Posts Tagged Mark S. Deniz

Witches Abound! New fiction from Carole Lanham

A little while ago, we at Witch Awareness Month, announced that Morrigan Books YA novel, Hedge Witch by Simon Kewin is to be released Halloween this year and now we announce that Morrigan Books will also release a new novella from Carole Lanham, author of The Whisper Jar.

Cleopatra’s Needle will be released as an e-book soon, followed by a paperback version and a special edition hardback (containing extra artwork). All commenters to this post and/or the Witch Awareness Month Facebook page entry will be submitted to a draw and the winner will receive a personalized, signed copy of the hardback when it is released.

To whet your appetite, we have chosen a short passage from the book, to give you a taste of what is to come…

15 April 1896

We’re taking turns doing it. Every afternoon, we sit in the wash house and try our hand at calling him with our minds. Practice is vital, according to Bethan. Well, it goes without saying, she got her turn first. Sure enough, five minutes later, he appeared at the door, broom in hand, smiling sheepishly. Most of the time, he acts grumpy about that time we tied him to the chair but when Bethan called him, he behaved as though all was forgiven. ‘Do you want another kiss?’ Bethan asked. ‘Yes please,’ he said then shook his head, as if to clear it, and scurried away. We laughed to see him so rattled. 

When it was my turn, I pictured him kissing me like he did that day in the kitchen.  I remembered the feel of his lips on mine and how hard he was breathing when he opened his mouth. It took longer for me to summon him and when he finally came, he looked hesitant. I closed my eyes and thought of what I’d most like him to do. Boy leaned forward and ran his tongue slowly along the seam of my lips. ‘M-mm,’ he said. Then he ran away. 

Bethan pronounced it a failure because I wasn’t able to hold him there, but I don’t care. He didn’t put his tongue on her. Gwendraith made him touch her breast yesterday before he ran off but that only made her giggle. It wasn’t good like when he kissed me.

(More information and release date soon.)

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Hedge Witch – Chapter One

Hedge_Witch_final

And now, we at Witch Awareness Month, have a real treat for you all, as we publish, exclusively, the first chapter of the novel, Hedge Witch, by Simon Kewin, which will be released 31st October, 2013.

Enjoy and keep a look out for more information at the Morrigan Books site.

1 – Cait

Manchester, England

Cait nearly missed her stop that day on the tram. If she had, everything would have turned out very, very different.

As it was she pushed her way through the crowded carriage and just made it to the doors before they slid shut. Outside, she stood for a moment and breathed. Her eyes had closed more than once on the journey into Manchester, the result of a long day at school and the rocking of the tram as it rattled into the city. It was good to be in the open air. A breeze blew down Mosley Street, warm on her face.

The street was busy: office workers sweating in their suits and ties, shoppers burdened with purchases, rowdy children clouting each other with their backpacks. Beyond them all rose the grey, curving walls of the Central Library, like a round fortress built in the heart of the city.

She sighed. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t get off here. She thought about Devi, Rachel, Val and Jen, the friends she’d promised to meet one stop up the line at the Arndale. She watched the tram thundering off that way now, ploughing through the traffic towards Piccadilly Square. They’d be there already, cruising through the crowds, laughing and shouting, never bothering to move out of anyone’s way. As a group they were invincible. She imagined them veering from shop window to shop window, shouting their disgust at this, their burning desire for that. And no-one, no grown-up, no security guard, would dare confront them.

She loved them all, but in her mind she saw herself at the back of the group, saying nothing, not involved. It was like that some days. She would look at them from a distance, marvelling at how they all talked at once but still seemed to hear what each other said. Other times, without really knowing how, she was a part of that. But not today. She couldn’t face them today.

She looked back down the tracks the way the tram had come. The rails gleamed in the sun, past the oblong bulk of the cenotaph and away out of the city, south towards the suburbs.

Her mother would be getting home about now. Cait imagined her switching on the television, pulling steaming food from the microwave. She should be there, too. Another promise. But she couldn’t face going home just now either. She’d left a message, done the right thing. She’d go back later.

She sighed again. The tram had vanished and she hadn’t moved. She couldn’t just stand there, people would stare. Come on Cait. Back to the real world.

She thought about last Saturday, her disastrous attempt to secure a weekend job at Bling Thing. He’d said that, the manager, as he explained to her why she was so unsuitable for the job.

‘Look, love. You have to live in the real world now. You have to smile, be happy to serve the customers. Be enthusiastic about the products. Be excited by them.’

His words amused her and then annoyed her. He wanted her to be something she wasn’t. She felt trapped, had to fight down the urge to flee. It was all so mundane. Where was the beauty in it? Where was the magic? She’d imagined the man would be old but he was only in his twenties or something. He was smartly dressed, polite, but his staring eyes, the way he gushed about retailing, made her shudder and say little.

His office was a square, shabby room at the back of the store, its walls just breeze-blocks painted lime-green. A kettle and a jar of instant coffee sat on a tray on the floor. Boxes of stock were strewn all around, in contrast to the manicured layout of the shop. When he took his jacket off, she saw the sweat-rings creeping out around his armpits, circles widening towards the white stains of other days’ sweat-rings. And all this was something she was expected to aspire to. To be like him. She thought of herself still there in five, ten years’ time. Interviewing some other girl for a job. Would she be saying the same things by then?

A poster on the wall, the blu-tac holding it up visible as dark smudges in each corner, said Smile – it costs nothing. It wasn’t true. Right then, a smile would have cost her more than she could ever give. And what she actually said to himwas, ‘Hmm.’

And so she hadn’t got the job. She was a failure, it was clear. She knew she was no good at school. She tried, she really did, but she always ended up antagonizing her teachers for some reason. She’d always assumed she could get a job at least, make something of herself. It turned out she couldn’t. Couldn’t even make it as a Saturday girl in Bling Thing. She was a failure, going nowhere. Already it seemed her life was over.

She threw her rucksack over one shoulder and set off, a small pile of text books cradled in one arm. How she hated her black school uniform. She’d tried to subvert it with heels that were slightly too long, a skirt that was slightly too short, the tiny ruby in her pierced nose. None of it really helped. She hated how she looked. She scowled as she walked, warning everyone not to bother her.

Slumped against the grey stone wall of the library, out of the way of hurrying feet and the light of the sun, a man sat on a piece of tatty cardboard. A threadbare blanket was wrapped around his shoulders. On the ground before him lay a hat containing a paltry four or five coins, all coppers. He held a sign in his hands that said simply, Please. The rest of the message, whatever he was begging for, had been torn away. He was asleep, his head nodding forwards, long, matted hair covering his face. The crowd ignored him, probably didn’t even see him.

She wondered who he was, where he’d come from, what his story was. A fantasy came to her that he was one of the few who’d escaped the fire: the blaze in the factory that had killed her father. He had limped out, choking, his clothes smoking, his skin burned. He was disfigured now, unable to work, unable to do anything but sit and beg. The formless pleading of that single word on his sign.

She wanted to go up to him, sit with him, talk to him. She felt suddenly closer to him than all the people around her. They had so much in common, this shared bond of not belonging to the crowd. She stopped walking. A woman dressed in a smart blue business-suit, her gold necklace expensive, white earphones in her ears, tutted loudly at Cait for being in the way.

A flap of the cardboard on which the beggar sat caught the breeze and she saw the words This Way Up in red letters. Underneath, smaller, the name of some company.

The man looked sharply up and directly at her. Or rather, through her to something beyond, as if he couldn’t get his eyes to focus properly. He was young. He couldn’t possibly have worked with her father. Of course. His skin was unscarred, his features thin and pale. Anger flashed through her, an anger that was part adrenalin. The stupid ideas she had. What was she thinking?

‘The hunt! The hunt is coming! Monsters! Run and hide, run and hide!’ the man shouted. No-one paid him any attention. ‘They’ll chase you down, corner you. You’ll see! Sleep safe in your beds, that’s when they come. The dead of night, down these streets, knives flashing. Run and hide, run and hide …’ He tailed off, his head lolling forward again as if he was a toy whose battery had run down.

Cait stood for a moment, feeling ridiculous. He was just some loser, disgusting, probably mad.

Then he looked up again, this time directly at her, focusing on her. A look of surprise filled his face.

‘You?’ he said, not shouting now, but still speaking loudly. ‘Here?’

His mouth moved quickly without any words coming out. Concern, then fear, then amusement flashed across his features. He started shouting again, this time pointing directly at her.

‘They will hunt you! Once they find you, who you are and what you are, they will come! Day or night! You … here all along! All along!’

He started to laugh. A crazy, utterly uninhibited laugh. He flicked his head from side to side, expecting everyone to see the joke.

It was too much for Cait. She turned and ran for the library doors, her eyes down, shutting out the crowd, shutting out the beggar, his words knives in her mind.

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The Season of the Witch – Review

[written by Witch Awareness Month member, Mark S. Deniz]

[Beware of spoilers here]

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

I am probably going to say this a few times over the course of the review but those who know the man, and especially those who have seen the film will allow me that…

There is an argument that this film should not have been featured in the film list for Witch Awareness Month and I understand this. Hopefully you have taken note of the spoiler warning and are more than prepared for anything I may say from here on in.

The film begins in the dark times of the witch trials in Europe before moving on to the Crusades (yes, I wondered about that myself too), where we are introduced to our two ‘heroes’, Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman. Our protagonists are Crusaders with a sense of morals (I know, I know), cutting a swathe through the Middle East, before realising that women and children maybe don’t need to be sliced and diced for the glory of a benevolent god.

“Sorry, love, my spear seemed to be in your way”

Nicholas Cage as a crusader is a little hard to go for, the suspension of disbelief element is a big ask and I wonder who was responsible for casting this role. There is a sense of the all-American action hero here, which bodes ill for the film but is not too surprising in truth.

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

Ron.

In truth, Ron is very similar to Cage in these early stages, as they joke who is getting the rounds in, based on how many infidels they slay in a battle (wait a minute, didn’t the muslims call the christians the infidels? Pay it no mind).

The action sequences are a little unnecessary and start a worry that is not abated for some time, especially knowing that the film is a mere 94 minutes long. The fight scenes are fun, plenty of jokes about killing muslims before Cage puts his spear through a defenceless woman and the brown stuff really hits the fan, he nearly taking the head off the leader of the armies, before Perlman drags him off to a life as a deserter.

It’s here that the film starts to move into its subject as Cage and Perlman are caught by soldiers in a European village and are pretty much forced to help transport a witch to a monastry, so that the monks can no doubt drown her to see if she’s innocent or not and burn her if she floats…

Arrgh, a witch!

Transporting a witch is pretty dangerous business you know: spells, suggestions, tricks of the light and wolves make for a treacherous journey for our two ex-crusaders and their merry little band of misfits and, complete with a shaky bridge scene (you haven’t seen one of those for a while, have you) there is much that befalls them.

As they reach the monastry, they are aware that something is afoot in the state of Denmark and that the witch is even more tricksy than they first thought.

If I go on, I pretty much destroy any reason you may have for watching the film and so I’ll change direction a little.

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

I mean he pretty much lights up any film, no matter the quality. There’s probably even a film he couldn’t save but I haven’t seen it yet and so I stick with my opinion. Even with the U.S. drawl, and the unnecessary quips, he holds a scene and has fantastic, expressive features.

Cage is way out of his comfort zone. An actor I loved in films, such as: Raising Arizona and Wild at Heart, is not at all at home as a thoughtful, honourable ex-crusader and it has an effect on the film itself, as the viewer constantly tries to marry the characters to the story.

It’s not the train wreck I expected it to be, however, and I was pleasantly surprised by certain things in it, especially as I didn’t know that a certain actor was featured.

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

The effects are OK, it’s an enjoyable romp and it features a witch…sort of. It plays out quite a bit better than I thought and considering I was not particularly positive about reviewing it before I watched it can be seen as a positive result.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so sure I would recommend it, as there are far better films, especially about witches, that you can watch but it’s definitely not one of the worse I’ve seen either.

“What do you mean, this isn’t Kansas?”

The choice is yours.

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Burn Witch Burn – Review

[written by Witch Awareness Month contributor, Ruth Merriam]

[Beware of spoilers here]

How is it that I’ve watched Burn, Witch, Burn  (ake Night of the Eagle – 1962) four times and never before bothered to read the book on which it was based? Conjure Wife, by Fritz Leiber, is not only a masterpiece of supernatural writing, it’s written by one of the most influential authors of the last century. The story first appeared in the April 1943 volume of the magazine Unknown Worlds, was expanded and included in an anthology, then finally published as a stand-alone novel in 1953.

The book and film diverge somewhat from each other, as is often the case. The book takes place in southern New England in the States, while the film is set in the bucolic English countryside. The surnames of the main characters are different in the two mediums. No doubt for the sake of necessity, many other details were changed as well.

Watch the film. Read the book. Even doing so back-to-back will not lessen the impact of either. I couldn’t put the book down.

So what’s this all about, eh? I’ll focus on the film.

They couldn’t help it, I suppose. They just had to start the film off with about 2 minutes of schlocky black screen with a monologue.

“ . . . I am now about to dispel all evil spirits that may radiate from the screen during this performance . . .

And now with a free mind and a protected soul, we ask you to enjoy Burn, Witch, Burn.”

Thankfully, once the monologue is over there isn’t a wasted frame in the film. The acting and cinematography are first rate, the dialogue is crisp and believable, and the interactions of the characters is so well done that watching it borders on voyeurism.

We have Norman Taylor, professor of Sociology and critical thinking, who teaches at Hempnell Medical College – a bastion of learning (and spoiled rich kid students) and gothic architecture (the eagle factors in later, but that would be a spoiler)

Statue

Professor Taylor in his element:

Taylor

In his lecture, he emphasizes that, “I do not believe. I do not believe. So, to recap, four words necessary to destroy the forces of:

1) The Supernatural

2) Witchcraft

3) Superstition

4) Psychic etc. etc etc.”

While summing up, he tells his students, “Aladdin rubbed a lamp, and a genie appeared. Today, we can push a button and the whole of mankind is obliterated.”

He’s a rational man, a thinking man, a man on the fast track to the position of head of his department. A handsome man (played by Peter Wyngarde) with a seemingly charmed life.

But oh . . . those academic jealousies! This is a tale of witchcraft as well as a scathing look at departmental politics.

Norman is married to Tansy (played by Janet Blair), a woman who splits her time between their house near the college and a seaside cottage. Interesting choice of names as the herb Tansy has historically magical properties (it was allegedly given to the Greek mortal-turned-demigod Ganymede to bestow immortality upon him) as well as medicinal properties.

Their home is filled with items that, to the trained eye, are significant for their magical and folkloric properties. There’s a bell hanging hidden at the front door to ward off evil.

Bell

There are statues and significant art ranging from African witchdoctor masks to a statue of Kwan Yin. There’s a broom hanging above an archway. Norman seems utterly oblivious to this. Repeated viewings of the film reveal totems, gris-gris, and charms absolutely everywhere!

Tansy longs to return to Jamaica, where they spent some time while Norman did research. Norman reminds her of the downside, like malaria, but she’s nostalgic. Norman gently scoffs at her fascination with a “warlock” named Carubius with whom she spent time while in Jamaica. Did I mention that she’s also beautiful?

Tansy

Tansy doesn’t care for the bickering and backbiting that goes along with being in academia, but keeps up with her duties as a professor’s wife by hosting a weekly bridge game for other members of the faculty.

Faculty

Snark? They’ve got it. Double entendres? In spades . . . so to speak.

After the bridge game is over, Tansy seems distressed and while Norman sits and reads, she goes through their living room obviously searching for something. She opens drawers, looks under tables, slides her hands along the underside of shelves, but when Norman questions what she’s doing she brushes it off with a weak explanation about a shopping list. Just before they retire for the night, Norman is looking for something in a dresser drawer and needs to remove a drawer that contains Tansy’s things. He finds this:

Spider

Tansy is nervous and upset when she sees that the drawer has been taken out. Norman asks her about the jar, which she asserts is simply a memento from their time in Jamaica and a gift from Carubius. Norman is dismissive of her attachment to it.

After they’ve gone to bed for the night, she gets up while Norman sleeps and returns to the living room to resume her search and finds what she’s been looking for:

Fetish

It’s a fetish that’s been knotted into a lampshade. Tansy takes it apart and burns it, but her sense of disquiet increases.

The next day, while Norman is getting out a jacket to give to a dry cleaner, he finds a sachet that’s been pinned to the underside of the lapel. This prompts him to go back to their bedroom where he rifles through Tansy’s dresser drawers. He finds more than he bargained for.

Potion

When Tansy returns from running errands, she notices that the bell is missing from over the front door. Upon entering the house, she finds a pile of her magical items on the living room table and an argument ensues. She knows that Norman’s success has been heavily influenced by her and that her protective magic has been keeping them both safe in a hostile environment. Norman all but accuses her of being insane. She insists that her magic has been responsible for his rapid career advancement and in keeping him from danger from jealous colleagues.

“What do you want to believe?
“I want some kind of an explanation!”

“Well, isn’t it obvious? I’m a witch.”

Tansy recounts an experience they had in Jamaica in which Carubius saved the life of a young girl by taking the offered life of her grandmother in the girl’s place. Norman had fallen ill, and Tansy, in desperation, thought of Carubius’s magic. Although she didn’t resort to Carubius’s help because Norman recovered on his own, that was the event that started her down the path of witchcraft.

Norman demands that she destroy all her charms and talismans and come to her senses. Tansy says, “I tell you, Norman, I will not be responsible for what happens to us if you make me give up my protections!” While he’s burning everything, he asks if there’s anything that she didn’t give to him. She pulls out a locket that she’s wearing and gives it to him. Behind his photo are some dried herbs and while he’s dumping them into the flames, his photo goes in as well. Tansy panics and begs him to retrieve the photo, but it’s too late.

And that is when the stuff hits the fan.

The story builds from here with everything from a female student accusing Norman of seducing her to a student with failing grades trying to kill him to Norman nearly being run down by a delivery truck. The faculty politics becomes a nest of vipers. Something tries to break into Norman and Tansy’s home, triggered by sounds coming over the phone. Terrible things escalate rapidly and Tansy becomes desperate to save the man whom she adores.

But . . . Tansy is not the only witch in this tale.

As the tension in the film increases, Norman tries to track down Tansy who has left him a message telling him that she’s going to die in his place. He finds that she’s been at their seaside cottage and discovers stacks of books on witchcraft and black magic. Fighting against reason, but desperate to save her, Norman goes so far as to attempt a spell he finds in one of her books.

Spell

He’s too late, though, and the Tansy who comes back to him isn’t quite the Tansy he knows. The film shifts focus from narrative to her POV and back again at this point, creating a sense of disorientation that’s very effective. Shortly after she comes back to him, they return to their home and things get even worse.

Indeed, Tansy is not the only witch in town.

Witch

I think this is a good place to stop before I give it all away.

Burn, Witch, Burn is currently available on streaming Netflix for those who have access. It’s available on DVD and can be purchased. I cannot recommend this film, and its source book, highly enough. As I wrote earlier, I’ve watched the film four times. I’m certain that I’ll watch it many, many more times and will likely start writing down a list of all the witchcraft-related objects scattered around their house.

Are you wondering why I’m so interested in all those items? It’s simple. Tansy and Norman’s house reminds me a great deal of my own, and of the homes of many of my friends.

Cross

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Oz, the Great and Powerful – Review

[written by Witch Awareness Month member, Mark S. Deniz]

[Beware of minor spoilers here]

Nostalgia plays a massive part in our lives: music we listen to, films we watch, food we eat, etc., it is a hard thing, nay almost impossible, to neglect when trying to objectively judge the worth of something.

Imagine then, watching a film for the first time and wondering if you enjoyed it as much as you thought you did or whether a previous film that is linked to it has affected that opinion.

It is here I find myself when reviewing Oz, the Great and Powerful, because watching a film that pays obvious homage to its 1939 predecessor, is a recipe for confusion. Taking a step back from the film a few days later I can say up front that I enjoyed much within the film and took quite a lot from it, whilst at the same time admitting frustration and annoyance.

The opening credits of the film are fantastic and follow that with a sepia opening, which switches both colour and screen size as it moves into Oz and this as good a homage to The Wizard of Oz, as you are going to get. There are similarities in look and feel and enough of a mention of the characters from the earlier film without it feeling that they are being crowbarred in to keep the hardcore fan happy.

I must state here that I watched the film with my love of The Wizard of Oz, as a constant gauge. I watched the film first when I was very young, as part of one of my many wonderful childhood Christmas memories and didn’t read the novel until much later. There are things I remembered about both the book and the film that made certain decisions within this one strange. I mean, it seemed as though Sam Raimi was making a film that was to be the prelude to The Wizard of Oz but linked things to the book or the film.

Two examples of this are: Glinda, the good witch and the Emerald City. Glinda is the Good Witch of the North in the first film but is the Good Witch of the South in both the newer film and the book. The Emerald City is not actually emerald in the book but appears that way as everyone wears emerald tinted glasses. In both films the city is actually emerald, making the continuity film-based there. This is nit-picking at its finest and I’m not saying decisions like this ruined the film but they niggled somewhat.

Glinda rocks!

I loved the look and feel of Oz in the film (except maybe the wizard’s arrival to the land) and I was pleased that they had three of the witches instead of just the two in the first film (well the third features there two – or her legs at least).

The Wicked Witch of the East

Glinda was excellent, she felt very much like a younger version of the original good witch and it seemed like Michelle Williams had studied the earlier film to get the character just right. Rachel Weisz was solid too, maybe as she didn’t have to tailor her role to another in the previous film. I’ve been a fan of Weisz for many a year and think she would have excelled whatever the challenge.

Not so Mila Kulis, as I’ve not seen her perform in any film so far where she has seemed a credible character and her portrayal of one of the stars of the original film, the Wicked Witch of the West, was woeful and over acted to excess. If this was a homage I’m just pleased that Margaret Hamilton hasn’t witnessed the travesty.

“I’ll have you know, I’ve been to acting school!”

I still haven’t made my mind up about James Franco in general but I don’t think he was the right casting here. He was great as the arrogant, self-obsessed Oz in the early part of the film but his transformation was hard to believe, especially as he maintained his smug grin throughout.

“Smug? Moi?”

Other things grated, like the flying baboons, as they were bloody vicious and not at all in keeping with the originals which were more mischievous and cunning than just outright bloodthirsty (and were not actually baboons). I hated all the one-liners, usually uttered by Franco and it gave the film more of a ‘suit the viewers of today’, rather than a ‘suit the original fans’ feel.

However, some of the ideas were wonderful: characters that appear in both Kansas and Oz, especially the crippled girl who in the opening scenes asks Oz to make her walk again, appears in Oz as a china doll which has had its legs broken off. Oz glues them back together and fulfills his prophecy as the wizard and achieves what he couldn’t in Kansas. That was probably my scene of the film.

The action is not overwhelming, letting the story of an arrogant man turned saviour develop and giving us a credible back story as to how Oz ended up in, well, Oz, and why he is the ethereal form which appears to Dorothy and her gang.

And it brings back memories, it kindles the light we felt from the original film, makes me want to watch that one again, listen to Somewhere over the Rainbow, makes me remember all the Christmases again.

Try as I might, objectivity eludes me and I suppose we will all have to settle for that.

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The Blair Witch Project – Review

[written by Witch Awareness Month member, Mark S. Deniz]

[Part One of Mark’s ‘Handheld Cinema’ trilogy]

“I can see why you like this camera so much. It’s not quite reality”

When it comes to horror films, The Blair Witch Project takes some beating. There are so many reasons for this that I am unsure where to start. It is with this in mind that I start with the trivia, not often found in my film reviews but having some significance here.

Production

Although not fully confirmed, the estimated figure for the cost of the film stands at $35,000, with Artisan acquiring it for $1.1 million, before spending $25 million on marketing.

The film, mainly due to an excellent marketing ploy, went on to make $248 million worldwide, thus making it the third most successful independent film of all time (after Paranormal Activity and Mad Max).

Filming took eight days and, during that time, nineteen hours of footage were edited into ninety minutes of film. There has also been much talk about the techniques used by producer Gregg Hale to keep the actors on edge throughout the filming. They were deprived of food, sleep and constantly given conflicting information about the production. This was inspired by military training experienced by Hale previously.

The Blair Witch

Having been brought up in the Pendle Witch area of England, I have a healthy fear of witches and the mythology surrounding them. However, I do not think this in any way means that this film cannot be fully appreciated without some sort of history behind it, just something I am always reminded of when watching the film.

The legend of the Blair Witch is built up in the town of Burkittsville, formally Blair, with some of the events having basis in legend but most of it created by the producers. Most of the filming of The Blair Witch Project takes place in Maryland’s Seneca Creek State Park.

The people interviewed at the beginning of the film are a mix of locals and planted actors. The three students: Mike, Heather and Josh had been informed that all were locals. The film is full of little touches like this.

The Film

It feels like a documentary. Even knowing it isn’t, doesn’t diminish that: the actors are unknown, the camera work is very visceral (Heather Donahue took a two day filming course before shooting) and the filming focuses adequately enough on unnecessary information (such as whether the camera shots should be measured in feet or metres) to give it authenticity.

The documentary follows three college kids, mentioned above, as they travel to Burkittsville, to discover if the rumours surrounding the famous Blair Witch have any substance. We receive all this through early reports from locals and readings from material that Heather has brought along.

They are in pretty high spirits as the project begins, eager to get on with the filming and making quips at each other about their involvement/beliefs. Heather and Josh know each other already but Mike is new to the bunch.

Introductions are made and they make their way to Burkittsville for some early shooting of the town, and the interviews with the locals, before making an early night of it in readiness for the day ahead; a day in the forest, searching for clues about the witch, and killer Rustin Parr (rumoured to have killed seven children in a house in the very forest they journey to).

After leaving the car, and having found Coffin Rock, where five men were reputed to have met their deaths at the hands of the Blair Witch, Heather admits that she has lead the group off the map but refuses to accept the fact that this was in any way wrong. This is a pivotal moment, as this is what leads the group into more and more danger.

The stress builds, not so much in terms of a sense of any supernatural force but that sense of being lost in an unknown forest. A very real, very tangible fear.

The group seems to cheer up as they make camp and we are given a sense of relief. That is until Josh kicks over a cairn in the cemetery and Heather rebuilds it as quickly as possible. The party then begin to hear sounds in the forest, leading them out to investigate. They find nothing but can hear cracking sounds.

A day of getting more and more lost finds the party waking up to three specially made cairns outside their tent. This is just before we find out the Heather has no idea where the map is, leading to a massive argument between Josh and Heather, both claiming the other has it. The sense of panic is mounting and they try to convince themselves that family members will soon be calling the police to send out a search party.

A huge moment in the film is when Mike admits to throwing away the map, as he feels that it has not been helping them, but instead hindering them. The reaction of Josh and Heather really ups the tension here and when Mike defends himself all hell breaks loose.

Panic builds as they then see the wooden, human effigies in the forest and any doubts that there is something or someone in the woods with them are well and truly put to rest.

Once we see the creations in the forest, the film kicks into gear and that night the sounds intensify, leading to Heather leaving the safety of the tent (followed by Josh) and fleeing into the woods in the dead of night. Of course, we see nothing but this scene serves to intensify the anticipation of horror. We now know that not only is there is something here but that it is, in fact, out to get them, as upon their return, the group see that the campsite has been defaced.

On intensifying their desire to return home the party begin to fight again with Josh giving one of the monologues that describes a major theme of the film, the opening quote of this:

“I can see why you like this camera so much. It’s not quite reality”

Before they get to a log, over  the river, which Heather is reluctant to admit is the same one they crossed the day before. This culminates in Josh’s vicious attack on Heather, using her as the protagonist for the DV footage, and leading her to an onscreen breakdown.

The following morning Josh is missing, and Heather and Mike break camp and attempt to find him. The day is very ominous and melancholic, leading to a powerful evening in which the pair hears Josh’s screams from somewhere in the forest.

The following morning Heather finds a bundle wrapped in material from Josh’s clothes. Upon opening it Heather finds what appears to be hair and body parts (a finger maybe) covered in blood but makes the decision not to tell Mike.

That evening Heather makes her famous apology speech, asking the parents of Josh and Mike and even her own, for forgiveness, for leading the party into the woods and to their deaths.

“I’m scared to close my eyes; I’m scared to open them”

They then hear Josh again and go looking for him. The search leads them to a house in the forest and it is here that we see the end of Mike and Heather, Mike forced to stand in the corner whilst we hear Heather’s screams…

Impact

The Blair Witch Project is an incredibly powerful film, helped by its unknown actors, realistic camera work and the sense of foreboding that, for fans of slasher horrors, never quite comes to fruition. In the film we see cairns, effigies, blood soaked clothing and finally we are given the proof that there is something there when hearing Heather’s screams, whilst seeing Mike stood in a corner, awaiting his fate.

What we don’t see is the Blair Witch, we don’t see Rustin Parr and we don’t actually see anyone die, proving that in order to have a genuinely creepy film we do not actually need to see body parts flying about and gruesome creatures jumping out at us from dark places. It’s the anticipation of this, the fear that something is there, the not knowing what that is that one of the elements that several classic horror films follow.

One of the most frightening scenes I have ever seen in a film is in David Lynch’s Lost Highway, when the protagonist is afraid that there is something awaiting him in the bedroom of his apartment. We follow him, on his journey through the dark corridor from his living room to his bedroom, all the while waiting, dreading before the terrifying conclusion of…nothing. There is nothing there and not only have we been forced to hold our breath in terror but we have not had that release (however terrifying) that awaits us. The Blair Witch Project builds up this tension throughout, and we only get our release at the end but by then it’s too late, we are already deeply affected.

The camera work is too real, we see everything too close, too raw and this, in turn, affects us more than a film using standard techniques might. The sense that we are watching a documentary also affects us and adding these two elements to three college kids who seem very real gives us no escape at all.

I love the film for this and for the fact that is one of the few horror films of the last fifteen years or so that truly terrifies me, that makes me feel uneasy whenever it ends and actually fills me with trepidation every time I put it on.

I still remember my first words, after leaving the cinema at three o’clock in the afternoon, on the day of its premiere in Berkeley, California:

“I’m glad it’s daylight out!”

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Welcome to Witch Awareness Month, 2013!

[Written by Witch Awareness Month team member, Mark S. Deniz]

Where do I start?

Witch

I say this in all honesty, as there are so many places I want to start, being as this is the most special of the awareness months for me. Yes, I know I gushed about how special Ghost Appreciation Month was/is but this is the one, this is the awareness month I’ve been waiting to host!

I suppose I can start by saying welcome! Welcome to our inaugural Witch Awareness Month, and thank you for coming along and being part of it, for being one of people who makes these months worth doing. In case you haven’t noticed we have only a few months left.

Here’s how the Awareness Months pan out now:

January = Nothing (too soon after Christmas and no one has the energy to drive an Awareness month here)

February = Monster Awareness Month

March = Nothing and nothing planned as yet

April = Witch Awareness Month

May = Zombie Awareness Month (our first, taken from the official month online)

June = Fae Awareness Month

July = Vampire Awareness Month

August = Nothing (Sharon Ring has something in mind for the future here)

September = Nothing and nothing planned as yet

October = Ghost Appreciation Month (the next one will be Ghost Awareness Month)

November = Nothing (I’ve had something a little different planned here)

December = Nothing and nothing planned either (I would NOT want to be involved in an awareness month here)

My big dream was to run Witch Awareness Month last year, 2012, as it was a very significant year for me, being the 400th anniversary of the Pendle Witch Trials in Lancashire, England, which basically started all of the fascination for me and witches off. Well, life came in and decided that it wasn’t to be, something it thought about this year too. This year though I’d had enough and made my mind up that I was to not be denied and so here we are, due to the fact, in part, that I managed to get myself a not only bigger than normal but very experienced team on board.

Medium rare?

Medium rare?

I’m joined again by Morrigan Books cohort, KV Taylor, who has not only been with me on other Awareness months but also runs Fae Awareness Month herself and I’m also joined by Morrigan Books staff member Kari Wolfe, who is not only a damn fine editor but has a keen eye for promotion too.

Then I have the honour of welcoming three Morrigan Books writers along for the ride: Carole Lanham, Shannon Page and Simon Kewin, all willing to share fiction and their editorial talents to the event. Carole has agreed to conclude the event and I am already excited about what she will have to say then.

Delisa Carnegie, who I have only been in contact with from a publisher/reviewer relationship was keen to join us and is a very welcome addition to the team, bringing both experience and freshness to the gang.

So with an experienced and motivated team along and witches being my personal passion then we can’t go wrong can we? Can we?

The biggest challenge this year was to cover all the bases within the witch concept, as there is not only the fictional fairy-tale witch or the Hollywood witch but there are also Wiccans too. It feels like a more complex subject to grasp but the beauty of running the event in this way is that we are not constrained by these concepts as rules. We can portray the witch as an old crone with warts, flying around on a broomstick and cooking up toads and bats in a cauldron. It would be a bit dull, I grant you, but nevertheless we are free.

So what are we bringing you then? Well we’re going to be talking about the history of witches, what it is to be a wiccan, especially in 2013, we’re going to have reviews, articles, fiction. We’re making a special effort to keep up to date with our topic, especially as we’ll have a review of Oz, the Great and Powerful early in the month and some juicy promotions too.

Oz-Witch-poster

We’re breaking with tradition on two fronts, as this year we are not going to be listing our films in chronological order, duly noted by my choosing to start the month with one of my all time films, the either love it or hate it Blair Witch Project. We are also going to be working with Morrigan Books, for very obvious reasons, which will be revealed as the month wears on.

I’ve much more to say, I’ve so much to say about my love for witches, my fascination for the history of them and their potrayal in literature and specially in TV and film but I’ve decided to leave that for another post – it deserves another post.

The next generation of witches

The next generation of witches

You’ve got a month to savour people, savour it and thanks once again for wanting to be involved – without you there would be no point to this. By saying that I mean you also need to be thinking about telling your friends and family – it is going to be worth a few minutes of your time every day for a month or so.

The witches are here…

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