About Plutonian Press

Friday, November 12, 2021

Review: The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell by Brian Evenson


A man who can not tell if the horses he sees laying in a stable are dead or alive. A woman who finds herself trapped in strange dreams, maybe with a new parasitic leg. A man seeing a psychiatrist, only to be treated by two, hoping at least one is real. A man, fallen into a hole on some distant world, being taken over by some alien thing. A little girl who has no face, no matter which way you turn her. In the old west, a man on the run meets a stranger, who isn’t what he seems. These are some of the visions that you will encounter in Brian Evenson’s work. His latest collection The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell is the third in a trilogy of new horror collections of his work from Coffee House Press. The first two are A Collapse of Horses and Song for the Unraveling of the World. These three volumes are essential reading. They are as vital and innovative as Barker’s Books of Blood or Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco. To take comparisons further, Barker’s work brought to the field tales of perverse passion and eroticism, Ligotti brought a macabre gothic pessimism, and now Evenson brings this cold speculative fiction, almost a deliberate postmodern fixation on themes of identity and the nature of reality. If Barker found influence in pornographic literature, and Ligotti found influence in Eastern European literature, it would seem Evenson finds influence in 1970’s speculative fiction, maybe you could say the child of Harlan Ellison and Jorge Luis Borges if Ellison focused more on horror fiction, or Borges’s writing turned to nightmare. 

There is something extremely unnerving about Brian Evenson’s horror fiction. Something maybe almost unique. I would say in terms of effectiveness only Thomas Ligotti stands in the same category. Not just the ability to write an effectively disturbing story, but to actually change the reader's perceptions. To contaminate the reader's worldview. These kinds of work, in a literal sense, wound the reader. How to describe Brian Evenson’s work? Take a classic weird tales story, and in the background lace the tale with weird new-wave science fictional elements. Then use these tropes to reveal certain uncomfortable ideas to the reader. The reveals: you are not what you thought you were, you are not even you. Your sense of self, your sense of identity, your sense of bodily integrity are all questioned. He undermines you, in the most understated and creeping way. In the middle of a story you realize you are not sure where you are, the story is starting to spin out of control and you have no idea where it, or you, will end up. In reading the best of his works, the reader starts to feel a real danger, like Evenson is somehow really going to do some kind of permanent damage to their psyche. Some of his stories work in loops, ending where they began, some of his works have these strange breaks at the end, where you are left lost and disoriented. It’s like being shown what it is like to live in a schizophrenic mind or to live with strange obsessions, and then to be left there, the story has changed you, twisted you, corrupted you. He lures his readers in with subtle mystery, then contaminants them with his insidious visions. We come to his stories to be disturbed, to be unsettled, but as we dare ourselves to go into the dark waters of Evenson’s tales, we realize far too late maybe we have gone too deep into the water, and now we can’t escape the pulling tide. 

In this new collection, The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell, I would say some of my favorites are: Myling Kommer, a tale of dark family secrets and resentments. There is this just slow accumulation of dread, an uncertainty of what is happening, this pitch-black darkness seething between the words, with an ending that will haunt you long after you put the book down. A Bad Patch, written for a David Cronenberg tribute anthology, this story of parasites and body horror does the master horror filmmaker justice and is one of the best tales Brian Evenson has written. And finally, what may be my favorite tale in this book, the title story The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell. This is one of those works that only Brian Evenson could write. A twisting labyrinth of a story, this is one of those tales that leave you unnerved, wondering what you had just read and how the author pulled off what he did. A woman goes to a self-help seminar, only to become troubled by strange dreams and a strange alteration to her body. 

All three books of this trilogy explore and expand on what can be done in horror literature in new and surprising ways.  A Collapse of Horses is a collection that explores delirious/surreal horror. It has some of the most shocking and unsetting tales I have ever read. Song for the Unraveling of the World finds Brian Evenson more in a kind of science fiction or maybe speculative fiction mode, using the tools of those genres to further refine his methodology. The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell in a way is a return to classic form. It plays on traditional horror tropes but uses them in unexpected ways, twisting them into new visions fit for an era where we find ourselves living through some very strange times. But all three collections have a plethora of different styles, genres, and tropes. So when I talk about overarching themes, I mean this in the most general sense. You will be hard-pressed to find a writer with more range and skill at different modes of storytelling than Brian Evenson. It’s hard to just talk about The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell as it would be to just talk about one of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. To my mind they form one work, the stories informing each other in interesting ways. I think Brian Evenson is one of the most vital and important writers working in horror today, and his work deserves all the accolades it can get. 

Monday, November 1, 2021

Review: Possession


Possession. A film of shrieking furies, slimy reeking perversions of the human form, eerie doppelgangers, inhuman eroticism, exploding human psyches, and an out of control drive towards self-annihilation. Possession draws into itself both the director’s, Andrzej Żuławski’s, anguish over his disintegrating marriage and also the lingering trauma of a post World War Europe. Shot in West Germany during the cold war when it was a county cut in half by a literal wall, a nation deeply divided. And Zulawski was a Polish citizen self-exiled from his own country over the controversies surrounding his artistic output resulting in bannings of his films. Zulawski was walled off from the place he knew as home. In a way, you can say that Possession itself is a film about walls. The walls between each person's private life, the walls that separate us from the lives we wish we had, the walls that make us unknowable to each other. Possession is also about the rage that comes from trying to break through the various walls and never being able to. About the rage at being a trapped animal in a labyrinth beyond comprehension. Possession is about learning to live with monstrous truths and about the way desire can have disturbing outcomes. Anna and Mark are in the midst of separating, Mark does not want this, he does not want to be cut off from his relationship and his child. But Anna is suffocating under the relationship, she desires a way to find some kind of meaning, some kind of transcendence. Mark tries to understand the suffering Anna is going through, he tries to feel the pain she feels. But she is done with him and finds his attempts actually insulting and invasive. Mark wants to show her his love for her by showing her his willingness to push himself to the limits of self-destruction, Anna wants an escape from the traps of human desire. What she wants, we find out, waits in the dark shadows of an empty run down apartment, something slithering and slimy and erotic and not human. 

The separating wife and mother, Anna, absolutely owns this film. Everything else in this film is a barrier for her to smash through. She is a vortex of anger and rebellion.  Anna both figuratively and actually, confronts the inner beast of her nature, the inner vortex of anger and desire and pain. She would rather make a hell out of her family than be trapped by something she despises. Anna is almost akin to a vampire, flying through the scenes in various capes and using and destroying men in her search for meaning. Her face is often covered in blood and her eyes are searing through the film screen at the viewer. Mark seems to be caught in her wake, utterly in love with her and willing to be a victim to her madness. 

But viewer be warned, hidden in Possession is maybe the most disturbing… thing, I have ever seen in a film. The thing in the apartment. Slimy, tentacled, and phallic. Just resembling a human form enough to be disturbing, it is a mockery of humanity and a corrupter of sexuality. It lurks in the shadows, moving slowly around leaving a trail of mucus much like a snail. Its head is a phallus with no face. And it is Anna’s secret lover. It lurks in the dark corners and in the bedsheets, and it exists to fuck. This… thing is the closest Anna gets to finding some kind of happiness in this diseased world. Created by Carlo Rambaldi, the special effects artist who also did work on Alien and E.T., it seems like something that just stepped out of some insane nightmare of sex. 

Throughout the film, there is a theme of doppelgangers that subtly pops up and then increasingly takes over the film. The strange not quite right doubles of people who we think we know. A doppelganger of Anna appears as a school teacher, a soft and submissive dream version of Anna. And towards the end a doppelganger of Mark appears, erotic, independent, driven, the opposite of over clingy codependent Mark. The film ends with him, the Mark doppelganger, trying to get into the house, visualized like the shadow of a giant insect flitting around the front door window. trying to get back into Mark and Anna’s apartment, with their child and the doppelganger of Anna hiding inside, frightened to answer the door. And over the audio track, bombs start falling on the city. A repetition of trauma, a cycle of violence? It is interesting that the film ends with the main characters doubles essentially about to replay the drama of the film, only now with the world crashing down around their heads. Chaos and war break out and the film fades to black. Leaving everything in some kind of maelstrom of unmeaning. Possession is the most pessimistic of films, there is no center to hold on to, no meaning to try to understand. Everything rots and falls into ruin. The characters shriek into the all-consuming void surrounding their lives. It seems to say in the face of a loss of meaning, the only avenue a person can find for action is violence or sexual perversion. 

So, what is the “possession” of the film's title? To Mark, it would seem the confusing and random acting out of Anna, like some demon has taken control of her. To Anna, it would be Mark trying to suffocate and dominate her life. To each other, they must seem like demons. In the conventional view of relationships, people tend to believe that both partners should be trying to elevate each other, be positive influences for each other. But in Possession relationships breed madness. The film’s title may refer to the walls society puts around us, trapping us in relationships, jobs, social conventions, trying to possess us body and soul. But Possession also means the demon that can erupt from inside us, a side of us that only emerges when our lives and our sanity are in danger. And this demon will batter itself against the walls surrounding it, trying to get free,