Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Dead End: Paranormal Park - a review

Logging into Netflix, Dead End: Paranormal Park took me by surprise. I remembered seeing a Twitter post about it and was momentarily confused that I hadn't seen more. Then I remembered that most of the entertainment news crawling into my timeline is either Stranger Things or book related. It looked good, instantly giving me Gravity Falls vibes, so I couldn't resist hitting play. It didn't take me long to realise I'd found a new favourite show. Let me share it with you.

The Plot
When Barney and Norma arrive at Phoenix Parks (a theme park based around in-series superstar Pauline Phoenix.), they think the most challenging part of their day will be competing with each other for the job they've both applied for. Unfortunately, they soon discover that they've been tricked into entering the park's haunted house by demon Courtney and a host of other horrors to provide the demon King Temeluchus with a body to possess. In the ensuing chaos, Pugsley (Barney's dog, who he'd snuck into the park in his backpack.) ends up being the one possessed, and the two competing teens have to team up to save their canine friend and put a stop to Temeluchus' evil plans.
Even after they've completed the seemingly impossible task of vanquishing the demon king and gaining employment at the park, things don't get any easier. On top of dealing with family problems, romance, paranormal hijinks, a now-talking Pugsley and having Courtney as a friend, they soon discover that the park may be hiding a sinister secret. There's a mystery afoot at Phoenix Parks, and the gang better solve it quickly because people are going missing.

It's been a long time since I've gotten into a series. I mean properly sat myself down and devoured a series in one sitting, only to be left wanting more. I'm really hoping that Netflix okay a 2nd season, and soon. No spoilers, but this series ended on a fascinating cliffhanger, and I can't wait to see where they take it next. I especially love that the series is LGBTQ+ inclusive, which is great to see. And you can relax knowing that the Bury Your Gays trope is nowhere to be seen. 
I noticed in the credits that the show was based on books* by Hamish Steele, the series' creator. Looking into this further, I discovered that it started as animated shorts called Dead End on Cartoon Hangover and then moved to graphic novel form, titled Deadendia. I highly recommend checking out both of these; it's interesting to see how the series has evolved over the years, plus they're fun to watch/read.
Each character has their own unique design and stands out nicely from eachother. I liked Barney and Norma from the start. The two of them work well together, their friendship growing and becoming stronger as the show continues. Well written and likeable, you'll soon find yourself emotionally invested in their adventures. Each has their own personality and background, making them highly relatable. The animation is bright and eyecatching, keeping you glued to the screen. It's genuinely a joy to watch. The location, Phoenix Parks, is nicely designed with attention paid to detail. You get to see the different themed areas, each based around one of Pauline's many movies. The end result was a sudden craving to round up all my friends and head to a theme park. The cheerful location perfectly offsets the spooky elements of the show. 
Dead End: Paranormal Park is entertaining viewing for all ages. I recommend giving it a watch, even if you don't generally like animation or spooky shows. It's a funny, heartfelt and occasionally dark tale of triumphing over evil, while coming of age and dealing with everything else life throws at you. Honestly, I think it's just perfect.
Roll on Season 2.

Dead End: Paranormal Park is rated PG. The first season contains 10 episodes, each up to 30 minutes long, and can be found on Netflix.

Already seen Dead End: Paranormal Park? Share your thoughts, favourite characters or favourite moments in the comments below, or tag me in a Tweet. Just remember to avoid spoilers for the folks who haven't seen it yet. Speaking of the people who haven't seen it yet, feel free to leave a comment too! Are you looking forward to watching it? Why aren't you watching it now? Seriously, go check it out! Maybe you have some suggestions for similar cartoons that people might enjoy? Once again, drop a comment below or tag me in a Tweet. I love to hear from you.

*I immediately headed to Amazon to try and grab myself a copy, only to discover they had none in stock. Very disappointing, but I managed to grab a copy in Foyles instead. I've only flicked through it, but I already know I will enjoy reading it.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Feline Folklore

By Day She Made Herself Into a Cat,
by Arthur Rackham.
I'm always slightly amazed when I meet people who say they don't like
cats. I suppose being a cat owner does make me a little biased though. Despite the widespread belief that they're uncaring and aloof, cats are, given a chance, some of the sweetest creatures out there. Even a snarling stray can mellow into a purring lap cat given time.
As a species, they have a mythology and folklore all of their own. They've been deified and demonised in equal measures. There are also many ghostly cats out there, a topic I've written about before and feline cryptids. I will introduce you to the folklore side of things in this post, choosing five areas to focus on. I'm leaving mythology and cryptids for a post sometime in the future, so keep your eyes peeled for those posts. 

  • People often assume that only humans were affected by the witchhunts, but animals suffered alongside them. Cats were one of the animals considered to be a witches' familiar. They were thought to be inhuman spirits or demons in mortal form. In some places it was believed they had the same powers as a witch, enabling them to carry out their owners' evil deeds in their stead. It was pretty standard for them to be killed alongside those accused of witchcraft. The tragic thing is that both the human and animal victims were innocent. The real monsters were those instigating the witchhunts. It was a brutal and unfair period. When they weren't working with witches, it was thought they were working with the Devil himself, ferrying around souls and spreading pestilence. This led to the belief that they caused the bubonic plague, and even more cats were slaughtered in an attempt to stop it. The rat population grew out of control with fewer cats around, allowing the epidemic to spread more easily throughout Europe.
  • Even when considered lucky, it still sucked to be a cat in medieval Europe. For some, cats were the guardians of the farmland, keeping evil spirits and pests away from the crops. But only if buried in the orchards or fields. They were also considered to guard the home against the same problems. It's common for mummified cats to be found in the walls of older houses, though it's not really known if they were walled in dead or alive. This unpleasant tradition was common during the 15th to 18th centuries. Some of these cats have been known to cause bad luck if messed with. I covered the story of one such cat and the chaos caused by upsetting it in one of my previous posts. If the cat was black it would bring even more luck, a complete turnaround from when they were considered servants of the Devil. Cats were luckier at sea than on land. Sailors liked to have a cat on board, not just because having something cute around boosted morale or that they kept pests away, but because it was considered lucky to have a cat on the ship. These days people prefer their lucky cats to be among the living. In some countries, black cats are considered bad luck, but they're considered the opposite in England. If a black cat crosses your path it's a good omen, and one old superstition suggests giving a black cat to the Bride on their wedding day for good luck. While I wouldn't recommend giving any animal as a gift, this tradition lives on with black cats often featured on wedding cards or as ornaments intended to be a keepsake. Not married? Not a problem. A black cat wandering into your home is said to bring in suitors looking for a partner. 
  • It's well known that cats were worshipped in Ancient Egypt, but most people don't realise how loved they truly were. If a household's cat died, the whole family would go into mourning. It was traditional for family members to shave off their eyebrows as a sign of their grief and loss. The cats were often mummified and given proper burials with their own little grave goods. The killing of a cat was considered a terrible crime, whether accidental or not, and the sentence for such a crime was death. Hypocritically, there is historical evidence of cats being bred for the sole purpose of being sacrificed to the very Goddess that made them sacred. They would be killed, mummified and then given as offerings at temples or buried in tombs. Mummified cats are so prolific that in 1890 around 180,000 of them were actioned off in Liverpool for use as fertiliser. Awful as that is, I suppose we should be glad they didn't get eaten, like so many of their human counterparts.
  • In the UK it's believed that a cat's behaviour can predict the weather. Who needs the weather report when you can just watch a cat? A cat clawing your furniture or getting the zoomies means that windy weather is coming. In Wales it was believed you could tell that it would rain if your cat was washing its ears a lot, and in other areas a cat sneezing predicted the same thing. Sailors believed that if the ship's cat fell overboard, a storm would soon follow that would sink the boat. Having a ship's cat that was black was said to guarantee fair weather. In Europe, you could keep your sea-going family members safe at sea and ensure that they'll have good weather by taking care of a black cat.
  • Most cats won't ruin your Christmas unless they get at the turkey or knock over the tree, but one cat joyfully makes the festive season stressful: The Yule Cat. The oldest written records of this beast come from the 19th century, but it's believed that the Yule Cat has been around for much longer, possibly even tracing its history back to the Dark Ages. Hailing from Iceland, it's also known as Jólakötturinn and is one of the country's many terrifying Christmas spirits. Oddly, this festive feline is a little more interested in fashion than your average moggy, specifically whether or not you got new clothes before Christmas Eve. This massive moggy towers over houses and stalks the countryside, looking for people to bother. It'll leave you be if you've got a new set of clothes. If you haven't then it will pounce, and devour you. Maybe think twice about complaining next time your Granny buys you socks for Christmas?

Well, dear readers, I think we can all agree that cats have got a bit of a raw deal over the years. Sadly, many people still think ill of cats thanks to the darker parts of folklore and superstition prevailing in some way or another. Some people will even go out of their way to cause them harm. I shouldn't have to say this, but it's worth noting that HARMING A CAT OF ANY COLOUR WON'T BRING YOU GOOD LUCK, GOOD HEALTH OR WEALTH. Many superstitions or elements of folklore have their roots in a much darker time when people didn't have the knowledge we have now.

Do you have any favourite pieces of folklore relating to cats that I haven't included? Any stories you want to share about cats and the paranormal? Leave them in the comments below, or tag me in a tweet!

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Sideworld: Haunted Forests of England

Forests are beautiful, sometimes mysterious places. While most are the sort of places you can go for a long walk to admire nature and clear your head, some hide dark secrets in their sunlight dappled shadows. I covered those sorts of forests on this blog before, when I shared the stories of Epping Forest and the Rendlesham Incident, but those are far from being the only areas of haunted woodland in England. If, like myself, you are fascinated by eerie tales or are looking for a new haunted place to visit, the new documentary Sideworld: Haunted Forests of England is perfect for you.

The Plot

Director George Popov steps in as narrator, acting as our guide as this documentary leads us on an unforgettable journey into the depths of three of the most haunted forests in the UK:          
Wistmans Wood, Devon - looking like something straight out of a fairy tale, this forest is home to both benevolent and malevolent spirits. The most famous of these are the infamous bloodthirsty Wisht Hounds and their master, the Huntsman.    
Cannock Chase, Staffordshire - a beautiful forest hunted by sinister creatures, both natural and supernatural, including an unearthly Pigman that roams the forest, numerous UFO sightings, true crime and the dreaded Black-Eyed Children. 
Epping Forest, Essex - a personal favourite of mine. A place haunted by many, with links to the Krays and Dick Turpin. It's also home to the Drowning Pool, a sinister location with a tragic backstory, that has allegedly claimed the lives of many an unwary walker.

About the Documentary

You'll have to forgive me for not giving away more than I
already have, but I really want anyone who chooses to watch the documentary to be able to do so without any spoilers and hope they will enjoy it as much as I did. Since Sideworld was bought to us by Rubicon Films, I 
had high hopes for it before I'd even cosied up on my sofa and hit play. I've covered one of the studio's films on this blog once before, The Droving, which I very much enjoyed and highly recommend. 
Sideworld is hauntingly beautiful and atmospheric, a true pleasure to watch. 
Filmed on location, the forests are both enchanting and eerie. Thanks to the documentary's stunning cinematography, you really feel like you're there, slipping through the lush, shadowy woods to seek out the ghosts for yourself. It is beautifully filmed. Not only do the forests become as much a character in these stories as the people who feature in them, but by the end of the documentary you'll want to visit them for yourself. The film also features art by Todor Popov and other artists, helping to further illustrate the stories and unseen ghosts.
George Popov is an excellent narrator, bringing the haunting tales to life with the help of Suzie Frances Garton and William Poulter, who step in to read us the eyewitness accounts, doing a brilliant job at bringing them to life. I've never been a fan of dramatic re-enactments, finding them to be a bit cheesy, so I found the way Sideworld presented people's encounters in the forests quite refreshing. These stories are blended with the re-telling of historical events and some of the most chilling folklore I've ever had the pleasure to hear. It manages to be both suspenseful and educational, an exciting program to watch.

All in all, I found this documentary immensely enjoyable. 
Even more exciting, Haunted Forests of England is only the first project to come to us from Sideworld, with more planned in the future. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing what they bring to us next.

Director: George Popov
Producer: Jonathan Russell
Starring: Suzie Frances Garton, William Poulter
Featuring art by Todor Popov
Runtime: 1 hour and 9 minutes
Subtitles: English
Made by: Rubicon Films

Monday, February 28, 2022

The Faces of Bélmez

"Spring is the usual period for house-cleaning and removing the dust and dirt which, notwithstanding all precautions, will accumulate during the winter months from dust, smoke, gas, etc." - Mrs Beeton.

It's nearly March, traditionally a time when one might indulge in a spot of Spring cleaning; airing out the house after winter and scrubbing it from top to bottom to freshen things up a bit. And while you might find a few unwanted items lying around your home, you'll have to go a long way to beat the Pereira family's eerie kitchen discovery.
It was the summer of 1971 and, in the sleepy Spanish village of Bélmez de la Moraleda, Maria Pereira had spotted an odd stain in the concrete floor of her kitchen. Not anything unusual in a busy family home. After all, it was possible that someone had spilt something and not cleaned it up quick enough. So Maria wasn't really all that concerned. She cleaned the floor and went about her day. But the stain didn't wash away, and to Maria's horror, it developed further as the week passed. Now, staring up at her was a face. Distorted but clearly human. Scrub as hard as she might, Maria couldn't wash it away. Her husband, Juan, decided to solve the problem with a spot of DIY. If soap and water wouldn't rid them of the face, then a pickaxe would. With the help of their son, Miguel, he set about breaking up and relaying the kitchen floor. It was an annoyance, but it was worth the hassle if it meant that peace would return to their home.
Peace didn't return to their home, but the face did. A new one this time. Even clearer than the last, and it was not alone. The family tried their best, but nothing would make the faces go away. Soon news of the strange happenings got out, spreading through the village like wildfire. The Pereira's neighbours came to take a look, soon news spread even further until people were visiting the house from all over the country, demanding to see the sinister faces. Many believers in the paranormal felt the faces were linked to Maria, as it was believed locally that she was a medium. Sceptics accused the family of faking the phenomenon for fame and riches. Before long the creepy kitchen floor was in the news worldwide, and everyone was wondering the same thing; what is going on here? I wish I had a straightforward answer for you, but people are torn between three theories even today.

Theory One: they were painted.
When news about the faces got out it attracted a lot of experts, including scientists, some of whom were parapsychologists. It's worth noting that some of these scientists were more sceptical than others, but all of them sought to prove or disprove human involvement. 
Many tests were done on the faces themselves, with samples being sent off to labs. One investigator went as far as to lock the family out of the kitchen, but the faces continued to appear regardless. Even when areas of the floor were covered, new faces would appear under the covering with no apparent signs of tampering. And considering that the faces expressions would change throughout the day, it would be a lot of work for family members to be erasing and repainting them, and even more challenging to do so without being caught.
The scientists involved seemed unable to agree on whether the phenomenon was an act of forgery or not. While some claim that they had proven that the faces were caused by paint or chemicals, others swore that they weren't, and some came back with inconclusive results. 

Theory Two: it was linked to Maria.
As previously stated, it was believed locally that Maria was a spirit medium. As a result, some felt that she was somehow causing the haunting. It was theorised that she was, unknowingly, psychically projecting the images onto the floor. This is an act known as Thoughtography, also known as Spirit Photography. Typically this psychic feat is performed using new camera film, with the psychic burning the images straight onto it. The images would then be visible on the negatives and the photos themselves once developed. It's incredibly unusual for the images to appear anywhere else. Some of you may be familiar with this psychic ability as it featured in The Ring.
The faces appeared, whether Maria was home or not, but it's been said that the phenomena did slow down when she wasn't there, although it didn't halt completely. The faces were known to change their expressions, and some have pointed out that the facial expressions coincided with Maria's moods. 

Theory Three: It was a haunting, but not one linked to Maria.
A local legend tells of a family who once lived in the village. This family was brutally murdered. Many who believed the faces to be of paranormal origins, including one of the investigating experts, thought the Pereira family home to be the site of the murders. While this seems like a theatrical take on what could be happening, there is no evidence that the murdered family ever lived in that house.
One attempt to get rid of the Faces resulted in the floor not only being smashed up but being dug up entirely. There, under all the dust and rubble, they found human remains. Skeletons that had clearly been there for a very long time. The Pereira family home was built within a stones throw of a local church. There's a strong possibility that the house was constructed accidentally over a forgotten bit of the graveyard. Having been disturbed and not being very happy about it, the dead may have been trying to voice their displeasure by appearing through the floor. EVPs were also recorded in the kitchen, which included many different voices, including children.

Though the cause of these odd happenings has yet to officially be discovered, it's a very interesting tale none the less. Maria passed away in 2004, but the faces didn't stop appearing, which in my mind rules out Theory Two. Also, during the investigations, nobody (to the best of my knowledge.) bothered to test Maria to see if she was actually psychic. 
This was one of my favourite tales growing up. I've been fascinated with the Faces of Belmez since I first saw them staring up at me from a library book. I just love the mystery of it.
Despite that, I'd love to see another investigation done, as I feel that with a team of scientists co-operating with each other instead of doing separate tests and modern ghost hunting equipment, we might finally get a concrete answer as to what caused all of this. Pun not intended.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

January Update

Those of you who are regulars at The Strange Ways might be wondering why it's been so quiet round here lately, and why there was no December post. And those of you who are new here, hello! Welcome to my blog, and this years January update!
First, my apologies about the lack of posts in December. It was probably the worst time of year to do it, but my folks and I have moved house. Things are going okay, I'm no longer living out of boxes, but there wasn't much time to write. As a result, the post I had planned for December 2021 has been delayed until December 2022.
As usual, there will be no post in January, other than this update. We'll be back again in February with a new post, so follow me on Twitter or Instagram for updates. 
Where will I be taking the blog this year? It's hard to say. Much like last last year, I had hoped to visit more places, to check them out and write about my own experiences there alongside pre-existing stories. I haven't ruled this out, but since we're still in the middle of an ongoing pandemic, I can't guarantee anything. I've got many posts planned for this year though, and if I'm able to get out and about, then that will be a nice bonus. 
Hope you guys are as excited as I am. Stay spooky, dear readers; we'll be continuing our adventures down The Strange Ways together soon.