation and elemental composition, looking deeper to see if there were planets orbiting them was just beyond the capabilities of the time. With the advancement of electronic techniques, computers and satellite technology, all that has changed. The Kepler space telescope revolutionised our opinions! One technique involved the measurement of tiny fluctuations in the brightness of candidate stars which showed that bodies were orbiting around them. By this method and several others involving ground-based telescopes, at the beginning of 2014 it’s now known that 1800 extrasolar planets probably exist.

Astronomers are still scratching their heads when contemplating the information gleaned from these techniques because all the ideas of planetary formation have been swept aside. Instead of large planets being further from the star, as the case exists in our own solar system, they are usually found uncomfortably close. Smaller planets not far removed from the size of the Earth were discovered with some of them in habitable zones where the possibilities of life-giving water in liquid state would exist. Science Fiction writers have for many years conjured up all sorts of planets everywhere in the universe but now, for the first time they actually have real places and real scenarios on which to base their action. With this in mind, the book “Extreme Planets” has been released which describes the adventures which could await us in the future when we begin to venture to these other worlds.

Yes, “Extreme Planets” takes us on a great expeditionary journey to a variety of these planets. Edited by David Conyers, David Kernot and Jeff Harris this is a collection of 15 stories, meaty and substantial stories at that, spanning 350 pages. All but one of the stories was written especially for this volume so here we have something new and relevant with up-to-date information. While it is fictional and adventurous, it’s all based on what we think is out there and what we think is fact. I found it to be a really good read, one which was difficult to put down, and in this review I will go over some of the stories which grabbed my attention most.

The Flight of the Salamander by Violet Addison and David Smith involved a mind transplant of a woman scientist into the body of flying salamander. The planet was dying, ripped apart by volcanic eruptions and yet it was being exploited by humans for minerals. A blue supergiant star threatened to engulf the world in fiery doom, making this an entirely unpleasant environment. Problems arose when the scientist could not get back to her own body which was encapsulated in a ship which had crash landed on the barren surface. She then had to choose between her own personal safety or the lives of the other surviving humans!

Petrochemical Skies by David Conyers and David Kernot had great characters and a wonderful setting for the story, that being a super-sized Earth which had an eccentric orbit around a hot star giving periods of intense heat and then cold. Survival on the surface was impossible unless special suits were employed, suits that could fly through the dense atmosphere and swim through seas of chemical sludge. Jenna was the astro navigator on board the ship that was trying to outdo others in a race to provide services for another planet. She was inexperienced and somewhat immature, bullied by the captain and condescendingly treated by others. Things didn’t get better when she crashed into the planet, losing the artificially intelligent hyperdrive, jeopardising the entire mission.

Trying to find the hyperdrive was problematic because it involved an immense journey around the planet. Unfortunately it was found in one of the seas which maybe harboured a type of primitive life residing within its murky depths. This carbon rich planet was covered with diamonds and the skies were saturated with hydrocarbons, making it a world of plenty for people like ourselves but to these entrepreneurs of the future, other things were more important. How would Jenna survive? Would her indecisive nature and inexperience be the undoing of them all?

Brian Stableford’s story, The Seventh Generation, can be described quite simply as magnificent! What a great writer he is! Superlatives notwithstanding, this well-known author takes us to the far distant future of our own planet. A couple of scientists, Corcoran and Halleck, by all accounts a couple of miserable middle-aged gentleman, meet up to discuss an experiment which will project one of them into the future. In this experiment the actual person is not sent to the future, rather it is a conscious ghost which will nonetheless be able to interact to some extent with the environment. It’s a dangerous experiment but Corcoran has tried it before and this time wishes to proceed even further, to the stage when the sun has turned to a red giant, about 5 billion years in the future.

Without wishing to give away too much of the story, it seems that there could be several generations awaiting us in the future. Mankind disappears and other forms of life take over. The process which scientists go through to discover this future is exciting and dramatic and yet, it’s oddly quaint in a British sense. It’s one that you must definitely read!

As mentioned, 15 stories transporting you to many different planets and environments out there in the Galaxy, from comets and asteroids in our solar system to worlds completely covered in water and, in another case, something resembling soup. There are blue giant stars of intense radiation, red dwarfs and a strange world living in the realms of a white dwarf star where the quest for sunlight is but a vain attempt to survive. This is one of the most exciting short story collections on the market for some time. Not only is it relevant as far as the physics is concerned, it’s connected humanly and emotionally to our own species as it travels out to these strange worlds. One not to miss!

Bosch Compact All Floor Bagless Vacuum Cleaner, 1.9 Litre, 2000 Watt
Bosch Compact All Floor Bagless Vacuum Cleaner, 1.9 Litre, 2000 Watt
Price: 119.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No-nonsense, 1 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Efficient and quiet, really easy to use and makes a good job of cleaning carpets and floor surfaces.
Absolutely no problems at all with this device. Have been using it for a few months now and hopefully it will carry on doing the same job for years to come.

Albedo One (Issue 44) (Albedo One Magazine)
Albedo One (Issue 44) (Albedo One Magazine)
Price: 3.21

5.0 out of 5 stars Quality fiction, 1 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Albedo one, issue 44
I haven’t read Albedo One for some time and having looked at the Kindle version of number 44, I was once again able to enjoy the good fiction this publication has to offer. Coming from Ireland the stories do possess a certain poetic charm that you can only find from this location. You have to think of Joyce and Yates to get the drift of my meaning and while we are not talking of these exotic heights we are still moving in the same direction.
A piece by Ian Wild entitled The Truffle Hounds of Romantic Passion and Desire, which was actually the Aeon Award Winner for 2012, was hilarious from start to finish. In fact, the story was like a chaotic frantic chase all the way through! An unfortunate fellow was looking for the love of his life but had no idea of her identity. Hugo, his unscrupulous friend, had solved the problem by purchasing a pack of five huge hounds which could sniff out anything and anybody. Having gained his scent they were then sent on a chase which would eventually take them to Paris. Sufficient to say the love of his life was encountered.
Every nuance, turn and twitch of character is presented with skill of delivery. Once you get into the story you have no choice but to follow the chase through all its misadventures. You won’t be able to stop laughing. It’s a great tale and a worthy winner of the prize.
In a complete contrast, Dave Siddall’s dark story, The Other One, had no laughs at all. I thought it was expertly written, and undoubtedly a tragic account of human life where a man’s life seems to be disintegrating about him. In a downward spiral, a marriage is going on the rocks and the only thing left of any relevance is his young daughter who seems to shine above all the rest. On an afternoon outing she falls into a river and automatically he dives in to save her. Ostensibly the outcome is successful but after a long stay in hospital he finds that life is diametrically opposite from what it used to be. As time passes he becomes more perplexed at the change in character of all the people involved in his life.
A Fine Red With a Hint of Nuts by James Carney was both tragic and funny which is often quite difficult to portray in a story. We are now 100 years from The Great War and in this future we are fighting a war of attrition in trenches situated in Antarctica. The enemy is jelly. Why Antarctica? It seems this is the only place the jelly had not conquered. It originated from space and evolved in the oceans and then the land, adapting as it progressed. Using features of copied species it assimilated everything in its path, killing and absorbing into one large mass. Using flamethrowers the soldiers try to keep it back but it is very clever and sneaky.
One of the soldiers was lucky and his reward was a bottle of wine. Everything changes when a new officer comes to the front but he is a shifty person obviously up to something diabolical. With the soldiers declining in number, would they be able to stop him before it was too late?
Operation Stack by Alexandra Fleetwood was basically a series of conversations which seemed to be ordinary enough in nature but as events progressed you begin to realise that something is not quite right. It was a story which crept up on you and delivered a punch.
Purgatory Central, by Steve Billings, was the runner-up in the Aeon 2012 competition. As the name suggests it’s an afterlife story and a train is involved. A couple of characters engaged in a conversation reflect on some of the aspects of their lives and acknowledge the other passengers. A rather strange tale, it had an ending which was probably predictable but the journey towards the end is quite readable.
The final story in the collection, For Your Entertainment by Eric M Witchey, third place in the Aeon Award, was about war which was more of a TV show that anything else. Satirical and witty, a good story with plenty of things going on! Good writing!
That’s the fiction. There’s lots of other stuff as well. Apart from the excellent artwork on the front cover there is a good interview, book reviews and an article. Overall, this is a particularly interesting magazine with a definitive character of its own. The writing is literary in style, refreshing and challenging, definitely a good read.

The Back of the Back of Beyond.
The Back of the Back of Beyond.
Price: 3.43

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting and eccentric, 1 Mar 2014
The back of beyond generally refers to a place far away but in Edwina’s book it’s only just the beginning of a quirky adventure with a way out destination somewhere way out there. In this case the destination is probably the Australian Outback where a woman and her collection of equine animals live alone, well, not quite alone because there are lots of other visitors which include aliens, dragons, a unicorn and plenty of eccentric people. This goes together to make a rather charming and humorous book, a collection of 10 stories which fit together to keep you smiling all the way through.

It begins in Sydney with a talking unicorn and a flatmate accompanied by a Dragon. Some people use Toyotas but this guy employs a Dragon to get him from A to B. This is quite handy for the young lady in the story because she wants to get to Melbourne for a sci-fi convention and what better way to travel than by a Dragon? This is only the start of the zany humour which permeates the entire book from start to finish.

You’ve got to feel sorry for the lady in the story. Chapter 4, entitled Seeing the Light (When the Fridge Door’s Open) describes travelling to the countryside to look for a new home. Carrying all essentials for survival which include, “a case of Coke, a box of chocolate, several more boxes of books, torches, lots of batteries and lots of toilet paper”, she is undeterred by anything and anyone. An essential companion is the ancient 286 computer! It’s no surprise that chaos seems to follow her and in this case it is the guy called Bean and his Dragon. She just can’t get rid of them!

Odd characters are abundant. Alice and Cooper, the two donkeys, and Clarence the Clydesdale are probably the least odd of the company. I enjoyed the chapters about alien encounters and the alien called Adam. He is a friendly chap who upgrades the old 286 computer to such an extent that it has enough memory to include the entire national library. It also has a coffee dispenser which is a very good idea if you drink a lot of coffee while working on the computer. Maybe Edwina should patent this device?

Apart from the aliens who get drunk on Coca-Cola, there are quite a few other characters, a good ploy by the author because they all exist in reality. Not only did they pay to get their name mentioned, they will undoubtedly purchase the book. That’s a good one! She has plenty of friends and I’m sure they will remain friends even after they read it.

I reviewed one of Edwina Harvey’s books before, a very good read entitled The Whale’s Tale, but this one is completely different. Sounds like Monty Python but it’s true. Her writing is concise and sharp, containing nothing superfluous while at the same time it is witty and hilarious. Throughout the stories you begin to wonder what will happen next and, usually something does happen which will be unexpected and calamitous. However, our character just ambles on as if nothing untoward has occurred. Maybe we should all take life at this pace because if we did it I’m sure everyone’s blood pressure would be that much lower.

In summary, what can you say about The Back of the Back of Beyond? Humour is a subjective thing and a joke that appeals to one person could be incomprehensible to another but I found the book to be a riot from start to finish. Hopefully I am not too alien in nature in thinking that many other people will share the same opinion. Although it is based in Australia it is not overpopulated by kangaroos and koala bears and, perception of humour notwithstanding, it should be appealing on a worldwide basis. I think the book will be successful and I would certainly recommend it to prospective readers.

Precision PREC0099 Radio Controlled Display Weather Station with Wirelesss Sensor, Multi Coloured
Precision PREC0099 Radio Controlled Display Weather Station with Wirelesss Sensor, Multi Coloured
Offered by Trendi
Price: 16.99

4.0 out of 5 stars works okay in certain circumstances, 9 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
seems to be a lot of critical reviews about this product. I purchased it and was on the point of agreeing with them. The clock time signal didn't work properly, the thermometer readings were inaccurate, and the weather forecast did not seem to be right. However, I had placed it on a desk not far from a computer and a monitor. When removed from this environment it worked perfectly so there must have been electrical interference with the signals. Tried it in other environments and anywhere near televisions etc there were problems. If you have this device make sure it is reasonably isolated and it will work okay.
Maybe this should be pointed out on the instructions.
it's also necessary to connect this device to the mains. Battery operation is really a standby if disconnected from power.
It's actually not that bad at all if used properly.

Dead of Night (DVD)
Dead of Night (DVD)
Dvd ~ Anna Massey
Price: 13.31

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dead of Night, 20 Nov 2013
This review is from: Dead of Night (DVD) (DVD)
Dead of Night DVD
British Film Institute

Way back in 1972 the BBC made a supernatural TV series called Dead of Night. This title is not to be confused with a more recent American DVD of the same name or an older Michael Redgrave movie from the 1940s. The BBC series ran from 5 November until 17 December 1972 with seven episodes each of 50 minutes duration. It appears that only three episodes seem to be surviving but as a part of their Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film programme, the British Film Institute people have put them on a DVD for general release in October this year.

I do recall seeing one of these episodes back in 1972 when I was a young student plodding away at chemistry but with an avid interest in all matters relating to Science Fiction and associated literature, that episode being Return Flight, and I do recall thinking it was pretty good. Since then, however, I don't think this series has appeared on TV again so it's really one up for the BFI and their media archaeology for bringing it back to the viewing public once more.

The surviving episodes on the DVD are:

The Exorcism by Don Taylor. A middle-class couple have invited another couple round for Christmas dinner at their country cottage. Everything has been modernised to the latest standard but what they forget is that the cottage has a long history with previous occupants, some going back to the early 19th century when there was a famine and public unrest. Things start to go wrong in the house such as a power cut and doors that are unable to open. There is also something upstairs. Tension builds as evening progresses and they find what is behind the mystery of the house. Four excellent actors in Clive Swift (later appearing in Keeping up Appearances) Shakespearean actor Edward Pletherbridge (The Guardians) with Anna Cropper and Sylvia Kay.

Return Flight by Rodney Bennett. An airline pilot played by Peter Barkworth is on a routine flight from Hamburg when he sees another plane enter his fight path only to disappear quickly. This prompts an investigation but what he saw more resembled a Lancaster bomber from the war. The pilot is a lonely man, a recent widower, and his wife was once married to a bomber pilot lost in the war. Despite being encouraged by a friend, our pilot seems to sink into a depression which was precipitating a journey he was compelled to take.

A Sobbing Woman by Paul Ciappessoni. Anna Massey plays a relatively affluent housewife with a husband and a couple of children but she isn't really happy. Life seems to have passed by. In their new house things do not get any better when she hears a woman sobbing in one of the upstairs rooms. She is the only one to hear this. The husband employs a Dutch girl as an au pair which further isolates her. The sobbing does not stop and she is sent for psychiatric evaluation but would she improve? A really good supernatural drama, you begin to wonder if this is all in her mind or is there a psychic presence in the house?

Everything is presented in the original. 1.33:1 aspect ratio and the colour rendition is not bad at all especially considering that this was made only a few years after colour television started in the UK. In all of the 150 minutes of drama, you will not find irritating background music to jangle your nerves. This is a straight acting performance without any frills. Many people will like this, others not, so it's up to the individual. Personally I found it rather pleasing.

Extras are included on the disc, which include pictures from the missing episodes and downloadable items, PDF files of missing scripts and an interesting booklet of biographies and essays. While the recommended price is a bit steep at almost 20 you will undoubtedly find this cheaper elsewhere on the Internet, such as Amazon, for under 14.

There is a strange dichotomy here in that, despite being old, this is something new. It will certainly be new to a lot of younger people out there who may find the style and presentation a little strange when compared to modern media but they may also find it refreshingly novel. When all is said and done, the DVD is worth a wholehearted recommendation. For further information, it would be best to consult the BFI website.

Supernatural (2-disc DVD set)
Supernatural (2-disc DVD set)
Dvd ~ Robert Hardy
Price: 18.46

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Supernatural, 20 Nov 2013
Supernatural DVD

Just released by the British Film Institute we've got a double disc of the BBC TV series from 1977 called Supernatural. This has absolutely nothing to do with the more recent American TV series of the same name so if you are ordering the discs, make sure you get the right package. On the discs are all eight episodes of the series. No more were made which is a pity because just as it was getting good and interesting it was cut off in its prime. Having never been repeated on TV, the BFI is releasing the series as part of their Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film celebration.

In creating the series, Robert Muller, who devised and wrote most of the material, wanted to go back to drama similar to that of the Gothic material from the 1920s and 1930s which had a general absence of blood and violence as portrayed in the more modern thriller but encapsulated good acting, fear, romance and menace. It was a step away from the conventional horror movie of 1977 and probably a light year away from what is available today. If you go for this, don't expect bloody gore, you just won't see it. Compared to what is on offer today, it may come across as boring but the acting is a long way ahead of contemporary stuff.

What are the episodes all about? Well, in many respects it's a bit of a curate's egg with good and bad parts. The first disc of four episodes, while okay, is outshone by the second disc which has four stunning episodes. Most of the filming was done in the studio with outside work kept to a minimum except perhaps for the last episode, Dorabella. Running through the entire series we have an introduction and ending featuring the Club Of the Dammed. This is a Victorian upper-class gentleman's club, a stereotype of what we imagine it to be, with old guys in comfortable armchairs smoking cigars drinking brandy. They invite people to give them talks which have to be spine chilling and horrific and, if they don't think the tales are up to scratch, the person that delivers them gets killed. Just who would volunteer? Only people with exceptional stories or possibly only people who are stark raving mad!

The first episode, Ghosts of Venice, features Robert Hardy, a veteran of many fine performances including the TV series All Creatures Great and Small, and Sinead Cusack from Ireland who has been in many films, most recently Wrath of the Titans. Robert plays an old actor who believes something has been stolen from him but he doesn't know quite what. It's got to do with an event in the past but when he meets the ghost of a former lover, things begin to crystallise and make sense.

Episodes two and three, Countess Iliona and The Werewolf Reunion, really run together and frankly, despite the acting being good, should have been condensed into one episode. Basically it involves the Countess inviting four former lovers, all from Hungary, to a remote Gothic castle for a mysterious reunion. The four men are all of different character and nature and as the events progress, what you imagine will happen does actually happen. It's good but suspense is not really evident and the horror is muted.

Episode four, Mr Nightingale, features Jeremy Brett. Many will know him from TV's Sherlock Holmes. Visiting a family in Hamburg, he plays an eccentric man with a split personality. As time passes his personality becomes even more polarised, a Jekyll and Hyde character, which inexorably leads to tragedy and ruination. This is possibly the most disappointing of all the episodes.

Things get better with episode five, Lady Sybil, with the well-known actor Denholm Elliott and also playwright/actor John Osborne famous for, amongst other things, the 1956 play Look Back in Anger. We've also got Catherine Nesbit as Lady Sybil. A domineering aged mother is plagued by a stalker in her Victorian mansion. One of the sons is a respected doctor and the other a playboy musician. Excellent acting is accompanied by increasing tension as we get to the end to find who is actually doing the stalking.

The episodes get progressively better. Episode six, entitled Viktoria, is set in Hungary. Starring Catherine Schell and Judy Cornwell, it centres on a family where the woman is disabled in a wheelchair following a riding accident. She has a daughter but is married to an uncaring man who wishes her dead. The situation is complicated with a domineering housekeeper and an old lady steeped in folklore. When the lady dies her spirit is transported into a doll which becomes attached to the daughter. Strange things then begin to happen after the man remarries and settles into a house in England

Night of the Marionettes as episode seven transports us to Switzerland and Gordon Jackson playing a researcher into Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Along with his wife and daughter they find refuge in a secluded hotel where the owner seems to be rather peculiar. A spitting image of a vampire, Vladek Sheybal steals the show. Many will remember him from UFO as the psychologist and also the chess player in From Russia with Love. Every year the hotel puts on a marionette show but the life-size figures seem to be real humans. They begin to worry that this will be their own fate.

It's no surprise to discover that Dorabella is a vampire. In the last episode, which has quite a lot of outside scenes, she captivates a couple of men, Jeremy Clyde and John Justin. Incidentally, Jeremy Clyde is the leading actor in another BFI presentation soon to be released called Schalken the Painter. With increasing dread and horror she takes them across country through many villages until they reach the vampire's castle. Probably the best of the episodes, it stands as a classic which must be watched!

The original TV format typical of the 70s is retained so you'll get a black band down either side of your widescreen television. This is no deterrent. The package comes with a very interesting and comprehensive booklet containing an essay, episode notes, biographies and a list of the cast and credits. All in all, it's a very good package. Okay, a couple of episodes are maybe not up to scratch as regards sustained interest but most of them are really good and some are excellent. Throughout all the episodes the acting is absolutely first-class making this a package that can definitely be recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 20, 2013 9:01 PM GMT

Schalcken The Painter (BFI Flipside ) (DVD + Blu-ray)
Schalcken The Painter (BFI Flipside ) (DVD + Blu-ray)
Dvd ~ Jeremy Clyde
Price: 12.53

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schalcken, 20 Nov 2013
Schalcken the Painter

Let's go back to the days when you got really good value for your BBC licence fee, way back to 1979. I can remember sitting in front of the TV just before Christmas to watch an Omnibus programme which presented something quite startling that lingered in the memory, that being a strange tale about the Dutch painter Schalcken. Since that day it has never reappeared on television and despite many people asking for it to be released on DVD, it's only now that it has become available through the British Film Institute on their Flipside label.

What's Flipside? "Developed from its popular monthly screening slot at the BFI Southbank, the Flipside series is designed to revisit and reappraise British films that have slipped through the cracks of cinema history - films that were overlooked, marginalised, or undervalued at the original time of release, or which sit outside the established canon of its time recognised classics."

What was strange about Schalcken the Painter? It was a film of exceptional quality, a dramatised version of events in the life of the artist tied up with a fictional account by the Victorian Irish author, J Sheridan le Fanu. Not only immersing the viewer in 17th-century Dutch life and art, it brought a chilling sense of horror to shake the depths of your soul. However, before we go into the story let's look at some of the background history which gives the setting to the events.

The 17th century is often referred to as Holland's golden age. Breaking free from the shackles of Spain, the 80 years war being a culmination of this, the country became a magnet for craftsmen, entrepreneurs and explorers, its geographical situation making it the centre of a trading empire which stretched out to Germany, the Hanseatic League, Britain and France. They developed the best Navy of the time, even sufficiently strong enough to take on the British with impunity. Their ships sailed all around the world, having a monopoly with Japan and many countries in the Far East, importing great wealth and power. Roughly the century can be divided into three zones. It began with austerity where people were beginning to find their feet and starting to make progress. The next-generation ushered in a period of prosperity, realising the wealth that they were beginning to make from trading conquests and when the third generation came along, used to money and power, there was a certain amount of decadence. With an economy growing rapidly, they even had an economic bubble all to do with the price of tulips.

With all that money going about, there was sufficient for extra things in life such as art and science. It's art that concerns us here. Being a Calvinistic society, commissions from the church were virtually non-existent but there were wealthy merchants wishing to put themselves in vogue by commissioning paintings. That's why we get a lot of portraiture, still life and landscape from this era. A number of painters appeared in the community to meet this demand, with notable well-known names such as Rembrandt and Vermeer being the most popular in the art galleries of today.

Godfried Schalcken (1643 - 1706) was one such painter. He was exceptional at reproducing works illuminated by candlelight, often creating a soft and eerie glow to the subjects and surroundings. A pupil of the famous artist Gerrit Dou (1613 - 1675), who in turn was a pupil of Rembrandt. Schalcken became quite successful and even moved to England for a period of time. Because he was apparently a bit of a yob, he was shunned and spent the rest of his days at The Hague, as a painter and not as a prisoner under trial. This was long before the place became a centre for prosecuting international criminals.

The story was then taken up by J Sheridan le Fanu (1814 - 1873). One of the leading Victorian writers of Gothic and mystery tales, he is renowned for his classic ghost stories. This is a guy we would be featuring regularly on our website if we lived in the 19th century! Some of his best known works include Carmilla, Uncle Silas, and The House by the Churchyard. Many of his stories were later adapted by movie companies, Hammer in particular, when making films about vampires. In 1851 he wrote "Strange Event in the Life of Schalcken the Painter" (there are varieties of spelling of the name Schalcken). If you want to read this story it can be found along with other le Fanu's stories at the University of Adelaide's website.


It's well worth reading this story just to give you an idea of the author's work and style. On this is based the BBC Omnibus edition which was made into the film. If you read the story and watch the film you will notice that there are some differences between the two. Also, if you look for the painting featured in the movie, you will be disappointed because it doesn't exist. It's a composite picture made up by the director as he explains in an interview on the disc.

As le Fanu knew, 17th-century Holland was a golden age in their history. In the UK we are centred on our own exploits and often don't give full credit to the achievement of other nations. We all know Captain Cook discovered Australia, but the Dutch visited it first. Despite the exploits of explorers and traders, they were not immune to death. They suffered along with everybody else from the great plagues that devastated populations during the century and, as in the middle ages, death was always going to be a part of life. That's why, in the midst of prosperity with Schalcken and his tutor Dou, death comes to dinner!

The film Schalcken the Painter doesn't have much dialogue. Almost a fusion of documentary and drama, it is narrated very effectively by the well-known English actor Charles Gray who introduces us to the painting and the characters. Some artificial authority is implied when saying that the painting still exists and a distant relative knew the painter and could verify the story. Dou comes across as a man interested in money. Observed counting his guilders with rather dodgy eyesight, it's evident that everything is measured by the worth of their coinage. Schalcken is a pupil but being diligent he gets past the others to become a dinner guest, proverbially getting his feet under the table, from where he can continue his interest in Rose, who is Dou's niece. Schalcken is played by Jeremy Clyde who still appears on television screens, Dou by Maurice Denholm, an instantly recognised actor, now deceased, who had a long and successful career. Rose's part is taken by Cheryl Kennedy. She doesn't appear much on screens now but had a varied career for approximately 30 years on stage and screen.

Schalcken appears to be a tentative character, obviously knowing where he wants to go but in order to do so he toes the line, not overstepping his authority with Dou. He too has a desire for money as well as the lovely Rose. In declaring his interest in the girl he states that he will make enough to realise prospects of marriage and by all accounts Rose seems to be quite happy with this proposal.

As an interesting diversion, Dou is visited by Rembrandt. No words are exchanged but it's definitely Rembrandt, a remarkable likeness to the 1663 self-portrait. However, I'm wondering if something rather strange had taken place because at the time this film was set, Rembrandt was probably dead. He died in 1669. Maybe this is conjecture but it could be an interesting prelude to the events about to take place.

While Schalcken was working, a stranger came to the door. A very odd fellow, there seemed to be no sound of approach from outside. He just appeared and announced laconically in a monotone voice that he had business to attend to with Dou. After he disappeared, Schalcken could see no signs of departure except for weird bubbles in the canal. The problem with Dou was that he couldn't see properly and when the stranger returned at the appointed time, he didn't really take in the ghastliness of his appearance. Named as Vanderhausen, he stated his intentions directly and promptly, saying he wished to marry Rose, having observed her before at a church in Rotterdam. He offered a casket of gold and demanded that the contents be verified immediately. The casket was corroded, almost as if it had been lying in a grave for years. Schalcken could only stand by and look on in amazement but nevertheless he did seem interested in the money.

Vanderhausen is played by John Justin who also appeared in the BBC production of Dorabella. He was the father, the main vampire, a completely hideous creature! Jeremy Clyde was also in this episode as the unfortunate man enslaved by Dorabella's evil charms. When appearing for dinner with Dou, Schalcken and Rose, he sat at the head of the table, said nothing, ate nothing and didn't even blink. While Dou tried to make conversation, the others could only look on with shock and horror at the ghastly appearance sitting before them. Despite Rose not wishing to be married to this abomination, looking only at the money Dou gave his approval.

Strangely Schalcken accepted the situation with ineffectual resistance saying only he would work hard and make enough money to win her back. Everyone had a price, so it seemed, and therefore she was doomed to be married to Vanderhausen. As time passed, work at the studio carried on. Painting of classical scenes, choosing models, and visits to the brothel seem to be Schalcken's habits and despite trying to find Rose all he could find was a young woman with a similar name but with a price to charge for her favours.

One evening an extremely distressed Rose enters the Dou household. Dishevelled and bruised, she begs food and sanctuary. The last thing she wanted to do was return to Vanderhausen. She shouts out, "the dead and the living can never be one." They try to help her, but Rose disappears into the night, to another world so it seems.

Schalcken continues his life, marries another woman and settles down to become a successful painter, specialising in small-scale work illuminated by candlelight. His nature becomes emotionally callous, haughty and disrespectful. One of his models, an attractive girl of common birth, asks about a pose, a scene involving a sparrow, Lesbia's sparrow from the works of the Roman poet Catullus. Thinking the girl beyond explanation all he said was, "it's just a story."

However, Schalcken was to meet Rose and Vanderhausen for one last time. This meeting, which took place in a church, gave him the inspiration to paint the picture which is the subject of the story. It was a fateful meeting and one which showed up Schalcken and his opinion of people and money to be shallow and conceited. It also brought him face to face with death!

Although the film is 70 minutes duration, it contains lots of irreplaceable scenes which stick in the mind. The characters and the sight of Vanderhausen are not overemphasised but nonetheless they are very powerful and cannot be denied. Many people will remember a more recent film set in the Dutch 17th-century. Girl With the Pearl Earring focused on the works of Vermeer and contain so many hypnotic scenes where the camera stopped just for a few seconds and each still somehow became a work of art, a picture from the artist himself. Well, on a much smaller budget, Schalcken the Painter preceded that in 1979.

How exactly would you categorise this film? It's art, drama and horror. Just why it wasn't rereleased many years ago remains a mystery because so many people asked about Schalcken wondering if it was available on tape or DVD. Now, 34 years after it first appeared on television it's available from the BFI but there is actually much more on the disc. First of all we have The Pit, an adaption of Edgar Allan Poe's tale, The Pit and the Pendulum. Made in 1962, in black and white and lasting 27 minutes, it is utterly horrific in every sense. Condemned to death, a man is incarcerated in a dark prison with nightmarish images, the pendulum and a pit which contains bones and a slithering thing of indeterminate identity. Not to be watched late at night.

In addition, there is also a short film entitled The Pledge which is about three criminals from the 18th-century trying to recover the hanged body of one of their friends. The best of the extra material is the 39 minute interview with Leslie Megahey, the director/writer/producer of Schalcken and John Hooper, the director of photography. This is essential viewing if you liked the film and wish to learn more about its creation. You will also get an illustrated booklet in the package which has a variety of essays and film credits.

Okay, by now you will have gathered that I liked Schalcken the Painter. It's a film that you will watch and never forget and I can only suggest that you do your utmost to secure a copy for yourself.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 19, 2013 8:03 PM GMT

The Weaponized Puzzle (The Harrison Peel Files Book 2)
The Weaponized Puzzle (The Harrison Peel Files Book 2)
Price: 1.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Harrison Peel continues, 16 Nov 2013
150 pages of fiction for about one US dollar seems like a good deal. Of course, that depends on the quality of the fiction but fortunately in this case it's very good. Here we have the return of Major Harrison Peel, an intelligence officer with the Australian special forces, in his continuing battle against cosmic horrors. Created by David Conyers, this character has been the central figure of many short stories and novels in a universe that contains catastrophic threats to humanity. Continuing from the previous book, The Impossible Object, Peel again encounters aliens from the depths of time.

There are two novellas in book 2. In the first, The Weaponised Puzzle, Peel and his girlfriend Nicola in a base in Antarctica, uncover Russian agents intent on stealing an alien artefact and end up fighting for their lives in a multidimensional, mathematical trap. We are introduced to creatures called Pentapods. Resembling giant starfish it would be wrong to call them aliens because they inhabited the planet a long time ago for far longer than we have ever existed. Rather unpleasant and dangerous they may be, they were nothing compared to other more menacing creatures including the former servants of the Pentapods, namely the Shoggoths! At the first sight of them you vomit and if by a very slim margin you escape, you'll never be the same again. The image of them will be forever haunting.

The Russians steal the artefact and entrap Peel and Nicola within it. This was designed to contain a Shoggoth but now they were inside and had to use intelligence and wit to escape. It wasn't going to be easy. In the second of the novellas, Weapon Grade, we return to Antarctica to meet an imprisoned monster, a Shoggoth no less, with a bit more about it than the average beastie. It had been imprisoned for hundreds of millions of years and unfortunately other agencies wanted to get their hands on it. Not knowing the full consequences of their actions, these people would release a monster capable of enslaving and destroying all of humanity. Peel is given the job of sorting this out before we would be doomed to an ignominious end.

As with the other stories in the collection, they are written with intelligence, flair and ability. If you haven't read Peel book 1, I suggest you do, but this can still be followed without references to other works. The main thing about the Peel stories is their readability. Written with pace and excitement, you can't put the book down until you have read the last sentence. In reading fiction by David Conyers, you enter an imaginative universe with enthralling tales to keep you spellbound. Be warned, however, because after living in this universe you will be looking over your shoulder anticipating the threat of cosmic horrors!

The Nightmare Dimension
The Nightmare Dimension
Price: 3.14

5.0 out of 5 stars it's a nightmare, 19 July 2013
Crikey, reading this you get a heavyweight punch right between the eyes as soon as you step into the pages. It's a collection of thirteen stories with some original material dating from 2007 onwards, giving a flavour of what this author has done in the past and what he might give us in the future. There is a taste of Cthulhu Mythos, for which he is well known, plus some dark and weird fiction which turns the universe inside out and upside down. I warn you, read this at your peril. You wouldn't want to end up in some of the places he describes.

Normally at the finish you end up in hell, if you've been a bad boy, but here you start off in hell as a victim of almost endless torture. Reborn, if that's the correct word, a guy called Adamson then becomes the assassin of The Overlord. Adamson had to pay for his crimes but would he receive redemption? Then again, if there was a loud noise in your hotel apartment in the middle of the night and a Demon arrived asking for your help, what would you do? This was the question in the Nightmare Dimension. Incidentally, the Demon had cronies which included a couple of sisters, one composed of ice and the other of cinders. You've probably caught my drift as to the proceedings by now!

We will encounter lots of weird creatures, including a cactus man and another man for whom gravity is reversed. One thing certain after reading this is that you'll never feel safe in a hotel room ever again. You will also be taken to ancient Egypt and darkest Africa where reality is suspended. However, proceed further at a modest charge and read for yourself. The fiction is very well written, enticing and captivating, but at the end of it you will be looking over your shoulder. Late-night reading? Well, you could be taking a risk! The question is, do you dare to read this book? It's powerful stuff!

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