Saturday, 20 October 2012

Rumours about Rumours... #5

Two very generous reviews of Rumours of the Marvellous have just appeared in print in the UK. Neither are online yet, so I can't link to them, but here are some kind words from the illustrious gentlemen responsible:

David V Barrett, in Fortean Times #294, said

"A superb collection of short stories that fall in the borderland between science fiction, fantasy, horror and the supernatural ... every story is a gem"

And, in Black Static #30, Peter Tennant said

"A fine collection ... a unique and beguiling voice ... the stories [are] remarkable for their combination of a light touch with the weightier emotional freight they sometimes carry ... a real delight to read"

Hey, nothing to do with me, but isn't that cover art fantastic? It's the work of the great Ben Baldwin and you can (and should) see more of his stuff at

My grateful thanks to Messrs. Barrett and Tennant for the warmth and thoughtfulness of their reviews. Both magazines are great, by the way, and, if you've heretofore been unfamiliar with either or both, you should seek to put that right before your friends start to shun you for being culturally incomplete.


In other news, there's another mob-handed signing coming up at Dark Delicacies in Burbank. Sunday November 4th will see Tamara Thorne, Glen Hirshberg, Lisa Morton and me gathered behind the DD picnic tables ready and willing to scribble in whatever you choose to lay before us.

Glen's launching Motherless Child, a novel about which I've already raved in these e-pages, and Tamara is showing the rest of us up by presenting 3[!] new paperbacks. Lisa and I are there as contributors to Zombie Apocalypse: Fightback (on editor/creator Steve Jones's birthday, as it happens), and I'll also be signing Best New Horror 23 and Ghosts: Recent Hauntings (which Glen is in too).

Go to for details and directions. Please come and say hello if you can. DD signings are always fun. Del and Sue make everyone welcome, and there are usually cookies and soft drinks (beer, too, if you know the secret handshake, or if Del likes the cut of your jib).

Finally, the Rolling Darkness Revue's 2012 show now has its own facebook page, courtesy of the enigmatic and delightful Dr. Miller: Apparently, you may 'like' it if you, um, like.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The Raven Flies

Just a quick follow-up to the last post: We've finally found a theatre plucky enough to risk its previously impeccable reputation by agreeing to host this year's Rolling Darkness Revue.

The Road Theatre (based in the historic Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood) will be the venue for this year's shows, and Glen, Kevin, Jonas, Rex, and I want to thank their artistic directors Taylor Gilbert and Sam Anderson for saving us from limping back to bookstore gigs with our tails between our legs.

I'm sure the writing on the above image (a jpeg of a scanned PDF, sorry) is all-but-illegible to those of you checking this out on your phones, so here's the skinny:

Dates: Monday 29th and Tuesday 30th of October
Times: 8pm
Address: 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood CA 91601
Tickets: 866 506 1248 or

Admission will cost you twelve bucks but, as I said last time, you'll go home with a fabulous chapbook which you can flog on eBay in a couple of months for an enormous profit, so you'd be an idiot not to come.

Kids are welcome, by the way. No gore effects. No nudity (I keep offering, but they won't let me). An enormous amount of bad language. Your call, parents.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Dark is Rising

The nights grow longer, o best beloved, and the evenings are perfumed with the scent of burning leaves. The season of the witch approaches, and something stirs in its grave, eager to be reborn...

Relax. It's just Atkins & Hirshberg up to their old tricks. Or treats, depending on how easily pleased you are.

Yes, kids, I'm delighted to announce that, after its sabbatical last year, The Rolling Darkness Revue is back. RDR -- for those of you who came in late -- is an annual October event featuring ghost stories, a wrap-around play, and live music. The highlight of every right-thinking person's Halloween since 2004, it was founded by me, Glen, and Dennis Etchison and is, to use a scientific term, the dog's bollocks.

This year's show -- which once again features everyone's favorite clueless-but-lovable lost souls, Algy Black and Artie Mack, this time as bumbling wannabe Occult Detectives -- is called The Raven of October. First person to post a comment identifying the source of that title, by the way, wins a free copy of this year's chapbook.

"Chapbook?" the intrigued newbie asks while, let's face it, googling his or her way to the correct answer. "What is this chapbook of which you speak?" (Apparently, Intrigued Newbie just got off the boat from Odessa.)

I shall explain, Boris or Natasha, I shall explain. The great Paul Miller of Earthling Publications has, since 2005, been kind enough to produce an annual chapbook to accompany each RDR show and wise enough to employ the fabulous Deena Warner to design their fantastic covers. The latest is another beaut. Check this the fuck out:

Paul covers his costs by making 75 signed copies available to his Earthling customers so, if you can't make the show but would like to read the stories and the full text of the accompanying play, head on over to Earthling's website and help keep a roof over the head of this kindly patron of the arts. (But don't head there quite yet; the chapbooks are still at the printers. When you do go, however, do yourself a favor and also buy a copy of Glen's superb new novel, Motherless Child. You will not be sorry.)

Our 'guest author' this year won't be appearing in person with us, on account of being dead. The Edwardian writer, Thomas St. John Bartlett, whose work also featured in our 2009 show, is back from the grave once more and the presence of his story, "The Problem with Mirrors", makes the fifteen-bucks-or-so that Paul will be asking for the chapbook even more of a steal. Why? Because the only other places you'll find that story are in a 1909 copy of The Strand Magazine, or in Bartlett's sole (and posthumous) collection, The Memory Pool:

Yeah, good luck. The bulk of its 1917 print run was lost to a warehouse fire in the last German airship raid of the Great War and the only copy to come on to the open market in the last ten years went at auction for $11,000.

Of course, you might be smiled on by fortune. You might, for example, wander into a junk shop in Colwyn Bay in 1983 and find a copy in a cardboard box labelled 'Old Books' and give the nice-but-underinformed gent behind the counter the three quid he was asking for it. I shall say no more...

Anyway, in Bartlett's absence, his story will be read at the show by the magnificent Kevin Gregg, who will also portray Algy'n'Artie's latest, and most mysterious, client. Also present -- and providing their wonderful ambient eeriness once more -- will be our musical brothers of the rolling dark, Jonas Yip and Rex Flowers.

So where will all these dark delights take place?


Well, we had a theatre lined up, and were ready to begin rehearsals next week. But, just four days ago, the theatre owner was approached by someone else and was made an offer he couldn't refuse. Well, he could have refused it, but let's not be unpleasant.

So watch this space. As soon as we've locked down a new venue, I'll let you know dates, times, prices, etc. Of course, if you happen to have an auditorium in your back yard, then please don't stand on ceremony. Drop me a line, and we'll bring the dark directly to you.


[Edited to add:] Oh, the chapbooks are free to every paying attendee of the shows, by the way. It's like the fanciest ticket-stub ever.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Rumours about Rumours... #4

When it comes to places to hang your hat, I hold with the poet-philosopher Katy Perry: You can travel the world/But nothing comes close to the golden coast. California. Where it's at, baby. It's just the way God planned it. And one of the many advantages to living in California (or L.A. if you want to be specific) is that you're within driving distance of Dark Delicacies, a specialty store for us wackjobs who dig all things crepuscular.

Open now for twenty years and counting, the "home of horror" -- as it proudly describes itself on its answering machine -- is a treasure trove of books, DVDs, posters, T-shirts, magazines, and other items of a curious and dark persuasion, all overseen by the husband and wife team of Del and Sue Howison (Del's the one with the beard).

DD's well worth a visit at any time, but if you'd like to say hello to your Uncle Pete why not swing by on Sunday July 1st at 2.00pm, when I'll be signing copies of Rumours of the Marvellous in the company of fellow bookslingers Eric Red and Alexander Beresford, who each have their latest novel to hawk. No obligation to purchase (though Del & Sue will doubtless look on you more fondly if you do), and I'll be happy to sign your old Hellraiser swag or any other crap-with-my-name-on that you've foolishly accrued over the years.

The store's at 3512 W. Magnolia Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505, and a fine time is guaranteed for all.

"Why, Pete," I hear you enquire, "What on earth is that delightful button and what is it doing on your blog?" So glad you asked. That, my sweet excrescence, is the official thumbs-up badge from the British Fantasy Society that confirms that -- due no doubt to some clerical error -- Rumours has been nominated for the British Fantasy Award for best collection of 2011.

Kidding aside, I'm deeply honoured by the nomination and truly grateful to all those members of the BFS who voted for the book.

My fellow nominees in the Best Collection category are Reggie Oliver, Robert Shearman, and Liz Williams -- all of whom are alarmingly talented enough to have me practicing my not-a-sore-loser expression in the mirror while rehearsing the phrase "No, no. It was an honour just to be nominated" until it sparkles with an irridescent and impressive air of jaunty good-sportsmanship. 

In Non-Rumours News: Further to the three anthology appearances I detailed in the last post, I'm thrilled to say that the great Mike Chinn has accepted my new story, "The Return of Boy Justice", for his forthcoming anthology, The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes. Trade paperback coming in September of this year, to be followed at some not-yet-specified date by an e-book edition. Here's the cover, designed by Alchemy head honcho Peter Coleborn around a fabulous illustration by the wonderful Bob Covington:

Not too shabby. Thoroughly modern in execution but beautifully old-school in its in-your-face pulp spirit, it -- as I believe the kids say -- fucking rocks. Proud to be lurking behind it.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Best New Ghosts and Zombies

The tireless and talented Paula Guran -- who seems to be cranking out anthologies for Sean Wallace's Prime Books on an almost daily basis -- has seen fit to include my 2005 short story, "Between the Cold Moon and the Earth", in her upcoming GHOSTS: RECENT HAUNTINGS, a gathering of modern ghost stories all written within the last decade. As you can see from the names on the cover --

 -- she's put together a very impressive line-up of authors, and I'm honoured to be included among them. I've also read at least half of the stories in there, and can offer a genuine and enthusiastic thumbs up. Comes out sometime in September, I believe, but the Prime Books website ( will provide all necessary details.

In an earlier post, I already mentioned Steve Jones latest volume in his BEST NEW HORROR series. Here's the updated cover. You'll notice not only that Joan Aiken's name is now spelled correctly but that I've been added to the masthead, nestled snugly between Ms. Aiken and the great Ramsey Campbell, a perch I assure you I would not deserve had merit, rather than alphabetisation, been the deciding factor. The full line-up can be glimpsed at Steve's website (, and is extremely impressive.

Along with BNH, the fall will also see the release of Steve's follow-up to his hugely succesful "mosaic novel" of 2010, ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. I was lucky enough to be among the contributors to the first one and am thrilled to report that I've been asked back to the party. The sequel (in fact, book two of a projected trilogy) is called ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: FIGHTBACK and here's a look at the sophisticates and charmers that modelled for its cover:

Again, full details (including the stellar list of contributors) can be found at Steve's website.

All three of the books will be in bookstores by Halloween, so you should obviously buy multiple copies in order to hand them out to trick-or-treaters in lieu of candy. Think of it as your contribution to the War on Childhood Obesity. Mrs. Obama will think well of you, I promise.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Rumours about Rumours... #3

To my delight and astonishment, Rumours of the Marvellous continues to get off lightly in its run-ins with the critics. A particularly generous review appeared a week or so ago, courtesy of the lovely Simon Marshall-Jones. More about Simon in a moment, but first here's this month's pull-quote:

              "A treasure-trove of unearthly delights ... consistently inventive ... the writing is contemporary and hip, yet beautifully lyrical"

The whole review can be found over at This is Horror (, a great website and one well worth visiting for many reasons over and above their kindness to your Uncle Pete.

As well as being one of the eminences grises at This is Horror, the tattooed magnificence known to his intimates as Simon Marshall-Jones is also the publisher and editor of Spectral Press (, where he is doing sterling work keeping the ghost story tradition alive in a series of beautifully produced chapbooks and novellas featuring the work of some excellent contemporary writers. Well worth your attention (and your money).

In other Rumours news, I'm thrilled to report that Steve Jones has selected the collection's closing story, "Dancing like we're Dumb", to appear in the latest edition of his award-winning series Best New Horror. This is volume 23 of BNH -- which means the series has now become the longest-running 'best horror' anthology in history, so congratulations to Steve and to all of us lucky enough to have appeared in it over the years.

And yes -- before you write in -- Steve Jones knows perfectly well how to spell Joan Aiken's name. The image above is a publisher's prelim, and the great lady's name will be fixed before publication.

Talking of Jonesy, here's another blast-from-the-past picture that he recently sent me, featuring me and him and a bunch of other reprobates at the 1992 launch of The Hellraiser Chronicles. Twenty years ago. My God.

From left to right, not counting the life-size Pinhead dummy, you've got Bob Keen, Mr. Jones (in the cool aviators), Ken Cranham, Doug Bradley (kneeling), moi, and Nick Vince. All still alive and well, I'm delighted to say, albeit not all quite as svelte as we once were...


Friday, 20 April 2012

But Enough About Me... #4

As the excellent Anno Dracula novels by the great and good Mr. Kim Newman are currently enjoying renewed success thanks to the spiffy re-issues escaping the velvet-lined coffins over at the UK's venerable Titan Books, it seems like a fine time to hype a more obscure item from Kim's bibliography.

Where the Bodies are Buried, published twelve years ago as a limited edition by Alchemy Press, features cover art by Sylvia Starshine, interior art by Randy Broecker, and an admiring introduction by yours truly, along with the four WtBaB novelettes by Mr. N which had previously appeared individually in the late 90s. The small-but-perfectly-formed hardcover is signed by all four of us and a few copies, it turns out, are still available. I'd put a direct link here to Alchemy's checkout cart but, as you know, I'm morally above such naked hucksterism too stupid to know how to do that. What I will do, though, is reprint my introduction in the hope it might encourage some of you to go buy a copy and help keep Kim in the frock-coats and fob-watches he wears with such elan.    


Where the Bodies are Buried: Introduction

England, 1869. The poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti knew where the body was buried. After all, he'd buried it. It was (or used to be) his wife, the former Elizabeth Siddall. Rossetti, as a final act of husbandly devotion upon her untimely passing seven years earlier, had folded into her dead hand the manuscripts -- the only manuscripts -- of many of his unpublished poems and buried them with her. Now, several texts short of a volume and with a publisher breathing down his neck, Rossetti had a tough decision to make. He made it. In one of the most famous acts of literary (and literal) grave robbing in the history of English Letters, he had Lizzie exhumed and the manuscripts retrieved. They were published the following year to great, albeit transitory, acclaim.

Kim Newman is a grave robber, too. And we should all be very grateful. Because Kim isn't digging up former spouses and stealing parting gifts to make himself a few bob: he's finding buried treasure. Or, in many cases, finding buried dross and, via the alchemy of his synthesising imagination, transforming it into gold.

Kim is one of our most skilled raiders of the collective unconscious, particularly those areas of it marked by the iconography of popular culture. His Anno Dracula books (three so far and more to come, I hope) are richly-detailed tapestries woven from a thousand histories, both real and fictional. The Night Mayor, his first novel, explores -- with tremendous panache and finely-tuned narrative skills -- a world populated by cyber-ghosts from the world of Film Noir. In his collaborations with Eugene Byrne (collected as Back in the USSA), characters we all know -- and as disparate as Buddy Holly and The Likely Lads -- appear in alternate incarnations, simultaneously charming us with the warmth of the familiar and thrilling us with the shock of the new.

One of the many pleasures of reading this strand of Kim's fiction is matching your own storehouse of memories against his -- playing a kind of catch-the-reference-before-he-explains-it game with the author. The good news is the game is open to anyone. The bad news is you'll nearly always lose. Kim will kick your ass. He just knows more about that shit than practically anyone else. If you're lucky enough to know Kim personally and have the balls for it, you can even play the game (or variants thereof) in the flesh. You should be warned, in fact, that Kim is always playing. No starting whistle. No half-time. If you're blathering on about some black-haired B-movie babe from fifties sci-fi then don't for Christ's sake confuse your Barbara Rushes with your Dana Wynters. Kim'll be all over you like Vinnie Jones in a Cup match. He shows no mercy and takes no prisoners. This stuff is important to him. Partly because, I suspect, it is so vitally important to his art. Indeed, on those extremely rare occasions when Kim does make a mistake, he is mortified beyond all reason. I remember him rushing up to me at a convention some years ago and referring to his recent in-print confusion of two Kurosawa movies in the tone of horrified and apologetic guilt that one traditionally reserves for telling your mate you got his sister pregnant and that you hope it won't affect her chances of promotion at the nunnery. I bought him a pint and did my best to help calm him down but I think the wound stayed open for days.

Kim is also, as many of you may know, a respected film critic and scholar. As well as his vituperatively entertaining reviews in various magazines, he is the author of Nightmare Movies and Wild West Movies and a contributor to and/or editor of several other reference books. The body of his critical work reveals that Kim is not only extremely knowledgeable about the films themselves but also of the muddied and confused circumstances in which the vast majority of films get made. He might, in the abstract, be as much of a sucker for the auteur theory as the rest of us but on a case-by-case basis he certainly seems refreshingly familiar with the chaos and compromise that are actually the parents of most celluloid babies. This knowledge is based, in part at least, on his own little adventures in the screen trade. Several of Kim's fictions have been optioned for movie adaptation and he's certainly suffered through his own share of pointless meetings, pinhead producers, and squandered opportunities, both in London and out here in Hollywood. Living and working here as I do, I've enjoyed considerably more day-to-day confrontations with the absurdities of The Development Process than Kim has, but quantity isn't really the issue. The faces behind the desks may change but the platitudes, hidden agendas, and smiling lies (which, trust me, eventually flow freely from both sides of the desk) remain the same. And Kim's a smart guy. It doesn't take him long to learn.

Fortunately, it also doesn't take him long to recognise fertile ground for fiction. After all, we all know what the best fertiliser is, don't we? The stories you're about to read and enjoy -- flowers of the imagination blossomed improbably from the dung of B-movie reality -- first appeared episodically in anthologies edited by those worthy gentlemen Stephen Jones and David Sutton. Collected together here and illustrated by the remarkable Randy Broecker and Sylvia Starshine, they now form a long, albeit fractured, narrative. The book isn't exactly a novel but it's not exactly a collection either. In fact, what it most reminds me of (and I hasten to add I'm not referring in any way to the book's quality) is the literary equivalent of one of those peculiarities of the 1960s -- a theatrical movie cobbled together from various episodes of a TV series. The thought of form imitating content in that way brings a smile to my lips and I hope it will do the same for Kim. Because he's exactly the kind of bastard that could tell you which episodes of The Man from Uncle were stitched together to give us The Karate Killers.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Rumours about Rumours... #2

Some very kind things are still being said about Rumours of the Marvellous out there in the blogosphere, and I'm told I would be derelict in my self-promotional duty if I didn't apprise you of them.

That fine fellow Jim McLeod, eponymous ginger nutcase of, must have finally received the plain brown envelope of used fivers I left for him in the pub because, in the course of a generally glowing review, he had this to say:

 "...the writing is indeed rather marvellous ... a brilliant collection from a master storyteller"

Jim's whole review can be seen at his own website or at Shiny Shorts (, where it has just been reprinted.

Meanwhile, over at, the lovely and legendary Ellen Datlow did me the honour of including RotM in her round-up essay "The Best of 2011", where she listed it with six other collections from some first-rate writers and was generous enough to describe it as:

 "Fourteen stories by this consistently entertaining writer, including one bracing original"

There's another round-up opinion piece at in which several writers discuss whatever floated their particular boats in 2011. One of the participants, the splendid Jan Edwards, happens to be married to my collection's publisher. But I'm absolutely and completely sure that she speaks from an unimpeachably impartial place when she ventures the following opinion of Rumours:

 "It contains some of the best short fiction I have ever read. Pete Atkins really is one of Britain's greats"

But enough about me (part 3, addendum A)...

I'm sure most of you have heard that me dear old mate, Clive Barker, suffered a nasty health-scare recently.

I'm delighted to say he's recovering apace and is already back at his desk (and his easel, and his camera, and wherever else his multi-talented spirit takes him), preparing new wonders for an undeserving world. Still, it's sobering when something like that happens to someone you've known and loved for nearly forty years. Particularly because those things happen to older people and, in my delusional head, we still look like this:

Yeah, that's me and the lad back in the mid-70s when we were both young, healthy, and -- face it, bitches -- totally fucking fabulous.

Stay strong, my beautiful friend. You've many more tales to tell.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

But Enough About Me... #3

Back in 2006, novelist, short story writer, and all-round good egg Mark Morris put together a nifty little volume called Cinema Macabre, a collection of essays by genre writers about their favourite horror movies.

Mark, being a wise and generous editor, allowed his contributors a fairly catholic definition of 'horror' -- Jo Fletcher wrote about Carousel, for example -- which meant I could slip in a piece about a movie that, while not exactly a shoo-in for the torture-porn crowd's seal of approval, is nevertheless a milestone of the fantastic and a recognised classic of world cinema. Here 'tis:



For lust of knowing what should not be known,
We take the golden road to Samarkand.
-- Hassan, James Elroy Flecker

Orphee, Jean Cocteau's poetic masterpiece of 1949, is a rich enough film to reward several different readings of its mysteries, while its ultimate meaning remains as elusive and intangible as the 'meaning' of the Mona Lisa. Cocteau himself had a superbly patrician contempt for the reductive nature of critical analysis anyway -- "Beauty detests ideas," he was quoted as saying. "She is sufficient unto herself."  Still, at the risk of offending his departed spirit, I'd like to consider Cocteau's film, his beautiful mystery, from one particular angle.

Orphee has much in common with my two other favourite movies, King Kong (1933) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). They're all three in black-and-white, all three fantastic in nature, and they're all three pretty much guaranteed to deliver a good time to even the most jaded of viewers. It's something else they have in common, though, that makes them my own particular holy trinity of cinefantastique. All three of them could be called -- were one to reluctantly don one's pretentious hat for a moment -- examples of Gnostic Cinema, by which I mean that all three of them are overtly about what all horror/fantasy is so often covertly about; the quest for knowledge. Forbidden knowledge, to be specific -- knowledge that is arcane, occult, metaphysical.

Now, it's of course true that many a thoroughly enjoyable but less imaginatively courageous B-movie is fuelled by something similar -- a mad scientist's search for the secret of life, for example, or a bunch of Nazis' quest for the Ark of the Covenant -- but the difference in Orphee (and in Kong and Bride, for that matter) is that the search for knowledge -- the lust of knowing what should not be known -- is celebrated, either textually or sub-rosa, rather than condemned.

In Cocteau's film, the secret being sought is, on one level, the secret of artistic success. Orphee (Jean Marais), once the hottest poet in post-war Paris, is being supplanted by a bunch of young turks (whose flagship journal, Nudisme, consists -- hilariously but significantly -- of blank pages) and wants to get his mojo back. Thanks in part to secret and surreal messages broadcast over a ham radio (in scenes consciously reminiscent of wartime transmissions to the French resistance), he begins to get a clue. It's another clue, however -- the one which comes in the frighteningly delicious form of Maria Casares as cinema's ultimate femme fatale -- which modulates the sought-after secret into a matter of life and death.

All supernatural movies are about the relationship between the rational and the irrational. And the good ones, I suggest, are about reading that relationship as a romance rather than anything else. Metaphorically, they are about our urge -- acknowledged or otherwise -- to consummate our blinkered lives with the unblinkered Beyond. The reductio ad absurdum of many of these pictures, good or bad, is "There's a girl and there's a monster and he'll do his best to get her". And when the monster proceeds to do his best, when the surface message becomes that he wants to cut her up or bring her to the dark side or impregnate her with the devil's seed or generally give her a good seeing-to for having had unmarried sex with some other beautiful teenager, the sub-textual message is much simpler: He Wants Her. The heroine has been chosen as the Bride of the Uncanny. She must be taken. And any rival males must be destroyed. What's fascinating in Orphee is that the genders are reversed. Though Orphee will ultimately play the questing male when his own wife Eurydice (Marie Dea) is taken into the underworld, he is also the 'bride' at whom Death has set her cap -- Death here being incarnated by the aforementioned Casares as a Princess from another country who drives her Rolls Royce, along with its motorcycle outriders, between the worlds of the living and the dead.

A superficial psychological explanation of that gender switch is the fact that Cocteau was gay, but that does a disservice to the real radicalness of the idea. In Orphee, the questing gnostic hero (here artist rather than scientist, interestingly) can become the centerpiece of his own story, can be a Carl Denham who needs no Ann Darrow to mediate between him and Kong, can be a Henry Frankenstein (or a Dr. Pretorious) who needs reanimate no dead female flesh to glimpse the mystery.

Much of Cocteau's work in the cinema has an overtly otherworldly quality, whether it be the surrealist dreamscape of Le Sang d'un Poete or the fairy tale worlds of L'Eternel Retour or La Belle et la Bete. Orphee, on the other hand, has the look and feel of the kind of unblinking monochromatic neo-realism that became dominant in much post-war European cinema. It nonetheless remains an unapologetic tale of the supernatural, and one which paradoxically gains power from its quotidian portrayal of post-occupation Paris while ultimately transcending it; the magic emerges from the mundane rather than from denying it -- and is all the more magical for it, a diamond that shines not in a jeweler's prepared setting but in, and because of, the rough rock through which it sparkles.

Recasting the Orpheus myth in a Parisian demi-monde where the most venal of motives (the snatching of someone else's work to restore a vanishing fame) can lead to the most transcendent of fates (a trip through the looking-glass and the unconditional, and ultimately self-sacrificing, love of an Elemental), Cocteau creates a world of beautiful cruelty and unexpected grace. Despite the narrative's humanist and sweetly satisfying ending in which the mortal lovers are reunited, Eurydice is experientially its almost disregarded victim; all human affections are as nothing, the film seems to say (albeit with poignant regret) to the romance of the poet and his muse. Even when -- especially when -- that muse is Death.