Saturday, December 24, 2022

The G.O.A.T

Whether you've seen it in travel guides or on social media*, there's no denying that the Gävlebocken, or Gävle Goat, is pretty impressive. 
So, what's the purpose of this giant straw goat, and why are people so desperate to set it on fire?

Photo by Wordshore, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Simply put, the Gävlebocken is a giant Swedish Yule Goat. You might be familiar with these straw goats, as they've now started popping up alongside the usual Christmas decorations for sale, only a lot smaller than the big guy.**
While its origins are unclear and often speculated on, it's most likely that the Gävlebocken has links to the Vikings, with many believing it to be a representation of Tanngnjostr and Tanngrisnir. These goats pull Thor's chariot.

Standing at 13 meters in height, this festive straw beast has been an official yearly tradition in the town of Gävel since 1966 and was intended to bring more tourists and trade to the area. There's no denying that it's been a success. If you want to visit, you can find the Goat in Castle Square, erected four weeks before Christmas.
The unofficial tradition of burning the Gävlebocken to the ground has been around for as long as it has, with the first incident taking place in 1966. The Goat isn't meant to be burnt; it's meant to be stored and reused. Setting the Goat on fire, or vandalising it in any way, is classed as a crime which will result in jail time and/or a heavy fine. The torching of the Gävlebocken has been linked to drunken dares, misunderstandings, general vandalism and some people mistakenly believing that burning it will bring luck in the coming new year. Sadly, while many arsonists are caught and charged, more have gotten away with it. If the damage isn't too bad then the Goat can be repaired, though in some cases replacements have had to be made. I'd say that, on the bright side, some years the Goat hasn't been burnt down, but in the chaotic timeline of the Gävlebocken, that still doesn't mean it survived.

The Gävlebocken Timeline: from past to present.

1966 The Gävlebocken is erected for the first time and also burnt for the first time

1967 Survives.

1968 Survives.

1969 Burnt.

1970 The Goat survives six hours before being burnt down.

1971 The Goat is smashed up, and the culprits were never caught.

1972 The Goat collapses due to sabotage.

1973 The Goat is stolen. However, it's a bit difficult to hide a giant straw goat, and it was eventually found.

1974 Burnt.

1975 Presumably, due to some flaw in its construction, the Goat collapses under its own weight.

1976 Someone rams their car into the Goat, causing it to collapse.

1977 Burnt.

1978 The Goat is kicked to bits. Sad, but still an impressive feat of strength. That's a sturdy-looking goat!

1979 Burnt before construction was even finished.

1980 Burnt.

1981 Survives.

1982 Burnt.

1983 Attempts were made to burn the Goat, but luckily only the legs were damaged.

1984 Burnt.

1985 Thanks to tightened security, this Goat had a group of armed soldiers guarding it. That didn't stop it from being burnt down.

1986 Burnt.

1987 Attempts were made to fireproof the Goat. It didn't work.

1988 Survives.

1989 The first Goat doesn't even reach completion before being found and burnt. A replacement is made but doesn't fare any better than the first.

1990 Survives.

1991 Burnt.

1992 Only survives 8 days before being burnt, so a replacement goat is built. And burnt.

1993 Survives.

1994 Survives.

1995 Burnt.

1996 Survives.

1997 Fireworks are fired at the Goat, but it survives with minimal damage.

1998 It survived a terrible blizzard, but determined arsonists still managed to burn it down.

1999 The Goat survives a record two hours before being burnt.

2000 Burnt.

2001 The Goat is set alight by an unfortunate American tourist, who thought they were participating in a Swedish tradition, not realising it was illegal.

2002 Survives.

2003 Burnt.

2004 Burnt.

2005 Two people dressed as Santa and a gingerbread man fired burning arrows at the Goat.

2006 Survives.

2007 Survives.

2008 Burnt.

2009 There are multiple attempts made to burn the Goat. The last one is a success thanks to hackers taking out the webcams being used to watch the Goat, giving the culprits time to get in there and set it alight.

2010 An attempt to steal the Goat via helicopter was prevented when the culprits were caught trying to bribe the security crew to turn a blind eye.

2011 The people building the Goat attempt to fireproof it by soaking it with water. This failed, and the Goat burnt.

2012 Burnt.

2013 Burnt.

2014 Survives.

2015 Burnt.

2016 The Goat is burnt. And then, to add insult to injury, it gets hit by a car. Again.

2017 Survives.

2018 Survives.

2019 Survives.

2020 Survives.

2021 Burnt.

2022 ???

These days the Gävle Goat is well guarded, with a fence, security cameras and a dedicated security team. Still, this hasn't deterred the would-be arsonists, and neither has the prospect of jail time or a hefty fine if caught.  

At the time of writing this post, the Gävlebocken was still standing and unburnt.

*It even has its own Twitter page!
**Mine came from IKEA. He was not, thankfully, flat-packed.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Sideworld: Damnation Village

It's the season for ghost stories, something Sideworld does with style. Having loved their last two documentaries, Haunted Forests of England and Terrors of the Sea, there was no way I would pass up the opportunity to watch and review their latest film. And, as usual, in a time when so many paranormal documentaries are cut from the same mould, Sideworld always steps up to the challenge of bringing us something fresh and exciting to watch.

Accompanied by stunning cinematography and enchanting music, George Popov is back to act as our guide into the land of the sinister and eerie. With the help of voice actors William Poulter and Helen O'Connor, he leads us down cobbled streets and lonely pathways in search of the spirits that dwell there and the secrets they hold. But where are they taking us this time?

Pluckley, Kent.
Known as England's most haunted village, it's hard to find a location in Pluckley that isn't home to a ghost. From full-blown apparitions at the local church to spine-chilling screams in the surrounding woodland, this beautiful little village has many stories, some darker and more tragic than others.

Prestbury, Gloucestershire.
Phantom funeral processions, terrifying old ladies, the tragic spirit of a local jockey, and many more call this village home. Prestbury's biggest mystery lies not in why it's haunted but in what kind of haunting is occurring. Are these sentient spirits, or is history repeating itself in Prestbury?

Eyam, Derbyshire.
The village that, when falling victim to the plague, chose to sacrifice itself to save the lives of others; the people of Eyam decided to isolate themselves to stop the disease from spreading to nearby towns and cities. This location has soaked up so much grief and tragedy, it's no wonder it's haunted.

While I've wanted to visit Pluckley and Eyam for ages, I'd not heard of Prestbury before and was delighted to discover somewhere new. That's the beauty of these documentaries; the Sideworld team excel at introducing viewers to ghost stories that they might not have encountered before, and the stories you already know are examined from a fresh perspective, presenting new facts and theories. As a result, the scientific side of hauntings is taken into consideration, looking into the topic of Residual Hauntings or Stonetape Theory and explaining them in a way that's easy to understand. This was unexpected but fascinating and enjoyable to watch, as I feel this isn't a side of the paranormal that gets enough attention or is usually not explored in depth.
If Damnation Village is your first experience with this series, I highly recommend watching the other two episodes. Damnation Village is a stunning addition to an already addictive series, full of intriguing stories, with an excellent narrator and cinema-worthy visuals.

A ghostly tour de force, Sideworld has bought us a chillingly delightful exploration of the haunting world of real-life folk horror. Damnation Village is just what you need to lift your spirits on those dark Autumn/Winter nights, and the series keeps getting better with every new addition. I can't wait to see where George Popov and the Sideworld Team take us next! 

Sideworld: Damnation Village is available to buy or rent on Prime Video!

Directed and Narrated by George Popov.
Produced and Written by Jonathan Russell.
Voice Acting: William Poulter and Helen O'Connor
Cinematography: Richard Suckling
Music: Matthew Laming 
Original Art: Todor Popov
Website: Sideworld

Monday, October 3, 2022

Halloween Creature Feature

It's Spooky Season, and Halloween is fast approaching. Stuck on what to watch? Looking for something new and spooky? Or just need some movie inspiration? Take a look at my list of 31 horror movies, one for every day of October. If you want to weigh in on these movies or have any recommendations of your own, feel free to leave a comment or tag me in a Tweet.

1 - Pumpkinhead
Horror and tragedy often go hand in hand, but Pumpkinhead handles the two incredibly well. A grieving father seeks vengeance after his son is accidentally killed by some teens in a hit-and-run. With the assistance of a witch, he summons a demon to hunt down the people responsible but soon finds himself feeling remorse, as his link to the creature means he experiences the ensuing horror as it takes place. And the only person who can end the carnage is him.

2 - The Evil Dead
If you went to a cabin in the woods with your friends and found a creepy cellar filled with occult goodies and a voice recording that's likely to unleash literal hell on earth, would you:
A. Leave it alone, continue enjoying your break and never speak of it again.
B. Play the recording and mess with the mysterious artefacts.
Unfortunately for Ash and his friends, they chose B, freeing a race of ancient demons known as the Deadites. They probably should have stuck to a nice package holiday, but a film like that wouldn't have led to a series of cult movies, a TV series and multiple games. There's also a reboot, but I recommend starting at the 1981 original.

3 - Hellraiser
A must-watch with the reboot being released on the 4th of October. A Clive Barker classic, this dark and bloody horror is perfect for Spooky Season. Moving into her husband's childhood home with him, Julia soon realises that the worst thing about the house isn't that it's a bit of a fixer-upper; it's haunted by her long-lost lover, her brother-in-law, Frank. Having summoned a group of sadistic demons, he's now escaped them and enlists Julia's help in resurrecting his earthly body with human sacrifices. It's up to Julia's stepdaughter, Kirsty, to stop the duo's murderous rampage. That is if she can survive her family and the demons pursuing them.

4 - Critters
Think Lilo & Stitch...if Stitch was a group of hungry, murderous fuzzballs who have just escaped a maximum security interstellar prison and have landed on earth with no intention of beings friends with anyone. Gore galore in this excellent galactic comedy horror.

5 - The Decent
One of the most claustrophobic movies I've ever seen. A group of friends goes caving, but their trip soon turns into a nightmare as they find themselves trapped deep underground. As if that wasn't bad enough, it turns out that they aren't alone down there. The caves are inhabited by a race of subterranean humanoids, and they're hunting the girls.

6 - The Cabin in the Woods
Remote woodland cabins are never a good idea; horror movie fuel every time. A group of college students retreat to a cabin in the Woods, determined to relax and party, but their good time soon gets ruined as they fall victim to a family of zombies. But that's the least of their problems, as there's more going on here than meets the eye. Quick, clever and a little bit different to your average monster movie.

7 - Tremors
The classic monster movie that launched multiple sequels, a TV series and an as-of-yet unreleased TV series. Earl and Val are tired of their boring lives in their run-down little desert town, so they leave, searching for better things. However, their attempt at starting new lives for themselves is scuppered as they come across the horrifically mangled remains of some other locals and workmen fixing the road outside of town. What they initially take for the work of a serial killer turns out to be the result of something much worse, and Earl, Val and the townsfolk soon find themselves involved in the world's worst game of The Floor Is Lava.

8 - The Ritual
I'm not going to lie, Moder is one of the most well-designed monsters I've seen in a long while. Four guys go on a hike after the tragic death of their friend, but bonding goes out of the window when they take a regrettable shortcut.

9 - Willy's Wonderland
A mysterious, energy drink addicted stranger takes a job as a cleaner in an abandoned amusement center in exchange for repairs to his broken-down car. As if cleaning the place wasn't hard enough, he has to deal with a group of well meaning teens and a gang of killer animatronic critters at the same time. If you're a fan of the FNAF games then you'll love this manic, gory, funny horror movie.

10 - Dog Soldiers
Nobody warns a group of soldiers on a military exercise about what happens if you don't stay off the moors and beware the moon. The other best Werewolf movie in existence. Terrifying monsters, characters you'll want to survive and, eventually, no Spoons.

11 - The Unnamable
Another film based on a story by H. P. Lovecraft by the same name. Two groups of university students head to their town's local haunted house, one to party and the other to find their missing friend. While the house has been rumoured to have been haunted since the 18th century, the two groups soon discover that they're up against something worse than a ghost. A demon had been sealed in the house for decades, but now it's loose and angry.

12 - 13th Child
There aren't that many good movies about the Jersey Devil out there, but I'm sure there are some. This isn't one of them, but it is a fun watch for Spooky Season. People are being murdered, seemingly by an untraceable assailant with superhuman strength. Intrepid District Attorney Murphy sets out to solve what could be the most significant case of her career but soon realises that the killer she's hunting is far from human.

13 - The Thing
If you're worried about what will be found as the ice caps melt, this might not be the movie for you. A research team on a remote Antarctic base find themselves besieged by an unknown creature that can mimic any living thing...or any living person. As tensions run high, they battle fear and paranoia in an attempt to stop the Thing before it can kill them all and escape the base.

14 - Antlers
Teacher Julia takes a particular interest in the well-being of one of her students, Lucas, as she fears the boy is being abused. Her investigation soon takes a horrifying turn because Lucas is guarding a dark and terrible secret, one that's about to get out.

15 - The Mist
A father and son, David and Billy, become trapped in a supermarket when a strange mist takes over the town. To their horror, they and the other people stuck in the building discover that the abnormal weather condition is home to a large variety of hideous creatures, all of which are preying on the helpless humans trapped within the store. As tensions rise and the attacks grow more frequent, some of the humans inside become just as dangerous as the monsters outside, and the real fight for survival begins. A word of warning, the ending of this movie is heartwrenching.

16 - It Follows
And it has no intention of stopping until it's killed you. In this chilling and dreamlike film, Jay finds herself cursed after sleeping with her boyfriend. Chased by a creature that only she can see, which can take on any form it pleases, she and her friends find themselves in a race for time to stop the Thing or at least slow It down.

17 - The Reanimator
Based on the H. P. Lovecraft story Herbert West - Reanimator, this 1985 comedy horror is one of my all-time favourite movies. When medical student Dan puts out an advert for a new flatmate, and the position is taken by new student Herbert West, his life takes a turn for the bizarre and horrifying. Herbert isn't just any ordinary medical student. He's a modern day Doctor Frankenstein obsessed with halting death itself, but the only way to advance scientific theories is to test them out, and their medical school offers plenty of opportunities to do just that. As everything spirals out of control, Dan finds himself dragged along for the ride.

18 - The Fly
More mad science with 1986's The Fly, a reboot of the 1958 film of the same name. Scientist Seth Brundle decides the best way to test his new teleportation tech is on himself, but in the process finds his DNA fused with that of a fly. Although nothing seems wrong initially, Brundle soon finds himself mutating into a grotesque hybrid. Can he save himself, or is he doomed? 

19 - Killer Klowns From Outer Space
We can all agree that clowns are creepy, but what if they were worse? What if clowns were aliens from outer space that had come to earth to feed on the citizens of a small American town? That's the problem our heroes face in this cheesy 1988 horror comedy. Well worth a watch, especially if you intend to play the game based on this movie, due in 2023.

20 - American Werewolf in London
Two college students discover what happens when you ignore people's warnings to stay off the moors and beware the moon. Friends David and Jack are on a walking holiday in England when they're attacked by a Werewolf. Although Jack is killed, David survives, waking up in a hospital in London where he suffers from terrifying hallucinations and dreams. By the time he realises that he's become a werewolf, it's too late, and David is loose in the city. 

21 - Gremlins
You'll never want an exotic pet ever again after watching Gremlins. Billy is gifted an adorable new pet by his Father, a sweet fluff ball named Gizmo, who comes with a simple set of rules to follow when caring for him. Despite this, two of these rules get broken, unleashing a hoard of maniacal Gremlins on the town. Far from being mischievous, these little creeps are out for blood, and it's up to Billy and Gizmo to save the day.

22 - The Mummy
The 1999 classic, not the 2017 flop. Egyptologist Evelyn Carnahan dreams of discovering great archaeological treasures, especially in the lost city of Hamunaptra. In an attempt to find the city she enlists the help of her brother Jonathan and a charming rogue, Rick O'Connell, who knows the city's location. The trio compete with other archaeologists seeking treasure and accidentally set free a cursed Egyptian priest, Imhotep, who was mummified alive. Now the race to find treasure becomes a race to save not only the world from the vengeful Imhotep, but also Evelyn because Imhotep is convinced she's his lost love reincarnated. This much-loved monster movie is iconic and perfect for any moviegoer.

23 - Ravenous 
The most subtle kind of monster is the one that appears human. A bloody, dark comedy with an insane soundtrack, Ravenous is an enjoyable introduction to Wendigo mythology. Sent to work at Fort Spencer, Captain John Boyd is soon involved in a mission to rescue a lost party of settlers when a lone survivor finds their fort. It becomes apparent that the party has been cannibalised, and the one responsible has lured them there for his next meal. Before he knows it, Boyd's promotion turns into a nightmarish game of cat and mouse between him and the sinister killer Colquhoun.

24 Fright Night
An excellent horror comedy and the perfect Halloween monster movie. Teenager Charley loves horror, but things get a bit too real when he discovers his charismatic new neighbour is a vampire. Although people are clearly dying, nobody believes Carlie when he tries to tell them what's happening, so he decides to slay the beast himself, enlisting the help of his friends and washed-up horror host Peter Vincent to do so.

25 - Night of the Demon
Released in 1957, this is the oldest film on this list, but I highly recommend it. Based on the M.R James story Casting the Runes, it follows Doctor Holden as he arrives in England to attend a convention and finds himself investigating the mysterious death of a colleague and possibly cursed by the cult that may have been involved with it. Even if you haven't heard of this film before, you might still be familiar with it thanks to the Kate Bush song Hounds of Love, which opens with a sample from the movie; "It's in the trees! IT'S COMING!"

26  - Frankenstein Theory
A team of documentary makers discover that Frankenstein is based on a true story, thanks to one of them possibly being his only descendant. The crew set off to Canada to investigate some possible sightings of what could be the infamous monster, but in their attempt to separate fact from fiction, they end up biting off more than they can chew. A fun-found footage movie; a little low budget, but enjoyable.

27 - Lost Boys
Sometimes people fall in with the wrong crowd, but Michael takes it a bit too far when he finds himself in too deep with a group of bikers, who also happen to be vampires. Luckily for him, while he was messing around with the creatures of the night, his little brother Sam was making friends with the local vampire hunters. A mix of dark comedy and thrilling horror, it's hard to find a more perfect vampire film than this.

28 - Night Breed
Have you always sided with the monsters instead of the humans? Then this film from the mind of Clive Barker is for you. Dark and strangely beautiful. While a brutal serial killer haunts the city where he lives, Aaron Boone is haunted by dreams of a mysterious place known as Midian and feels strangely drawn to the place. Because of these dreams he's been seeing a psychiatrist, Doctor Decker, who's the one responsible for the killings, but pins the blame on Boone, persuading him that he's the one responsible. Rather than hand himself in to the police, Boone goes on a quest to find Midian, believing that it's the only place he can find the answers and peace he seeks. Meanwhile, he's pursued not only by the police and his loyal girlfriend but by Decker, who isn't finished with him yet.

29 - The Return of the Living Dead
A clumsy duo of employees in a medical supply company accidentally crack open a barrel full of chemicals, releasing dangerous gas into the air. This gas gets mixed into the rain outside, soaking into the local cemetery and resulting in the bodies returning to life, searching for delicious brains.

30 - Ginger Snaps
Being a teen is hard, especially if you're the odd one out at school, but things get more complicated for sisters Ginger and Brigitte when, on their way to prank a school bully one night, they are attacked by an unknown creature. Ginger is bitten by the beast, and as she begins to go through some weird changes that can't be blamed on puberty, it becomes clear that her attacker was a Werewolf. The race is on for Brigette to save her sister before the upcoming full moon, but can she do it and does Ginger really want to be saved?

31 - Trick r Treat
A delightfully ghoulish collection of tales, interwoven into a true Halloween classic, with monsters abound. Some of those monsters, however, are more human than others. Beautifully shot and brilliantly acted, this film is a true love letter to Halloween and quickly developed a cult following. Fans have been after more for ages and got good news recently when director Mike Dougherty announced that he's involved in active development with Legendary Entertainment on a sequel. I can't wait to see what that will be like, and I'm sure you'll be looking forward to it after watching this.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Sideworld: Terrors of the Sea

Summer is here, the weather is glorious, and what better place to spend your time than the coast? But away from the crowded, golden, sandy beaches, you'll discover a whole new world. A world rich in stories of the supernatural, thanks to our unique and sometimes turbulent relationship with the sea. These stories have a different feel to the ones with their roots inland, somehow darker. A little more feral. The spirits here play by their own rules. 
Want to wade into this new area of the paranormal, and cool off in the hot weather by sending chills down your spine? Well, you're in luck because Director George Popov and Rubicon Films are back with the latest in their Sideworld documentary series, Terrors of the Sea. If you didn't have Thalassophobia before watching this well-crafted and beautiful documentary, you will have after.

The Plot
Like my review of Sideworld's first documentary, Haunted Forests of England, I don't want to give away too much. This is a no spoilers zone so as not to ruin anything for anyone wishing to watch the documentary for themselves. After the treat that was Haunted Forests of England, I was really excited when they announced Terrors of the Sea. And, as predicted, they didn't disappoint.

Ghost Ships
Some of the most frightening spirits are things rather than people. This chapter covers a variety of ships, from the iconic Flying Dutchman to an ominous Spanish Gallion. Are these ships truly spirits? Or are they just doomed to reenact their demise for eternity? 

Sea Monsters
After this, you might reconsider your next paddle because here there be monsters. We've explored more of the moon than we have our own oceans, Sideworld introduces us to some of the many fantastic beasts that have been spotted over the years, but by the end of this chapter you might find the real monsters aren't the ones you expect.

The sea may be beautiful, but sadly it's a dangerous place for the unwary or unfortunate. Some of these spirits may have lost their lives on land, and some at sea, but none have any intention of resting in peace.

Taking many forms, are these really creatures of myth or are there more to these (fish) tales that meet the eye? Here we discover that despite their alleged habit of drowning sailors, it's usually the mermaids themselves who are mistreated by humans. While some of these creatures may have treated their captors with kindness, others have not been quite as merciful.

About the Documentary
Following the same style as the first documentary, four subjects linked to the main topic are broken down into a chapter-like format, which leads to a smoother viewing experience. This makes it easier to find and re-watch the tales being told and to find where you left off if you have to stop watching for some reason. I've already found this feature incredibly helpful living in a busy house. I'll often find myself pulled away from my computer for some reason or another, and being able to hop straight back where I left off has been fantastic.
Like the first documentary, Terrors of the Sea is filmed on location, and the cinematography is, once more, perfect. The stark beauty of the rocky coastlines and the restless ocean takes on an almost dream-like quality, shot with the same attention to detail you might find in a movie. Whether they're filming wrecks or lonely Cornish coves, you're left with no doubt that these are places where lost spirits roam and strange beasts lurk. This is complemented by a mix of atmospheric historical photos, eerie artwork from Todor Popov and other artists, and an elegant and haunting soundtrack by Matthew Laming, adding even more depth to the tales being told.
George Popov returns as our narrator, accompanied once more by actors William Poulter and Suzie Frances Garton. The stories they present blend historical ghost stories, facts and folklore. Expertly curated and narrated, chilling, and highly enjoyable. At the same time they're delivered with a care and reverence not often seen in programs about the paranormal. While there are a few stories here that I'd heard of before, I was delighted to discover that there are even more that are new to me. The Sideworld team put a lot of hard work into researching further information to share with their viewers, which has really paid off. 
This combination creates an enchanting program, the perfect mix of spine-chilling stories, myths and folklore. With its unique style, Sideworld: Terrors of the Sea has a fresh feel whilst still feeling like a selection of classic ghost stories. I can see this series becoming a cult favourite in and out of the paranormal community, one that people will return to for years to come.

Do I recommend checking this out? Very much so, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't already watched this episode more than once. Several times actually. Informative and fascinating, this documentary isn't just binge-worthy; it's part of a series you'll find yourself hooked on. Whether you're watching alone, with family or with your friends, Sideworld: Terrors of the Sea is a highly entertaining watch.

Available to watch on Amazon Prime.

Director: George Popov
Producer: Jonathan Russell
Starring: George Popov, Suzie Frances Garton and William Poulter
Music: Matthew Laming
Cinematography: Richard Suckling
Featuring art by Todor Popov, and others
Runtime: 1 hour and 11 minutes
Subtitles: English and Spanish
Made by: Rubicon Films

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.