Posts Tagged ‘call of cthulhu’

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.

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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.