Autodidact: self-taught

Dec
19
2013

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

by V. L. Craven

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

If you’re not a huge fan of Christmas films then  Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale  may be the sort of thing you can stand. It’s about the real Santa Claus, who was from Finland and was captured by angry villagers (he kept killing the naughty children because Old Saint Nick used to take the ‘naughty’ part of ‘naughty or nice’ hella serious.) Once captured he was frozen and buried in a mountain.

In the present day, some Americans come along and get him out to bring him back to the States because America. This goes about as well as you’d imagine.

Three reindeer hunters go after their source of income only to find something else has got to it first. One of the hunter’s sons, Pietari, knows what’s going on, but no one listens to him because he’s a kid and because adults. Once the bizarre occurrences begin piling up (all of the radiators have been stolen for one), Pietari’s father takes him more seriously. He’s the one who has to save Christmas, by dealing with the real Santa Claus. And the real Santa Claus don’t play.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Pictured: Not. Playing.

Based and filmed in breath-taking Korvatunturi  in Finland, the setting is a character in itself. And for good reason. From the Wikipedia page:

Korvatunturi is best known as the home of  Father Christmas  (or  Joulupukki  in Finnish). According to Finnish Folklore, this land is the location of Father Christmas’ secret workshop, where toys, trinkets and gifts are made and eventually wrapped by  gnomes . Known for their good natured demeanor and their role as guardians of homes, these gnomes are also responsible for analysing weather patterns for the yearly gift-giving trip around the world.People have also said that the ear-shaped structure of the fell allows Father Christmas to hear the wishes of every child on Earth.

For post to Father Christmas Korvatunturi has postal code  99999 Korvatunturi , even though all post sent to this address will actually be carried to  Santa Claus Village  at  Rovaniemi .

So there you are. Google Earth didn’t need to go through the trouble of inventing Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, because it’s actually in Finland.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Still so incredibly Not. Playing.

Though there is definitely an overall sense of uncertainty of what’s going to happen, and kids are in danger at times, it’s still a Christmas film and it’s safe for kids to watch. Ten and over, I’d say, perhaps even eight and over. It is still darker than what American audiences are used to at the holidays, which is why I liked it (and I would have loved it as a child.)

If I had children, this would be a tradition in our house, definitely. Mostly because there are great moments of laugh out loud humour. At times, it’s only a few paces away from an Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost film. I’m usually against English-language remakes, but if it does happen, that’s the team that would make me grumble least. So you guys have at it.

Dec
15
2013

Plague Inc.

by V. L. Craven

Plague Inc.

Have you ever wanted to destroy the world? Of course you have–it’s the holiday season. But who has the time, really? Well, with Plague Inc , you can do people in in a variety of ways without getting off of your sofa! Or whilst riding public transport! Or whilst hiding from your relatives during enforced get-to-gethers!

The goal is the kill the entire world (which has 7 billion people in it) by evolving transmission routes and improving symptoms, as well as evolving resistance to cures once the scientists are onto you.

You start off with bacteria being unlocked and can unlock the other types by beating the game on two levels– of which there are three:

Casual: No one washes their hands; Doctors don’t work; Sick people are given hugs,
Normal: 67.3% people wash their hands; doctors work three days a week; Sick people are ignored
Brutal: Compulsive handwashing; Doctors never go home; Sick people are locked in prison

Plague Inc.

Then you name your plague (my husband and I always go with Stupidity) then you choose where you want to kick off the fun by tapping on the world map. It’s always a good idea to start in a poor country because, let’s face it, rich countries cure their problems quickly.

There are a couple extra viruses–the Necroa Virus that turns the dead into zombies and the Neurax Worm that takes over the host. Those get their own graphics and are just a blast.

Plague Inc.

I don’t even care about zombies and this was great

There are also extra scenarios. Oh, the extra scenarios. One of which is Mirror World, which make currently hot countries cold and cold places hot, rich becomes poor, etc. Which meant I got to kick off my plague in the States for once.

Plague Inc.

You also get the Black Plague, which was interesting to re-release on the modern world. Other real world diseases are Swine Flu and Smallpox, neither of which I’ve played yet.

Other extra scenarios included a mini Ice Age and Global Warming, which effect world-wide temperatures, impacting your plague; Who Cares and Xenophobia make it where countries don’t give a toss about what’s going on in other countries, whereas Created Equal and Golden Age are the opposite–everyone has great healthcare and takes care of everyone else. There are also a couple that impact transmission routes–by sea and air, so you have to pay attention and plan accordingly.

You can play all of the viruses in all of the scenarios on all of the levels so it will be a very long time before you tire of the game.

Anyway, once you’ve made all of those decisions, you start trying to infect people by evolving your transmission rates using DNA points. You collect those by tapping on orange and red bubbles that pop up indicating infection rates.

Plague Inc.

Plague Inc.

You can also evolve your symptoms, though these will often mutate of their own accord, if you focus on transmission rates. Handy.

Plague Inc.

Finally, those damn do-gooder scientists will eventually start trying to find a cure and you’ll need to head them off my making your plague drug resistant or impervious to heat or cold or likely to mutate its own DNA.

Plague Inc.

As you complete more levels, you unlock genes that you can apply to your beginning gene to give you an advantage, which is the only way I can imagine winning on a Brutal setting.

After a round ends, there are several graphs to view and see how things progressed. For example, once people contracted the Black Plague they pretty much died instantly. During gameplay it’s also interesting to see how air and water routes disperse difference types of plagues to different places.

Plague Inc is available from iTunes and Google Play for .99, which gets you Bacteria unlocked. The other main seven viruses shown above can be unlocked by beating two levels with bacteria. Other features can be unlocked for smaller amounts of money. But if you go for the $11 unlock, like I did, which gets you all of the plagues (including the Zombie and Neurax Worm), and the extra scenarios you get all future expansions for free.

One warning, this is one of those, ‘One more round… just one more… no really, one more…is that the sun coming up? How did that happen?’ games.

I would like to thank/curse Amelia Addams @batty_babe on Twitter for the recommendation. My productivity has dropped significantly since she’s recommended it. Cheers, darling!

Dec
12
2013

Becoming Santa

by V. L. Craven

Becoming Santa

No, you’re not on the wrong site. Do not adjust your monitor. This is a non-ironic, non-horror related post about Christmas. Just occasionally, something that would touch a Normal makes it through and gets me. Fear not, tis but a blip. But what a wonderful blip it is.

Becoming Santa  is a documentary about Jack Sanderson who decided to be Santa for one holiday season. He grew out his hair and beard and dyed it white then had a suit specially made. He attends  Santa School  to be certain he’s doing it right. That section is hilarious. A great portion of the documentary is laugh out loud funny. Sanderson himself is very personable and insightful (if you’ve ever wondered what Phillip Seymour Hoffman would look like as Santa, here’s your chance to find out.)

After the physical preparation, Sanderson takes various gigs (not jobs, because it’s all volunteer) on the Polar Express, and at a surprise (to him) tree lighting, and being a rock star in a parade. He even does a few ‘sneak and peeks’ where families have him put presents down and they wake up their kids to see Santa in the house.

Another big part of the film is the history of Santa Claus, which is presented by various authorities on the subject and is interspersed between sections of Sanderson’s transformation process and Santa gigs around the country. They even get into Black Pete  which somehow  still exists in 2013.

One of the authorities is Ernest Berger from Santa-America , which is a fantastic organisation that provides highly-trained, committed Santas for unhurried visits to children with autism or in hospice or in other complex circumstances. Check out their site. They do good work.

Another group that came up later was Letters to Santa , which takes all the letters in a certain city that arrive at the post office addressed to Santa and helps kids get the gifts they need. One child asked for a special needs wheelchair that cost $20,000, their family couldn’t afford it, but the organisation put an ad in the paper and the next day they had the chair for the child for Christmas. The group originated in New York, but several other cities participate now, as well. The link above will tell you how to help if your city has one or how to set one up where you live.

I genuinely enjoyed it. At the very end some onion cutting ninja broke in for a bit because it reminded me of being small. When you’re young enough to believe in Santa you’re also young enough to not see all the things wrong at home, and for me it was just before my brain chemistry went doolally. So he signifies happy ignorance (which is generally happy, but go with me). I miss that sometimes. The expression on some of those kids’ faces, man… they’ll remind you. They are looking at the embodiment of happiness, of sheer joy and it shows on their faces. And if you’ve experienced that for yourself it’s difficult not to relive it when watching Becoming Santa. The experience changed Sanderson more than he expected and it’s easy to see why and how that happened. It would have changed even me.

Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.

Dec
11
2013

Gifts for Geeks

by V. L. Craven

This post is for the geeky folks on your list. If you frequent this site, you probably have a bit of the geek about you, but if you found us through a search through your preferred search engine (welcome!) then have a gander at a selection of things that shall hopefully please the geeky someone(s) on your list.

Gifts for Geeks

Don’t, dang it!

Don’t Forget to Be Awesome Mug ($12) DFTBA.com. From the home of Nerdfighters, that bastion of geekitude, comes a mug that will remind you, in the face of those less geeky to not forget to be awesome. All the while providing you with your favoured beverage of choice.

Gifts for Geeks

BWHAHAHAHAHA!

Everything is Dead t-shirt , ($18 also on DFTBA.com) modelled by Emily Graslie from The Brain Scoop , which you should be watching. Why they don’t have something that says ‘It still has brains on it’ I don’t know, but they don’t. Still, ‘Everything is dead’ absolutely works for this site, I think. Nay, I know. Geeky and macabre. I like it.

Gifts for Geeks

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun is available from Amazon for $18. I’m not doing a separate review of this because I haven’t read it, but several friends of mine, whose judgement I trust, swear by it for getting kids engaged in the world around them. It’s 350 pages of how-tos, trivia, and all sorts of fun and useful things. Intended for ages 10-13, but I know some grownups who wouldn’t mind a copy. Ahem.

Gifts for Geeks

The Doctor Who TARDIS Tea Infuser $19.99 from ThinkGeek. It has the sonic screwdriver as the bit that dangles out of the cup. I mean, really.

ThinkGeek is a really good place to check in general (for the people who aren’t geeks) for the ones who are, you probably had the tab open before you came to this site. They have items from various fandoms, tools for geeks, exclusives to their site, things for kids, things for cube dwellers to personalise their workspaces…

Speaking of,

Gifts for Geeks

PixelBlocks available on Amazon (price varies). PixelBlocks are small, translucent blocks that can be used to create 2D or 3D sculptures. I have a set and they’re great fun. Like Lego, there are different size sets, so the prices vary based on how many pieces are in your set. Each one has suggestions for things you can make, but you can also design whatever you’d like.

Gifts for Geeks

And we’re back to the Noble Collection. I chose the Targaryen House Crest Wall Plaque  ($55) just because, you know. I needed a place holder for this entry. Right. Yeah. FIRE AND BLOOD.

Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes. The Noble Collection makes replicas and original pieces for franchises like Harry Potter (as mentioned in an earlier post ), Game of Thrones , Lord of the Rings , The Hobbit and The Dark Knight Rises . They have faithfully recreated prop replicas that are definitely not for play and will most definitely please ardent fans of shows and films.

Gifts for Geeks

Just showing you the quality of their work with this Targaryen Sigil Pendant , which happens to be $59. They also have pieces from other houses, in case you’re interested in those for some reason.

Gifts for Geeks

If you’re anything like me, you have multiple gadgets and you live in horror of one of them dying and you having to…shudder…converse with the people around you. Actually, if you’re anything like me, you never leave the house so you’re never more than eight feet from an electrical outlet, but I digress, The New Trent iGeek 11200mAh External Battery Charger for Smartphones and Tablets  is for the serious geek on-the-go. After its initial charge, it will hold it’s own charge for weeks, it can charge two devices at once, and it can charge a wide range of devices from phones (smart and dumb) to tablets to gaming devices. Check out the link for all of the info. The list price is $80, but Amazon generally has it for less (whilst writing this it was $61.92).

Gifts for Geeks

And if you want to be super cool and geeky and macabre and support the site all at once (look at you multitasking), you can get something from The Autodidact in the Attic’s Zazzle shop.

There are a few shirts and a hoodie and a couple stickers at the moment. A few other little things are in the works. If there’s something you’d like, let me know and I’ll whip it up for you.

My personal favourite thing is the Morph Mug, which is $23.95. I use mine nearly every day. It’s an excellent way to know if your tea has gone cold before you get that mouthful of the dreaded Cold Tea. There are a couple other, less expensive mugs in the shop that are equally nice, but the colour-change one is worth the extra bit for the coldness warning factor alone. Here is a video I made of it doing its thang.

Dec
06
2013

Interview with Christian Baloga

by V. L. Craven
Interview with Christian Baloga

Baloga signing at Barnes and Noble

Recently, I reviewed Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales by Christian Baloga and really enjoyed it. Today I’ve had the opportunity to chat with Christian about the stories.

Hi, Chris. First, I really enjoyed Wake the Wicked. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read it.

I’m so happy you enjoyed it! Thank you for your early interest in Wake the Wicked and your substantive, sincere, and thought-provoking review. It’s everything an author could wish for!

How long have you been writing and when did you realize you were interested in writing professionally?

I started crafting my own short story books and comic books sometime during early elementary school. I wrote, illustrated, and manufactured them out of inkjet paper, glue, magazine cut-outs, and staples.

I can remember the exact moment I realized I’d one day become a published author. It was after reading the last page from the book “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” by Alvin Schwartz. I was in third grade. My best friend at the time had just finished reading it. He saw my interest in the illustrations and passed it on to me. It’s wonderful how a simple gesture of kindness such as that could shape a person’s future. I’m so grateful.

Interview with Christian Baloga

You mention your interest in the illustrations–they’re changing those illustrations for the updated editions of the books. The publishers think they’re too frightening for children. What are your thoughts on that? Personally, when you look at things like Struwwelpeter or the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales, what kids see and hear today are pretty tame.

I was devastated to hear about the removal of Stephen Gammell’s illustrations. This is a prime example of why I chose not to publish traditionally. I couldn’t imagine being forced to alter my creative visions to please a few prudes.

Most of your stories involve animals and nature in some way–do you find animals and nature personally frightening?

I’ve spent my whole life surrounded by nature and animals and feel a deep connection to both. On a subconscious level, I imagine the involvment of these subjects stem from the old adage “Write what you know.”

What does scare you?

Seeing or hearing others suffer.

You switch pretty easily between male and female narrators–how do you decide the gender of your protagonist?

Apart from the characters based on real people, the decision of gender is completely intuitive. For each narrative, I let the characters channel through me. They come as they are.

Some of the stories (like the one about the twins) are reminiscent of J-horror. Are you a fan?

I’m thrilled that you noticed the nuances of J-horror in the book! Yes, I’m a fan. It’s my weakness.

Interview with Christian Baloga

Junji Ito

Who are some of your favourite J-horror authors or works and why? What would you recommend to people new to the genre?

Two of my favorite J-horror authors, Junji Ito and Junko Mizuno, both write and illustrate their own books and appeal to me in very different ways. I was drawn to Junji Ito’s work for its tenebrous eccentricity. The way he tells a story is downright haunting and unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

I was drawn to Junko Mizuno’s work for its unapologetic blend of psychedelic cuteness, gore, and eroticism. Her new versions of old fairy tales are hard to put down.

Above all, what I love most about these authors is their unmistakable courage to tell stories without compromising their artistic visions.

In addition to the authors above, for people who are new to the genre, I’d suggest watching “Demon City Shinjuku” and “Vampire Hunter D.” They’re both classics!

Wake the Wicked was self-published but it’s not obvious from looking at the paperback, which is unusual. What process did you take to have that done? The cover, especially is very high quality, which is often an indicator of a self-published book. Tell me about the cover art, as well.

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree specializing in graphic design. The skills I gained during college, in the workforce, and on my own were key to helping me design the cover.

I wanted the cover art to reflect the stories within. Instead of trying to jumble all thirteen tales into one cover, I focused on one story, “Ripped to Ribbons,” and one character, the vagrant. I borrowed my reluctant friend, applied special effects makeup and tortured him, I mean, photographed him for the cover jacket. He’s a great sport. I’m thankful.

Do you listen to music when you write?

Yes. I listen to instrumental movie soundtracks to help enhance my emotions when writing. In particular, Halloween soundtracks that foster fear, dread, and panic are my favorite to write to, as you can imagine.

What are you reading now or have read recently that you loved?

Right now I’m reading “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. I recently finished “Tales of Edgar Allan Poe.” Although I’ve read the stories in this collection before, this particular book incorporated illustrations I hadn’t seen. It’s amazing how these same stories can be enhanced or altered by adding visual elements.

Are there any other stories or novels in the works?

Yes, a novel is in development.

Any hints on what your novel is about?

Things are bound to change since I’m still outlining, but it’s a lighthearted-horror comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Horror-comedy is some of my favourite. I look forward to reading it. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!

My pleasure. I hope we can do this again!

 

Chris’ official website is here . You can also follow him on Twitter and check out his Facebook page Dancing with Death .

Dec
05
2013

Gifts for Grown Up Harry Potter Fans

by V. L. Craven

When I say ‘all ages’ I mean grown ups. The kids take care of themselves when shopping for Harry Potter stuff. But if you’re a bit older, you have to tone it down. Well, you don’t have to, but if you want to, here are some gifts you may like to get for other people. Not yourself, obviously. Ahem.

Gifts for Grown Up Harry Potter Fans

 

I Speak Parseltongue keychain from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter shop ($9.95)

When browsing that site you have to check each shop because, though some products overlap others, each has its own special products, as well.

 

Gifts for Grown Up Harry Potter Fans

Hogwarts houses jewellry by Tangled Charm on Etsy. The one above is the Slytherin Persian Star Chain , which I own–I’ve had it for several years and wear it every day and love it very much. It was $18 and it was worth every penny. The shop also has pieces about Sherlock Holmes, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, and Hunger Games. The offerings are a little sparse at the mo, but check out some previous sales and make a request to have something made specially.

Gifts for Grown Up Harry Potter Fans

Books Turn Muggles into Wizards by  Harry Potter Alliance at DFTBA. ($20) I don’t know how I didn’t know about the Harry Potter Alliance (endorsed by J.K. Rowling herself), but they’re an actual humanitarian group that fights for … well, humanitarian causes of all stripes. They have several items available at the Don’t Forget to Be Awesome shop and when you buy those items all proceeds go to the HPA.

Gifts for Grown Up Harry Potter Fans

 

Slytherin Tapestry Throw from the WBShop   ($39.95).  They also have Griffyndor and Hogwarts throws (sorry, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.) The WBShop is just a good place to browse in the first place. Besides several very nice long-bodied female cut t-shirts that actually fit someone with my shape (sakes alive!) they have several things from the always drool-worthy Noble Collection.

Speaking of…

The Noble collection has added beaucoup  wands and they have two deals. One is if you get a four wand case and the wands that go in it (you choose wands you’d like) you get the case for free for $114. The other is ten wands and a free case for $285. You can also purchase the cases separately if you already have wands you’d like to display for $39 and $59. Single wands vary in price from $28.50 to $39.50

Gifts for Grown Up Harry Potter Fans

Wands on display l-r: Death Eater, Narcissa Malfoy, Tonks, Death Eater, Mudungus Fletcher, Alecto Carrow, Death Eater, Rufus Scrimgeour, Voldemort, Prof. Horace Slughorn. I think whomever put that display together had a tattoo on their left arm, ifyouknowwhatImean.

The only thing that’s bothersome is Bellatrix’s. If you order hers separately it looks like this:

Gifts for Grown Up Harry Potter Fans

In other words: AWESOME

If you order it with the case, it looks like this:

Gifts for Grown Up Harry Potter Fans

In other words: LAME

I mean, I get it. The original wouldn’t fit in the case properly, but the second one could be a bit more badass… It’s just so… Anyway.

They also have things like Bellatrix’s dagger, which is $55.

Gifts for Grown Up Harry Potter Fans

And Lucius Malfoy’s pimp cane with hidden wand ($95)

Gifts for Grown Up Harry Potter Fans

I also dig the Dementor crystal ball ($65)

Gifts for Grown Up Harry Potter Fans

Really, I could spend all day on that site just staring at things. Even series I’m not interested in have the most gorgeous accoutrement.

If you know of any HP gifts for the adults, please leave a comment. If you received any sweet HP things for Hanukkah (or get anything for Christmas) please leave a comment and brag.

Dec
02
2013

Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales

by V. L. Craven

Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales

The holidays are approaching and you have to get something for that friend. You know… that one. The one who seems to like Hellraiser just a little too much, and has read every Stephen King novel at least twice. Your dread is two-fold. First, the prospect of leaving the house sends a chill down your spine and then, once out there, you’ll have to shop for one of the most difficult of friends–the well-read individual of the gothic bent. Sakes alive, but what are you to do?

Fear not, you needn’t leave the comfort of your home (or your office chair, depending where you’re reading this). For Christian Baloga’s Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales  is available online. It comes in several electronic formats (for Kindle, Nook, Apple devices, etc) as well as a very nice paperback.

But also! It’s quite good. Here’s why you should get it for that friend.

As advertised, there are thirteen stories. A couple quite short and a couple quite long. Most are inbetween. Some are supernatural in bent and others are more about the monsters within ourselves. The narrators are sometimes women, sometimes men. Sometimes gay, sometimes straight. Baloga does not tie himself down to one type of story or character. There are often twists, but those twists are unpredictable.

‘Poison Ivy’ is about how two people who belong together should never be parted. ‘Flesh Boots’, on the other hand, is what happens when you want nothing but to be left alone and you get your wish. ‘Psycho Pharm’ gives us an unusual view of the pharmaceutical industry. In ‘Tremble for Me’ social media is used as a tool of humiliation and what happens when that tool is used on the wrong person. ‘Birds of Prey’ and ‘Digging Deep’ are both about the intensity of a father’s love for a sick child and what that can do to the father’s sanity.

It’s difficult to choose one stand-out story. If pressed, ‘Ripped to Ribbons’ and ‘Savage Games’ would be my personal favourites, both of which reminded me of Ray Bradbury. ‘Ripped to Ribbons’ is about a woman who should have minded her own business and kept reading her book, but she stuck her nose where it didn’t belong, and … well… She should have kept reading her book.

‘Savage Games’ was the most accurate portrayal of the psychology of a nine or ten year old I’ve ever read. If the Bad Seed had skipped the tap lessons and become engrossed in video games this is who she would have been. Just beautifully rendered.

Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales

You *will* take me to the arcade. You *will* give me quarters.

As a sort of bonus, Corvids make appearances–for good or ill–in a few stories, which made me smile. Crows and ravens will always make me smile.

The only negatives were that thirteen, while a nice number for scary stories, is rather few for a collection– particularly when they’re well-written. I wanted more. There were also a few typos, but I’d say less than ten and I find more than that on the New York Times website in a week, so it’s difficult to be bothered by those in self or indie publishing anymore.

Wake the Wicked is a slim volume, so it’d be a great add-on gift for someone and it’s on sale–the ebook is 3.99 and the paperback is 7.99. Also, aesthetically, it’s fantastic. When it arrived, I had to smell it straightaway. The paper reminded me instantly of the R.L. Stine books I read as a teenager. The paperback has several illustrations by Baloga that the ebook does not have.

Overall, the stories are well-written, inventive and entertaining. I definitely recommend this one and look forward to anything Baloga has coming out in future. I hope to have an interview with him in the next few weeks, so look out for that.

 

 

[I was given a copy of this book for review purposes but was under no obligation to give it a positive review.]

 

Nov
29
2013

The Secret of Crickley Hall

by V. L. Craven

The Secret of Crickley Hall

The Secret of Crickley Hall is a three-part series about a family of five that loses the son, a boy of five. He simply disappears from a playground one day whilst with his mother. In an effort to mitigate the pain of the one year anniversary, they relocate from London to picturesque Crickley Hall in the north of England for a few months. The mother (Suranne Jones) has a psychic connection with her son, which ceased upon his disappearance, but resumes upon the family’s arrival at Crickley Hall. Amid the protests of her husband and at the physical and mental risk of her daughters–one of whom is Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones–she presses on, engaging the help of a local medium, looking for answers.

Interweaving with this story are the events of 1943 when orphans were evacuated from London during WWII to the Crickley Hall, which is run by the Cribbens, a pair of siblings of whom Dickens would be proud. They subscribe to the belief that deprivation and corporal punishment are the best inducements to learning. When a teacher, an orphan herself (played by Olivia Cooke from Bates Motel), comes up from London and protests the harsh treatment, she’s soon sent on her way, but vows to save the children. Even if it means risking her own life.

The stories become increasingly enmeshed, as the more time the family remains at Crickley Hall, the more the horrific occurrences of the past begin to haunt them, until a devastating confrontation between the past and the present.

The Secret of Crickley Hall

The series was based on the novel by James Herbert. I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of someone who’s read the book and seen the series. But as someone who’s only seen the show it was quite well done. There was one reveal I saw coming, but overall, the acting, direction, writing, etc were up to par for BBCOne. The pacing was particularly handled well, which can be difficult over several episodes of this sort of show. There were several moments during the final episode where I found myself holding my breath–the level of suspence was excellent.

I highly recommend this one for fans of ghost stories or stories well told in general.

Nov
19
2013

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

by V. L. Craven
Art

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme a.k.a. B. is a French artist currently living in the U.S. He works in a variety of media and combines them digitally to create ethereal yet dark images.

Deharme also does book covers and illustrations for authors like Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Philip K. Dick, and Terry Brooks.

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

Hellraiser cover by Deharme

The full piece looks like this:

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

This ain’t your mother’s Pinhead

Now for more of his work. Many of these come from his graphic novel Memories of Retrocity (Amazon only seems to have the French edition.)

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

Reverence

 

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

Concept Art

 

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

The Clock

 

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

The Absolute

 

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

The Dark Horse

 

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

The Deny

 

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

Ghost Train

 

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

Hecate

These two are illustrations for Legend of the Cryptids, which, if this is what their cards look like, I must start playing posthaste.

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

Death (Legend of the Cryptids)

 

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

Undead Queen (Legend of the Cryptids)

You can check him out on Google+ where he’s posted much of his work. (When I checked out his page 6,660 people had him in circles. I almost hated to mess up his number. Alas, it had to be done.)

His website is also a good place to go, which has hi-res versions of his latest work.

Hat tip to Red Lipstick on Tumblr. I have a Tumblr account, too, now. Because I know you like stalking me.

Nov
09
2013

Dead Men Do Tell Tales

by V. L. Craven

Dead Men Do Tell Tales

Recently, an online acquaintance suggested we begin exchanging books through the post. The first book she wanted to send was Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist by William R. Maples, PhD and William Browning. ‘And it has pictures too!’ she said. I promptly gave her my address (I’m typing this post two months later, so she wasn’t a homicidal maniac) and shortly thereafter the book arrived on my doorstep. (For those of you playing along at home, I sent her Execution by Geoffrey Abbott.)

Forensic anthropology (what Temperance Brennan does on Bones) has always been something of a passing interest of mine, but this was my first in-depth reading about the subject. The science hasn’t been around all that long and Maples has been a part of a good portion of it. Particularly interesting were chapters on cremation, the truly twisted Meeks-Jenning case, his involvement with identifying the Romanovs and his thoughts upon meeting Ted Bundy, but the book was full of wonderful information. Like this:

The instruments of murder are manifold as the unlimited human imagination. Apart from the obvious–shotguns, rifles, pistols, knives, hatches and axes–I have seen meat cleavers, machetes, ice picks, bayonets, hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, crowbars, prybars, two-by-fours, tree limbs, jack handles (which are not ‘tire irons’; nobody carries tire irons anymore), building blocks, crutches, artificial legs, brass bedposts, pipes, bricks, belts, neckties, pantyhose, ropes, bootlaces, towels and chains–all these things and more, used by human beings to dispatch fellow human beings into eternity. I have never seen a butler use a candelabrum! Such recherché elegance is apparently confided to England. I did see a pair of sneakers used to kill a woman, and they left distinctive tread marks where the murderer stepped on her throat and crushed the life from her. I have not seen an icicle used to stab someone, though it is said to be the perfect weapon, because it melts afterward. But I do know of a case in which a man was bludgeoned to death with a frozen ham.

Maples also talks about the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, which, at the time of writing, only had fourteen members, and they got together once a year. It sounded rather like a hair-raising hoot. One member would share slides of his most…eye-opening cases and the group would discuss historical problems like whether or not Van Gogh’s color imagery and style was a result of digitalis poisoning or what was the final body count of the legendary feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

During the annual meetings, prospective applicants had to undergo rigorous examinations including identifying bones. This involved members transporting skulls to and from the gatherings.

This requires some explanation, particularly at airports. I always make a point of telling the airline ticket agent just how many skulls I have with me in my luggage–not to shock her, but to make sure, in case the plane crashes, investigators will know why there were more skulls than passengers aboard. This is mere professional courtesy to my colleagues, who will have to pick through my remains in the event of an accident.

I can’t help picturing one of the members being late for a plane and not having time to explain what’s in his bag–the plane crashing and the forensics people being completely baffled with the extra bits and bobs everywhere. An extra Asian male tibia hither and an extra African female fibula yon will really mess up an incident report.

But I digress, I’ve taken loads of other notes, all of which will eventually appear over in the left sidebar under Sciences.

Dead Men Do Tell Tales was published in the mid 90s and I would love to know how the field has changed in the last twenty years. The beginning was a little slow and some of the case studies could drag a bit but overall it was an excellent introduction to forensic anthropology by someone who was there. The first-person account of identifying Tsar Nicholas II and his family is worth it if you find a used copy somewhere.

Nov
07
2013

Sleepy Hollow and Its Various Incarnations

by V. L. Craven
Sleepy Hollow and Its Various Incarnations

Ichabod Crane, Respectfully Dedicated to Washington Irving by William J Wilgus (1819-53)

There’s a new show based on Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. I was going to give it a miss, but then I found out they shoot it where I live and it’s always fun to play spot-the-location. My introduction was a cartoon, which I’ll get to, but I wanted to compare some of the adaptions (cartoon, film and TV series) and realised I hadn’t read the story. So that came first. It’s available from Gutenberg  for free.

Irving’s writing is incredibly atmospheric and he captures nature beautifully. The characters are two-dimensional, though, and not likeable–particularly the protagonist and his crush, Katrina van Tassel. Typical of a short story, there isn’t a great deal going on–the descriptions and atmosphere are the selling points. Oh, and prepare yourself for the casual racism. This was written in the early 1800s. It’s pretty minimal compared to other things I’ve read written during that time, but it’s still there. Be warned.

Sleepy Hollow and Its Various Incarnations

This was the only scene I remembered.

As mentioned, my introduction to the story was the Disney cartoon , made in 1949. Which, upon, re-viewing, was rather disappointing. My young mind had glossed over the romance, greed, and singing and paid sole attention to the spookier aspects like the headless horseman and chase through the woods. The singing, however, does happen in the story. In fact, the cartoon is holds very close to the source material. They leave out the racism, thankfully, and they cut down on the general spookiness, but overall it’s quite accurate.

What was odd was that I could have sworn there was a bit where Brom Bones and his friends had pulled the prank where they chased Crane, pretending to be the Horseman. Because I was expecting it in the Burton adaptation. I have a very clear memory of this happening. The way the brain works, wow.

Sleepy Hollow and Its Various Incarnations

‘I swear, I’d lose my head if it weren’t screwed on… DAMMIT’

Many years later (as in decades) Tim Burton remade the tale with a bunch of spectacular actors, including Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman. This will probably always be the definitive version for me because it’s Burton, whose aesthetic pleases me greatly, and because of the aforementioned cast. He changed…nearly everything. Except he made two very minor characters mentioned in passing in the story into important characters in the film.

Burton’s version is visually dark–it’s Burton, what do you want?–though the story happens in Autumn in New England when everything would have been reds and golds and oranges. Ichabod was, indeed, a wimp, so that remained the same, but Katrina became a witch (something that would carry over into the TV series), rather than the vacuous flirt from the story and cartoon and there was blood and a real horseman. Something that’s left up in the air in the story and cartoon.

Sleepy Hollow and Its Various Incarnations

Eventually spring will come to Sleepy Hollow…that won’t be spooky…

So then Fox announced they were making a television show called  Sleepy Hollow  and I was sceptical. How could they take a short story and make it into a series? But after reading this review  I decided to give it a shot and I’m glad I did.

The first two episodes were the set up and people getting to grips with their roles in the battle with the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The third episode felt like the first ‘real’ episode, if that makes sense. The one where they work out who a baddie is and take it down, Buffy-style. The entire show is very Buffy-like–dramatic and supernatural and occasionally laugh out loud funny. They’ve already renewed it for a second series, which I’m very glad to hear, particularly since our landlord’s daughter is now working on the show.

And I get to pretend I live in a city like Sunnydale, but I’m not one of the stupid people who gets killed on a regular basis. Seriously, that place must have had a ridiculously high death rate.

 

 

Oct
31
2013

The American Scream

by V. L. Craven

The American Scream

Each year in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, three houses are turned into Haunts, where average people make their own haunted attractions that draw in hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors. The American Scream is about those three households.

There’s the father of two who loves spooky DYI, but who didn’t get to celebrate Halloween growing up and who has, perhaps, overcompensated by going overboard every year in October. His decorations are incredible, his spirit contagious, his family supportive even when the stress of trying to make everything perfect begins to wear on him.

Then there’s the everyday Joe who just likes to have fun with it. If it looks good and it’s scary it works. He adds things each year, but doesn’t go crazy and doesn’t get too stressed out.

Then there’s…the third one. Which really has to be seen to be appreciated. There’s a ‘specialness’ about the third family that’s difficult to describe. It’s a man and his dad. And they have their own peculiar take on what’s frightening. And they are not wrong–their decorations are unsettling, but more in a, ‘Have I just stumbled into the backyard of a deranged individual,’ than, ‘Clearly, this is a haunted house made for my amusement,’ sort of way.

All three people do what they do because they love it. They look forward to October the way some people look forward to Christmas, a sentiment I can absolutely identify with.

The documentary itself is well done enough. It’s really about the people–there are some excellent, human moments. I highly recommend this one–it’s on Netflix, if that’s available to you. And if any of you have been to any of the houses I would love to hear your stories.

Oct
28
2013

An Interview with Artist Sam Guin

by V. L. Craven
An Interview with Artist Sam Guin

“The Face of Humanity” Left to right, Top Row “Slave II”, “Slave” Bottom Row “Matriarch”, “Savage”

Sam Guin is a North Carolina-based artist who works with a variety a media including pen and ink, paint and even bone. I recently had the opportunity to talk to him about his art. See more of his work on  his website.

The first thing of yours I saw was the ‘Savage’ mask, which incorporates bones and hemp. What was your inspiration for the series of masks and what were your favourite materials that you used?

The series itself was a result of the creation of the first mask, “Savage”. I wanted to create a mask that really showcased the animalistic nature of humanity, but in making the mask I came to the realization that it would be impossible to represent the many facets of such a complex animal in one piece (or several hundred for that matter) so I knew, even before the first one was completed, that this was just the beginning of a much larger undertaking.

Being at the place that I was at in my life the first mask ended up focusing on a more primal, aggressive side of humanity, a general representation of the “savage” that we spend so much effort trying to oppress. Subsequent masks have been representative of a sort of social hierarchy with themes such as “Matriarch” and “Slave”. I’m currently working on “Patriarch” and “Priest”.

As far as favorite materials, each mask has individual bones and pieces that I connect to in different ways, but I think that my favorite thing about them is that they are made of bones of animals that I have found and cleaned myself, therefore they are a direct representation of the environment in which they are made. Whitetail deer, Oppossum, Raccoon, Red Fox, and other native wildlife make up the bulk of the bones used in the mask, so whereas one might look at an African mask and see warthog tusks or antelope horns, my masks are full of fauna from the southeastern United States, and therefore have a sort of “Southern Primitive” look, invoking the woods and swamps that I grew up loving as a child, and am still fascinated by as an adult.

An Interview with Artist Sam Guin

This is a woman’s elbow. A woman who could kick your ass.

You’re also a tattoo artist. How long have you been doing that? Where are you working now? If people want to schedule an appointment with you, what’s the best way to get into contact?

I’m working at a shop in Clayton, NC called Fair Trade Tattooers . people can see some of my work on that page. Or my Facebook page as well. I’m also on Instagram @samguinart.

I’ve been tattooing for 11 years, and if people would like to schedule an appointment with me the best way to contact me is through samguinart@gmail.com or to call me (919) 359-2444 or come by the shop. Don’t try to contact me through Facebook for tattoo work, because unless you’re willing to make the effort to call the shop or contact me through my email I’m going to have hard time believing that you’re serious about it. About 90% of the communications that I get through Facebook regarding tattoos are people that are just messing around on Facebook and want to have a conversation about a tattoo. It completely ruins it for that other 10%, but if someone is serious about getting tattooed it takes less effort to pick up a phone and dial a number that someone has to answer than it does to type out a message that I may or may not receive in a timely manner.

An Interview with Artist Sam Guin

The Sick Walk Among Us

You work in so many media, when you have an idea for something, how do you decide if it’s going to be a painting or a pen and ink or a tattoo?

It really just depends on the piece. My art generally tends to explore the same themes, but different media allow me to express it in a different way, for example “Grown Together” and “Slave I” and “Slave II” are all explorations of not only our places in nature, but our relationships with each other and different dynamics within those relationships, but each piece has a different impact upon the viewer, and I think working in different media allows me to further explore these themes and more effectively express the different sides of them.

Tattooing is different, it’s the medium with which I have the least control over the subject because it is a collaboration between artist and collector. For the most part people come to me with an idea and then I kinda go from there and create a design for both of us, but there are some people who feel the need to have complete control over their tattoo design, and are just looking for someone to replicate their vision of a tattoo. this can make the process especially difficult, and if you’re one of those people that knows exactly what you want and how you want it then I’m probably not the tattoo artist for you.

An Interview with Artist Sam Guin

“Autumn Undressing” Acrylic on canvas

Speaking of many types of media–how did you get started in each one? Did one lead into another organically or were some types not allowing you to fully express what you were trying to with certain pieces, etc?

I’ve been drawing since I can remember, which is what eventually led me to explore other mediums. All mediums are limited in their own ways and I am always looking for new ways to express myself. As technology progresses there will always be new ways and products for the artist to use, but when I look back it it can all be brought back to a little kid with a pencil in his hand.

Your pen and ink drawings and masks are very based in the natural world (literally in the case of the masks). How does nature inspire your work, what’s your philosophy on that?

We are all a part of nature. As a society we try our hardest to distance ourselves from our natural origins. We would rather defy science and reason than admit that we evolved from “lesser” lifeforms. And we would rather seal ourselves in concrete vaults than face the idea of rotting and returning to nature. When I was kid I found solace in the woods, and to this day all the answers that I seek can be answered in nature. There is so much much beauty and wonder to be found in the natural world, and no matter how much concrete and steel we surround ourselves with we will always be animals, interacting with other animals. I could really ramble on and on about this one, so for the sake of keeping it simple I’ll just leave it at that.

An Interview with Artist Sam Guin

Garden Song

While on the subject of you pen and ink, which are mind-blowing in their detail–how long can they take? The time-lapse of Grown Together was eye-popping.  And what materials do you use? Types of paper, favoured pens and inks and so forth.

When I’m drawing I become so engrossed in the process that I lose track of time. One of the reasons I starting time lapsing myself working was so that I could have some sort of representation of the time that goes into each piece. I’m starting to increase the sizes of the pen and ink stuff now, so I can’t even begin to estimate the amount of time that will be involved with the larger stuff. The time lapse of “Grown Together II” starts with about a third to a half of the drawing finished (not including the underdrawing) and the time lapse itself represents about 8 hours of drawing time. All in all there’s probably about 20-30 hours in that one 16″x 20″ drawing.

Years ago when I first started really falling in love with pen and ink I used to use Pilot V5 and V7 ball point pens, but in subsequent years I’ve come to favor Illustration pens and pigment liners by brands such as Prismacolor and Micron. The variety of sizes and the consistency of the inks really appeals to me especially the smaller sizes like 01 and 005 for fine detail work. I’ve also been playing with using different colors of ink such as the Sepia tones in the first “Grown Together” and ink washes on top of some of the drawing as seen in “Garden Song”. Paper-wise I’ve been using Canson Illustration Board for the larger pen and ink stuff, and Watercolor Paper for some of the stuff that involves the washes. “Grown Together II” was originally going to have a series of washes over it, so I was drawn on watercolor paper.

Grown Together II Time lapse from Sam Guin on Vimeo .

You owned a gallery in Wilmington, NC called Wicked. What was the philosophy behind the gallery and why did it close?

My ex-wife and I started Wicked with the goal of helping emerging artists gain representation in a largely conservative art scene. What followed was definitely a two year learning experience in dealing with artists and attitudes towards art. There were several factors that led to its closing, but in the end I think we both just needed to move on. For the better part of the last year I was minimally involved in the gallery focusing instead on making art and more personal matters.

An Interview with Artist Sam Guin

The Grand Facade

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me–your work is incredible!

Oct
27
2013

Re-Do Music

by V. L. Craven
Re Do Music

Image from the Dark Woods Facebook Page.*

October has been my favourite month since I was old enough to have a favourite month. And this one has been wasted by a prolonged bout with anhedonia, as mentioned in yesterday’s post.

At any rate, I’m calling a Re-Do on October. November is the new October, people. Let’s do this.

To kick things off, here is my Halloween playlist on Spotify . The theme is Evil. You could call it a playlist to commit murder to.

Tracks include:
The American Horror Story Theme
‘Psycho Killer’ – Talking Heads
‘Sympathy for the Devil’ – Rolling Stones
‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ – Tori Amos cover
‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ – Blue Oyster Cult
‘Kiss the Goat’ – Electric Hellfire Club
‘The Garden of Allah’ – Don Henley

‘When You’re Evil’ by Voltaire

and ‘Murdering Oscar’ – Patterson Hood

Squirrel Nut Zippers’ ‘Hell’ is not available, but I’m including it here, because it should be.

And Draco & the Malfoys ‘Party Like You’re Evil’

Another playlist I’m enjoying working on is Autumn is Falling . It’s pretty trip-hop heavy–lots of Portishead, for example. But has loads of other things, as well.

Including:
Most of Tori Amos’ Under the Pink and selections from other albums
Selections from Baxter’s first album
Selections from How to Destroy Angel’s first release
Some Lamb
‘Becomes the Color’ – Emily Wells

‘The Funeral’ by Band of Horses

‘When I’m Small’ by Phantogram

And ‘Black Cat’ by Ladytron

I’ll leave you with a song they don’t have on Spotify, but should. The kick-ass live version of Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Black’.

*As mention in the caption, the photo at the top of the page is from the Dark Woods Facebook Page. If you like photos of forests that are spooky a good percentage of the time, give them a like.

Oct
26
2013

The Craft

by V. L. Craven

The Craft

Bookending this October’s media posts with Fairuza Balk. She grew up into a damn fine witch in The Craft.

When I saw this at the cinema as a teenager I was the only person in attendance and they’d put it in the smallest room so I pretended it was a private screening. I was heavily into my witchy-phase, so I was dressed similarly to Fairuza Balk. Though I didn’t have the funds for the wardrobe, I did my best.

Nancy was my favourite. She had a black noose in her locker.

The Craft

Her expression also sums up how I felt about school.

One of my fav scenes. Those boots. I eventually acquired a pair and they were not comfortable. I think I may have worked out why Nancy was so cranky. A nice pair of trainers may have helped her disposition.

I loved the way all of the girls dressed and, after seeing the film, tried to mimic them as much as possible, minus the Catholic skirts. I was not a short skirt person.

The soundtrack was one of those rare albums without a bad song on it. I listened to it constantly and still enjoy it. Jewel’s Under the Water was a particular fav. It’s probably the only song of hers I like. Here’s the entire album.

In the film, Portishead’s Scorn (a darker remix of Glory Box) is played, but didn’t make it onto the soundtrack. It’s a great song, though, so here it is:

This wraps up the October witchy posts. Thank you for bearing with me through the lack of other posts. I’m trying to get through this bout of anhedonia  and back to regularly scheduled posts.

 

BONUS!

The Craft

In the 90s Lifetime did a series of Intimate Portraits on famous and important women. One of my favourite episodes was the one on witches. It was narrated by Anjelica Huston. So…all the win.

Unfortunately, there’s only one version on the YouTube and it’s not available to embed, so here are the links.

Part one

Part two

Have a great rest of the weekend and Halloween!

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