Disturbing And Creepy Early Cinema Vintage Clips

Quick announcement: Bill and I are having a holiday at home, so after this post I shall see you in two weeks’ time.

Before the motion picture industry solidified in the 20s, The tens and 1890s were a period of gleeful experimentation, much like the advancement of YouTube from dramatic gophers to defined communities and vloggers.

From the cinéma vérité of the Lumière Brothers, the fantastical whimsy of Georges Méliès, the glamour and fun of Alice Guy-Blaché  and the innovation of the world’s first animators, everyone had something they wanted to test. Vaudeville stars of the Belle Epoque and big events were a natural draw, but sometimes events don’t go according to plan, vaudeville acts seem alien to modern eyes and other things… are just odd.

The Balancing Bluebottle/The Acrobatic Fly (F. Percy Smith, 1910)

I honestly felt sick after watching this. It’s fascinating though and I couldn’t look away. But…yeah I still felt sick.

A fly is glued to a matchstick by the wings, it’s strength tested by placing objects onto it’s flailing legs, one of the objects being a dead fly. Yep, it spins around the corpse of it’s brethren on frantic arthropodic feet. You know that shudder Bart does in the Simpsons…

Fish (Bert Williams, 1916)

This next one isn’t creepy so much as sad. Bert Williams wrote and directed two films, unheard of for a person of colour back then. However this two reeler is very light on humour and audiences had a hard time accepting him, as a 42 year old man, playing a boy. Added to the mix are parents played by white people in black face with incredibly poor comic timing and pathos that leaves the viewer depressed.

Bert was never able to reach his full ambition, stuck as he was in ‘black’ roles often in blackface. Friend and fellow vaudevillian WC Fields said “Bert Williams was the funniest man I ever saw and the saddest man I ever knew.”

On stage and in his other short he was a more subtle comedian. After the disappointment of Fish he returned to live performances.

Death jump from the Eiffel Tower, 1912

On the 4th February, 1912, Franz Reichelt was scheduled to test his homemade parachute by jumping from a great height. Nobody in the watching crowd or French and British media thought to tell him it was a bad idea and off he went, falling from the tower to his unfortunate death.

The Dancing Pig (1907)

The internet is quite familiar with a small section of this vaudeville performance, namely the titular pig gurning grotesquely at the end. The rest is pretty darn odd too, involving public humiliation and torment. All in good fun though.

The Cameraman’s Revenge (Wladislaw Starewicz, 1912)

Perhaps it’s my phobia of dead bugs (live ones I’m fine with though, no idea why) that leads me to find this film so shudder inducing. It’s a shame because this satire by the Polish, Russian and French stop motion animator is really incredible.

The cast of deceased insects perform an operatic melodrama of betrayed love and revenge in a mischievous swipe at popular theatre.

Monkeyshines 1, 2 and 3 (Thomas Edison, 1889 – 1890)

These ghosts from the past were captured during Edison’s first attempts to record image on film.

The Consequences of Feminism (Alice Guy-Blaché, 1906)

Either this film is meant to show the absurdity of men who protested against the suffragette movement or it’s an indictment of what could happen if allowed to continue. Seeing as Alice was a filmmaker herself I’d prefer to believe the former, but we just don’t know.

The Inferno ( Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan and Giuseppe de Liguoro, 1911)

This ambitious project was one of the first feature length films ever made (the first being The Kelly Gang, 1906). It’s packed with disturbing imagery from cannibalism to tortured souls and remains hauntingly fascinating to this day.

Witch Trials, Hysterical Nuns And Not Haunted Houses: Horror Nonfiction Bizarre Book Club

Good morning my little cups of fiery chai, I’ve been reading some very interesting books lately.

I’m drawn to the myths of ghosts, black magic, the Devil and other spooky things, but what I really love is clearing the fog of legend and finding what’s really underneath. To me the truth behind a haunting is infinitely more interesting than the initial stories, though I respect believers of the paranormal and would never make fun of them. Each to their own.

All three of these books take incidents or places that have been imbued with supernatural meaning and show us the ‘truth.’

1. Witchfinders by Malcolm Gaskill

The story of Matthew Hopkins, the self-titled ‘Witchfinder General,’ is quite close to my heart as I live in Essex and his numerous victims were held in a castle not far from me. Witchfinders painstakingly recounts the journey he took through Essex and Suffolk, whipping the people into a frenzy of blame and fear, and on through the trials and executions themselves.

The concept of witch-hunting in the magical sense seems alien to us now but Malcolm Gaskill does a great job of explaining the world of magic people lived in and how the uncertainty of the Civil War affected them. The thorough research helped me to better understand what might have been going through the minds of each player, even Matthew Hopkins himself.

2. Ghostland by Colin Dickey

This is a fascinating tour through the most mythologised houses, hotels, hospitals and even cities of America. Drawn to the ghosts, he strips back the stories and locates the factual accounts. If it sounds like he’s made them boring, trust me, he hasn’t.

One example is the famous Winchester Mystery House, long believed to have been created by a widow half mad with loss and guilt over the deaths of her husband and the victims of the gun he created, building endlessly to confuse any spirits seeking revenge. But, fantastically, the tale everyone including myself assumed to be fact isn’t, and this is only one of the little surprises in its pages.

This quote sums it up very well: “More than just simple urban legends and campfire tales, ghost stories reveal the contours of our anxieties, the nature of our collective fears and desires, the things we can’t talk about in any other way. The past we’re most afraid to speak aloud of in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.”

3. The Devils Of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

You might recognise the story of Grandier, the French priest whom women loved, men hated and burned as a witch after nuns became hysterical, from the Ken Russell film The Devils (1971). You may also recognise it’s author as the infamous psychonaut and writer of The Doors of Perception.

Where the two previous books are distantly fascinated and relatively dispassionate, Aldous Huxley’s philosophy and personality runs strongly throughout. Normally I wouldn’t like this, but he’s so well read and intelligent that it doesn’t matter.

It gives the story an air of being told by someone who knew the people personally, who smelled the horrible smells of seventeenth century France and had befriended Grandier, in spite and because of his complexities and contradictions.
Mass hysteria is a fascination of mine and anything that can go some way towards explaining it or recreating it in my mind is a definite winner.

5 Bizarre, Freakish And Surreal Animation YouTube Channels (And One Trailer)

It’s probably no secret by now that I love YouTube, I watch it more than TV. So many artistic and weird things can be found that would never previously have seen the light of day outside of a few old tapes passed from hand to hand.

So I thought I’d share with you some channels entirely devoted to bizarre, freakish or otherwise surreal animations, the kind that shows you the real odd side of YouTube. I’m guessing most people know of Cyriak, David Firth and Rachel Maclean so I picked the smaller ones lurking below the surface.

Also, last night, my boyfriend Bill uploaded the trailer to an upcoming animation of his. It’s brilliantly absurdist and dark, I’m very proud of him, and I can’t wait for you to see the whole thing.

Door – Trailer by Bill Purnell.

OK, first up is Colin Raff. All his animations are roughly a minute long and they’re a little Max Ernst, a little Monty Python, and very peculiar.

Supercriminal Pregnant Pink Surprise Eggs Fun in Real Life by Colin Raff

Next up is someone whose blog I’ve been visiting on and off for a few months, and recently discovered their YouTube channel. They’re videos are mainly surreal landscapes with jolly music, or a clip of a road or beach with some kind of animated layer on the top.

Pestle Ham by Megaeggz

Gmcfosho hasn’t uploaded anything for a few years but his parody rap videos make me chuckle. With lyrics like “Fresh up out the water like a amphibian, I’m so fresh that I got a Aunt Vivian,” and rudimentary animations he’s entertainingly daft.

COMEUPOUTDAWAHTA by gmcfosho

ProudNothing sometimes likes to throw a bit of humour and social commentary into his mind melting weirdness.

Snapchat Simulator by ProudNothing

Wendy Vainity, or madcatlady, says “I am just a hobby animation software user using ready made content, just having fun on my computer and sharing.” Thanks, Wendy!

Viral Vacuum by madcatlady

Guest Post: Tommy Wiseau, Goat Simulator and Rewinding Time: Weirdest Indie Games Pt. 2

Welcome back to the second and final part of our weird game experience, here’s Part 1. Today’s words are brought to you by the talented Angie Hewitt. Follow her on Twitter and watch her on Twitch. Enjoy!

roomgamehed

Last time, I wrote about some of the weirder or less mainstream gaming experiences out there. My hope is to broaden people’s definition of what computer games are and can be. We are entering the brave new world of Virtual Reality (a post for another time), but it’s still worth noting that there are plenty of games already available which can offer players something different.

Life is Strange

LiS is another narrative-driven game, but this one is episodic. Episodic means releasing games in short segments, putting out “chapters” periodically. It’s a format that’s been used before by studios such as Telltale Games (with beloved older titles like Sam & Max), and increasingly popular in games such as Hitman, Tales of the Borderlands, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, Minecraft Storymode and The Walking Dead.

Back to LiS: you play Maxine, an awkward girl who’s studying photography and trying to fit in at a new school. Whilst witnessing a violent crime, Maxine discovers she is able to rewind time to a certain point, to remake decisions and to change the future. As with most episodic games, the decisions you make mean something and will lead to different slightly outcomes, so be careful which path you choose. Whilst one course of action may seem like the right one, it can have unintended and tragic consequences, especially when you can only rewind time so far.

It’s an interactive drama which had been lauded for its emotional impact. It’s also been mocked, too, with some critics labeling it “Tumblr: the game.” This is because the game deals with some complex themes, including identity and depression. Oh, and the two main characters are female, so of course it’s been dismissed as a SJW (social justice warrior) game.

I haven’t played through the whole thing myself yet, but I plan to, and I already know a few spoilers. I’ve read reviews where critics have been bereft by a choice you must make in the game, so be prepared.

Also, one of the characters says “hella” an ungodly amount of times in the first episode, so consider yourself warned.

The Room (the game)

No, not one of the many mobile games where you must try to escape a puzzle-locked room. This The Room is an unofficial tribute to the movie of the same name.

The Room is a playable version of the cult film The Room. Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed and starred (as Johnny) in one of the most unintentionally funny films ever made. It gained notoriety for its terrible acting and odd story choices. Characters appear and disappear at random (often because actors were walking off the set in despair), the dialogue was horrific (anyone for a scene where a character tells a story about domestic violence, which is then dismissed as an amusing anecdote?!), and the plot made no fucking sense. What little plot there is depicts Johnny as a victim, loved by everyone except his manipulative fiancee, Lisa, who makes his life hell. It very much seems like Tommy was dumped in real life and decided to make a movie out of spite. They’re actually creating a film about the surreal and terrible making of The Room, which I am absolutely watching.

In the game, you play Johnny, reenacting the scenes from the film. However, there is original material as well which gives the story an actual, coherent plot, something the film failed to achieve. There are secrets to be discovered (such as what the hell creepy Denny actually keeps in his room), which make this fresh and interesting, despite how many times you’ve endured the movie.

It’s a charming and amusing game experience which will probably be a lot funnier if you’ve actually watched The Room. If nothing else, the sight of a naked 8-bit Tommy Wiseau should be enough to tempt/horrify you. The game is free to play online.

The Stanley Parable

This is one game I haven’t played, but mostly because I’m terrified to do so. It’s another interactive fiction, exploration game (are you sensing that I have a preference here?), but it’s much more open than most. You play Stanley, an office worker, whose computer suddenly goes blank. You get up to find help, but there is no one around. A narrator explains parts of your situation, but the story is decided by you. Or not. It’s complicated.

There are six different endings in total and which one you end up with is determined by the choices you make. Where a choice is possible (e.g. go through the left door, or the right one), the narrator will tell you which one you should pick. However, it’s up to you to decide whether you follow his advice or go against him. Or you may not make a choice at all.

From the gameplay I’ve seen, The Stanley Parable is a surreal and inventive take on interactive fiction; one critic likened it to Being John Malkovic. Davey Wresden, one of these game’s designers and writers, wanted to create a game where the player had the ability to choose, unlike other games which had a set of rules about your destination and how you should get there. The reason the game terrifies me is that a) I’m a wuss (ask Madeleine – she will testify that I spend most horror films hiding behind a cushion) (EDIT: This is true, and yes we torment her – Madeleine) and b) the surreal landscape of the gameplay that I have seen has been somewhat unnerving.

If you want something more than “press X not to die” in your interactive fiction, this is an interesting start.

Reigns

This is the only mobile game on the list, but it’s so very different from your everyday Candy Crush imitators and Farmville clones.

Reigns employs a mechanic more typically seen in Tinder: swiping left or right. You play a king, and the aim of the game is to achieve a longer and longer reign through various incarnations. To do this, you are offered choices to determine the fate of your kingdom and, eventually, you. You must maintain and balance four elements: the Army, the Church, the People and the Treasury. Nearly every choice you make has some impact, but you can only choose Yes or No by swiping left or right. Do you want to heal the people? Great! The People will be very happy, but, ah, the Treasury is going into the red because you’ve had to spend money to build hospitals. Keep one element happy and you’ll do well, adding years onto your reign, but what benefits one can weaken the others.

Trying to ensure no element is too weak (the Treasury is bankrupt! The kingdom revolts and you die in a ditch!) or, conversely, too strong and well-off (the Treasury is full! You eat a sumptuous feast to celebrate and die from choking on a fishbone!) is a difficult task to manage.

However, you will die; that’s inevitable. Once you do, you start again, sometimes with different goals to achieve and choices to make: you can meet the Devil, follow the dog, uncover the conspiracy, find a lover, employ a witch, and so on. After multiple playthroughs you will notice some repetition, but this is part of the game: it’s all about learning from past mistakes and trying to be a better king, all whilst trying to unlock different endings. It costs a couple of quid, but well worth it for the amount of time sunk into it.

Farming Simulator and Goat Simulator

Oh god, these games. OK, so I’ve talked about dating sim games (Hatoful Boyfriend: forever in my heart), but a new genre of simulators had been gaining popularity in recent years.

The strangely successful Farming Simulator and Euro Truck Simulator 2 (where you are literally carrying out realistic farming and driving jobs in a computer game) may seem an odd way to spend your evenings, but there’s an audience for it. Just go on Steam right now and you’ll see cooking simulation, train simulation and plane simulation games aplenty. This popularity is either because the games are often meant to mimic real-life tasks closely (and thus almost act like training), or because some people just really, really like relaxing by taking a tractor around a computer-generated field.

Farming Simulator had sold over four million copies so far, and counting. Bear in mind that Destiny, a game with a massive launch and studio behind it, has 25 million users worldwide: in context, this weirdly specific Farming Simulator game has achieved nearly a fifth of the same amount of users. And their game is literally about carrying out farming chores.

Goat Simulator is a different take on the simulator experience. You play a goat. Your aim is to create mayhem. Using your oddly elastic tongue, you have challenges to compete, and damage to wreak. In one playthrough I found, the YouTuber had managed to get the goat to chill out on the top of a hang-glider, whilst another persisted in just throwing people around the map.

It’s very, very stupid and is intended as a humorous diversion. Goat Simulator is fun to play for a while, but it’s not exactly got a compelling plot to hook you. Be warned: this game is reputedly buggy as hell, which is conversely one of the reasons people love it; more often than not, they’re trying to break the game and glitch the goat character in the silliest way possible.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and some of the games have been out for a while. If you really want to explore insure gaming further, itch.io is a site focused on sharing indie games, games which can be very experimental (the previously featured Succulent being one of them). Some of these games are free or pay what you want, but if you’re unsure whether they’re worth it, check out YouTube to see if anyone has done a Let’s Play, just so you can see whether it’s to your taste or not.

Happy gaming!

Guest Post: Story-telling, dating pigeons and homoeroticism: weirdest indie computer games Pt. 1

Today’s words are brought to you by the talented Angie Hewitt. Follow her on Twitter and watch her on Twitch. Enjoy!

hatoful-boyfriend

Think of computer games, and what comes to mind? Call of Duty, Super Mario, or World of Warcraft? These sorts of big studio titles are well-known, but gaming has always had an indie side. Efforts have been made to unite the two: the highly anticipated No Man’s Sky promised to be the first big budget game with an indie aesthetic and endless exploration. However, the mixed reviews reveal the inevitable disappointment that comes with a hype-culture, a world where zealous fans send death threats to journalists for the crime of reporting a delayed release date.

Despite the industry’s problems, I enjoy playing games; I recently did a 24 hour game marathon for charity, and was lucky enough to have some strange titles to choose from, all on my console. Indie gaming has become a popular business, and part of this may be down to consumer boredom with the same old narratives in more mainstream games. It could also come from platforms like Steam Greenlight, where you can tout a game in the hope people will like what they see and vote for it to be made and released. There’s some utter dross out there, too, and more than a little controversy about a lack of quality control; however, there seem to be more games than ever trying to capture the weary audience’s attention or, better yet, a YouTuber looking for something weird to play.

YouTubers have been doing Let’s Play videos for years and increasingly search the fringe for something original. It pays to stand out when surrounded by clones of Uncharted or Fallout. For those unfamiliar with Let’s Plays, the premise is simple: a YouTuber captures footage of them playing a computer game, often with voiceover and on-screen video of their reactions. For the uninitiated, it may sound odd to derive enjoyment from watching someone else play a game, but many tune in for the YouTuber’s entertaining commentary. Don’t knock it:  PewDiePie makes quite a good living from his unique style of play, with a reported net worth of $12 million.

If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten track, here are a handful of games which aim to deliver something different, even if that means not being to everyone’s taste…

Succulent

I could write an entire post about Robert Yang’s games, and perhaps, God-willing, one day I shall. Yang is one of the most interesting creative minds to come out of the games industry in recent years. Whilst at first glance his games seem silly or merely titillating, they often have a deeper meaning. Hurt Me Plenty, for example, may just look like a game where you spank a dude, but it slowly reveals itself to be a thought-provoking take on consent.

Succulent is intended as a parody of ‘homo hop’, and the idea that male gay bodies should all conform to a certain type (toned, white, abs for days). The gameplay is simple: “Castro clone” stands before you, an ice lolly in his mouth. Your job is to move the lolly around as he sucks on it. That’s it. Oh, and then the guy also consumes other… things. Play the game and then check out Yang’s blog for an insight into his thought processes (don’t read before playing as it contains ending spoilers!!!). Succulent is available to download for pay what you want.

Virginia and Gone Home

One of the most recent releases on this list, Virginia is part of a sub-genre of gaming often referred to as exploration games, sometimes less charitably called ‘walking simulators’. They are usually short (around 2 hours long), with minimal action required (press X here, walk there), and the focus is on the narrative. Virginia is a prime example of this. You are an FBI agent in the 1990s, sent to a little U.S. town to solve a missing persons case. However, you have your own secrets to reveal, and they’re not always pleasant ones. The twist? There is no dialogue throughout the entire story, and part of the joy is working out what the hell is going on. The game reminded me of Twin Peaks with its dream sequences, and there was more than a sly nod at an X Files influence. Play it if you can; it’s definitely an interesting experience.

A quick shoutout to Gone Home as well – another game set in the 90s, your role is to walk around your childhood home and uncover the mysteries within your family. Unlike Virginia, it has dialogue provided through diaries, letters, phone messages and voice recordings. This interactive story takes time to build characters, making you care about this supposedly everyday family before you even realise it’s happening.

Though your main task is to find out what’s happened to your little sister, the father was a surprise: he proved to be a more subtle and rewarding character than initially presented. You won’t necessarily get all the subtext straightaway, but clues about the father’s past, and what drives him, are peppered throughout.

Hatoful Boyfriend

From one unique experience to another…

Hatoful Boyfriend is based around the visual novel genre popular in Japan. Again narrative-focused, it’s more like watching a story unfold based on your choices. However, there are multiple endings (HB has about 14) and the point is to play through the game again and again, making different decisions to unlock the different outcomes. These kinds of games are usually dating sims, where you’re trying to pick which boy or girl to romance.

Hatoful Boyfriend takes the idea of the dating sim and puts a new spin on it. For reasons neither Jesse Cox nor I understood, you are a human girl at a school for birds. Yes. You are trying to romance birds. Talking birds, no less, ranging from a puffy aristocrat, to a deranged athlete obsessed with pudding.

Don’t ask why because it will not tell you, at least, not at first. The storylines are often bizarre and surprising; if you don’t make the correct choices, a ninja comes to murder you in the night, meaning you have to start all over. However, stick with it: a strange narrative emerges. You get a glimpse of this during a sequence where you’re travelling. There is meant to be a section unlocked if you successfully romance the ‘bad boy’ characters (helpfully called the ‘Bad Boy’ storyline), which reveals how the world came to be in this state. I’ve yet to complete it, but God speed, pigeon fanciers!

Journey

Another exploration game of sorts, Journey stole my breath away. It is, visually, one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. You are a traveller on a journey, with the ability to flutter along the wind. As you fly around, music soars as well, creating a sense of joy and adventure.

The puzzles are interesting, though may not be challenging enough for some, especially as other, silent players will show up to demonstrate what to do next. That’s fine, though; it just means you get to spend more time appreciating the style and feel of the desert world. It is one of the most relaxing games I’ve ever played, and thoroughly charming. At less than a tenner, it’s well worth your time.

Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015

Not a game I’ve personally played, but one I’ve watched, SWYDS (because I’m not typing that out every time) is a fast-paced arcade game which sounds creepier than it is. The idea is simple: some 8-bit dads and sons are at a swimming pool (I guess?), but the sons are lost. You must guide and match the right son up to their dad and… yeah.

A somewhat subversive take on quick-reaction games, there’s a healthy sprinkling of dad jokes in here and reviewers have said it’s highly addictive as the difficulty increases. SWYDS is going for 79p on Steam at the moment, which sounds like a bargain to me.

The Bunker

Horror games are a staple of YouTube Let’s Plays, where players get to demonstrate their reactions to jump scares and creepiness for the audience’s viewing pleasure. The Bunker had proven a popular choice, partly for its horror storyline, but also for its visual style.

The Bunker is a psychological horror, and a fairly bleak one. Harking back to the 90s, this is a FMV game (i.e. based around filmed video, where clips play after buttons have been pressed and choices made). You guide John, a man who has grown up in a bunker after a strongly implied nuclear disaster has taken place. Now an adult and the only survivor, he’s all alone…right?

I enjoyed this whilst I played it, even if the gameplay did feel more like an interactive movie. The writing is solid and the central performance of Adam Brown as John is outstanding, looking perpetually like a lost schoolboy with too many secrets. The tense, claustrophobic atmosphere ramps up as things go wrong, and you start to wonder exactly what John has seen, or done.

That’s part 1 for now. In part 2, I’ll be looking at Reigns, The Stanley Parable, Life is Strange, The Room (a game based on the infamous cult film) and Goat Simulator.

Cannibalism, Starvation And OJ Simpson – Bizarre Book Club True Crime Special

Hello my little packets of single use HP Sauce! Welcome to another round of stuff I’ve read.

I love true crime books, the weirder the better. An honorary mention goes to Amelia Dyer and the Baby Farm Murders by Angela Buckley. Although the murder of infants is abhorrent it’s not quite odd enough to make the list. Fascinating book though and meticulously researched. starvation-heights

Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen. The Victorian era was obsessed with fad diets and peculiar cures, and none were odder or more sinister than Starvation Heights.

Claire and Dora Williamson were two misguided upper class sisters, believing a trip to Linda Burfield Hazzard’s isolated ‘health farm’ in the Pacific Northwest will do them the world of good. It didn’t and that’s an understatement. We follow them from hopeful, rather naive beginnings to madness, starvation and desperation, as they blindly follow Linda’s prescribed diet of a few peas and sips of broth while signing away all their worldly goods.

Written in a novelesque manner (is that a word? It is now), I occasionally wished Gregg would hold back his tendency for poetry and just state the facts. However it’s absorbing, bizarre and deeply sinister, and you can’t help being fearful for the two women.

The Law’s Strangest Cases by Peter Seddon. I love this book so much. OK, the laws-strangest-casesauthor’s sense of humour is occasionally annoying, but only very occasionally – most of the time it works or he keeps it to himself.

The cases are mind boggling (I never thought I’d use that term, yet here we are) stretching from the beginning of law to the late nineties, including the shipmates of cabin boy Richard Parker who was feasted on while adrift at sea. Bizarrely it doesn’t mention the novel of Edgar Allen Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket: a cabin boy named Richard Parker was eaten by his shipmates while adrift at sea – and it was written forty-five years previously. Life of Pi author Yann Martel was no doubt aware of this fact when he named his Bengal tiger Richard Parker.

Other fascinating moments include the gruesome origin of the phrase ‘Sweet Fanny Adams,’ a parrot whose screeches proved a mitigating factor and a man whose solution to annoying visiting relatives was to SET THE HOUSE ON FIRE.

If I Did It by OJ Simpson. OK, I want to make a couple of things clear: I didn’t pay for this book, I downloaded it. I’m sure that will infuriate some people but I didn’t want to give out any money for it, I would have felt dirty. I also couldn’t finish it – if you could throw a kindle book across the room I would have done.

He’s really not a very nice man. The entire thing is a litany of excuses and misdirection – I’m a great guy, I was married to a crazy person, I never called her fat when she had a baby she was the one making my life hell about it, I was understandably angry when she made friends I didn’t approve of and she was embarrassed after calling the cops on me because she realised it was over nothing, on and on and on.

Part of the reason I wanted to read it was morbid curiosity – I was in an abusive relationship for a few months and in order to stop me pressing charges he turned the whole thing on me, something OJ seems very adept at. In fact, even writing about this makes me feel a bit sick, so I think we should stop it there. Don’t buy this book.

The Girl In Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower by Robert Graysmith. Who was the girl wegirl-in-alfred-hitchcocks-shower saw nude in the shower scene? It wasn’t Janet Leigh. What happened to her afterwards? It turns out she was murdered by a man in 1988 bearing an uncanny resemblance to Norman Bates…or was she?

You’d be right to be confused. The answers lie in this book which I mostly found fascinating, and yet I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I skipped sections. Most people’s complaints with this book, by the author of Zodiac, was that it took so long to get to the actual murder. However I love films and read it more as a biography of a fascinating lady who not only secretly starred in Hitchcock’s movie but posed for art, became a playboy bunny and danced as a showgirl. Despite this there are still moments when it takes too long to get to a point, maybe lingers on a particular scene too long. I did like it though and I do recommend it.

The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton and Other Singular Tales From the Victorian Press by Jeremy Clay. This is a fun read. The stories are short and odd, a bit like me. Admittedly not all are crime, but as they’re all from the papers a large amount are.

Example headlines: Wife Driven Mad by Husband Tickling Feet, Liberals Eat Dog, Killed by a Drunken Bear and Bound In His Own Skin.

Come on now, you know you want to read that.

Farewell my little houseplants of an unidentified variety, see you next week!

 

My Top 6 Creepy, Weird Or Scary Serial And Fiction Podcasts

Hello my little flower seed packets surreptitiously passed to Poirot as a clue to be deciphered later. Here in the future there are so many ways to experience fiction that words leak from our every orifices. One of the ways I’ve been mainlining fiction is via podcasts, and thanks to all those who alerted me to these particular gems.

What works so well about the fictional casts is the blending of fact and fiction, echoing Orson Welles’ fifties radio version of War of the Worlds where the first section was presented as a genuine news reel. Also taken from the past is the serial format, reflecting the stories Dickens and many others wrote for newspapers.

I’m going to assume you know of Welcome to Night Vale and Thrilling Adventure Hour (especially their ‘Beyond Belief’ segment). If you’re after podcasts to send your own fiction to have a look at the mini list below:

Escape Pod (science fiction

Pseudopod (horror)

Drabblecast (weirdest of the weird)

Wicked Library (more horror).

OK let’s go!

  1. Fireside Mystery Theater 

These stories, despite being set in the modern day, have a distinctly fifties feel. Performed live at The Slipper Room in New York it’s in turns funny, strange and…mysterious. Of course, being a variety show (each episode has one or two songs as well as a few stories), some are better than others but you can feel the fun they’re having and there’s some great ones.

I really enjoyed this Childhood Fears themed episode:

2. Tanis

Inspired by places of mystery or legend like Atlantis and Xanadu, this series is a fictional search for Tanis. Is it a place? Is it a thing? Is it a tiny lemon-shaped vacuum cleaner? The main story is punctuated by true mysteries and literary/weird fiction references from Haruki Murakami to House of Leaves, which makes me as geekily happy as this bird with a paper towel.

Episode 1:

3. The Black Tapes

This serial on the unsolved cases of Paranormal investigator Dr Strand comes from the same production company as Tanis. Again the stories are inspired by ‘true’ mysteries such as the audio from Hell and the exorcism of Anneliese Michel (here under a fictional name).

The individual cases aren’t always brought to a satisfying conclusion  – so far, anyway, I’ve only listened to a few – but they are intriguing and definitely enjoyable. Also Strand reminds me of a moodier and darker Richard Wiseman, a magician and debunker whose book promotion I went to in Edinburgh. He was very jolly, it was fun.

I couldn’t share episode 1 here, sorry!

4. Limetown Stories

This seven part (so far) series actually made me very nervous as I listened through headphones late at night. It’s premise is eerie enough; ten years ago residents of Limetown disappeared without trace and journalist Lia Haddock is determined to find out what happened. The story builds in spookiness and intrigue until…well, I won’t tell you anymore.

Episode 1:

5. The Message

This reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man: Aliens land and announce they’re bringing earthlings back to their planet to live peacefully. Scientists attempt to decipher a book of theirs throughout, not succeeding until it’s too late. I have a sneaking suspicion that the possibly extra-terrestrial message the code-breakers are attempting to crack in this podcast isn’t going to be anything good.

Episode 1:

6. Serial

This is the only nonfiction entry and it’s completely addictive. Sarah Koenig, a journalist and radio personality, is attempting to get to the bottom of a case which doesn’t add up on closer inspection. Or does it? That’s what she’s trying to figure out.

Adnan Syed is in prison for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in Baltimore. It seemed at the time to be a cut and dried example of a jealous ex boyfriend, but none of their school mates believe it and some of the timelines are iffy to say the least. Also there are possible fantasists, streakers, and much more. Seriously, give this one a listen, I had to force myself to switch it off and go to sleep.

Years from now I will be discovered, nothing but thick cobwebs stretched over bones, a pair of headphones stuck to my yellowing skull, the only sound the weak strains of one of these podcasts or Audible (which is also good, Gillian Anderson and Neil Gaiman have already read me spooky stories).

That’s how anyone would want to go, isn’t it? Join us…