Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Droving; a Festival of Fear

The Droving

It's not a secret, I love Folk Horror with all my macabre little heart. Folklore itself is considered by some to just be a pretty collection of fairy tales and superstition, but when you really start to look into it, it will show you it's beautiful dark side. And I'm not alone in enjoying Folk Horror. Recent years have bought us a plethora of excellent books and films that delve into the darker side of older beliefs and stories.
Released on Amazon Prime this April, The Droving is a beautiful example of one of these films. It's bought to us by Rubicon Films, the same production company that bought us 2017's Hex, and is well worth a watch.

After returning home from a stint in the military, Martin is in search of his little sister, Megan, who has mysteriously gone missing. Looking for clues, he meets with a friend of his sisters, Tess. Through her he discovers that she and Megan were meant to meet up at a local festival, The Droving, but it was likely here that his sister went missing. Tess also tells him about a group of suspicious outsiders who have been visiting the festival and taking it a little too seriously. With not much else to go on, Martin heads out to find them and through them, finds out that a sinister ritual is going to be taking place. But what does this ritual have to do with Megan, what happened to her and, more importantly, what will become of Martin?

About the Film

A visually beautiful film, the shots of the vast Lake District countryside reveal its stark beauty, giving it a perfect lonely and isolated vibe. The soundtrack is haunting, but the movie doesn't rely on it for the whole runtime, instead relying on everyday background noises, silence and the actors themselves to slowly build up the tension to the point where you could cut it with a knife.
Speaking of the actors, a strong performance all round from all. The main character, Daniel Oldroyd as Martin, is pleasant and likeable, but with a cold edge to him. As an ex-soldier and interrogator for the British army, he's unafraid to take risks and go to great lengths to get the information he needs. He acts as our guide into this world of Folk Horror and we uncover the mystery alongside him, like an invisible side-kick. And we want Martin to succeed in avenging his sister, although an eye for an eye probably isn't something kind-hearted Meg would have approved of. His fellow actors play characters who are well rounded and individual, making them feel like real people. And none of them are quite what they seem.
The festival itself, The Droving, is glowing, full of light and warmth which belies it's more sinister side. It very much reminds me of the real-life traditional and pagan celebrations that we see throughout the year here in the UK, including Penrith's Winter Droving festival, which is where I assume it was filmed and takes some inspiration from.
All in all, The Droving is a treasure of a film, and a breath of fresh air when some movies have a nasty habit of taking a little too much inspiration from The Wicker Man. I heartily recommend it to all lovers of folklore and horror, but also to those new to the genre.

Viewable at: Amazon Prime

Director: George Popov
Writers: George Popov,  Johnathan Russell
Starring: Daniel Oldroyd, Suzie Fances Garton, Amy Tyger
Supporting Cast: Bobby Robertson, John Lawrence Risdon, John Love, Alexander King
Runtime: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Subtitles: English
Official Site

Have you already seen The Droving? Let me know what you think in the comments section below or by tagging me in a post on Twitter. If you haven't seen the movie yet, then don't forget you can view it on Amazon, and it's well worth a watch. So grab yourself a nice drink and some popcorn, and snuggle down for a movie night!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Horror in Isolation.

As the lockdown continues, so too does the risk of boredom. And at The Strangeways HQ we are completely against boredom. So, in the hopes of introducing you to something you've never seen before, I present to you a list of films and series to check out while you're in lockdown. 

Ravenous (1999)

It's the 1800's and Lieutenant Boyd has been sent/banished to Fort Spencer, a remote garrison at the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountain range. Home to the militaries outcasts, this frozen place is where the army sends the people it would rather forget. Despite this, everything seems to be going fine for Boyd and his companion. That is until a snowstorm blows a mysterious stranger, Colqhoun, their way and everything rapidly spirals out of control.
An interesting take on the Wendigo legend, the best way to describe Ravenous is glorious, gleeful chaos; it's humour at it's darkest.
The most important thing about this movie it to double-check which one you're watching. If you watch the 2018 Ravenous instead of the 1999 Ravenous then you'll be stuck with zombies eating people instead of Robert Carlyle eating people, and nobody want that.
Format: Movie
Available: Amazon
Subtitles: n/a

Noroi: the curse (2005)
After a fire at his home, which seemingly killed his wife, our protagonist Kobayashi has vanished without a trace and at this point it's unknown whether he was responsible or not. As a famous paranormal investigator and documentary maker, Kobayashi was in the middle of filming a new documentary, investigating a series of strange events that have been taking place just before the tragic incident took place. The tapes he took leading up to the disaster help us retrace his steps, as the seemingly random paranormal events he was documenting are revealed to be linked and are the sign of something much more sinister and, ultimately, unstoppable.
Most found footage movies try to play themselves off as true stories, but few manage as well as Noroi. This gem of a horror movie is atmospheric, disturbing and its complex and fascinating plot will leave your skin crawling.
Format: Movie
Available: Shudder
Subtitles: yes

Lake Mungo (2008)
Lake Mungo documentary-style movie that follows the family of Alice, after her untimely death by drowning. As friends and family are interviewed, we get to know Alice through their memories. Meanwhile, her brother has set up video cameras in an attempt to catch signs of her spirit, after she starts to appear in the documentary footage and photos, seemingly to help bring some closure to the family. As filming continues and strange events occur, we soon discover there's a bigger mystery afoot. Is the ghost of Alice everything it seems? And what really led to the teenagers death? The truth is more shocking than you'd expect.
I'm not big on documentary horror movies, since there's so many bad ones out there since the genre became popular, but I will always recommend Lake Mungo. It's spooky and a little sad, and so well acted that you could believe that it's a real documentary.
Format: Movie
Available: Amazon
Subtitles: n/a

Marianne (2019)
Successful novelist Emma is forced to return to the hometown she left behind her at the behest of an old childhood friend, who's mother has become disturbingly obsessed with the horror novel Emma writes. To her utter dismay, she soon finds herself having to stay there due to the chaotic events that are unfolding in the small town, all of which are linked to Emma, her novels and the dark spirit that inspired them. As the lines between fact and fiction become blurred, the question is can the horror be stopped and, if it can, at what price?
Watching Marianne with my friends, I found myself doing something that I haven't done for a long time while watching a horror series. I was watching through my fingers. Even my friend M, usually distracted by his phone, couldn't tear himself away from the screen.
Format: Series
Available: Netflix
Subtitles: yes

As Above So Below (2014)
The film follows Archaeologist Scarlett and her cameraman as they descend into the darker areas of the Catacombs with a group of urban explorers. Their goal? Scarlett is frantically searching for the infamous philosophers stone. Her father spent his life in pursuit of the stone and, as a result of his obsession, was mocked and scorned by his fellow academics. His reputation ruined, he hung himself. Following her fathers notes, Scarlett has traced its hiding place to somewhere within the twisting depths of the ancient catacombs. Our heroine's mistake was believing that such a powerful object would be unguarded and easy to obtain. Her quest continues regardless and this mistake puts her life, and the lives of her companions, in danger.
Claustrophobic and incredibly creepy, As Above So Below is well-acted, with an engaging and original plot. It's also nice to see a film based in the Paris Catacombs, as there really aren't enough and it's an excellent location.
Format: Movie
Available: Netflix
Subtitles: some

Pulse (Kairo) (2001)
Atmospheric, eerie and, at the same time, oddly beautiful. This melancholy story follows two groups of characters as they deal with the lonely dead coming back to the land of the living via an increasingly popular website, the people around them vanishing into delicate clouds of ash and what this paranormal invasion means for mankind as a whole.
Since Hollywood went through a stage of churning out terrible reboots of Japanese horror movies, you may have heard of Pulse before. But you've probably heard of the remake, which was pretty awful, despite Wes Craven being involved. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke then don't fix it.
Format: Movie
Available: Amazon prime
Subtitles: yes.

Grave Encounters (2011)
For those of you who love watching ghost hunting shows, but have always wondered what it would be like if one went terribly wrong, this is the ideal movie for you. Presented as a found-footage documentary, it aims to explain what happened to the crew of Grave Encounters, a Ghost Adventures style television program that had to be cancelled after the entire crew disappeared mysteriously while filming at an abandoned mental asylum. The footage they filmed there is recovered, soon the whole horrific story of what happened that night reveals itself to the viewer and all we can do is watch as what should have been a simple ghost hunt turns into something much more sinister.
The acting is good, the plot interesting and the ghosts? They'll haunt your nightmares. There's also a sequel, but it's nowhere as good as its predecessor and is nothing to write home about.
Format: Movie
Available: Shudder
Subtitles: n/a

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
While it has a nicely sized cast, The Autopsy of Jane Doe spends most of its screen time focusing on just three of the characters. Tommy is the local coroner in his small town and Austin, his bored of the job son, often helps him out at the family business. Austin is planning to go out on a date with his girlfriend, but all that goes out the window when the local sheriff arrives at the mortuary with the body of an unknown woman. This is Jane Doe, a common nickname given to an unnamed female corpse. Found at the scene of a multiple homicide, Jane doesn't appear to have been involved at all and her cause of death is a mystery. As a result, the Sherrif needs Tommy and Austin to work through the night to solve this mystery. The autopsy begins, but Jane's corpse defies all logic. The situation only gets worse as our baffled duo find themselves trapped in the building due to a storm and terrifying activity starts to occur around the mortuary.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe was yet another pleasant surprise for me and my friends, during our attempts to find a terrible horror movie we instead found this wonderful one. This movie will keep you glued to the screen and you'll find yourself playing detective, trying to decipher what is going on from the clues that the movie gives you.
Format: Movie
Available: Amazon Prime
Subtitles: n/a

The Terror, (2018)
Based on the book of the same name, The Terror follows a semi-fictional account of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition. Tasked with finding the Northwest Passage, our heroes set sail for the Arctic in the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. However, they soon find themselves stuck in the ice with no thaw in sight, thanks to freak weather conditions and the hubris of expedition leader Sir John Franklin. After his untimely death, his second in command Captain Francis Crozier is reluctantly forced to take command and save his crew. But if the threat of frostbite and the fear of scurvy and starvation wasn't bad enough, there's something ancient and angry out on the ice and it wants them dead, picking the crew off one by one. And so what should have been a one year voyage turns into a terrifying cat and mouse battle for survival.
Part horror, part tragedy, The Terror will keep you glued to the screen, worried for the welfare of your favourite character. And trust me, you'll have a favourite character. The acting is top-notch, the special effects are excellent and the attention to historical detail is out of this world. This series didn't get enough attention when it first came out, but I highly recommend it. And if you enjoy it, then don't forget to check out season two.
Format: Series
Available: Amazon Prime
Subtitles: some

Hellier (2019)
Make yourself comfortable, because you'll find yourself wanting to binge-watch this. Hellier is presented as a documentary, following a team of paranormal investigators as they receive and investigate an email from a man who claims to be under siege by mysterious creatures, at his home in rural Hellier, Kentucky. On arrival in Hellier, our characters discover that the man who emailed them doesn't seem to exist but something paranormal is going on. They soon find themselves sucked into a mystery that's even bigger than they could ever have imagined, unable to tear themselves away from it as they proceed to investigate, despite being in over their heads.
I discovered Hellier through Twitter and I was instantly hooked. Gentle but at the same time spine-chillingly creepy due to its realism, there's something about Hellier that gives me podcast vibes. Well paced, it keeps you on the edge of your seat. You want to know what happens next and will end up genuinely caring for the welfare of the characters.
Format: Series
Available: Amazon Prime
Subtitles: n/a

I hope my little list has given you some ideas to keep you entertained while everything is in chaos. If you have any movie suggestions for me or have found a new favourite movie/series thanks to this list, then let me know over at Twitter or in the comments below. Until then, stay safe, dear readers.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Trouble in Paradise

Photo by Ronnie Robertson, CC BY-SA 2.0
Imagine an island paradise. Golden beaches, endless blue skies, a gentle breeze blowing through the wildflowers. Heaven. Or at least it looks like it. But at night this distant isle shows a different side; giant insects stalk the land, seeking to attack you, and the island itself has many secrets to discover. Even during the day, there's something eerie about this beautiful place. The music coming from your radio is a little creepy to say the least and you seem to be the only human here. Oh, and did I mention that within minutes of moving to the island you find yourself hopelessly in debt to a Tanuki in a Hawaiian shirt?
Yes, I'm talking about the latest Animal Crossing game, New Horizons. In these troubling times it has been the ultimate stress relief for a lot of people. A little bit of escapism that will, no doubt, lead to a whole new collection of creepy pastas written by it's fans. But as I toddled around my island, losing hours to the game and chasing down butterflies for the newly opened museum, a thought crossed my mind; what about real life haunted islands? There's so many of them! And that brings us to this blog post, where I'd like to introduce you to my top five haunted islands. So lets set sail on the good ship Strange Ways and take a cruise together, because these islands? These exist in real life.

Photo by Derek Simeone, CC BY 2.0
La Isla de las Muñecas, Mexico
Probably one of the most well known locations on this list and one of my top places to visit in person one day, this is the infamous Isle of the Dolls. And I'd be the first person to admit that I find old dolls a bit creepy. Tucked away in the Xochimico canals, outside of Mexico city, this island is jam packed with dolls of all shapes and sizes. Carefully placed on the ground, slowly decaying into the earth, watching you from the trees with hollow eye sockets and swaying in the breeze like grotesque wind chimes. It looks like an abandoned horror movie set, but it's history is both equal parts terrifying and tragic.
This island wasn't always as it it now, once it was home to a man by the name of Don Julian Santana Barrera and one must assume he was happy living there. But that all changed when he made the discovery of a little girls body floating just off the shore of his home. How she got there and what lead her to her heart breaking fate is unknown, but what is known is that Don Julian blamed himself for it, for not being there to save her. When a doll was washed ashore not long after, he decided that it must have belonged to the girl and he hung it from a nearby tree as an offering to her spirit. Soon after this he began to hear whispering voices, footsteps and shrill screams in the night. Convinced this was the ghost of the little girl, he began to collect more and more dolls, getting them from anywhere he could and adorning the small island with them. This was a ritual he would carry out for nearly fifty years. He hoped it would sooth the child's tortured, wandering spirit and save him from a similar fate, something he felt was beckoning him. Sadly, in 2001, Don Julian was found in the canal. Face down and lifeless in the same location that he found the little girl. Of course, some people were quick enough to blame the child's spirit, but I think it was more likely the guilt her felt for not having saved her that lead to his death. His legacy lives on in the tourists and ghost hunters who visit the island, many of them bringing dolls of their own to leave as offerings. Many report hearing the same haunting cries and footsteps that the islands late keeper heard.

Photo by Christine Olson, CC BY-ND 2.0

Nevis, the Caribbean
Sun, sea, sand and spirits; beautiful Nevis has it all! It's also home to a lot of ruined plantations and the Eden Brown Estate might just be the most notorious of them all. Back in the 1800's it was owned by the Huggins Family and the daughter of the family, Julia, was to be married to Walter Maynard, son of another rich and prosperous plantation owner. Everything was going smoothly, until the night of the wedding when a fight broke out between Walter and his best man, Julia's brother John Huggins. It's unknown what the argument was about, some say it was about a mistress one of the men had and others say it was about the Huggins constant mistreatment of their slaves, but no matter what people say the end result is the same. The fight escalates, a drink is thrown, a challenge made; a duel. Despite the protests of those around them, it was a matter of honor and both men stormed from the house to the courtyard outside. But the duel itself ended as quickly as it began. Firing their pistols, both men managed to hit their mark and killed each other instantly. Julia was heartbroken, she stopped leaving the house and eventually died a spinster. Some say she went mad in her self imposed isolation. These days Julia can still be found at the crumbling ruins of her previous home, her spirit has been sighted roaming the grounds and weeping. When not seen or heard it's said that her spirit can be felt instead, watching over those exploring her home.

Photo by Jorbasa Fotografie, CC BY-ND 2.0
Jersey, UK
A little closer to home for me and a place where I've had a paranormal experience of my own; Jersey is a gorgeous place, with a rich and sometimes dark history. Home to places with names like Witches' Rock, Gorey Castle, The Well of Death and Ghost Hill, it's hard for the paranormal seeking traveler to know where to start. I could fill a whole blog post with the islands tales and, one day, I will. But for now I'll stick to telling you about Crack Ankle Lane. With a horrific story behind it and a name like that, how could I resist telling you about it?
Found not too far from St Peters is a picturesque sunken lane with a thick, over hanging canopy of trees. Even on a cloudy day it's pretty, but on a sunny day it looks like something from a fairytale. And, like all good fairy tales, this fantasy like setting has a monster. It's known only as the Vioge. A demonic spirit of unknown origins, it's said to resemble an emaciated scarecrow. The lane got it's name by the Vioge's habit of grabbing it's victims by their ankles and dragging them away to it lair, where it would proceed to butcher and devour them. There is no indication where this ghost story comes from, but with the islands history of smuggling, one has to wonder if the two may be linked. Nether the less, be careful if you visit this shady road, nobody want to be done in by a flesh eating Worzel Gummidge.

Photo by Ernie Murphy, CC BY 2.0

Oahu, Hawaii

For many, Hawaii is an idea holiday location for it's beauty, but others might find it interesting for other reasons too. It's long history, fascinating folklore and multitudes of haunted locations make it an ideal holiday location for those who are interested in the paranormal. The perfect place to work on your tan, check out some museums and do a little ghost hunting before a relaxing evening walk on the beach. But even in paradise there's danger, and it turns out there are some nights you might want to skip the romantic midnight strolls and stay in your hotel instead. Such as the night of the full or new moon. These nights are the ones when you're most likely to run afoul of the islands infamous Nightmarchers. Also known as the Huaka'i po, these are the spirits of a group of ancient Hawaiian warrior spirits. They aren't outright malevolent, they're just doing their job. In life they guarded the islands chiefs, in death they are said to continue this task well as roaming the night to protect sacred sites around the island. The real problem is their nasty habit of killing anyone who gazes upon them, although it's said that if you are a descendant of one of their number then they will leave you unharmed. Luckily their arrival is well announced, they march to the loud beat of drums and conch horns. This, combined with the distant glow of the torches they carry, is the only warning you'll get to run. If you see or hear these things then hightail it out of there as quick as you can, stay low, stay hidden and, most importantly, don't make eye contact with them. If they spot you it's said that your only way to survive is to show them the respect they deserve; bow your head and avert your eyes, and, if you have the time, strip naked and lay face down on the ground. Sure, it's uncomfortable and embarrassing, but it's a lot better than being killed and added to their number.

Photo by Kitmasterbloke, CC BY 2.0
Deadman's Island, Canada
Unlike the other islands on this list, you couldn't really consider Deadman's Island a paradise. As it's name suggests, this place has a very dark history to it. Hundreds of years ago it was the site of a terrible battle between native tribes, one which resulted in the massacre of 200 warriors. The tribe responsible for the massacre quickly abandoned the island the following day, horrified to discover that eerie, fiery flowers had sprung up where the bodies of their enemies had fallen. After this it was considered scared, but cursed, land. A island of the dead that was only to be used for burial. The Squamish people used it as such, performing tree burials until the 1800's, when the settlers barged in and took it for themselves. The settlers, rather than respecting the land, used it to quarantine and bury victims of smallpox, essentially dumping their sick people on the island to die. Not a place for the faint of heart, all of this death and misery seems to have built up and visitors to the island today have reported a lot of paranormal activity. The constant feeling of been closely watched, scuttling footsteps in the undergrowth, the rattle of chains and the heartbreaking sound of a woman sobbing. It is now a HMCS Discovery Naval Reserve, which affords it some protection and means it's the only island on this list that's off limits to the public.

So, I do hope you've enjoyed our little cruise together and, as always, if you've experienced anything at any of these locations then I'd love to hear about it! Drop a comment below or tag me on Twitter! And don't forget to follow me on Instagram for updates about what's going on at Strange Ways HQ, mini ghost stories and much, much more

Friday, February 14, 2020

A Love Undying


A Midsummer Night's Dream - Act 1, Scene 2.

Carl Tanzler
Florida Keys Public Libraries (cc by 2.0)
Normally, when a person has an odd dream, it's put down to an
experience you've had that day or something you've eaten. So if you had a dream where an (alleged) ancestor of yours turned up and revealed to you the face of your one true love, you'd be very unlikely to take it seriously. After all, it's just a weird dream. Shame nobody told Carl Tänzler that when, as a child, he dreamt that Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel came to him in a vision and showed him the face of the woman he was destined to one day marry. Tänzler was born in Germany, in the February of 1877. His parents would name him Georg Karl Tänzler, but this would eventually change when, in 1927, after emigrating to Florida, he got a job as a radiology technician at a U.S Marine Hospital in Key West, giving his new employers the name of Carl Von Cosel. With a good job, a wife and two daughters, he seemed to be living a very happy life, but the problem is that he'd never forgotten that dream. So when Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos (also known as just Elena) was bought to the hospital, Carl's happy marriage went straight out the window. He was convinced that the ailing girl was the one from his dream. It was fate, it was destiny, it was one-sided love at first sight. For Maria, acquiring a boyfriend old enough to be her father was the last thing on her mind and even if she hadn't been told by a doctor that she had tuberculosis, she still wouldn't have been interested. Carl had no intention of letting this stop him, he was determined to cure the woman of his dreams and spend the rest of his life with her. He introduced himself to Maria and her family as a renowned doctor and a Count, gaining their trust to the point where they eventually allowed him to take over the girls treatment. During this time he also showered her with gifts, in an attempt to win her heart.

The Nightmare Begins
Maria, sometimes known as Elena.
Floria Keys Public Libraries (cc by 2.0)
If this was a fairy tale then he would have succeeded, Maria would have got better and would have been charmed by this gentleman. Carl would have triumphantly swept her off her feet to live happily ever after, once his divorce had been finalised. However Maria had TB and despite the stories he had told her and her family, Carl wasn't a doctor, he wasn't a Count and he hadn't the foggiest idea what he was doing. X-ray equipment and other such gadgets soon filled the Hoyos' home, along with a variety of medicines as treatment began. Today we're lucky, TB isn't as common and can be treated, but in the 1920's? It was a death sentence. Even with treatment and experienced doctors, you didn't really stand much of a chance and the fatality rate was through the roof. In a lot of cases, all doctors could do was prolong the inevitable. Maria only had Carl to rely on. She didn't stand a chance and died on the 25th of October, 1931. It is also worth noting that during the time she was treated by Tänzler, she didn't return his romantic feelings once but Carl was oblivious to this.
Despite everything, the Hoyos Family was still charmed by the man, even accepting his offer to pay for Maria's funeral and a lavish above ground tomb. Carl would then visit this tomb every night and everyone thought this was very sweet and romantic. At this point in our morbid tale, we can now add two more things to our list of Things Carl Tänzler Was Not; a skilled taxidermist and an experienced grave robber. Carl had become convinced that Maria's spirit had been visiting him and had been begging him to free her from her tomb. His nightly visits were actually an excuse to see her, both in spirit and in the flesh, thanks to the spare key he had to her final resting place. He'd had been sneaking into the tomb at night to preserve Maria's corpse. This went on for some time until one night he took Maria home with him. Using a child's toy wagon. Once in the privacy of his own home, he set to work on rebuilding Maria's mouldering corpse to the best of his abilities. Like a budget Frankenstein. Long absent eyes were replaced with glass replicas, her chest and abdomen were filled to bursting with rags to rebuild her body, a dark haired wig replaced her lost hair and wire helped hold the bones together, allowing her to be posed much like a doll. As her skin decayed, Tänzler replaced it with wax dipped silk and plaster. He bought and dressed her in the best clothes he could, and doused her in perfume, preservatives and disinfectant in an attempt to hide the stench. It must have been horrific to witness, but Carl Tänzler was in love and oblivious to the horror of it. People had seen him buying women's clothing and toiletries, initially they thought he'd found himself a new lady friend to dote on and were happy for him.

Maria's tomb, for which Carl held the only key.
Florida Keys Public Libraries (cc by 2.0)

A Horrific Discovery
Soon macabre rumors began to circulate. A young boy living in the neighbourhood had witnessed Tänzler dancing with what looked like a life sized doll. Some people suspected it was just that; a large doll made by a broken hearted eccentric. Other people, however, jumped to the correct conclusion that it was Maria herself. These rumours spread fast, finally reaching the ears of Maria's sister, Florinda, in the October of 1940. Not wanting to believe what she'd heard, but wanting to know the truth before the rumours reached her parents, Florinda paid Carl a visit. She was welcomed into his home, but wasn't there for long before she discovered her sisters body, sitting in it's usual resting place. Carl's bed. Florinda did the most sensible thing anyone in that situation could do. She ran screaming from the house. The police were called immediately. Tänzler made no attempt to escape as he genuinely didn't believe he'd done anything wrong. While detained, he was examined by Psychiatrists who claimed he was mentally competent and able to stand trial, where he would be charged with "wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization." Despite being declared mentally competent, Carl was clearly anything but. He'd been living with Maria's crumbling body for seven years, keeping her together with DIY, like some budget Frankenstein's monster. His plan was to somehow take her up into earths stratosphere so that he could soak her with cosmic radiation. This, he believed, would bring her back from the dead. Ultimately the case was dropped because the statute of limitations for Carl's crimes had expired.
Carl's first act as a free man? To ask if he could have Maria's body back. Funnily enough, the answer was a resounding no.

The Aftermath.
Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyo,
after Tanzler's DIY taxidermy attempts.
You'd think that Maria's ordeal would be over by this point, that she could finally be laid to rest by her shocked and grieving family. But you'd be wrong. Maria's body was thoroughly examined by physicians, who wanted to know what Carl had been up to. When they had finished with her, they put her on display in the nearby Dean-Lopez Funeral Home instead of laying her to rest. Here she was gawped at by over 6000 curious people like she was a sideshow attraction, before finally being returned to her family, who re-buried her in the Key West Cemetery. This time, she was buried in an unmarked grave, for fear that Carl would come back with his little cart and try to steal her again.
And Carl? He moved to Pasco County, in the State of Florida. Despite his disturbing crimes, the public actually showed pity for him and some considered what he'd done to be romantic. Carl even wrote an autobiography, which was published in 1947, in a pulp magazine known as Fantastic Adventures. He died on the 3rd of July, 1952, at the age of 75. After his death it was discovered that he'd used a death mask he'd made of Maria to construct a second life sized doll of her. Official reports say that his body was discovered lying on the floor of his home, other less reliable reports claim he was discovered in his creations arms, after dying in his sleep. And this story didn't die with Carl, instead becoming one of the most well known tales of obsession and grave robbery in the world. There is even the conspiracy theory that the second doll Carl made was not a recreation at all, but Maria herself, either returned to him or stolen again.

And so ends The Strange Ways first ever morbid true crime post! I hope you enjoyed it. There was no way you'd ever find a normal Valentines Day blog here, although next year I may consider a spooky gift guide for the lovers of the macabre in your life. I've been wanting to write about Carl Tänzler for ages, and I was fascinated by the horror of his crimes and obsession, but hadn't been able to find a good time to do so. I've a fascination for bizarre true crime, so expect more in the future. In the mean time, if you have any comments then pop them into the comments section below, or tag me on Twitter.


Friday, January 31, 2020

A New Years Update: What's to Come.

It's been a quiet January here at Strange Ways HQ and, while a new Blog post hasn't been released, that doesn't mean I haven't been planning one. I've taken the month to start working on the Blog, to plan out posts for the coming year but to also decide where I'm going to take the Blog itself. For 2020, posts will be once monthly and, yes, eventually adverts will be coming to the blog. I will try my best to keep these from being too intrusive when that happens. As well as continuing to write about Folklore, hauntings and weird history, I'm hoping to visit more locations myself. The aim of this is to have more first hand experiences in the locations I write about and my goal is to be performing some actual paranormal investigations in 2021, which will be recorded on this Blog.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited for the coming year, for what it will bring and I hope you'll continue to walk the Strange Ways with me.



Friday, December 20, 2019

A Ghost Story for Christmas

Photo by myself.
Christmas is rapidly approaching and the nights are drawing in. Combined with the winter weather, often rain and occasionally snow, it's a very gloomy time of year indeed. We brighten our homes with a multitude decorations, Christmas trees go up and towns are festooned with glittering lights of every colour. The tradition of Christmas decorations is used not only to celebrate but to drive back the darkness. But celebrating Christmas by drawing light and warmth into our homes hasn't always been our only festive tradition, another used to be the telling of ghost stories. It's possible that this particular tradition started way back before Christmas as we know it, back when people were predominantly Pagan and this time of the year was a time when spirits could draw closer. A time of year when both light and dark, death and rebirth were honoured. Huddling by the fire with their families, telling stories to scare each other was the perfect way to while away the dark nights. While this tradition carried on through the decades, it is the Victorians that created the Christmas Ghost Stories that we are most familiar with and wrote so many great stories that it has been hard to choose only five. Sadly, at some point this tradition went out of fashion and the Christmas Ghost Story became almost as decrepit and abandoned as the houses they were often based in. It's thanks to various incarnations of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol (which will not be on this list.), television programs such as A Ghost Story for Christmas, as well as the love of a good ghost story that this tradition didn't die out completely. More recently there have been various calls for this tradition to make a come back and I don't believe it will be long before it does. Not everyone wants a saccharine sweet Christmas, after all. Some of us like a bit of sour with our sweet.
So, grab a hot drink, a warm blanket and turn those lights down low as I present to you my top five ghost stories for Christmas.

The Shadow, by E. Nesbit
Out of all the stories on this list, The Shadow feels almost like a true story. Although just a work of fiction, it reads like something you'd find on a paranormal forum or hear on a true ghost stories Youtube video. And while it might surprise you to know that E. Nesbit is best known for The Railway Children, this short story is drastically different. If read late at night you may well find yourself jumping at every shadow on your way to bed. First published in 1905, under the name of The Portent of the Shadow, the style in which it is written only adds a sence of realism to the story.
Our narrator is at a house party with her friends. Things are winding down and those who are staying the night are starting to find rooms for themselves. Well, almost everybody, as we are informed that a few of the boys have bedded down on the dinning room table for the night. The narrator and a few of her friends have set themselves up in a room connected to another, in which a girl who fainted at the party is now sleeping and is being kept watch over by our little group. Not yet ready for sleep, the girls have chosen to start telling ghost stories. Although they all claim to not believe in ghosts, they have successfully spooked themselves. Soon they are interrupted by the housekeeper, who has come to check on they girl who fainted. Bribed with the promise of a warm fire, good company and hot chocolate, the house keeper tells the girls a ghost story of her own. The tale is that of something the housekeeper experienced herself. But to both her and her listeners horror, they discover the story has yet to reach its horrific and tragic end.

A Warning to the Curious, by M. R. James

This was a difficult one to choose, as I was torn between this story and Lost Hearts. When it comes to choosing any of James' tales for a top five list, it's not an easy task as they are all wonderful. This one is based in the fictional seaside town of Seaburgh, which itself is based on the real life town of Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. First published in 1925, this a beautifully dark and bleak ghost story. M. R. James' well rounded, descriptive writing builds up the unsettling atmosphere and the growing sense of danger, as our narrator realises just how much peril his new friend is in.
Taking place during what is meant to be a relaxing holiday, our narrator and his companion make the acquaintance of a man by the name of Paxton, who is staying at the same hotel as they are. Their new companion is a gloomy and nervous fellow, one who has a terrifying secret. You see, he is an amateur treasure hunter and he has managed to find a hidden anglo-saxon crown. This treasure is one of three such crowns hidden along the English coast and the only one not yet lost. A wonderful treasure indeed, for it has been long sought-after. But it's discovery comes with a terrible price, as it's protected by a shadowy, supernatural keeper. The ominous presence of this ever following sentinel is turning poor Paxton into a nervous wreak and, if his new friends at first doubt his claims, they soon come to see that he speaks the truth.

The Signalman, by Charles Dickens

I know I said the A Christmas Carol wouldn't be on this list, but I couldn't ignore Dicken's completely. Not when he's responsible for this chilling gem of a tale. On the 9th of June, 1865, Charles Dickens was involved in a terrible train accident. The train partially derailed and most of the carriages fell from the viaduct they were traveling across and into the river below, with their passengers trapped inside. Dickens carriage was one of the only ones not to fall and he stayed at the scene, helping his fellow passengers, both alive and otherwise. While he survived, the sights he saw there left him scarred by the event. It's believed that this tragedy influenced the creation of The Signalman. This story revolves lonely signalman at a remote signal box, who is befriended by the narrator when he comes upon the location completely by chance and spots the Signalman as he goes about his duties. The Narrator enjoys the company of his slightly gloomy new friend, visiting him often, but notes he seems haunted by something and tries to get the man to open up to about his worries. And open up he does, eventually revealing that he is haunted by a sinister spirit, one who's appearance heralds disaster but gives no clues as to what it might be. Worse yet, he has seen the spirit again, several times that very week. The narrator believes his companion is suffering from hallucinations, but his comforting presence doesn't stop the supernatural happenings, which continue even though he cannot see them himself. The atmosphere is dark and foreboding, claustrophobic even, growing more and more tense as the story leads to it's inevitable and horrifying end.

The Old Nurse's Story, by Elizabeth Gaskell.

The Old Nurses Story brings to mind the image of an old Victorian parlor, lit only by a roaring fire, with the old nurse surrounded by a new generation of charges, all eager for just one more story before they go to bed. Both cosy and chilling, it's a shame there have been (to my knowledge) no TV adaptations of this tale, as it would make an amazing TV show. Imagine The Haunting of Hill House, but more claustrophobic and urgent. Charles Dickens very much admired this tale, even offering constructive advice on how Gaskell should write the ending. While she paid attention to some of that advice, she didn't end the story entirely the way Dickens suggested, resulting in this beautiful short story.
Following a young child Rosamond and our Narrator, her nurse Hesther, the story begins when the young mistress is orphaned and the two girls are sent to live with the Aunt of a Cousin at a large and crumbling old house in Northumberland. This sinister abode comes with a tragic secret that seems determined not to remain buried, and our narrator soon realises that getting to the bottom of that secret is a matter of life and death, as history is seeking to repeat itself. With the situation growing more tense by the page and time running out, this story will leave you wondering how it will end.

The Captain of the Pole-Star, by Arthur Conan Doyle

While he is most famous for his stories about Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle is also known for his tales of horror and the supernatural. Many excellent ghost stories came from the mind of this author and out of all of those tales, this one is probably helped along by Doyles own adventures. If the descriptions of the Arctic in this story seem particularly realistic and haunting to you, that would be because Arthur Conan Doyle, who studied medicine from 1876 to 1881, served as a surgeon on a whaling boat by the name of Hope during 1880. Who better to write about the Arctic than a man who, by all accounts, fell into the sea there more than once and nearly froze to death. Thankfully he did not, and we have this wonderful ghost story. First published in 1890, this is the tale of a young doctor working aboard a whaling ship. For a short story the atmosphere builds slowly. Certainly the ships captain seems a bit eccentric at first, but when the ship gets frozen in the ice he only seems to grow more unpredictable. Soon the rest of the crew are claiming to both hear and see a pale specter stalking them on the ice and at sea. But are they really seeing a spirit or is the isolation and bleakness of the environment just driving everyone insane? Will they be trapped in the ice forever with no escape? And if there is a spirit haunting the ship then what, or who, does it want?

I hope you enjoy these stories, they're all guaranteed to send a chill down your spine. Read them before? Know any good Christmas ghost stories you want to share? Let me know in the comments sections below or tag me in a Twitter post!


Thursday, November 28, 2019

What Lies Below: the Mystery of Houska Castle

The Middle Ages were a turbulent time, to say the least. If famine, malnutrition or disease didn't get you, then childbirth could finish you off. If you managed to dodge those problems then you could have the bad luck of being just one of the many people the Inquisition took offence to and end up burnt at the stake. Even traveling to the next town over to do some shopping or visit family wasn't safe, with so many robbers around you could easily end up being robbed and left for death in the nearest ditch. Why did the folks in charge not do anything? Well, when they weren't going to war with other countries (or eachother) then they were going off on religious crusades, or having to deal with Genghis Khan, who was busy taking over a large chunk of Europe. But, hey, at least you could rely on being able to take refuge in your local fortress in times of need, right? 
Not if your local fortess was Houska Castle.
Houska is a sinister and looming building. Built sometime in the 1200's, in an area of mountainous terrain and dark, dense forest in the Czech countryside, it's also a bit of a disaster. It has no fortifications and isn't in an area of strategic interest. While it has a lot of windows, most of them are false, being glass panes over brick walls. There's no water source to be found there and no kitchen. Even if the castle did have a kitchen, it's nowhere near any of the trade routes that existed then, making acquiring the amount of food an functioning castle would need pretty impossible. There were some nearby villages, but those would not have been able to support the castle. Essentially, Houska castle was not designed to be lived in and, for the most part, it wasn't.
For decades it bounced from owner to owner, from royalty to nobility and back again, quickly being passed on, like that one Christmas present that nobody really wants but they just keep regifting it rather than throwing it away. During World War II, the Nazi's moved in and spent their time in residence turning it into a scientific house of horrors. They used the building to perform horrific experiments not just on prisoners of war but on the defenceless locals as well. At this point Houska had been abandoned for many years, so why choose it for a prison when it was clear nobody wanted the place? The way the castle was constructed makes it the worst possible base, but realistically it's likely that they just never thought the castle would need to be defended or used as a fort, that the location being so remote would reduce the amount of witnesses to their crimes, while making it more difficult for anyone trying to escape. That would be the logical reason, but there is another theory that links the Nazis fascination with the Occult to the castle itself.
Photo by Dr Janos Korom, CC BY-SA 2.0
The folklore that surrounds Houska Castle existed before it was even built and tells us that the castle was built to hide something, to bury that thing so deep that it could never again see the light of day. Essentially the castle itself is little more than a very elaborate plug. Buried under the castle, sealed off by the foundations, is a deep pit. A cave opened by the elements or perhaps a sinkhole, we don't know which, but we do know that it was so deep that the bottom could not be seen. It was considered to be bottomless and filled with horrors. The ancient folklore of that region says that the hole was an entrance to Hell itself, home to winged, half human, half animal monstrosities. These creatures would come crawling out of the pit in the dead of night to fly around, terrorising the countryside. The locals were terrified, the Middle Ages were horrifying enough without running the risk of being carried off by some Mothman wannabe. As reports of that exact thing happening started to skyrocket, people started to barricade themselves inside at night, too afraid to leave their homes. They wouldn't venture near the hole during the day either, just in case something decided to pop out and grab them. Something had to be done. Eventually, those in charge did just that and work began on building the castle, using prisoners as workers. A pardon was offered to any prisoner willing to allow themselves to be lowered down into the hole, in an attempt to investigate what it contained before it was sealed up forever. One brave soul, wanting his freedom, allowed his captors to lower him down there, but only lasted a few seconds in the pit before he began to scream for help. He was quickly pulled up but, within the short amount of time he had been out of sight, his hair had turned white and he resembled an old man instead of the young man who had volunteered to explore the depths. Whatever lurked below had driven him insane and he died a few days later. He never spoke of what he saw down there. Despite this tragedy, it has been said that people in charge were still curious and the prisoners convicted of more serious crimes were just thrown down the hole, with the hope that those that made it out could shed light on what was going on. Nobody got out, so we're still none the wiser. The castle was completed, the thickest walls and floors being the ones above the hole. This is also where the castle chapel was placed and dedicated to St Michael, legendary winged monster hater, as a little extra insurance perhaps. It's in this chapel that hints to why the castle was built can be found, in the ancient and decorative murals that cover the walls. Said to be some of the oldest in Europe, they contain the usual paintings of Saint Michael and Jesus, they also show winged beasts being slain and half human creatures attacking humans. With such a well standing folkloric tale behind it, you can see why people have drawn a link between this story and the Nazis. Their obsession with the unknown has been well documented, even going as far as to be featured in popular media; Indiana Jones and Hellboy for example. So it comes as no surprise that the popular theory is that their real reason for being there was the Hell Hole, to try and harness it's power, using prisoners as sacrifices and guinea pigs. We may never know the true extent of what they were really up to at Houska, luckily for us it would seem that they failed. But they failed at the cost of innocent lives.
Photo by Ladabar, CC BY-NC 2.0
As for the hole itself, all we have are records of it. The current owners of the castle have, perhaps influenced by it's sinister reputation, forbidden any investigations or excavations that might reopen it. Considering the frequent reports from the castle, I can't blame them. People have reported scratching noises in the rooms above the pit, loud enough to be heard despite the thickness of the floors there. The sound of nails or claws scrabbling desperately against the underside of the stone floors, from the side facing pit itself. This chilling sound is often accompanied by the muffled sound of a chorus of screams. Perhaps the trapped spirits of the men thrown down there or unholy abominations seeking escape, maybe both. Above ground, things aren't much better. As well as having the usual White Lady spirit, the castle is home to shadow people, a phantom hound, a bloody headless man and a group of spirits who shuffle through the castle, bound together by chains. Some poltergeist activity has been reported as well. In addition to those other spirits, the castle home to a rather infamous being, a twisted hybrid between a human, a bulldog and a toad. This bizarre and creepy beasty likes to roam the dark corners of the castle, growling and grumbling to itself, and scaring all who see it. It's not clear what the creature is, but looking back at the castles story, it could well be one of the creatures from the hole, forever looking for a way back in. If you want to try and see this mysterious creature, then you might consider visiting the castle, as it is open to the public. Not a sponsored recommendation, but a personal one. If you do visit, then it would probably be best to leave your dog at home, since dogs apparently dislike and act up in the castle.
Personally I can't get my head around Houska's hauntings. I like to be able to explain hauntings, maybe come up with a theory that can explain what's happening. I'm a believer in the paranormal, but I'm also a skeptic. I believe there is some truth about the folklore, since all stories have an element of truth to them. The hole itself is there. But the flying monsters? My first reaction is to blame it on large bats, perhaps an undiscovered species, but none of the bats in the Czech Republic are big enough to carry off a human. Owls could be a culprit. The region is home to Eagle Owls and Snowy Owls, both very big birds that could have been mistaken for something worse, if seen in the dark by a superstitious passer by. With potential robbers on the roads, trying to make ends meet, people going missing while traveling at night could be explained as highway robbery and murder. I'm not even going to try and come up with a theory of how to explain how the hole could have been bottomless, because it couldn't have been. If it was then it would have come out somewhere in New Zealand. True or false, this is a fascinating story to me and there's no doubt that the building is very, very haunted.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Is there truth to the folklore? Or did someone get bamboozled by a low flying owl? Have you been to Houska Castle and experienced it's strange paranormal activities for yourself? I'd love to hear your story! Leave a comment in the comments section below or link me in a Tweet!