Archive for October, 2012

Thank you to everyone who entered the All Hallows Read Giveaway! I picked the winners over the weekend through the super scientific method of putting all of the entries in a hat and making my mother draw two. So congratulations to Katie S. and Rachel T.! Your books are in the mail.

As for everyone’s favorite scary books, I saw a wide range, from perennial favorites to books I didn’t know existed. Of these, the most popular by far were House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (6), Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (5), Coraline by Neil Gaiman (4), It by Stephen King (4), and John Dies At the End by David Wong (3). Several of you also mentioned the graphic novel series, The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman. There were also multiple favorites of books by Max Brooks (5), Caitlin R. Kiernan (3), Anne Rice (3), Joe Hill (2), Thomas Harris (2), and Joe R. Lansdale (2). Across the board, I have to say you guys have pretty awesome taste in scary stories.

Thanks again for participating — I’m thinking we’ll make this a blog staple, so tune in next year. I hope all of you will consider participating in All Hallows Read and have a very happy Halloween!

So, now that the giveaway has ended, what are your favorite scary books?

And part two of today’s double weekly roundup: movies! For the past two weeks, I’ve enjoyed the old school b&w’s and a hearty helping of Romero.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde  (1941) The Spencer Tracy/Ingrid Bergman version of this oft-remade classic. I think Bergman’s performance as Hyde’s prisoner and victim really sets this one apart, more so than the latex, hairy eyebrows, and surreal dream sequences. She transforms from a bright, confident woman of the working class to a tortured, nervous wretch who has suffered the absolute worst of human nature.

House on Haunted Hill (1959) Part mystery, part ghost story, House is a power struggle between eccentric millionaire Frederic Loren (Vincent Price) and his clever young wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). Proves that the worst part about being locked in a haunted house for the night is always the other people.

Nosferatu It never fails to horrify me that this gem of the silent film era was almost lost forever due to, of all things, an intellectual property dispute. F.W. Murnau’s unauthorized adaptation of the novel Dracula features unearthly Max Shreck in the titular role and locates most of the story’s action in a small town in Germany. Whereas Lugosi’s performance in 1931 is a masterpiece of gothic grandeur, Nosferatu is a story of creeping terror, even ninety years after its release.

Dracula (1931) Speaking of Lugosi, I’d like to pit Edward Cullen against this Count any day. The film shifts the focus away from the novel’s erstwhile heroes (honestly, they were never that interesting anyway) and lets the Count steal the show. Also features Dwight Frye — who also portrays Fritz the lab assistant in Frankenstein — as the skulking lackey Renfield in a wonderfully deranged performance.

Frankenstein (1931) Shifting from vampires back to mad scientists, here we have Mary Shelley’s experiment gone wrong (well, part one anyway). Colin Clive is iconic as our dear doctor and who can forget Karloff’s Monster?

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Bride loosely covers the second half of the original novel (introduced, hilariously, by Elsa Lanchester playing Shelley), in which the Monster develops speech and eventually demands a wife from Frankenstein. Of course, Hollywood took a number of liberties with the storyline, not in the least by introducing the nefarious Dr. Pretorious.

Young Frankenstein Yes, technically this is a comedy and not a horror movie, but who better to manipulate silver screen tropes than Mel Brooks? From the blind hermit to the Bride’s famous white streaks, Brooks leaves not the slightest detail un-mocked. Also, Gene Wilder. Also, also, Marty Feldman. Also, also, also, Madeline Kahn.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) I have to say, watching a movie every day makes for some fascinating juxtapositions. For example, I’ve never felt the shift from 1930s Creature Features to Cold War Era horror quite so strongly. We begin to fear less what we might unleash or create (as with FrankensteinInvisible ManDr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and a whole slew of others) and more what lurks in the unknown (especially mutations). Consider one of the most unnerving scenes of the film in which Kay (Julie Lawrence) swims unknowingly in the same water as the Creature.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Ah, the little indie film which started it all. This one’s in the public domain so there’s no excuse not to have seen it. Really, no excuse. We’re talking about the film that launched an entire genre, the first apocalyptic zombie movie. And it holds up, partly because the b&w film hides the worst of your low-budget SNAFUs, partly because the performances are so damn good. Not to mention Ben, the first African American horror hero. Oh and favorite zombie? Graveyard Zombie. They’re definitely coming to get you, Barbara.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) So, Night  is damn good, but Dawn is great. Dawn takes what Night built and throws it onto a global scale. We’re not in an isolated farmhouse anymore. We’re in a TV station and in the projects and eventually in a shopping mall, that breathtaking symbol of American commercialism. But Dawn reveals what Romero accomplishes in these movies that nearly every other zombie movie fails to do: create sympathetic, complex characters. Yes, zombie movies are about entrails and the dissolution of society as we know it. But they’re also about people and the ways people change to survive. I don’t always love Stephen, Franny, Peter, and Roger, but I believe them and I want them to survive. Peter/Roger is one of my absolute favorite horror movie bromances, and I am always genuinely upset when Roger turns, especially after the “I’m going to try not to” scene. Favorite Zombie: Hare Krishna zombie!

Day of the Dead (1985) The last of the original trilogy, Day tackles more of the long game in the apocalypse. It’s also the only of Romero’s movies that focuses on scientists and the military trying to figure out what’s going on. Day‘s real strength is less the undead hordes trying to get in the complex and more the way it examines the decomposition (harhar) of human communication. It’s a quieter, more claustrophobic look at the apocalypse. Meanwhile, we have the first  human-zombie communication between Dr. Frankenstein and, my favorite zombie of the film, Bub (Sherman Howard).

Land of the Dead (2005) After a twenty-year hiatus, Romero came out with Land, which is — I’ll admit it — my least favorite of the franchise. In terms of the movies’ timeline, it occurs the latest out of all of them,in an era when humans have built isolated strongholds to protect them from the undead threat. The social criticism here is significantly less nuanced than the other Dead movies and our ragtag band of heroes isn’t nearly as compelling as their predecessors. For me, the real protagonists in Land are the zombies, particularly Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), who is the best example of a leader in the whole damn film. He leads his undead friends by example, mourns their re-deaths, and safely gets most of them home again.

Diary of the Dead (2007) Diary returns us to the night of the event. Our heroes are a group of film students from University of Pittsburgh, who were trying to shoot a horror movie before the world ended. It’s not as lackluster as Land and does manage to ask some interesting questions about journalistic ethics and the need for documentation. For me, though, the highlight of the film will always be Samuel the mute Amish farmer.

Survival of the Dead (2009) While, Survival is the worst received of the Dead series, I still find it pretty entertaining (the last scene, in particular, is hilarious). I think one of the difficulties with it is the larger cast — we have the soldiers and the islanders — and there’s not as much room to develop sympathies. Romero does pose an important question in the film: why shouldn’t we try to save/cure our loved ones? Or if we can’t cure them, teach them how to be more like people?

Okay, this is actually a roundup of the last two weeks and to avoid an overly epic post, I’ve split it into two parts: reading and watching. I’m going to do an events and recipes post, probably toward the end of the month, just because Halloween events (parties, etc.) tend to happen in the second half of October anyway.

Also, for those of you who entered the All Hallows Read Giveaway, winners will be notified tomorrow, October 23.

SO! Two weeks of deliciously spooky and sometimes outright scary short stories. Week 2 was all about the classics, especially of the Gothic sensibility, from the 18th-20th century. Week 3 was all Stephen King, all the time.

10/8 “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. The original American urban legend — the Headless Horseman. What Tim Burton failed to grasp about this story when he made his gore-tastic but utterly predictable film adaptation is that “Sleepy Hollow,” like any good ghost story, is all about set-up, about the act of telling a tale, and the ways in which stories creep into our brains and set up house there. We have more than an inkling that Ichabod’s fate was a mundane prank gone wrong, but it doesn’t matterWhat matters is whistling in the dark on your way home and thinking: what if.

10/9 “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Man, Poe and Hawthorne, they love their Italians. Not that a story like Rappaccini’s Daughter could work anywhere but the decadent Old World. I adore Hawthorne — he’s all about ambience and the ways in which the environment works on us. Not to mention: garden of bio-engineered toxic plants!

10/10  “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James. Technically, a short novel or novella, but you’d never know with how fast it reads. We’ve got a classic setup: a group of friends telling ghost stories. One friend, of course, has the story of all stories, almost too terrible to tell — almost. The resulting narrative is hotly debated by critics, whether it’s a work of psychological horror or an honest-to-goodness supernatural ghost story. We can agree that it’s one of the most masterfully written works of suspense and terror in the Anglo-American canon.

10/11 “The Outsider” by H.P. Lovecraft. I have to confess that although I have a certain fondness for Lovecraft’s mythos, I’m not usually a fan of his stories. (A lot of it’s the overt racism — there’s only so much about sinister “Negros” and “Mongoloids” I can read before I want to chuck a book across the room.) That said, “The Outsider” is one of my few favorites, in which a Grendel-like ghoul escapes from his decaying castle home/prison and seeks out normal society, only to be confronted with his own monstrosity.

10/12 “Call of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft. And if you are going to delve into the world of the Elder Gods, “Call of Cthulhu” is, of course, the best place to start. It’s full of the mystery and that simultaneous sense of piecing together and unraveling of which Lovecraft is, admittedly, the master.

10/13 “The Lady of the House of Love” by Angela Carter, from The Bloody Chamber. I love Carter and I haven’t read enough of her, so I was delighted to come across this story in an anthology. What’s wonderful about the contemporary Gothic is that it reshapes the archetypal stories and inverts them so as to demand: what is monstrous? This was probably my favorite read so far this month.

10/14 “Secret Observations on the Goat Girl” by Joyce Carol Oates from The Assignation. A short, deceptively simple story from one of horror’s greatest literary champions. As we know, all monsters are at least part human, and Oates explores our fascination and disgust in deceptively quiet terms.

10/15 “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band” by Stephen King. From the collection, Nightmares and Dreamscapes, this is King at his absolute best, with our sacrificial lambs getting lost in the woods and finding a small, Bradbury-esque town called “Rock and Roll Heaven.”

10/16 “1408” by Stephen King. Ignore the movie starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, “1408” is one of those stories better read than watched. On the screen, you miss out on the creeping sense of dread and King’s brilliant foreshadowing. From Everything’s Eventual.

10/17 “The Road Virus Heads North” by Stephen King. Also from Everything’s Eventual, what would 31 Days of Halloween be without a homicidally possessed painting story? Beware of yard sales, my friends.

10/18 “1922” by Stephen King. From King’s latest collection, Full Dark, No Stars. I hadn’t read any of these stories before, so every shock and twist was new to me. “1922” is the longest of the group, and King tells it so patiently. Just when you think you’ve come to the worst of it  — a man murdering his wife, the subsequent attempts to cover it up — you sink a little deeper into the worst of humanity. Also, rats. Lots of rats.

10/19 “Big Driver” by Stephen King, from Full Dark, No Stars. So very, very triggery for assault, this story, but with its structure you’re fully aware of what’s coming (unlike the protagonist), so there’s plenty of time to turn back. I didn’t, although at times I wanted to. In the vein of films like The House at the End of the Street and I Spit on Your Grave. But I do think King’s managed to set himself apart from those films, which are so exploitative, in large part because we’re so firmly entrenched in our heroine’s consciousness and POV that there’s no opportunity to feel anything but disgust and horror at what happens to her.

10/20 “Fair Extension” by Stephen King, from Full Dark, No Stars. The way time works in this story, compared to say, “1922” which is about three times as long, is key to its success. Your classic “deal with the devil” trope but with this kicker: you have to pick someone to suffer in your place.

10/21 “A Good Marriage” by Stephen King, from Full Dark, No Stars. Definitely my favorite of the bunch. This story sets out to answer the question: what if the man you married wasn’t who you thought he was? What if he was someone much, much worse? Another different point of view choice for King. It’s interesting what he’s done with women in these stories.

This week, I was going to write the next of my dystopia posts, this one focusing on how gender works in post-apocalyptic dystopian worlds. I was also going to review the two most recent episodes of NBC’s Revolution (Yes, I’m still watching it). Somewhere along the way, those two posts merged to become something between a rant and a cry of despair.

To be fair, “No Quarter” (episode 3) had some interesting parts to it. We learned about Uncle Miles’s dark and twisted past (working for the militia — *gasp*!). And there was Mark Pellegrino. Was there ever Mark Pellegrino.

But. But. Did we see any character development in Charlie, who is supposedly our protagonist? Not so much, no. And then there was this week, AKA Abandonment Issues Week, although I think they called the episode “The Plague Dogs” or something equally pithy.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with Charlie being a complicated character of emotional depth. I want that for her. It’s one of the qualities that is often lacking in female heroes because there’s this notion that a woman can’t be emotionally vulnerable and a badass (ahem, Katniss, ahem, Lisbeth Salander). However, the problem isn’t that Charlie feels things. It’s that her feelings come across as overwrought and are therefore very irritating.

And already, because Charlie is so very irritating, I’m reading comments about how the show would have been so much better if it was about Miles. A guy. And granted, we would probably see those comments regardless, but c’mon show creators, did you have to make them completely justified? Charlie’s the weak link in the show. She hasn’t developed as a character, let alone as a hero. That was the most exciting part about the show, that we had a female hero on a quest.

And it’s not just Charlie. Maggie AKA British Chick AKA iPhone Girl, depending who you ask, was a non-character before they offed her. How much more interesting would she have been if her backstory had been played out slowly and patiently, if her relationship with Charlie had matured and developed over the course of the last four episodes? How much might we have cried over her death, over Charlie’s loss of her? But instead, she was only a blip in the plot line and Charlie’s mourning of her was just another note of histrionics. Nora AKA Hot Chick from Miles’s Past has some potential (her revelation about her son was compelling), but I’m also seeing serious potential for her to devolve into the Sexy If Slightly Badass Love Interest category. Don’t even get me started on Charlie’s mother, whose absconding to Fort Monroe is as nonsensical a plot point as the random tornado in this episode.

But Charlie & Co. aren’t alone in this ridiculous post-apocalyptic portrayal of gender. (I’m looking at you, The Walking Dead. Right at you.) I know that the apocalypse means a shift in social structure and, in some sense, this means backsliding, especially in scenarios like Revolution where technology is defunct. But I’m troubled by the notion that this justifies an archaic view of gender roles, that heroines can succeed only in the company of greater heroes, that women would be immediately herded back into domestic roles — at best. And what worries me is the why of this. Is it just lazy thinking on the part of these writers? Or is these something of the wish fulfillment we sometimes see in apocalyptic fiction, the desire to revert to simpler times, in this case simpler times of gender inequality?

Yes, that could easily be reading too much into it and I hope it is. But honestly, I have to wonder — could the reason Charlie and characters like her don’t succeed be that we as a society don’t want them to?

Are you still watching Revolution? How do you feel about Charlie’s characterization? Who’s your favorite post-apocalyptic/dystopian heroine?

Today’s kickstarter comes to you via HG Wells from the Saints & Poets Production Co. out of Burlington, VT. They have puppets. Puppets are cool.

Project: Moreau Horrors

End Date: November 9, 9:00pm EST.

Prizes: Download a song from the musical (yes, it’s a musical), get a cool poster signed by the cast, go see the show, go see the show with a friend, get a t-shirt, get a script signed by the cast, get special thanks in the program, take a tour of Dr. Moreau’s lab and backstage, get a DVD or CD of the show, sit in the VIP area, attend the cast party, see the final dress rehearsal (always an experience, trust me).

Current Goal: $5,000

Current Number of Backers: 6

Current Pledges: $250

Why they deserve your support: Funding for original productions is, let’s face it, hard to come by. Especially in smaller cities (Burlington = pop. 42,000). Moreover, we’re not talking about just any original production — we’re talking about The Island of Dr. Moreau, arguably Wells’ strangest and possibly most interesting short novel. Mad science! Cat people! Other animal people!  Violent ends! Semi-nudity! And with puppets! One of the amazing things about science fiction as a genre is that it has an evolving relationship with its history. Nothing is off limits; the greats are constantly being re-imagined and revisited in new and exciting ways. With puppets!  And singing! PROBABLY SINGING PUPPETS!

I know theater is a hard sell, especially if you don’t live anywhere near the venue. But then again, kickstarter’s not just about the cool stuff you get or the free tickets, it’s about supporting projects that would not happen otherwise. It’s about people deciding what kind of art they want to see in the world.

/kicks away soapbox

Did I mention there are puppets?

Did I give: Negative. Money’s tight this month. But if that isn’t the case for you, why not pitch in?

We’re a week’s journey into the October Country and it’s finally starting to look like fall. The leaves are changing. All the summer crops  have been harvested — the stalks are yellowing in the yields. Here on the Bay, it’s oyster season, and the local towns host shucking contests at their fall festivals. There’s a crispness to the air. Sweater weather. Hot cider weather. Halloween.

31 Days of Halloween got off to a solid (if somewhat quiet) start this week. I began my daily reading with an assortment from the grandfather of horror, Edgar Allan Poe. I read all of them aloud — how do you resist reading Poe aloud?

My reading list, by day:

10/1 “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Every 8th grader’s introduction to the notion of an unreliable narrator, although, trust me, it holds up. My favorite line will always be, “It was a low, dull, quick sound — much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.” 

10/2 Poetry Day! “The Raven,” “The Bells,” “The Conqueror Worm,” “Annabel Lee,” and “Lenore.” Of course, I can’t read “Annabel Lee” without also thinking of Lolita, but that’s hardly a tragedy.

10/3 “A Cask of Amontillado.” If the pronunciation of the titular sherry troubles you as much as it did me, rest assured. You can use the Spanish “ll” (y) or the Italian and still be correct. One of my absolute favorites — vendetta, catacombs, and wine. “‘For the love of God, Montresor!’

10/4 “The Masque of the Red Death.” Poe stuck it to the 1% way before we occupied anything. Not that anyone’s left to enjoy the sense of poetic justice: “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

10/5 “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Poe’s tale of Inquisitorial horror, but more than that, a lesson in patience and pacing. By the time the pendulum appears, the reader is already twitching with claustrophobia and nerves. When it actually descends — well. “Down — certainly, relentlessly down!”

10/6 “The Oval Portrait.” The frame (pun not intended) story for this one has always fascinated me. The narrator’s servant, Pedro, brings his injured master to a gloomy looking chateau. But we quickly forget our wounded hero’s plight as he uncovers the history of the disturbingly perfect portrait in his room, which has origins straight out of Nathaniel Hawthorne. “And he would not see that the tints which he spread upon the canvas were drawn from the cheeks of her who sate beside him.”

10/7 “The Fall of the House of Usher.” What better symbol for the decline of the landed class than the decaying mansion belonging to the Ushers? Classic case of hereditary insanity and prematurely burying your sister. Oops. “Our glances, however, rested not long upon the dead — for we could not regard her unawed.”

Check out Project Gutenberg for all your Poe needs. Or enter my All Hallows Read giveaway for a chance to win a copy of his selected works.

This week’s movie watching ranged from the very contemporary to black & white classics to pure camp.

The Cabin in the Woods. Successfully livetweeted at @julialivetweets. If you love the Evil Dead trilogy, meta-horror, and Richard Jenkins, this is the movie for you.

House of Wax (1953). Vincent Price for the win! Based on the horror-comedy, The Mystery of the House of Wax, and lately remade in 2005, this film is clearly the best of the wax-museum-is-really-full-of-dipped-dead-people plot. Price’s transformation from artist to monster is old school horror at its best.

The Haunting (1963). Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House, this adaptation most closely follows its source material and embodies the notion that cinema of terror is all about the unseen and unexplained. The voiceovers get a little irritating, but that’s the best way for us to understand Nell’s unhinging, as it were.

28 Days Later. Danny Boyle’s utterly brilliant not-really-zombies zombie movie. Even a decade later, still sharp and relevant as ever. ’nuff said.

The Blair Witch Project. Ah, Blair Witch. Adolescent staple. Oft-parodied grandmother of the shaky hand-cam found footage genre. I’ve never liked the movie so much as what it aspired to — again, the notion of the unseen being more frightening than the seen. But, unfortunately, we can see too easily where our protagonists fail and so feel quite safe. But, still, it’s a nice exercise in 90s nostalgia.

The Fog (1980). Would you believe I’d only ever seen the crappy remake? Tragic, I know. But it didn’t take much to convert me. This is Carpenter in his prime we’re talking about. And I loved seeing Jamie Lee Curtis as the feisty hitchhiker, Elizabeth. Also, Janet Leigh. Also, angry leper ghosts.

Poe Double Feature: Tales of Terror and The Masque of the Red Death. Good Poe adaptations are about as common as . . . well, sane Poe narrators. Much as I love Vincent Price, I don’t recommend either of these. Ever. Unless camp will save your life. Then go for it.

This week I’m going to continue  reading classic horror, including Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw.” For our viewing pleasure, we’ll have Dracula (1931)Frankenstein (1931), and other greats of the silver screen. Keep an eye out for ghost story prompts/discussions and other 31 Days of Halloween treats.

The internet informs me that it’s National Poetry Day (edit: in the UK), and I’ve been reading Edgar Allan Poe all week for 31 Days of Halloween (more about that during the weekly roundup), so today I give you five brilliant actors reading Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven.” Vincent Price and John De Lancie (Q!) are my personal favs.

(Video quality is variable, but the audio’s what counts.)

Vincent Price:

James Earl Jones:

Christopher Lee:

Christopher Walken:

John De Lancie: