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Friday, April 14, 2017

An Appreciation of Livia Llewellyn


Image result for livia llewellyn the engines of desireImage result for livia llewellyn the engines of desire

An appreciation of Livia Llewellyn - Or, The Womb, Center of Mystery.


Livia Llewellyn burst on the Weird Horror scene in 2011 with her collection Engines of Desire. Critics and fans were all talking about this book and it’s heralding of an exciting new voice. And then a couple years later she returned in 2016 with her second collection Furnace, cementing her role as one of the most important writers in the field today. With each new collection it seems her powers as a writer strengthens. Her writing blends a sense of unease and ambiguity, a deep rooted joy in surrealism and perversity, and an existential need for an understanding of oneself. She writes in many modes: At The Edge of Ellensburg and The Unattainable are tales of obsession and self destruction, Stabilimentum and Allochthon are creeping tales of domestic surrealism, and Her Deepness and Cinereous are great exercises in dark fantasy world building. All of these from a very well defined and pointedly female point of view. All told with a sensuous prose style and a commitment to explore its themes as deep and as far as they need to go. She writes in the tradition, and furthers the tradition, of such groundbreaking authors as Clive Barker ( The Books of Blood, Imajica ) and Caitlin Kiernan ( The Ammonite Violin, Confessions of a Five Chambered Heart ). A style of writing that probes the inner thoughts of the writer, the secret things that turn them on and also disgust them, and brings into light subject matter that is normally not talked about in mainstream Horror literature. In a time where Weird Horror becomes formula and fashion, where every month a new Cthulhu Mythos inspired collection comes out to further flood the field with mediocre writing and stale ideas, Livia Llewellyn brings it back to its roots; the exploration of personal and social taboos, and the pleasurable erotics of a dark and pessimistic poetry.

There seems to be a lack of critical writing on this author, and on Weird Horror as a literary scene in general. So I will highlight two of my favorite Livia Llewellyn fictions and hopefully encourage others to give a read of this, seemingly to me, criminally overlooked writer. Each of her collections are named after a story in their respective collection, and for good reason, these are arguably the best stories in their collections, and those are the ones I will focus on here.

The Engine of Desire

The Engine of Desire was first published in 2008 the anthology Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet, and is a true rarity in the strangely usually too conservative field of Weird Horror, a transgressive homoerotic tale of lust and obsession among young teenage girls just blossoming into puberty, stumbling into forces bigger than them and how to deal with the unleashed sexuality threatening to overtake them. The story focuses on Megan, a housewife, dissatisfied with her life, and is haunted by a secret regret and fixation. When Megan was a young teen, a mysterious girl from “ the far end of the cul-de-sac “, already smoking cigarettes and arousing the interest of the local neighborhood girls, the girl named Kelly, came into Megan’s life as one of her sister Lisa’s friends. She watches, jealous, as Lisa is seduced and taken away, never to be seen again, by the tenebrous creature named Kelly. Many of the town’s girls have been disappearing. And Kelly was around for, and ultimately is responsible for, their disappearing, taking them into some unreal corner of town, forever. The story takes place as Megan looks back and recalls her life and how Kelly has seeped into and taken over her dreams and her inner life. She longs, she aches, to have been chosen and stole away by Kelly, and hurts from knowing that she never wanted her. Kelly had taken all the pretty girls. “All the cream has been skimmed, youth and desire siphoned away, leaving only human husks. Not enough left for the engine to feed on, and so it’s gone, along with the mystery girl who charmed its prey and fed them bit by bit into its maw.” So Megan schemes to have a daughter, a attractive daughter, to draw Kelly back to her house, and force her to take Megan with her instead of her daughter Sophie. “Megan runs her nose over her daughter’s skin, breathes the scent in deep. She smells the girl on Sophie, that sharp undertone of fuel mixed with lemons and cigarettes. And under that, the smell of the engine. Hot burning blood and smoking bone, dismembered limbs whirling in a gasoline gyre.”

Kelly is kind of an unearthly figure, a vampiric creature of seduction and damnation. At the conclusion of the story Kelly brings Megan to an old house to show Megan where she had took Lisa and the other girls. Kelly had brought them to a basement and shows them the secret heart of the world, a vast engine of flesh and hunger, made of all the girls Kelly has seduced away, where they get absorbed into the infernal machine. Megan runs away screaming, not wanting to be a part of something that involves everyone, only wanting something unique between her and Kelly.  Megan wants Kelly all to herself, but partnership is not what Kelly brings. What Kelly offers is an escape from the drudgery and lies of everyday life, to be lost in an eternal erotics of the flesh, to become one with the flesh machine that drives us, to give in to our most primal of urges, the perverse drive to mutate and corrupt forever and without end. Kelly shows us, unveils for us, the driving code written in our DNA, our real reason to exist, the life urge. Millions of years ago there came into being a thing, a primal urge that awoke, that gave consciousness and movement to insentient matter. Across a landscape of unfathomable oceans and shores of molten rock it arose. Against a cold, barren universe it clinged to life. And kept moving, and evolving, and changing. Microbes to fungus to monkeys it fought to survive. And it still exists, hidden in our modern lives, still pushing us, still at the center of our passions and our ruin. You can hear the engine in shopping centers and apartment buildings, colleges and prisons. Where this force came from or why it exists is unknown to us. We are puppets in a eons old drama. This striving, this desiring in the dark, is at the bedrock of Livia Llewellyn’s exploration of self, and in her story The Engine of Desire, she shows us the perverse combustion at the core of our hungers.

Furnace

Furnace was first published in 2013 in a tribute anthology to one of the masters of Weird Horror, Thomas Ligotti, in Grimscribe’s Puppets. Livia used this opportunity to write a story that is a modern day classic and can stand up to the best of Ligotti’s work. Furnace centers on an unnamed young girl who helplessly watches as her family and her unnamed hometown spiral downward into an unreal and hellish mockery of what seems to be normal small town life. Like how the young girl in The Engine of Desire wanted, and was trapped, by an all consuming life urge, in Furnace the young girl is trapped by the all annihilating force of breakdown and entropy, nightmare made real. The town is falling from order and into chaos, insane outbursts of strange deaths and mutilations are spreading like a plague throughout town and everyone carries on like nothing is happening, except her grandfather, who has sensed something was amiss for a long time, works on a map highlighting the bizarre incidents that are increasing in frequency everyday, trying to make some kind of sense to it, to put some kind of pattern to it. The story begins with the girl and her mother driving through town looking to do some shopping, but whole parts of town are now deserted, a bunch of stores have all of a sudden closed down and locked their doors. A smell of old moth balls permeates the air, a chill in the air signals the coming of the dark months. They see a figure standing by one of the darkened shops, the young shop owner that the girl used to have a crush on, and they approach him to ask him what has happened, only to find him holding a strange bundle, “ I started in shock to realize it was not a bolt of fabric, but a length of thick grey wool wrapped around the stiff body of a large bird with two beaks twisted into a hideous spiral and a spider-like cluster of lidless coal-colored eyes.” He stands there warning them to not look too deep into that is happening, not to look into the blackened windows of the shops, but of course they look, and the girls starts to sense, too grasp, the nightmare behind everything seeping out and penetrating into the world. But maybe the nightmare has always been there,is in fact the true face of reality? Like a cancer it always lurked under the surface of things, silently corrupting everything until it took over the body and sent it into one final horrific death throe. To be born is to exist in a world of strange creatures that both desire and decay, parents that created you and try to mold you into their own failed and desperate dreams. “ This, this is my mother’s suffocating desire, slowing time down around us, winding it back, back, until it becomes the amber-boned river in which I am always and only her little girl, eternal and alone.” The nightmare of life is a curse put onto children by their parents, as the girl figures out, a slow decent into sickness and madness. “And I ran to the edges of my northern town and past it and slipped beyond into the world, as all the bright skeletons of who I could have been swarmed behind me, plunging into the quivering moist mountains of putrescent flesh that had birthed us all, sinking into the road where she lost me, all of them dying within her desire like little miscarried dreams.” But the protagonist of Furnace comes to learn there is a way out. A breaking of her Mother’s wishes and dreams for her, that in fact, doom her. A saving act of self destruction, a breaking of ties that bind her to the biological horror we call existence on Earth, the willful taking of her own life.

Livia Llewellyn writes about the deep fear that we may not actually own our bodies and their strange cravings may be beyond our control. Like bodies adrift on a ocean of darkness, we are tossed here and there by forces that were here millennia before us and we have no chance at ever understanding. Mysteries of deep time and the ennui of meaningless existence, the desire to escape, to be free of the eternal cycle of all of our most precious perversions and fantasies falling into the annihilating black void that lurks, unheeded, under the everyday world. Unseen, nebulous forces try to control and dominate our passions and our reasons for existence in Livia’s prose. Her characters try to break free of these systems of control by either giving in to the erotic thrill, by submitting, to the engine of desire, or by turning away from it, by turning away from the system and letting it all burn away in the slow decay of the cosmic furnace. Livia is one of the strongest prose stylists and a true poet of the weird and erotic. Every time I see a new story from her in a collection or online I consider it a must read. I can’t wait to see where Livia goes from here and what strange and beautiful sights she has to show us. Watching her grow and develop as an author is exciting and I have no doubt that her work will be read for as long as Weird Horror is read. I strongly urge anyone who enjoys walking down the more shadowy and sensual paths of Horror literature to give Livia a try.





                   




Saturday, April 1, 2017

Interview: Stop Motion Filmmaker Robert Morgan










           Today we have one of the great artists working in film today, Robert Morgan! A stop motion filmmaker, Robert Morgan has created some of the most vital and important works of the modern era. Some of his masterworks include The Separation, The Cat with Hands, Bobby Yeah, and his D is for Deloused was in the horror anthology film The ABC's of Death. He has also directed a couple of masterful shorts that pay tribute to some of the great horror films, you can find his Belial's Dream short on the Basketcase Blu Ray and Tomorrow I Will Be Dirt on the Schramm Blu Ray. 

           Plutonian: Hello and thanks for stopping by The Plutonian! It is a true honor to have you here! Stop motion animation has to be the most obsessive style of filmmaking. Normally making a film involves dozens, if not hundreds, of contributors, but stop motion is a solitary, detail-oriented, and extremely personal artform. Manipulating puppets and creating scenery and sets in private is a mysterious and fetishistic thing to do. What compelled you to want to become a stop motion filmmaker? 

        RM: I came from an art background so I was always used to making things on my own. Doing a painting or a sculpture does not involve a whole team, so I was used to expressing myself in that way. I never had a burning desire to be an animator, but I did want to make films. Coming from an art background, it was a simple step to make those paintings or sculptures move, rather than having to find a whole team to work with. So I applied to do a degree in animation. And when I started doing stop-motion, I found that I had a natural affinity for it. So that was how I started. I never had a compulsion to make animation in particular though. I really see it as an extension of what I was doing when I made paintings and sculptures, except in a time-based form. 

        Plutonian: A lot of your work has to do with mutations of the body and the infinite variations of the organic form. Bodies explode into different shapes, animals have mismatched limbs, and different realities exist within bodily orifices. It is all a sort of a surrealism of the body. How do you view the mutating body and the quivering flesh sacs we call life? 

        RM: I see it as exactly that – as a mass of weird, quivering flesh sacs! Existence is a pretty weird and mysterious thing when you think about it. And if you think about it too much it can become really quite disturbing. I totally understand people like Thomas Ligotti who see life as fundamentally uncanny and weird. And we’re always changing, physically and mentally. It’s all just one big constantly transforming march towards non-existence. Hopefully, you can have some fun along the way. Also, I had really bad acne when I was a teenager so I was acutely aware of physical mutation from quite early on… I think it definitely had an influence on my films. 

       


         Plutonian: The history of stop motion animation is a truly fascinating and under-discussed topic. What would you say are some of the most important works in the field of stop motion film? What are some of your personal favorites? 

        RM: Most people think of very twee things when the word stop-motion is mentioned. For me, it was always a dark, uncanny art form though. And the process itself always felt obsessive and ritualistic to me. The real art of stop-motion is very rarely discussed in the mainstream world. It’s all just “oh wow it’s so painstaking” and that’s as far as it goes. But the history of stop-motion is full of amazing pieces of art that should be more widely known. I guess people know about Jan Svankmajer and the Quay Brothers, both of whom I’d definitely call important. Also, there’s the films of Ladislaw Starevicz and Charlie Bowers, who made some beautiful films early on. Plus I always enjoyed seeing bits of stop-motion in live-action films, like the stuff in Basket Case, Fiend Without a Face, Tetsuo, etc. That stuff is just as important to me as the more highbrow classics. 

        Plutonian: I think it could be agreed that stop motion, as an art form, is better suited to the short film than the more traditional feature-length film. Most stop motion feature films are live-action films with some stop motion sequences thrown in. I mean, there are feature-length films like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas that use zero live-action, but his films come off to me as too slick and produced. There is something about the shaky, low-budget, off-kilter quality of stop motion that Tim Burton just misses by miles. Take for instance The Quay Brothers. The Quay Brothers are definitely geniuses in stop motion and their short films are classics. But I feel their motion-length pictures miss the feverish inspiration and occulted beauty of their short films. Institute Benjamina is a wonderful film, but the little doses of stop motion don’t really add much to it. The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes to me had really interesting ideas but fell flat in execution. I think there are stronger uses of stop motion sequences in Lynch’s Eraserhead and in Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man. But of course Svankmajer’s film Alice is a masterpiece of the form. You have done some work with live-action filmmaking in addition to stop motion. What do you feel about feature-length live action/stop motion hybrid films? 

        RM: I would agree with your opening statement about feature-length animation in general. I’ve very rarely seen an animated feature film of any kind that I liked. Maybe a handful. But I’ve seen amazing short films. That’s where the real masterpieces of animation are found; in the short form. I also think it’s difficult to get funding for really interesting animated features because there’s a bias towards them being broad, family films, at least in the West. Personally, I think the idea of mixing live-action and stop-motion animation in a feature film is a more fruitful one (I’m developing one of my own). I think there’s a nice gray area between the forms that is under-explored. I think the quality of the finished result is a question of artistic execution rather than a problem intrinsically to do with mixing the forms. I love Institute Benjamenta but I agree Piano Tuner was not as good, but from what I know, I think that was more to do with outside pressures from financiers than anything else. 

       


         Plutonian: It seems your filmography is moving from a more traditional brand of narrative storytelling ( The Cat with Hands, The Separation ) to a more gonzo attack of surreal delirium and transgressive humor ( Bobby Yeah, D is for Deloused ). Would you say that is a fair assessment? Could you talk about your growth as a filmmaker and how what you are trying to achieve with your films has evolved? 

        RM: That’s just the way things have gone with the last few films. I’m not particularly moving away from more traditional forms in a bigger sense. I’m developing a couple of features that are a bit more traditional, for example. I think when you work alone, like with Bobby Yeah and Deloused, there’s just a certain insular quality that comes out. I’d ultimately like to be a fairly rounded filmmaker who has made lots of different types of films, all with a similar sensibility maybe. But when I’m making stuff on my own, I need to keep myself entertained, which is why I guess they’re so far out. 

        Plutonian: Can you talk about your process? Do you have a finished film in your mind you try to recreate? Or do you perhaps have a more experimental ‘play it by ear’ approach? 

        RM: It depends on the project. Sometimes I’ve done the whole traditional process of writing a script, gathering a production together, working with collaborators, etc. Other times, it’s just me in a room, and in that case, I’ve quite enjoyed just playing by ear recently. Bobby Yeah was not planned in any way, just improvised from start to finish. Deloused was similar, although I had a rough treatment. The joy of stop-motion is that it very often takes on a life of its own once you start animating. It tells you what it wants to be, so you need to be open to following it, and then it can lead to some really weird and interesting places. I enjoy both processes though because collaboration also brings lots of amazing things too. 

        Plutonian: What do puppets offer a filmmaker that they can’t get from a flesh and blood actor? What do puppets mean to you? Can you talk about what goes into creating a character who is a puppet? 

        RM: It’s just a whole different type of expression. An actor needs to make it real on some level. But puppets are metaphors. They’re objects that the audience projects human emotions onto. So they exist on a different plane of non-reality. They don’t have to be credible in any way. They can be incredible. The way I build a puppet character is to start by sculpting it. And in sculpting it, I’m looking for a demeanor or a facial expression that holds an emotion of some kind; or that can seem to hold multiple emotions, the more complex the better. Once I’ve got that demeanor that interests or fascinates me, then I know that puppet can carry a film. 

        Plutonian: Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to talk about? Where would you like to see your artistic career head in the future? 

        RM: Where I’d like to see my career go is one thing, where it actually will go is something else! But I’ve gota few projects floating around at the moment. I’m just starting a new short that will come out later this year; it’s connected to a well-known cult film, but I can’t say too much about it right now. It will be revealed in due course. As for other projects, I don’t like to say too much about them in case they don’t happen. But there’s definitely some plans afoot! 



Monday, March 6, 2017

My job as critic.



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I will never be a great critic. I do not want to dissect poetry and art. I do not want to expose them to the harsh sunlight. To learn all the names of all the little parts that make it all work.

I want art to retain its mystery. I want to be able to go back again and again. To keep falling into its depths over and over like a cherished fetish dream. It is a pleasing nightmare I seek. Unease and uncertainty, poeticized.


To take the unknowable dark, to take our fear of it. And make it my muse. That is the central calling of my life.

Whether it is the bleak and beautiful poetry of Ligotti or Lovecraft, or the surreal deliriums of Lynch or Argento.

Whether it is the falling sun setting the sky a blood red over a lonely and shadow veiled cemetery, or the cold and desolate moon reflected off a black and abysmal lake.  

It is all the same voice. It is that voice I have followed for my entire life. It is that voice that will keep whispering long after I am dust. Long after the stars dim. Long after the universe goes cold and silent. The voice of the dark will still whisper. Do you hear it? I am not a great critic. I am just here to tell you of the whispers I hear.






Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: Evolution



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Recently, I got a chance to see an amazing French film called Evolution. What is Evolution about? It is a film about a seaside town harboring a disturbing secret. A tale of a strange evolutionary diversion. Fears of alien substances and beings penetrating and subverting the body. A delirium of not knowing what is human and non-human, what is mother and what is non-mother. A film that is erotic and fascinating in its secrets. And so far the best film I have seen in 2017.


Evolution is directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, her follow up film to her first film Innocence. Evolution has some of the most beautiful oceanic photography I have ever seen in a film. A visual delight, the textures and the overwhelming dampness of the film are beautiful rendered. The film also has a very sparse score, which only kicks in when needed to help completely submerge the viewer in the film’s mysterious and melancholy tone. Evolution is a film as beautiful as any arthouse film, but it has a deeply embedded cult midnight movie sensibility.

While watching this I could not help contemplating how this film plays out like a female version of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, itself a nightmare of strange and troubling things. Mostly concerned with just how strange it is to give birth and the nebulous desires that often overtake us, this film is a kind of response to Eraserhead. Also, there is a large, but subdued, influence of the seaside horrors of H.P. Lovecraft in this film. The Shadow over Innsmouth is probably in the local library of this secluded town featured in Evolution.

I give this film my strongest recommendation. A slow burn into surreal and mysterious depths. Easily one of the best films I have seen in a long time and one I shall obsessively revisit, like any good mystery. Lucile Hadzihalilovic is one of the most promising up and coming filmmakers working out there, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next.

Interview: Adam Golaski



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Hello Adam Golaski and welcome to The Plutonian!


When I first read your Weird Horror collection Worse Than Myself it really blew me away. At turns surreal, beautiful, shocking, and obsessive. It really made a huge impression on me. So let me say it is a huge honor to have you here for an interview! Looking back on Worse Than Myself, how you do feel about it? How have been the responses to it?

Shortly after Worse Than Myself was published I held a clothbound copy in my hand, alone in my parents’ kitchen, and felt ambivalent. Here it is. Earlier this year, looking for Hiroshima by John Hersey in the stacks at Brown University, I saw a copy Worse Than Myself—I was thrilled! It’s unreal in the world. But it is in the world and I’m glad. I like the stories. I like the book’s structure. I care about Worse Than Myself.

You wrote to me: you read my book, you liked it, you asked me to contribute to an anthology you’re editing—that’s gratifying. Very infrequently, someone seeks me out because of it. To tell me it meant something to them.

There seems to be an increasing feeling in modern society of a loss of reality. A lot of people, seemingly more in the last couple years, have started looking around and not be able to take what is happening in society as something that corresponds with the normal accepted notions of what reality is supposed to be. There seems to be no core reality anymore. No new music scene. No real counter culture. No identifiable sense of what is culturally relevant, since there is no culture to speak of. Our media bombards up with nostalgic images of other eras to try to hide the emptiness of our society. And now the United States government is using ‘alternate facts’. I think that Weird Horror right now is uniquely positioned to be able to talk about this genuinely strange era we live in. One of the main concerns of Weird Horror is in exploring the different masks that society wears to conceal the darkness and utter chaos that lay hidden behind the workaday world. In Weird Horror reality is an extremely malleable thing. What are your thoughts on Weird Horror and our increasingly unreal reality?

Not to pick a fight, but reality is awfully real, Scott. What you’re describing is dissonance. What we want the world to be like and what it is like. That’s a modern angst, but it’s not new. Much of the horror in my weird fiction describes a failure to comprehend what is right in front of us. You write about a lack of culture—there’s culture! You just don’t like it. Or: it’s hard to see. Romanticized, the present will look as coherent as the past does. “Weird Horror” is a tool with which to describe human experience. I don’t think there’s any experience it can’t be used to describe; the only limits are generic. I try not to police myself too much when I wander into the horror genre hinterland.

There are all kinds of different traditions in the history of Weird Horror. In North America, Weird Horror seems to follow in the tradition of Lovecraft, Bradbury, Matheson, and King which is more realist, idea driven, speculative horror fiction. Whereas Eastern Europe deals in more introverted and personal psychodramas with writers like Grabinski, Kafka, Ewers, and Schultz. And in Japan there is a tradition of socially and morally transgressive authors like Rampo, Izumi and Abe. There is so much interesting and criminally underread work out there. Where do you feel your horror fiction falls in terms of themes and traditions? Do you have any favorite non-English or just lesser known horror writers who you would recommend?

I don’t know. I don’t have an allegiance to a particular tradition. Mary Caponegro’s fiction is deeply weird in the way it describes experience. A few of Alyn Ryan’s short stories interest me. I was deeply impressed by Jennifer Claus’ “The Room Is Fire,” which I published in New Genre no. 7. I liked “The Witch House” by Jessica Phelps.

I don’t think anyone writing horror these days can have escaped the influence and historical weight of horror cinema. From classics like Night of the Living Dead and Repulsion to lesser known deliriums like Messiah of Evil and Goke: Bodysnatcher from Hell, there has been some amazing work done in the horror film. Has horror cinema influenced you?

I’m influenced by cinema in general—I studied filmmaking and made films (student films). I worked in a movie theater! Horror cinema—and other genres beloved by the folks who raised me—are a part of my childhood. Roused from bed to see Them! on T.V. when I was five.

One of the most talked about aspects of your collection Worse Than Myself, is how the book is divided into two different sections. One being more focused on a more abstract surreal horror, and the other more focused on playing and experimenting with traditional horror tropes. How did you decide to go in that direction with the collection?

You say that one part is more abstract and the other part more focused on playing with traditional horror tropes—fantastic. What an interesting read! The two parts were determined by place. And place had a lot to do with how abstract or traditional the stories were.

I love the quote from Ramsey Campbell where he calls your work “ insidiously weird “, which I feel is a very apt description. But it begs the question, why do you want to pass these nightmares off onto your readers?

Why did you want to read a book called Worse Than Myself?

I don’t think of my stories as nightmares. My approach to telling a story, no matter how strange, is to treat it as if every aspect of it were absolutely real. As a result, I think about why people react as they do to the inexplicable and/or the horrible. My characters don’t know what’s going on—in the same way that you or I have only a dim sense of what’s happening where we are not.

Instead of “to pass these… off,” maybe “to give.” As in, here, these are stories I wrote. Do with them what you will.

Some of your work deals with both sexuality and horror. In those stories, there is exploration of the pull of eroticism and the push of abject disgust. What connections do you see in those topics?

Sex is every day. Occasionally, I write a story directly about sex, but sex is likely to appear in any story that’s engaged with the world. Sex makes us vulnerable, so it’s a natural subject for horror. If you’re distracted by the affair you’re conducting, you might not notice that there’s a monster in the room (“The Man From the Peak”). If you’re resisting a sexual urge, you might find yourself isolated when you most need community or worse—utterly perverted by your self-denial (“The Demon,” “The Dead Gather on the Bridge To Seattle”).

Disgust is a personal matter. A matter of taste, a matter of morality, a matter of cultural attitudes. What happens to a person when they feel disgusted with themselves is a central concern in Worse Than Myself.

I know I speak for a lot of people when I say this, I would love to see a new horror collection from you! Any chance of one emerging in the future? And is there any upcoming projects you would like to talk about?

Since Worse Than Myself, I published a book of stories called Color Plates. I’ve also written a collection called Stone Gods I’d like to see published by the right publisher (I don’t want it to vanish on the shelves of book collectors). I’ve half-completed another set of stories and a novel (an excerpt from that novel appears in Nightscript no. 3). I’ve published lots of stories, poems, and hybrid pieces in various little journals (check out OUTLAND 1 – 6 in the third Sharkpack Annual). I’m writing a book about the Ti West film The House of the Devil for Auteur. And there’s much that’s weird on my blog, Little Stories. I’d be very pleased if people subscribed!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Review: A Collapse of Horses by Brian Evenson




   


I have just read a fantastic horror collection and am excited to tell you about it. After having read first Brian Evenson’s story Glasses in Ellen Datlow’s anthology Children of Lovecraft, then reading his story A Seaside Town in The Year’s Best Weird Horror volume 3, I realized there maybe a great writer who I have been overlooking. So I read up on what collections he has available and settled in on A Collapse of Horses. And I was correct. There has been a major author in the field that somehow I missed. There is something indefinite and not human about Brian Evenson's stories in A Collapse of Horses. Each story in this collection is a hymn to confusion and uncertainty. While I would almost say he is a bit experimental in his writing, it is an experiment in mood and theme more than say, how a Cisco or a Burroughs would experiment with form and prose style. He seems to be more influenced by Demons by Daylight era Ramsey Campbell then by the usual suspects Lovecraft and Ligotti. He takes familiar tropes, then reassembles them in such a way where you still recognize them, but know there is something just not right. Another thing about these stories is how drained of emotion they are. Now notice I did not say lack of emotion, I said drained. It’s almost like there was emotion there, which for some unknown reason, has been removed. What is left is a void of mystery and dread. I think Brian Evenson is to Weird Horror what Japanese Noise is to music. Everything is stripped down to its essential elements and what is left is this non human abstraction of horror. And it is somehow even more powerful for it. To see what I mean, try this little experiment, read A Collapse of Horses while listening to Haino’s album So, Black is Myself. Or maybe in the interest of your mental health you really shouldn’t. Now to talk a little of the stories contained in this tome. The title story A Collapse of Horses is absolutely one of the most malignantly disturbing stories I have ever read. A story full of obsessive images like a nightmare that just keeps returning. I swear, for the rest of my life I will be frightened of sleeping horses. A true masterwork of the form, A Collapse of Horses, like Ligotti’s The Bungalow House or Etchison’s The Walking Man, reading it you will know you are reading a master of Weird Horror, and you are not safe. What you are reading may harm you. BearHeart (™) is just fucked up and perverse. It ranks up there with Sturgeon’s The Professor’s Teddy Bear for stuffed animal horror.  Past Reno is a slow burn of inescapable delirium. And the last story in the collection The Blood Drip, ties in with the first story in a very unsettling and vertigo inducing way. You really may not be ok when you reach the end of one of his stories. Evenson’s collection A Collapse of Horses is a black nebula of abstract strangeness. I give it my highest recommendation. Horses? Houses? Horses? I just don’t know anymore.



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Interview: Richard Gavin



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Today it is my pleasure to have Richard Gavin stop by for an interview for The Plutonian! He has been writing some of the best Weird Horror in the field for years now. His newest collection is called Sylvan Dread: Tales of Pastoral Darkness, and he has also recently released a book on Dark Mysticism called The Benighted Path. I highly recommend this always interesting writer to all readers of The Plutonian.


Hello, Richard Gavin! And thanks for stopping by to chat a little bit here on The Plutonian!




It’s my pleasure, Scott. Thank you for the opportunity.


Congrats on your new collection Sylvan Dread! I really enjoyed it. Could you talk a little about how the concept of the collection came about?


Sylvan Dread was informed by two streams. The first was a subconscious inclination that led to my producing a number of Nature-based stories in a row. The second was recognizing that while certain motifs and concepts unified aspects of my previous books, I had never created a collection with an established theme. I worked closely with my editor Daniel A. Schulke to fashion a book that consisted of what I term Tales of Pastoral Darkness.


In most horror fiction there is an underlying masochistic thread in the narrative. A lot of Lovecraft’s or Ligotti’s characters seem to be searching for the dark doom or ruinous knowledge that befalls them. But in your work, it seems to me, that for the most part, the main characters are just going about their lives and inadvertently stumble into a revelation that reality is nowhere near what they thought it was. And now, to try to make sense of things, they have to look for an answer that they may not find or in fact does not exist. There is a sense of riddle and play in your stories. What is your take on this?


Ambiguity and an oneiric atmosphere are absolutely crucial elements to my fiction. While I’ve also written my share of stories involving doom-seeking protagonists, the reason why the lion’s share of my characters find themselves facing a deeper reality they did not necessarily seek has less to do with an artistic decision and more to do with my own cosmology. I believe that our planet is teeming with presences, both physical and non-corporeal. Spirits abound. There is a superb quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun where he describes the abyss potentially being opened at any place by anyone (“A footstep, a little heavier than ordinary, will serve.”) Any of my tales that are worth anything are so because they carry with them a glimpse of this Underworld.


It is my hope that the trance-like state I experienced during the creation of a given tale can be transmitted, even slightly, to the reader. This is a form of the “Third Mind” phenomenon explored by William S. Burroughs and Bryon Gysin; that liminal sacred space that opens whenever a writer’s words and a reader’s imagination touch. I believe in the vitality of this liminal space. But in order to reach it, one must be perplexed, unnerved. Thus, the nightmarish imagery is prevalent in my work not simply to frighten a reader, but because it is indigenous to this liminal space. My aim is not to entertain you but to awaken you.


I have also been a big fan of your nonfiction work. Do you prefer to write fiction or nonfiction?
Is there a possibility of your nonfiction being collected at some point?


Fiction and non-fiction each have their own merits. I enjoy doing both equally, though their processes are quite distinct. In terms of a non-fiction collection, yes, I would like to compile my individual essays of esotericism along with some of my essays on the philosophical underpinnings of Horror for a future book. But when this might materialize is anyone’s guess at this point.


One of the things I have noticed being a horror fan is the difference between the casual and the obsessive fan. The casual fan seems to find outrageous gore and roller coaster thrills to be the pleasure of horror. While the obsessive horror fan seems to seek both a dark beauty and a deeper insight into reality. What pleasures do you find in horror? Why is horror important to you?


I agree with your assessment. As an admitted obsessive, Horror is important to me because it is almost combative toward our preconceptions about life, death, and the universe. Transgression is art’s raison d'ĂȘtre. Art exists as a means by which we can violate our own perceptions of reality, can shock ourselves into a new way of perceiving. Art presents something --- an idea, an image --- that terrifies and liberates us with its Otherness, its stubborn refusal to slip neatly into our preconceptions of how the world is. We are changed.


Therein lies Horror’s pleasure; its agitation infuses us with an awareness of being alive. This awareness permeates Horror’s aesthetics, its tropes, and its motifs. Because of this, Horror, for me at least, is an ever-replenishing well of worthy experiences.


Which stories would you pick as touchstones for influence and inspiration in the weird horror fiction field?


Well, I would never presume to create anything like a canonical list for the field entire, but some Horror stories that have long served as personal touchstones would be:


“The Spider” by Hanns Heinz Ewers
“All Hallows” by Walter de la Mare
“The Dissection” by Georg Heym
“The White People” by Arthur Machen
“The Man Whom the Trees Loved” by Algernon Blackwood
“The Human Chair” by Edogawa Rampo
“The Hound” by H.P. Lovecraft
“Apparition” by Guy de Maupassant
Any of M.R. James’s ghost stories

In my youth, I readily mixed both visionary horror and mind altering drugs in a search to dig deep into this strange thing called existence. Dropping acid while watching the film Begotten. Smoking weed and reading some Lovecraft. What do you feel about the relationship between mind altering hallucinogens and weird horror?


I think hallucinogens can certainly broaden one’s vistas, can, to borrow Huxley’s phrasing, open doors of perception. However, I also believe that their effect is limited. Once those doors have been opened, I would encourage people to seek other modes of consciousness expansion and exploration, such as art, meditation, trance states, or dance. This prevents the hallucinogen from becoming a crutch.


A number of critics and readers have described my work as “hallucinatory,” which really pleases me. While I do not use any drugs (including alcohol) myself, I have always been a prodigious dreamer and I frequently engage in praxis to induce visionary trance states and exploration of Spirit realms. The fruits of these endeavors have made their way into a number of my stories.


In their interest and exploration of our secret inner lives and the taboo, horror and transgressive erotica have similar goals. But sex and the erotically perverse seem to rarely interact with horror. And the mind reels at the possibility of such a weaving of genres. What if Thomas Ligotti tried his hand at some fetish stories? What if de Sade wrote an alien invasion story? What are your views on horror and the perverse?


You’ve made some really insightful comments here, Scott. I suspect that the seeming reluctance of many Horror authors to explore the erotic is connected to Horror’s priggish disdain for the body, particularly the female body. We see the opposite side of this coin in Horror’s gleeful willingness to maim, mutilate and destroy the body (again, particularly the female body). Horror, for all its grue and supernaturalism, can be stiflingly conservative. There are a number of writers and readers who squirm at scenes of frank carnality and yet seem to have no issue whatever with torture and mayhem. The reason for this is simply that for many people the flesh is negative. The sanctimonious view it as unclean (again, particularly in relation to the female body), the transcendentalist/nihilists perceive it as a trap or a punishment, et cetera.


My own work stands in stark contrast to this view. As one who resounds with the Biocentric worldview, I regard all physicality as the expression of the soul of Pandaemonic Reality, just as the soul is the esoteric meaning of the body.


Transgressive and erotic writers are of tremendous importance to me. Bataille, Sade, Von Sacher-Masoch, Mirbeau, Nin; these authors are as influential on my work as any Horror author one might name.


As far as the weaving of genres goes, I tend to favour writers who channel an obsessive personal vision, something that is uniquely their interpretation of the universe, rather than skillful raconteurs who skim across categorical fiction.


If you could pick one film director throughout history to adapt one of your stories to film, who would your pick be and why?


A very interesting question! Truthfully, I’d never given much thought as to how my tales would translate into film simply because my interests as an artist are focused on how text can be utilized to transmit depth experiences. For me, prose has never been a substitute for filmmaking, it has always been my chosen medium. I write books to be books. That being said, I am also a lifelong fan of horror movies and avant-garde cinema.


Fittingly enough, next year there will be a short film of my story “The Hag Stone” released by a new filmmaker named Malachi Cull. I’ve seen the trailer and some production stills and it is a thrill to see my words translated visually.


In terms of directors, I think E. Elias Merhige (Begotten, Shadow of the Vampire) would be the ideal candidate. I say this not only because of his incredible work, but also because of his deep comprehension of the mystical underpinnings of genuine art. I’ve been fortunate enough to become acquainted with Elias over the last year or so and have enjoyed some lively exchanges with him. He is a wellspring of ideas and numinous energy.


It seems of late the world could be taking a darker turn with the recent controversial elections in the US and Europe and a troubling rise in hate crimes. What is a horror writer's role in a world that may be going wrong?


I shall only speak for myself here…


If there are any laudable qualities present in my stories I believe those qualities are rooted in a startling realization that everything is alive here on this beautiful, deranged and haunted planet. Our everyday lives tend to fog this principle, to place a damper over that pyre, and this is where art can be useful. It stokes those primordial flames and enables us to see and be outside of ourselves, outside of our ego. That alone is the path to Real. Artists and audiences should bear this in mind as we proceed deeper into this, the Iron Age of the Kali Yuga.


Do you have any new projects coming up? What is next in your writing career?


It will likely be some time before I have another fiction book published, simply because I strive to make each new book better and unlike anything I’ve published previously. I want to explore new themes and sharpen my prose as much as I possibly can. That takes time, especially at this phase of my career, where I’ve already written a lot of the stories I wanted to write.



Much of 2017 will likely be dedicated to exploring, researching and writing my next book of esotericism.