I absolutely loved this low-budget British horror film set largely in council flats in a deprived part of England. There’s something very eerie about council flats when they’re in any way rundown, dilapidated or even deserted. Who knows what might lurk behind those closed doors along with the peeling paint, the black mould conditions and the lonely drip-drip-drip of the kitchen tap…?

This film is more of a haunting by a person of a person, rather than the flat itself being haunted, but it’s still good. If you want to watch a phenomenal low-budget British horror film about a haunted block of deserted council flats which are slated for demolition, please, please, please watch Christopher Frampton’s 2014 masterclass in spookiness, THE FORGOTTEN.

It’s terrifically scary and atmospheric, with the broken-down flat complex becoming a character in itself, filled with menace, threat and dread. Like in THE DISAPPEARED, it also features a troubled adolescent boy living with a deadbeat father because there’s no mother in the picture, and, as always, the lead character, the person being haunted, has to decide whether he’s losing his mind or if there actually is someone, or something, out there in the supernatural realm with a message they need him to hear…

Anyway, in THE DISAPPEARED, Matthew Ryan is a young man fresh out of a psychiatric hospital after the abduction one night of his little brother Tom, who is still missing. Matthew suffers terrible, terrible guilt about Tom, because he was celebrating his own birthday with his pals instead of looking after Tom, who wandered off- at night-time- and was taken, just one of a number of kids who’ve gone missing from the local area in recent years.

But if Tom was abducted and is most likely dead, then how come Matthew hears his voice in his ear night and day, and actually sees Tom too in physical form, looking exactly as he did in life, as robust and corporeal as ever he was…? Until Matthew tries to catch hold of him, of course, and then he’s gone like a light being snuffed out.

Matthew’s dad Jake, played by Emma Thompson’s hubby Greg Wise, can barely stand to look at his one remaining son, blaming Matthew as he does for Tom’s disappearance. Life in their council flat is fraught with unresolved tension and unspoken blame. Local thugs beat up Matthew because he’s that ‘weird kid’ with the missing brother. It’s not very nice being Matthew Ryan just now…

Poor Matthew, depressed, guilt-ridden and shadowed by ghosts, is not without support in his grief and confusion. A beautiful young girl called Amy moves into the flat next door and they become fast friends. She points him in the direction of a psychic mum-of-one in a nearby block of flats who might be able to make sense of the visions he’s having of Tom.

Matthew also has his best friend Simon, played by Tom Felton who was posh boy Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, and local priest Adrian Ballan, one of those do-gooder types who take an interest in the fate of local youths. You know the type.

Encouraging the lads to stay in school, to not do drugs and to not knock up Emma from Fourth Year because that’s their future good and fucked then. I shouldn’t think it’d be all that great for poor Emma from Fourth Year either…

Things take an even more sinister turn when Simon’s twelve-year-old sister Sophie goes missing. A tip-off from ‘the other side’ sends Matthew hurtling to the place where he thinks he’ll find both the abductor-killer and possibly some of the victims, maybe even live ones? The final showdown scenes are good ‘n’ gripping.

The atmosphere was lovely and gloomy throughout the film, helped by some gorgeous scenes of old high-rise flats and deliciously ancient-looking churches, crypts and woodland. The director even managed to make some of his shots look like they came from much earlier times, to wit, the ‘Seventies, which I personally appreciated a great deal.

I might have called the movie something else, perhaps, to avoid confusion with the group of people collectively known as ‘the Disappeared’ who went missing, believed murdered by the IRA, in Northern Ireland during the period called ‘the Troubles.’

Even a quick google search of that movie I mentioned earlier, THE FORGOTTEN, yields only a slew of items about a Julianne Moore Hollywood movie from 2004. So, we need some original, snappy and difficult-to-confuse-with-something-else titles here, peeps. THE HAUNTING OF MATTHEW RYAN, perhaps? I like that. We’ll call it that, lol. And top marks to all concerned for making a really smashing horror film.       



I saw this British supernatural horror film on Shudder last night and was reasonably impressed by it. It’s set in the early 1970s in London, during a period of frequent power outages caused by a miners’ strike. I sympathise with this situation very much, as we here in Ireland are apparently facing something similar this coming winter due to the energy shortage-slash-crisis.

I’m fully expecting our government at some stage to suggest that we all climb into big cardboard boxes this winter and hibernate till Spring, FATHER TED-style, to keep costs down. At this stage, after soaring energy bills and the government’s seeming inability to lift a finger to stop it, I literally wouldn’t be surprised.

Anyway, it’s on the night of one such power outage that a pretty young trainee nurse called Val does her first night shift in the East London Royal Infirmary where she hopes to work, if she gets through her probationary period. She’s already pissed off the hard-ass Matron and the spooky and unpopular night shift is her just desserts, lol.

The hospital seems mostly empty as a lot of patients have, I think, been moved to another hospital for the night while the power’s off. Doesn’t that sound like a ridiculous amount of trouble, if not downright unfeasible? Anyway, there’s still a few patients and staff remaining, and the janitor, a sleazebag called Neville, so Val won’t be entirely on her own.

She seems to spend most of her night shift wandering round the darkest, scariest parts of the hospital, including the basement and furnace room, looking for the charts requested by the spiteful and bitchy Nurse Babs.

Babs remembers Val from their past life when they both went to school together, but Babs was a regular schoolgirl and Val was one of the povvos from the local orphanage. It sounds like Babs went out of her way to make Val’s life worse than it already was.

As Val wanders around the dark lonely hospital with no company other than her trusty Florence Nightingale-style lantern, she becomes ever more conscious of the fact that she’s being stalked by an unseen presence. It touches her, pulls her this way and that, and generally puts the fear of God in her.

The other staff don’t believe her when she tells them. Her reputation for ‘telling lies’ about people, accusing them ‘falsely’ of things, has preceded her, they tell her. A very convincing display of demonic possession from Val persuades them that there might just be something to what she’s trying to tell them after all.

The problem with this hospital is that it’s shrouded in mysteries, secrets and lies. There have been abuses committed, and abuses covered up and swept under the carpet. Women and girls have been abused, then threatened and very effectively silenced. The perpetrators are whom the perpetrators normally are, rich white males whom no-one would dare to question or attempt to silence.

This bit reminds me that Jimmy Savile was at this time roaming freely through the hospitals where he served as a volunteer porter and hospital visitor- including Broadmoor- and committing the most appalling abuses which were going completely unchecked. He was Jimmy Savile, after all. Why would anyone question the nation’s most celebrated television star…?

So, the question now is, who is trying to attract Nurse Val’s attention and what is the message they’re attempting to get her to understand? And will Val be up to the task, or will the rich white males succeed in silencing her and all the other voices around her clamouring to be heard? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out for yourselves, folks…

I’ll admit I was quite bored for a lot of the running-round-the-hospital-in-the-dark bits. Plus, the darkness itself makes it hard to see what’s actually going on at times, which is unfortunate. It’s still an interesting one-off watch, though, with a strong message, and I liked the ending, so it’s all good.

Well, I suppose it’s time to get into my cardboard box now for the winter. I’ve told my sister about it, I’ve cancelled the milk and the newspapers, I’ve done a wee and I’ve packed my sandwiches and Thermos flask. See you all next Spring…


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:



‘Remove your underwear…’

‘It was always you, Helen…’

I was confused but also intrigued by this rather strange and iconic horror film. The main thing I loved about it was that, every time something happens in the film that’s so gruesome or awful you just automatically assume that the character is having a nightmare, they’re actually not, and the awful or gruesome thing was perfectly real and did happen. It’s an extremely gory film and not, as they say, for the faint-hearted, so don’t stick the kids in front of it while you nip to Tesco for a loaf of bread, lol.

Anyway, the beautiful Virginia Madsen, sister of actor Michael Madsen, plays the main character, Helen Lyle, in this supernatural slasher movie. She is a graduate student living in Chicago with her cheating and rather weedy-looking university professor husband, Trevor. Helen is studying urban legends and local folklore for her thesis, which she is co-writing with her friend Bernadette.

They decide to focus their thesis on the legends surrounding the Candyman, the evil spirit of a black man called Daniel Robitaille who was born the son of a slave in the late 1800s. He was killed in horrific circumstances by white men after becoming a painter of some repute and impregnating a white woman with whom he was in love.

The ghost has a hook for a hand (I know what you did last summer, by the way!) and a great big hulking chip on his shoulder. If you say his name in the mirror five times, the ghost, now known as the Candyman for some reason that’s not explained, is supposed to appear to you. No-one tells you what’s supposed to happen once he appears, but one would imagine it’s something fairly negative, as he’s a vengeful ghost and not, say, Father Christmas…

Instead of revenging himself on white men, as you might imagine, so far the spectre seems to have killed mainly black people living in notoriously poor housing projects. Helen and Bernadette, armed with cameras and notebooks, head straight to Cabrini Green, one such housing project, where the Candyman is supposed to have murdered a black woman after gaining access to her apartment through the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

Cabrini Green is a terrifying place, even without the lurking presence of the Candyman, whose name seems to be on everyone’s lips. The apartment blocks are disgracefully neglected by whichever local authority authorised their construction. They are filthy, probably overcrowded, daubed in graffiti and faeces, patrolled by gangs of aggressive black males and the lifts don’t work.

Sounds delightful, right? But Helen, our intrepid investigator, can’t seem to stay away from the bloody place, or from the mystery of the Candyman, even after she gets a terrible hiding from some of the local males who don’t take too kindly to posh ‘whites’ like Helen sniffing around their patch. Incidentally, did you see the state of those public toilets…?

But Helen is personally involved now, after a meeting she’s definitely not expecting in a deserted underground car-park. (This dame just can’t stop courting trouble, right? All she needs now is to hang round the tunnel under the old disused bridge at midnight on a bloody full moon…!)

Her discovery that the Candyman is all too real is just the beginning of a nightmare ride for the pretty graduate student with the lying, cheating bastard of a husband. She finds herself accused of the bloodiest, most horrific murders, murders that we know she didn’t commit. Her life changes out of all proportion, if by ‘changes’ you mean ‘fucked up beyond all recognition,’ or even FUBAR, lol.  

But the Candyman, a suave and decidedly sexy, sharp-dressing black ghost with a deep, delicious voice, refuses to relinquish his stranglehold on Helen. Might her resemblance to a woman in a certain portrait possibly hold the key to his obsession…?

The murders are gory and grim and the special effects excellent, but you might not sleep easy for a while after viewing this supernatural slasher flick, especially if, like me, you have a medicine cabinet in your bathroom…!

I loved the social commentary in the film. You could make a whole other film just about Cabrini Green and the people who live there, or in other forgotten housing projects like it. I especially liked the character of Anne-Marie McCoy, the young black single mum who works to take care of her baby, Anthony, whom she obviously adores.

It’s not all drugs and gangs, she tells Helen defensively. It’s not all like you whites read in the newspapers. Some good decent folks live here too. That is undoubtedly true. It must be very hard to live there as a woman on her own, trying to raise a little boy who, as he’s growing up, is going to see crime and gang activity everywhere he looks.

That’s the real horror of CANDYMAN, if you ask me, but, hey, there’s a pretty darned good murderous ghost in the mix too, so enjoy your film. There are two sequels: CANDYMAN 2: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH (1995) and CANDYMAN 3: DAY OF THE DEAD (1999). And watch out for the 2021 direct sequel, CANDYMAN, in your local cinema right about now. Now, all together: Candyman! Candyman! Candyman! Candyman! I just can’t say it a fifth time, lol. Too scared the legend might be true…


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:




‘He’s big, he’s red, his feet stick out the bed: Peter Crouch…!’

This moving and deeply disturbing horror film is as much a searing indictment of the refugee system in Britain as a study in psychological and actual terror. It’s the story of a young-ish married couple from South Sudan, a country beset by civil war since 2013.

Their names are Bol and Rial, and a frightening flashback shows us that they came to Britain by boat, a boat that got into difficulties en route, causing some of the passengers to drown. When we meet them again, they’re being held in a British detention centre for refugees.

The staff there treat them like criminals. They barely tolerate them and are rude, offhand and dismissive towards them. What happens at the meeting to inform the pair that they are going to be ‘freed,’ as if they’re prisoners who’ve committed actual crimes, is uncomfortable to watch and a disgrace on the part of the British case-workers. And just look at the physical distance between the refugees and the case-workers! It kind of says it all, that yawning chasm of floor.

They’re getting seventy-four quid a week (each, or jointly?), they can’t supplement this in any way, whether by working or whatever, they can’t move somewhere else, they have to live only in the house they’re assigned to and they have to report regularly to the people in charge of them, as if they’re prisoners out on bail or on parole or something.

No reassurances, no words of comfort, not so much as a smile or one friendly word. Just, you’re free to go but, if you fuck it up, back you both go to the Sudan, and we don’t give a fiddler’s feck how bad it is over there. For shame, you heartless bureaucrats. For shame.

It’s a wonder they don’t actually say to the poor couple, you can have sex, but you’d better not get knocked up or we’ll send you back to the Sudan. We can’t afford to be funding your lifestyle or your offspring, so keep it in your pants, okay? So very patronising, rude and intrusive.

Next thing you know, Bol and Rial are packed onto a bus in the lashing rain and driven to a dump of a house in a kip of an estate on the outskirts of London. They haven’t even been told where they’re going. Matt DR. WHO Smith plays their social worker or case-worker, Mark. He meets them at the house with the keys.

Mark really hates his job and has no love for his clients. Here you go, he says, don’t light any candles, don’t smoke, don’t make a mess, this is your home now. The couple aren’t hugely impressed by the house. It’s filthy and rundown and surely to God someone could have been hired to give it a bit of a clean up for the new occupants.

The neighbours, even the black ones, are racist and hostile towards the couple. Go back to Africa, yell the local black boys, much to the couple’s bemusement. Why should people be so horrible and cruel? Don’t people know what they’ve been through?

Bol adapts and adjusts to English life much better and faster than poor Rial. It’s because he likes it there, and wants to be one of them, one of the English locals.

He gets a haircut (they still don’t know where they’ve been put living, so Bol has to ask the barber!), he sings footy songs down the local pub with the local men and he’s given a care package by the local church. He buys new cheap clothes and cutlery for their food.

But poor Rial! She can’t, or won’t, adapt in the same way as her hubby. She still wants to sit on the floor for meals and eat with her fingers. She still wants to wear the colourful clothes of her homeland and adhere to its traditions, customs and mannerisms.

Added to this obvious conflict within the marriage, it’s starting to become clear that there’s something very wrong with this house they’ve been assigned. (‘It’s bigger than my house,’ says one of the social workers grudgingly when Bol makes a complaint.)

Strange noises, apparitions and voices come from behind the walls, lights turn themselves on and off, shadowy figures appear and murmur to the occupants and that’s not all…

The viewer quickly works out that it may not be the house itself that’s at fault, but rather that Bol and Rial have brought something back with them from Africa, a demon that feeds on guilt and demands vengeance for a crime committed, a life stolen.

Just what is it exactly that Bol and Rial are running away from, and what have they done that they are being plagued by demons in their new home night and day…?

It’s one of those horror films where you end up asking yourself, which is the real evil here, the supernatural demons we can see on the screen or the way we treat our refugees?

It works really well as either a horror film or a social commentary, or the two rolled into one if you prefer. Don’t worry, though, if you don’t like having your conscience pricked during a horror film, there are plenty of ghosties and ghoulies in the frame to thoroughly distract you.

The man who plays the lead demon or ghost in this excellent movie suffers in real life from a very interesting but unnerving condition called Marfan Syndrome. It’s made me wonder if other actors in horror films like IT FOLLOWS or the BLAIR WITCH sequel might have had it too. No, I’m not saying any more, you lazy lot, you can google it yourselves…!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.





‘Whatever walked there, walked alone…’

Wow. This ten-part series makes for excellent television drama, but I suppose we’d better start by saying that it’s not as good as the original film of Shirley Jackson’s superb horror novel; how could it be? But it’s pretty damn good television viewing, even though it wasn’t as scary as I’d been led to believe and there’s an awful lot of talking and repetition in it.

It’s a ghost story, told in a non-linear fashion, so a bit you see in one episode might not make sense at all until another episode repeats the thing and explains it to you. Yes, that might be annoying for some, but the plot is really well written and complex and, even though it seems to have a million things to keep track of and an equal number of loose ends to tie up, it doesn’t do a bad job at all of tying everything up in a nice big bow at the end.

Okay, so it’s the summer of 1992 and the Crain family- the parents, Hugh and Olivia, and their five sprogs Stephen, Shirley, Theodora and twins Luke and Nell, come to live in the titular Hill House to do to it what the Americans call ‘flipping,’ that is, they’re going to do it up a bit and sell it on to make a fortune. That’s the plan, anyway.

But Hill House is haunted to buggery, as we all very well know, and it isn’t long before the house begins to exert its evil supernatural pull over the family Crain. Little Luke has an ‘imaginary’ friend called Abigail, who comes out of the nearby woods to play with him.

He is also haunted by a terrifyingly tall man with a walking stick, who floats a good twelve inches above the ground. His twin, Nell, is tormented by visitations from a scary-sounding someone she calls ‘the Bent-Neck Lady.

Theodora learns that she has a ‘psychic’ touch: if she touches something or someone, she can derive psychic information from it. She takes to wearing gloves every day, however, to prevent this from happening. Well, not everything she learns is necessarily welcome information, so you can’t really blame her, can you?

Dad is severely disturbed by the sounds of scraping, banging and tapping he hears in the basement he’s trying to de-mould, and as for Mom…! Mom probably has a sign tattooed across her forehead that only ghosts can see, a sign saying: ‘Haunt me, please!’

She’s a drippy, hippy-dippy spiritual type to begin with, gliding through the rooms in a succession of fabulous long nighties and robes, with her long dark hair streaming out behind her, but when the house starts to impact on her already fragile-seeming emotional state, she becomes a million times flightier.

She sees dead people and chats away to them as if they’re real, and she’s extremely susceptible to the ghosts’ warped mind games, being highly suggestible when they plant ideas of evil-doing in her increasingly damaged mind.

Something happens in the house in 1992 that sees the family (well, nearly all the family) fleeing for their lives, like the family in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. The story moves back-and-forth over the ten episodes between the past and the present, and it won’t be until the very last few frames in the very last episode that we discover just what happened in that cursed house that fateful summer.

The Crain siblings are very messed-up adults. It’s pretty obvious that their stay in Hill House has impacted upon them big-time in different ways. One is a funeral director and a control freak. One is a heroin addict. Another is a child psychologist, responsible for working out if children have been sexually or otherwise abused. Her job makes her miserable. It’s a good group so far, isn’t it?

Another of the siblings is a flaky mess whom everyone in the family feels is a suicide waiting to happen, and yet another writes books about hauntings in general and Hill House in particular, books that get their entire family’s back up. I told you it was a good group…!

The siblings haven’t had any answers from their parents, in particular from their father, regarding what exactly happened in Hill House to tear the family apart that summer. Now, their lives are so messed-up and mixed-up that they’re going to need some answers, whether their parents want to give them these answers or not. Why not start by asking what was behind the locked door of the Red Room, for which they never had a key when they lived there…?

There are definitely references in the series to the original book by Shirley Jackson. Two of the sisters are called Theodora and Nell, there’s writing on the wall and banging on the doors, and the weird caretaker couple, the Dudleys, won’t stay on in the house in the night, in the dark, when it’s night, after dark, lol.

Some of the scares are extremely effective; others less so. I’d definitely recommend this Netflix series. It’s good writing and good acting; it’s a bit annoying and confusing in places, full of dreams and fantasies and with all the females in it sporting identical hairstyles, but it’s mostly good scary fun that puts me very much in mind of Stephen King’s THE SHINING.

I believe that Stephen King, master of horror and a huge fan of Shirley Jackson’s book, gives THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, the series, his seal of approval. It has mine too, for what it’s worth, so go forth and watch it and enjoy it, and just make sure the Bent-Neck Lady doesn’t find you alone in the house, in the night, in the dark…


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.


lost hearts




These three ghost stories in the BBC’s A Ghost Story For Christmas series are just gorgeous. They’re beautifully photographed and the stories are good and creepy too. As the little booklet accompanying the DVD box-set tells us so descriptively, they would have appeared on television late at night, probably the last programme before the station shut down for the night.

This was back in the days when television wasn’t a twenty-four-hour thing, remember, and you had a choice sometimes of only two, three or four channels. The viewer would have watched the programme in front of the dying embers of that day’s fire, and gone straight up to bed afterwards with the disturbing imagery from the ghost story weighing heavily upon his mind. By Jove, if that isn’t the way to do it…!

Lost Hearts tells the story of a recently orphaned boy called Stephen coming to live with his ancient aristocrat uncle/first cousin twice removed Abney, in said uncle’s fabulous stately home set in acres of rolling parkland.

Uncle Abney is, quite simply, too good to be true. He’s chuckle-y and funny and so kindly disposed towards the soon-to-be-twelve-years-old lad that we wonder in earnest what his deal is. Things –– and people –– that seem to be too good to be true often are, after all . . .

If I were Stephen, I’d be extremely worried about the well-meaning but thoroughly unnerving tales told by the housekeeper about children who were invited to stay at the house by the kindly old Mr. Abney in the past, but who then disappeared into thin air shortly afterwards. Still, the boy is powerless to act, isn’t he? What can he do in a situation like that? He’s orphaned, after all, and the older gentleman in whose home he currently resides is now his legal guardian.

The fog-wreathed landscape looks wonderful in this film. The supernatural beings are present in the narrative almost from the beginning, but they’re no less creepy for all that, the Italian hurdy-gurdy gypsy boy in particular. The music is marvellous and the graveyard scene at the end is just beautiful to look at. Apologies for the fulsome nature of my adjectives, but really, this short film is just too visually delicious to resist.

In The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, an intellectually arrogant cleric by the name of the Reverend Justin Somerton is engaged on what amounts to a secret treasure hunt, for the gold said to have been secreted away by the titular Abbot Thomas in the ancient church-slash-seat of learning where Somerton is now doing some research. It has to be kept secret because it would fatally damage Somerton’s academic reputation to be seen to be grubbing around after a handful of gold coins.

Somerton is assisted in his treasure-hunting by the aristocratic young Lord Peter Dattering, whose father is recently deceased. I love the bit where Peter invites his mentor Somerton to a séance in his home. Peter’s mother is convinced that her medium and the medium’s husband are able to contact her dear dead spouse for her, but the snobby show-off Reverend Somerton soon puts paid to the medium couple’s little scam . . .

Somerton and Peter have great fun flexing their intellectual muscles in trying to solve the puzzle left by long-deceased alchemist and suspected sorcerer, the Abbot Thomas. Imagine Somerton’s fright, though, when he realises that the mischievous, malevolent Abbot Thomas has not been trying to keep him away from his precious treasure, but has in fact been trying to lure him into a horrible, deathly trap, using the treasure as bait. The scene in the catacombs is delightfully gruesome, and I love the end bit, of which we get a satisfying bird’s-eye view. He looks down on what is hidden . . .

The Ash Tree is arguable my favourite story of the three short films. The handsome, aristocratic young Sir Richard Fell is the newest incumbent of Castringham hall, his predecessor Sir Matthew having died a strange and mysterious death.

Sir Richard straightaway begins to experience moments of possession, when he finds himself occupying the body and mind of the late Sir Matthew. But Sir Matthew lived in witch-finder times, when innocent women were hanged and drowned and burned to death after being found ‘guilty’ of so-called witchcraft.

Sir Matthew’s mind, once he has reluctantly accused a beautiful local woman, Anne Mothersole (played by Hammer actress Barbara Ewing), of witchcraft and condemned her to a horrible death by hanging, is not a comfortable place to be. Sir Richard becomes more and more discombobulated by the periods of possession. Is it only a matter of time before he suffers the same grisly fate as his unfortunate ancestor . . . ?

Sir Richard has a saucy little sexpot of a girlfriend called the Lady Augusta, by the way, who seems to be permitted an extraordinary amount of freedom for a woman of the time. Gadding about on her horse, swanning over to Paris for her wedding trousseau and daring to chide her husband-to-be over his inclusion of Henry Fielding’s The Adventures of Tom Jones in his library. A woman who reads? Heaven forfend . . . 

It is sincerely to be hoped that Sir Richard beats this distinct tendency towards independence out of her once they are lawfully wed, which was the style of the time, and fills her belly with enough regularity to take her mind off gadding about and keep it where it belongs, in the nursery. Humph.

There’s an hilarious passage in the booklet which accompanies this DVD box-set, in which director Lawrence Gordon Clark tells us about how it was the ash tree in his very own garden that served as the downfall of poor Sir Richard.

Months later, the following summer, in fact, Clark was entertaining friends in his garden when a hideous spider baby, that seemingly hadn’t been boxed away with the other hairy monstrosities after filming ended, fell suddenly out of the tree into the lap of a terrified female guest. If that had been me, the speed of my departure would have put the Road-Runner to shame. Sweet suffering Jesus.

‘Mine shall inherit . . .’


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

You can contact Sandra at:


whistle michael hordern



M.R. James on his ghost story-writing technique:

‘Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment, let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage.’

The 1968 version of Whistle And I’ll Come To You is probably my favourite of all the M.R. James ghost story adaptations by the BBC. Shakespearean actor Michael Hordern is superb as the doddery Professor Parkins, the Cambridge don positively steeped in dusty academia who comes to stay at an East Anglian guest-house for a holiday, during the early years of the nineteenth century. This sensible fellow doesn’t believe in ghosts, nor does he believe that ‘there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’

He goes for long bracing walks over the empty heaths and deserted beaches, with his little packed lunch in his knapsack. He doesn’t at all mind his own company, as it’s what he’s most used to.

One wonders what would happen if an actual human female crossed his path; Cambridge dons positively steeped in dusty academia aren’t generally required to interact with too many of these, beyond the woman who ‘does’ for them and brings the meals…!

While on one of his solitary jaunts, clad in tweedy knickerbockers and cap and carrying a stout walking stick, he discovers a filthy old bronze whistle with the following words engraved on it: Qui Est Iste Qui Venit? or Who Is This Who Is Coming?

You’d think that a scholar such as himself, who presumably would have had the old Latin drummed into him in school as a lad, would hesitate to blow on such a spooky artefact of uncertain provenance but, oh no, as soon as he’s given it a bit of an old rub with a clean hanky, he toots on it with gusto. From that moment on, like the poor amateur archaeologist in James’s other superb story, A Warning To The Curious, he’s never alone any more…

It’s a genuinely frightening story. We know that Parkins has brought something sinister back with him from his excursion to the lonely beaches. Are the dreadful things he sees and experiences afterwards real supernatural phenomena, or merely the signs of a mind closed to everything but narrow academic principles disintegrating under the weight of something he’s witnessed but can’t understand? Either way, this piece of vintage television puts the heart crossways in me anew every time I watch it.

Hammer actor George Woodbridge has a wonderful cameo here as the hotel proprietor, who’s even mumblier and more incoherent than old Parkins himself. It’s a joy to watch. I love Ambrose Coghill too, as Parkins’s fellow guest, the Colonel, who engages in intellectual conversations with the Professor over the breakfast kippers. (What is it with the English and their kippers, lol…?)

The 2010 version of Whistle And I’ll Come To You takes a different approach to the story. John The Elephant Man Hurt plays James Parkin, who comes to the deserted seaside guest-house because he and his wife, whom he’s just had to leave in a nursing-home, used to go there in their youth. He has a notion that he wants to re-visit some of their ‘old haunts,’ never knowing how prophetic the phrase will turn out to be.

His wife, Alice, played by Gemma Bridget Jones’s Diary Jones, has dementia. He feels terribly guilty about parking her in the nursing-home, but he also doesn’t feel like he has much choice at this point. Her ruined mind now occupies ‘a body that has outlasted the personality, more horrifying than any spook or ghoul.’

The rows of silent women sitting in identical night-dresses and slippers in the nursing-home are indeed like something out of a nightmare. Lesley Sharp as the nursing-home manager plays her role very strangely too, with a sort of robotic Stepford wife-type voice that churns out comforting words and stock phrases meant to console, but they’re spoken so softly and mechanically that we can’t quite believe she’s real. It’s a bit of a red herring here, us thinking that the nursing-home manager is evil, but in another film, perhaps, her sinister tones might mean something quite different…

I love the empty boarding-house where Parkin goes to stay, and Sophie Thompson as Carol, the harassed single mum proprietress who presumably depends on the guest-house for her and her children’s livelihood.

Parkin is a bit of a complainer, saying that the scratching and rattling he hears in his room must be a rat, and making out that another guest was trying to break into his room, when Carol is equally adamant that he, Parkin, is currently the only guest in the hotel…

It’s pretty clear in this film that Parkin’s overwhelming guilt and sorrow about his wife is manifesting itself as supernatural apparitions. He does actually find an ancient artefact on the beach, however (this time it’s a ring instead of a whistle, perhaps suggesting the joining of two people for life in holy matrimony), and, from the moment he finds it and brings it away with him, the hauntings begin, just as they do with our friend Parkins in the 1968 version.

The horror is more visible than suggested in the more modern version. Some may argue that this harms the film, but I still was pretty scared watching this one, especially when we discover that John Hurt has unwittingly spent a night alone in a completely empty hotel, empty even of the proprietress. The sheeted outline on the beach may at first appear as a sort of comic figure, but I still wouldn’t want to have one of those things following me down an otherwise empty beach, would you…?

The 1968 version of the story is undoubtedly the superior one (less is more, some people think: sometimes what the imagination can conjure up is more horrific than anything the screen can put in front of us), but the 2010 one has its merits too. It’s an interesting take on James’s original story, and another suitably fitting tribute to the great writer, who famously read some of his creepiest stories aloud in his college rooms as a Christmas present to his peers. Here’s what one of them said about these sessions:

‘Monty (James) disappeared into his bedroom. We sat and waited in the candlelight. Perhaps someone played a few bars on the piano, and desisted, for good reason… Monty emerged from the bedroom, manuscript in hand, at last, and blew out all the candles but one, by which he seated himself. He then began to read, with more confidence than anyone else could have mustered, his well-nigh illegible script in the dim light…’

Wizard, eh…?


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

You can contact Sandra at:





Both dramas reviewed here originally aired over the Christmas period of 1974, each fulfilling quite nicely the role of ‘a ghost story for Christmas.’ Both are beautifully shot and acted, with an ethereal, otherworldly look about them that lends itself rather marvellously to the supernatural themes.

THE FERRYMAN stars a ridiculously young-looking and handsome Jeremy Brett, probably best known for playing Sherlock Holmes alongside Edward Hardwicke’s Dr. Watson in the brilliant ’80s television adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous stories. Remember the great theme tune and the opening credits sequence?I certainly do.

He plays Sheridan Owen, an egotistical and narcissistic horror author whose book THE FERRYMAN has become an unexpected bestselling hit. After doing the rounds of the launch parties and the bookshops for often tedious book-signing sessions, he escapes for a weekend to the countryside with his attractive wife Alex, hoping to get away from all the hullaballoo.

It looks like all Owen’s succeeded in doing, however, is in bringing the dratted book with him even as far as The Ferryman’s Rest, the coincidentally-named guest-house in which he and Alex seek shelter during a dreadful downpour.

Owen quickly notices more strange coincidences. The maitre’d at the guest-house has the same surname as the maitre’d in Owen’s novel, but not the same Christian name. The barman has the same Christian name as Owen’s fictional barman, but not the same surname. Everything is just a little bit unsettling and off-kilter, in this out-of-the-way guest-house with no other visitors barring Sheridan Owen and his wife…

When the owner of the hotel turns out to have both the same name as Owen’s novel’s murderer, and also a beautiful young acting student daughter called Jill who is exactly how Owen imagined his lovely heroine to look, Owen starts to wonder exactly how far life is planning to go on imitating art. Knowing how his book ends, Owen, who has never before believed in ghosts even though he’s penned a supernatural bestselling book, decides to stay up when night-time falls and keep a solitary watch…

The scenes at the guest-house are bathed in a shimmery, iridescent colour that gives everything an unreal or ghostly look. Acclaimed actress Lesley Dunlop looks absolutely stunning as the gorgeous daughter Jill; what a beauty she was in her day! She could even have been a Hammer girl, she was so easy on the eye. I love posh-voiced Geoffrey Chater as her dad, the coincidentally named Miles Attingham, and the tale of terror ends with a decidedly delicious ghostly twist…

POOR GIRL, set in Edwardian times, sees an attractive young woman called Florence Chasty enter the rich Wilson household in the countryside as governess to the nine-year-old son of the house, Hilary.

He’s a precocious little spoiled brat who is, technically speaking, already too old for a governess. To see her attempting to teach him equations, extremely hard sums which it requires a male mind to properly understand and inculcate, is a pitiful sight indeed.

Why is this little master not by now enduring his baptism of fire on the playing-fields of Eton, might one enquire, fagging for a prefect who blisters his rear end enthusiastically with a length of bamboo whilst enjoying a spot of buggery over the hot buttered toast in front of the fire of a wintry evening?

I’m not saying I approve of this barbaric and horrifically abusive system, mind, which traumatised children for life, but we all know what these English public schools were like, leaving their poor troubled graduates in need of a Cynthia Payne type to fulfil the sadomasochistic fantasies instilled in them in school!

Hilary straightaway falls in love, of course, with Miss Chasty, whose heavy brown coil of hair at the nape of her delicate neck looks too heavy for her little head to support. Oliver Wilson, the handsome, still young master of the house, Hilary’s father, can’t keep his eyes off Florence, either. She could have her pick of father and son, uncomfortable as that sounds, were it not for the mistress of the house…

Angela Thorne is superb as the coldly genteel, restrained Mrs. Louise Wilson, who dismisses Florence as the ‘common shopgirl’ type almost from the beginning. It’s quite unpleasant to see how far above the peasant class Mrs. Wilson holds herself, simply because she has a few shillings more than most people.

Florence is quite a respectable young lady, with a loving father still living at home, and not at all the orphaned and utterly penniless Jane Eyre type of governess, but to the snobbish and horribly prejudiced Mrs. Wilson, she’s in quite ‘the wrong class’ altogether.

The haunting in POOR GIRL is very subtle, consisting of a few flash-forwards experienced by Florence of a man, who turns out to be the grown-up Hilary, and a woman, living in the house in the 1920s, wearing strange clothes and sporting strange hairstyles and behaving in an alien manner to the reserved, Edwardian-era Florence.

Florence very subtly changes, too, as she becomes less respectful and eager-to-please towards Mrs. Wilson, and begins to act more like her rival in love rather than an obsequious underling. Florence is straying into dangerous territory. I daresay she’s not the first young woman who thought she could usurp another woman’s place by virtue of her firm white body and lush, obliging lips.

Mrs. Wilson is on the ball, however, and very watchful of her husband who, as she is very well aware, has strayed with pretty young servants and employees before. It won’t be long at all, therefore, before Mrs. Wilson thinks to look in the summerhouse window…

These two ‘plays,’ as the blurb on the DVD box describes them, were made by and for Granada Television. They must have been compulsive viewing when they were first aired over the festive season of 1974. I love that some of the really brilliant television dramas and serials from that era are now available on DVD. I never thought I’d be saying this, dreadful technophobe that I am, but three cheers for the age of technology…!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

You can contact Sandra at: