Tom Skelton shivered. Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows’ Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked. — Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree
Now where I was? Ahhhh, having a pint of Dark Hollow Stout while enjoying this fine October evening — first frosts and earthy leaf-mould and the bitter tang of wood smoke, and the smell of the winter yet to come — while thinking of what there is for Halloween songs…
I’m now watching with rather great amusement the Mouse in The Wainscotting musicians — over pints of Autumn Ale, a libation with a rather earthy taste — debate what dance tunes they are going to play on All Hallows Eve in the Courtyard where the bonfire will be lit for that most sacred of nights in the Celtic Year. A great deal of thought goes into the set list on the part of the musicians and the caller.
Their list of possible dances so far includes ‘All Saint’s Day’ right after ‘All Hallow’s Eve’, ‘The Black Hag’, ‘The Booship’, ‘The Discorporation’, ‘Draper’s Graveyard’, ‘Gathering Pumpkins’, ‘Ghoul in the Wall’, and ‘Jack O’Lantern’s Health’. Gus chimed up that’d be appropriate to do ‘ The November Reel’ as a coda after the dance concluded. It was composed by Keona Mundy of Cleia, a brilliant band whose recording he recently heard.
April observed some thematic similarities in two otherwise disparate Stephen King books: the hefty tome Under the Dome and the slight novella Billy Blockade, which she reviewed together. ‘In both these stories, King effectively portrays the kind of horrors we’d like to believe people wouldn’t inflict on others, and yet they do. His examples may be extremes, but they’re reminders of the fears that lurk in the darker shadows of our psyches.’
And April turned in a hefty tome herself, in the form of a thorough review of the first three books of King’s Dark Tower series: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Wastelands, the saga of Roland. ‘Roland is the last of a dying breed, the last of a dying age: a worn and weathered man with naught left but his guns, his memories and an unyielding desire, nay, overweening need, to overtake the man in black. We meet Roland as he’s chasing his quarry across a nameless, faceless wasteland, always behind, but slowly, inexorably closing the distance.’
Cat always has good things to say about the anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow, and that includes Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror. ‘Nightmares is a companion volume to an earlier work, Darkness: Two Decades of Horror, which covered the previous twenty years of horror literature. If you’re looking for an excellent look at the last thirty years of horror, I’d say these two volumes will do nicely.’
Lis starts off her her with Ben Aaronovitch’s The October Man (Rivers of London #7.5): ‘ I like the characters, the story is interesting, intricate and satisfying. It’s also quite fun to get the German perspective on the British and the Folly, including Tobias’ study of every detail the Germans have on Detective Constable Peter Grant. It seems there’s a lot of possibility for both rivalry and cooperation between the two magical law enforcement organizations. I’d really like to see some of that.
Let’s not give away what happening in the story Lis reviews of Roger Zelazny‘s A Night in the Lonesome October: ‘ Snuff is our narrator, here, and he’s a smart, interesting, likable dog. He’s the friend and partner of a man called Jack, and they are preparing for a major event. Jack has a very sharp knife, which he and Snuff use in gathering the necessary ingredients for the ancient and deadly ritual that will be performed on Halloween.’
Speaking of William Gibson (you were, weren’t you – and if not, why not, what with the superb new adaptation of his The Peripheral now airing on Amazon Prime?) our archives contain Wes’s enthusiastic overview of Gibson’s “Sprawl Trilogy” – Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. ‘It challenges while entertaining, and explores cyberspace as if it were Tartarus, a demanding land where ghosts and spirits interact with data, where riches are to be had as credit, or information, where Baron Samedi, Papa Legba, and their cohorts manipulate the land of the living. It is certainly worth reading, and will likely remain a benchmark, a staple of science fiction, for years to come.’
Denise here. Shh, don’t tell Cat, but I’ve hijacked this edition’s film section. Because what’s better on Halloween than a look at some spooky films? Ready? Let’s go! *cue spooky background music*
First off, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a mix of possession horror and courtroom drama. ‘As children, we all thought about things living in our closet, underneath the bed, or in the basement. Dark, scary things that made us jump into bed, calling for our parents when things became too much to bear. As we got older, creaks in the stairs late at night gave us the chills, and we called out to friends or told ourselves that it wasn’t anything but a sure sign of shoddy home craftsmanship. But are those things signs of the devil among us?’
Next up, something a bit more fun and action-y; Underworld Evolution. ‘This is a good film that only suffers from the potential the first film laid out. A common curse with many sequels, but one that doesn’t harm the basic story of this film . . . if that’s all you’ve got.’
Something for the kiddies, perhaps? Why not try The Haunted Mansion? ‘Stir it up, keep it loud, and everyone will think they’re watching something really cool…. This is a lovely film to look at, but there’s not a lot of substance. Just double-check to make sure any young children you take are up for a pretty good scare.’
And last, but certainly not least, Halloween III. Because the OG Halloween has been done to death, so why not check out the sequel that’s not really a sequel, now that Halloween Kills is currently in theaters? This film’s divisive as hell, but I sure did enjoy myself writing up my thoughts…and though it’s grown on me since, I stand by my words when I first watched this film. ‘There are some reviews that are meant to have you rush to the theater. Others will leave you to decide whether or not to head out to the multiplex (or rent the video). Then there are reviews that serve as warnings, specifically designed to save the movie viewing public unnecessary pain and agony. This review falls into the latter category.’
Gary reviews a film that’s not spooky, but it’s new and timely and currently making the round of festivals, Abby Berendt Lavoi and Jeremey Lavoi’s Roots Of Fire. ‘Anyone who enjoys Francophone Louisiana roots music and music documentaries in general will love Roots of Fire. The film focuses in particular on the young musicians who are bringing Cajun music into the 21st century, honoring their past and their forbears while moving the music forward and making it their own.’
Denise has many a Halloween treat – and one trick – for us all this fine day. First off, she digs into a Cadbury Screme Egg. No, not creme. SCREME. ‘I recommend splitting an Egg with a friend, or saving a half for later. I’ve done the stomach work, so you don’t have to overindulge. Unless that’s your thing. Then? Happy Halloween!’
Next, she indulges in a four pack of Chocolats Passion Skulls. ‘The attention to detail is staggering; I can barely draw a straight line, yet these beauties have red in their sockets, golden teeth, and a splash of gold on the “parietal” that could be the sun glinting on them…or the reason for their demise. Six of one, half dozen of the other, I say.’
Need a drink after all that candy? Denise obliges with Flying Cauldron’s Butterscotch Beer! (We don’t dig TERFs here, but we do dig interesting mythology…and soda.) ‘Flying Cauldron’s Butterscotch Beer is a light, fizzy soda that’s non-alcoholic, for the wee muggles/no-mags in your life. Don’t think that means adults won’t like it, however. As cream-esque sodas go, it’s not that sweet.’
Aiming for something savory rather than sweet? Denise’s review of Aldi’s Happy Farms Preferred Transylvanian-Romanian Cave Cheese is sure to satisfy. ‘There are two types on offer, the regular and “soaked in red wine.” Naturally, the wine version went into my tote.’
Last but not least, a treat that was more of a trick for our stalwart foodie; Dunkin’ Donuts’ Spider Donut. ‘Impressive, no? No. It’s a mess. Somewhere, Mary Berry is sobbing.’
Whatever you decide to eat and drink this fine Halloween, have a wonderfully spooky time!
If you’re looking for a graphic treatment of the story of Vlad the Impaler, the historical ruler who was the purported inspiration for the character we’ve come to know as Dracula, Robert has some advice for you: Don’t look for it in Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón’s Vlad the Impaler: The Man Who Was Dracula. ‘The characters are cardboard, the action is trite, the graphic and narrative elements are a mismatch, and it’s all thrown into perspective by the appearance of the Count Dracula — or a caricature, at least — in the last two pages. This book has to be a put-on.’
A new recording, Sweet Tooth deftly blends Indigenous music with folk, jazz, hymns, field recordings and more, Gary says. ‘Aptly described as “a suite for Indigenous resistance,” this suite from Wabanaki jazz bassist, composer, and songwriter Mali Obomsawin is all about the way Indigenous peoples’ adaptation and resilience have fueled their art and culture – in this case, specifically of Wabanaki people.’
Gary reviews a new release from a new ensemble. Bach to Folk is by Lodestar Trio, three fiddlers from Norway, Germany and Sweden. ‘These days I particularly enjoy music that combines roots or folk music with other traditions including jazz and classical. The musicians of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland seem particularly adept at this sort of thing: Norwegian guitarist Jakob Bro, the Swedish ensemble Väsen, Finnish accordionist Maria Kalaniemi … the list is long and includes a lot of fiddlers. Add to the list Lodestar Trio.’
Gary reviews Love Hurts, and he found it not painful at all. ‘The third studio album by Finland’s folk quartet Enkel is an altogether enjoyable affair. Enkel is Finnish for angel, and Leija Lautamaja, Miia Palomäki, Maija Pokela, and Iida Savolainen indeed sing like angels, sometimes solo or in duet, sometimes all four together in the intricate and rhythmic harmonic style that’s made other Finnish group popular worldwide. In addition, two of them play melodeons, one the viola, and one the kantele, a dulcimer-like affair also known as a psaltery.’
From the archives, we found a few reviews that felt right for the current holiday season:
Big Earl had mixed feelings about Firedancing, a CD of neo-klezmer music with influences from reggae, Roma music, and more. ‘Souls of Fire is a British group who take their influences from the klezmer recordings of the Twenties and Thirties, among other related sources. Although they add a more modern twist to their music, this disc sounds rather like any early traditional recording compilation that you’ll come across. And that’s a compliment.’
Chuck reviewed a stack of Celtic CDs, and his favorite seems to have been Gill Bowman’s Toasting the Lassies, a set of Robert Burns’s more colorful – or is that off-color – songs. ‘Bowman has one of the nicest singing voices I’ve heard. It’s a very polished voice with a sense of knowing. Or maybe I’m just partial to women who sing – and know how to sing – bawdy songs. While the CD doesn’t include Burns’ more colorful lyrics, there are definitely some very suggestive songs here.’
Singing Bones sounds scary, and Gary found lots of spookiness on this disc by The Handsome Family. ‘The setting of many of the songs on Singing Bones reflects the move from the urban blight of Chicago to the blasted desert-scapes of the Southwest. No more songs about snowy parking lots and elevated trains this time. Instead, the songs feature couples shooting their beer cans with rusty rifles while the desert sun sets in “Gail With the Golden Hair”; lonely shoppers wandering the aisles of the “24-Hour Store” as ghosts make the automatic doors open and close; and amphibians singing as a lost gold-miner dies in “The Song of a Hundred Toads.” ‘
Does heavy metal scare you? It doesn’t scare Mia but she’s not the biggest fan, especially of Metallica. Two albums by the Finnish cello quartet Apocalyptica changed her mind. How so? ‘Heavy metal traditionally lends itself to images of anger, sexual abandon, and general debauchery. Apocalyptica strips the anger from the music, but leaves the darkness. If heavy metal is lusty, Apocalyptica is erotic. If heavy metal is cold malt liquor and busty bikini clad blondes, Apocalyptica is dark porter and absinthe and kohl-eyed velvet-cloaked sorceresses.’
Jack got all worked up about a cache of bootlegs by The Doors that he stumbled upon, and cranked out a review of his favorite album of theirs, The Best of The Doors. ‘I could rave as I’ve been known to do for hours about this CD, but why bother? Go get it, play it loud, and savour a truly amazing blues influenced band that still rocks. You’ll have have a frelling good time, or, well, don’t blame me as you obviously are lacking in your musical tastes!’
Our What Not is a matter of a very special pumpkin as Denise tells about the Folkmanis’ Mouse in a Pumpkin puppet: ‘All hail the spice! Pumpkin everything is the rule of the day this time of year, and I’m all for it. Give me my pumpkin donuts, pumpkin pies, spicy roasted pumpkin, and pumpkin crumble. And okay, a PSL or two while we’re at it, though I’m more a Chestnut Praline Latte gal myself. So when Folkmanis decided to indulge my love of the orange squash, my grabby hands eagerly shot out. And I’ve been snuggling with this adorable puppet ever since.’
I forgotten that Paul Brandon had sent us music by Rambling House, one of his bands. So here’s ‘Out in the Ocean’, a jig and a reel he wrote for them. Nice late Autumnal music, isn’t it?