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The Blasphemous Tome is the annual print-only fanzine that we create for Patreon backers of The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast. It contains articles about RPGs, horror films and weird fiction, not to mention plenty of sanity-blasting artwork and original content for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.

Everyone backing us via Patreon by the end of December 2020 will receive at least one copy of the Tome.

  • $1 backers will receive one copy
  • $3 backers will receive one signed copy
  • $5 backers will receive two copies, one signed

A Brand-New Call of Cthulhu scenario

Featured in this issue is a new Call of Cthulhu scenario by our very own Paul Fricker, titled “Of This Men Shall Know Nothing”.

In the last days of the Second World War, a small team of soldiers head behind enemy lines as part of Operation Varsity. The situation quickly spirals out of control, however, and they find themselves seeking shelter at a small farmhouse. Is the situation there any safer than the battle outside? What ancient secrets does the area hold? And will our heroes be able to keep their heads when all around are losing theirs?

The cover comes from our good friend John Sumrow, whose work adorns many of our past issues. We also have illustrations from some favourite eldritch artists, including Danial Carroll, Evan Dorkin, Lucy Fricker, Bethan Harris, Symon Leech, Nefeli Mandilaras, John Sumrow and Jonathan Wyke.

Contents

Other articles in this issue include:

  • The Ludomancers
    • The Good Friends talk about their favourite gaming sessions of the year
  • The Sanderson Collection
    • Matt tantalises us with another glimpse into his gaming library
  • Gruesome Concepts
    • Grant Dowell mutates another logical paradox into cosmic horror
  • Of This Men Shall Know Nothing
    • A brand new, full-length Call of Cthulhu scenario by Paul Fricker
  • Cocktail Corner
    • Matt tempts us with another snippet of cocktail history and a recipe to match
  • Episodes of Insanity
    • The Good Friends share more insights into their favourite episodes of the year
  • Paperbacks From Hell
    • Scott presents an overview of Valancourt Books’ Paperbacks From Hell reprint line
Tomes from years gone by

Please note that we do not sell copies of The Blasphemous Tome. It is purely a reward for the wonderful people who back us via Patreon.

The Blasphemous Tome is licensed for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game by Chaosium, inc.

By Scott Dorward

October Horror Movie Challenge

In Fabric (UK, 2018)

“A dress of deduction finds its character in a prism of retail abstraction.

Peter Strickland’s love letter to Italian horror, Berberian Sound Studio, has haunted me since I saw it some seven or eight years ago. The playful and occasionally shocking storytelling remains unlike anything else I have ever seen. I’ve been meaning to catch up with more of his work since but have somehow failed to. So when I learnt that he had made another horror film, In Fabric, I knew that I would have to save it for the climax of my October Horror Movie Challenge.

In Fabric 1

Synopsis

Recently separated from her husband, Sheila is ready to start dating again. In readiness, she visits Dentley and Soper’s department store, where a witchy sales assistant sells her a new, daring red dress. While the dress suits her perfectly, it seems to usher a run of bad luck into Sheila’s life, giving her a rash, wrecking her washing machine and leading to her being attacked by a dog. Worse, the dress is haunted, possessing an animated unlife of its own, even going so far as to stalk her son’s girlfriend.

Sheila’s attempts to divest herself of the dress are repeatedly thwarted. The department store seems more concerned with performing strange rituals involving mannequins than basic customer service. She cannot even trade it in as it is one of a kind. As the weirdness in her life escalates, tragedy seems inevitable.

In Fabric 2

General Thoughts

In Fabric is a funny film. I’d hesitate to call it a comedy, however. It draws upon that very British type of humour designed to discomfort rather than amuse. Almost every scene has some quirk to it — a commercial that feels like a cross between a pantomime and an occult ritual, a washing machine repairman whose analysis of faults brings listeners to sexual ecstasy, a gothic sales assistant whose dialogue seems to have been run through a malfunctioning thesaurus app. Their combined effect made me shudder as much as smile. The closest analogue I can think of is Chris Morris’ nightmare sketch show, Jam.

The premise of a haunted dress is not a new one. Cornell Woolrich published a story in 1937 called “I’m Dangerous Tonight” about a dress designed by the devil that has some parallels to this story. In execution, however, In Fabric is very different, with treacherously shifting narratives, twisted eroticism and a sense of creeping surrealism that make it the closest I have seen to a Robert Aickman story on the screen. The strange cult in the department store also invites comparisons to Suspiria, although they are more playfully subversive than Argento’s witches.

In Fabric feels like a period piece, evoking the world and styles of the late ’70s or early ’80s. The pacing, visual design and electronic soundtrack all make it feel like a lost artefact from the golden age of home video, albeit one with higher production values.

In Fabric 3

Verdict

In Fabric is simply astonishing. While I imagine it will disappoint anyone looking for scares, it is mesmerising, unsettling and deeply strange. Its satirical pokes at the mundanities of British life mesh nicely with the absurdity of its supernatural elements, coming together to make something unique. The promise Peter Strickland showed as a horror filmmaker in Berberian Sound Studio comes to fruition here, delivering a film that is even more imaginative and idiosyncratic that its predecessor.

Until today, I was convinced that Tigers Are Not Afraid was going to be my film of the month. While it is still a close-run thing, I may have to change my mind and award the honour to In Fabric. For all the simplicity of its premise, there is a complexity to it that I suspect will reward multiple viewings. At the very least, I want to go back and just bask in its weirdness.

And so this is a fine way to wrap up another month of horror films. Between In Fabric, Tigers Are Not Afraid and Evolution, I suspect that I have found three films that will become enduring favourites. In a world as wildly inconsistent as that of horror films, that is an amazing success rate.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

By Scott Dorward

A Month of Horrors

Halloween is here! After the year many of us have had, ghosts, ghouls and leering jack-o-lanterns feel like light relief. What better way is there to escape from real horrors than through some imaginary ones?

In readiness, I have spent this month posting a horror film review every day. If you want to skip this waffle and get to the good stuff, just scroll down. You’ll find a full list with links titled 2020’s Films.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

These reviews have been my way of taking part in the October Horror Movie Challenge. Everyone their own approach, but the basic rule is that you need to watch a horror film every day. Some people create categories according to when the film was released, where it comes from, or who made it. You can find a heavily gamified version over on the OHMC subreddit, for example.

The only hard rule I followed was that the films had to be ones I hadn’t seen before. Part of the appeal of the challenge is that it gives me an excuse to catch up with things I’ve been meaning to watch for years. That said, I did try to include films from all over the world and from a variety of eras.

So, how did it all go?

Tigers Are Not Afraid

The Good

I seem to have chosen wisely this year. While not every film worked for me, there were comparatively few stinkers. And there were a number of films I genuinely loved.

Through a combination of luck and my predilection for folk horror, I managed to pick a few films rooted in fairy tales. This is one of my favourite strands of horror. Fairy tales are meant to be scary. The bogles will feast upon the marrow of anyone foolish enough to defang their stories!

In other years, Evolution would have been my pick of the month. While it may not sound like a fairy tale, with its weird seaside community and strange medical experiments, it hits all the right notes. It is one of the most imaginative bits of storytelling I have seen in a long time and a beautiful film to look at.

Until the last day, I thought Tigers Are Not Afraid was going to win the top spot. This story of Mexican street children trapped in the scariest kind of fairy tale reminded me of Guillermo Del Toro at his best, mixing harsh realities with childhood wonder and supernatural horrors. It is one of the best horror films I have ever seen.

But, just winning out, we have In Fabric. This is the latest film from Peter Strickland, a British director who came to my attention with the remarkable Berberian Sound Studio. Once again, he combines horror with absurd humour to create something deeply unsettling. Watching this film is like seeing everything I love about the stories of Robert Aickman brought to life on the screen. Simply astonishing.

Eaten Alive 2
Eaten Alive

The Bad

There were still a few disappointments this year. I had heard good things about The Stepfather and was hoping that my assumption that it was a generic ’80s thriller was misguided. Sadly, while it had a memorable villain, it was terribly by-the-numbers and predictable.

Although I grew up with Hammer Horror film and love them to this day, their version of The Mummy failed to excite me in any way. Considering the talent on both sides of the camera, this should have been much better.

The only film I actually disliked, however, was Eaten Alive, Tobe Hooper’s 1976 follow-up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Everything about it rubbed me up the wrong way, from the impenetrable sound to the sheer grubby misanthropy of the whole thing. And, worst of all, it was boring. There is nothing worse in a horror film than that.

Malatesta's Carnival of Blood 2
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood

And the Weird

Dear lord, did I watch some weird films this month! One of my great pleasures in horror is films showing me things I haven’t seen before. After almost 50 years of watching such things, weirdness is like horror Viagra for me.

While Voices From Beyond is far from Fulci’s best work and is quite tame by his usual standards, it was still unusuall enough to engage me. The Witch Who Came From the Sea was unexpectedly and jarringly strange, like Repulsion had bought a case of cheap gin and gone on a three-day bender. And Two Thousand Maniacs! was aggressively odd enough to warrant the exclamation mark in its title.

Even faced with such competition, however, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood stands out as the weirdest film of the month. It’s almost impossible to believe that someone made this thing deliberately. Watching it feels like a psychotic episode.

Two Thousand Maniacs! 2
Two Thousand Maniacs!

What About You?

What films have you been watching this month? Have I covered any of your favourites here? How badly have I got these reviews wrong? You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord. We are always happy to talk about horror films! No need to wait until next Halloween.

2020’s Films

Challenges of Yesteryear

This isn’t the first time I’ve done one of these review marathons. I also tackled the OHMC back in 2013 and 2014. If you take a look at those pages, you’ll find similar post mortems with links to reviews of all the films I reviewed that year.

I shall try not to leave it six years before I do this again. While it is a lot of work, it is also terrific fun. And it’s always nice to have an excuse to watch a stupid number of horror films.

A Final Note

Please do look around at some of our older film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

By Scott Dorward

October Horror Movie Challenge

The Stepfather (USA, 1987)

“Wait a minute. Who am I here?”

The Stepfather is one of those films I remember passing over repeatedly at the video store, back in the late ’80s. The premise made it sound like any one of dozens of similar thrillers about families in peril. A few months ago, however, I watched the excellent documentary In Search of Darkness, which chronicles the bloody explosion of horror that came out of the USA in the 1980s. Their discussion of The Stepfather made it sound like a cut above the average slasher. When I looked the film up, I saw that it was written by legendary crime novelist Donald E Westlake, whose Parker and Dortmunder series I adore. So, with rekindled interest, I decided to give The Stepfather a long-overdue chance.

The Stepfather 1

Synopsis

The film opens with Henry Morrison giving himself a makeover — shaving off his beard, changing his hairstyle, swapping glasses for contact lenses and washing the blood off his face. We’ve all been there. As he walks out of his home, he passes the butchered remains of his family and heads off to a new life, whistling a jaunty tune.

A year later, Morrison has reinvented himself as Jerry Blake, an estate agent. Is there no limit to this man’s evil? He has insinuated himself into a new family, marrying widow Susan Maine and becoming stepfather to Stephanie, her teenage daughter.

Stephanie is hostile towards her new stepfather. While this starts off as pretty normal resentment, it escalates into full-blown suspicion as she witnesses Jerry having psychotic arguments with himself and losing his temper over anything that threatens the perfect image of their family life together.

As Jerry feels the family disintegrating, he prepares to clean house once again and build yet another new life for himself. But with the brother of his previous wife on his trail and his stepdaughter’s psychiatrist taking an interest in his background, will he manage to escape before his past catches up with him?

The Stepfather 2

General Thoughts

While the story structure of The Stepfather will be unsurprising to anyone who has seen a thriller from the ’80s, Jerry Blake is a fascinating character. His pathology of inserting himself into existing families, using them for emotional gratification, and then destroying them when they fail to be perfect is chilling. He feels like something out of the kind of nature documentary that gives you nightmares — a cross between a cuckoo and a parasitic worm. Terry O’Quinn does a terrific job of portraying both the banal mask of sanity and the seething madness that roils beneath.

I don’t know if it was Westlake’s intention, but I found myself thinking about mutations and reproductive strategies while watching this film. The portrayal of Blake as a parasitic entity made me wonder how many other weird reproductive strategies from nature could map onto human pathologies. Maybe Blake represents some evolutionary gambit that, if successful, could lead to a monstrous new species of humans that survives through such parasitism. Of course, The Stepfather doesn’t really explore these ideas but it does open up some interesting possibilities. I wonder what this film could have been like if it had been directed by, say, David Cronenberg.

It’s a shame that so much of The Stepfather follows the standard family-in-peril tropes of the time. While we do see Blake’s machinations, it doesn’t feel like enough. He is by far the most interesting thing about the film. Watching his stepdaughter playing teen detective feels drainingly mundane whenever focus switches to her.

The Stepfather 3

Verdict

Sadly, my fears about The Stepfather being just another ’80s thriller weren’t entirely baseless. Outside of the weirdness of its antagonist, there’s little here that I haven’t seen dozens of times before. I had hoped that there would be more of the sardonic humour and clever plotting that fill Westlake’s novels, but most of The Stepfather is very by-the-numbers.

That said, the character of Jerry Blake, and Terry O’Quinn’s performance as him, save the film from being totally generic. The moments where we see him struggling to maintain the appearance of the perfect family and then cracking as the illusion cracks are genuinely chilling. He is as interesting a human monster as I can remember seeing in a film.

The Stepfather is also a little darker than most of its ilk. While it delivers exactly the ending you might expect, the journey there is a brutal one. Blake stabs, beats and crushes his way through all opposition to his vision of the family, leaving a trail of blood and bodies. The depiction of all this violence owes more to horror films than standard Hollywood thrillers.

For all its faults, The Stepfather is still interesting enough to warrant watching. It may feel dated and even trite but Jerry Blake will stay with you long after the film is over. Hell, he may even marry into your family.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

By Scott Dorward

October Horror Movie Challenge

Gretel & Hansel (USA, 2020)

“I know that’s your favourite story but you’ve been telling it wrong.”

While Osgood Perkins isn’t exactly a prolific director, his few feature films have made me a fan. February (AKA The Blackcoat’s Daughter) and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House both exemplify a thoughtful, deliberate strand of modern horror that I adore. So when I saw that he had directed a new fairytale-themed film, I knew I had to include Gretel & Hansel in this month’s reviews.

Gretel & Hansel 1

Synopsis

We open with Gretel telling us her favourite story, about a young girl cured from a serious illness by a sorceress and who became filled with darkness as a result. From there, we move into more familiar fairy tale territory, with teenage Gretel and her younger brother Hansel forced to leave home when their single mother can no longer feed them.

The children embark upon a journey to look for work and shelter. After a variety of encounters on the road, including an accidental psychedelic trip after eating the wrong mushrooms, the now starving pair come across a strange house in the woods. Looking through the window, they see a table spread with an impossible feast of pies, meats and pastries. When Hansel sneaks in through the window, he is immediately caught by the old woman who lives there.

The old woman, Holda, proves friendly and invites the children to stay as long as they would like. While she lets Hansel indulge his interest in learning to be a woodcutter, Holda’s real focus is Gretel. As well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of herbalism, the old woman turns out to have more uncanny abilities and wants to teach them to her new ward. But is her interest in Gretel as maternal as it seems? What price is Gretel expected to pay for this new power? And where is all this food coming from anyway?

Gretel & Hansel 2

General Thoughts

I am a sucker for fairy tales. My two favourite films of this month so far are Tigers Are Not Afraid and Evolution, both of which play with fairytale tropes in clever ways. While Gretel & Hansel has similar influences, it cleaves closer to them both in structure and setting. Many of the elements and story beats are lifted directly from the original Brothers Grimm tale. Ultimately, however, it becomes its own thing, while still keeping the basic theme of temptation. There probably won’t be many surprises for anyone familiar with the story, but Perkins is creative enough in rearranging the elements to his own purposes, making it feel like something new.

In the early stages of the film, I kept wondering where the story was meant to be set. Gretel and Hansel are Americans with German names, surrounded by people with Irish and English accents. While I’m sure this was a deliberate choice, suggesting that everything all takes place in a realm of the imagination, it took at least half an hour for it to stop distracting me. I kept waiting for there to be some narrative explanation. There wasn’t.

Gretel & Hansel 3

Verdict

Gretel & Hansel is a beautiful film to look at. Even when it struggles to find its way as much as its two young protagonists do, it never fails to engage. You can simply lose yourself in the beautiful nightmare unfolding on the screen. This is essential, as the first act meanders way too much. Almost everything that happens before Gretel and Hansel arrive at the witch’s house feels superfluous.

While maybe not that frightening, this is a visceral film in places, sometimes quite literally. Once we get into the hidden truths of the witch’s house, we encounter plenty of horrors. This is a much darker and less gentle tale than it seems at first, oozing with blood and guts.

But, ultimately, Gretel & Hansel is a story about the shifting relationships and power dynamics between Gretel and the witch, as well as Gretel and her brother. It plays with our sympathies much as the witch plays with Gretel’s. And in that respect, it is wholly successful.

As much as I love folk horror, twisted fairy tales and this kind of languid, dreamy storytelling, Gretel & Hansel fell a little short for me. Maybe watching it so soon after Tigers Are Not Afraid and Evolution set an impossibly high bar. It’s certainly not a bad film in any respect, just one that never quite engages as much as it could.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!