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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Guest Review: Suspiria by Brian O' Connell


        There are certain films that go beyond effectively realizing the promise of their genre and begin to act almost as pure distillations of it. Without implying the impossible essentialization of something as nebulous and elusive as art itself, one might nonetheless suggest that there are specific films that feel as though they fully express the most primal and basic characteristics of their genre, or perhaps more accurately a certain angle of their genre. These films focus on the most archetypal and elemental sensations of their genre’s emotional and stylistic palette, aiming to provide them with their most unmitigated, purified expression. They strip away any unnecessary accouterments, bury themselves in an almost obsessive rigor of form, and, if they are successful, stand as the closest thing to a Platonic ideal of a certain mode of art as any artistic work can ever get.

         Dario Argento’s 1977 horror movie Suspiria is one such film. It is also one of the finest films ever made. Its concerns are very simple, though its execution is anything but. Suspiria is about the not unpleasant frisson of terror and danger; about nightmares, the fantastic, the body in pain, and the morbid sensuality of fear. These notions are the stock-and-trade of many a horror film, but unlike most other films, Suspiria values such currents as ends in and of themselves. While it gestures at theme and metaphor—the subtle allusions to German fascism, the undercurrent of queer sexuality and gender politics, the analogy between art and the occult—it never probes too deeply into these associations. They are left for us to follow if we so choose, little breadcrumb trails through its smothering Black Forest, but it steadfastly refuses to didactically spell out or center such ideas. Its core interests lie solely with its surface: which is not at all to call it superficial; quite the opposite, in fact. The total, unquestioning reverence with which Suspiria treats the tortures and deaths, the haunted spaces and unearthly atmospherics, the unreal twists and diabolical reversals that constitute the basic elements of the horror film suggest an almost fanatical, quasi-religious deference toward the power of its genre. Every set piece is a sacrament, carried out with a ceremonial fervor that evokes the atmosphere of a passion play.

At the same time it honors the trappings of the horror tradition (from the ancient fairy tale to the Gothic to the Giallo), Suspiria is enamored of its own medium. It emphasizes the most elementary pleasures of cinema: the play of light and shadow, the expressive gestural acting of the silent era, rich color, immersive camera movement, enveloping music, absorbing editing. Argento’s well-documented roots in Disney and in German Expressionism indicate a return to cinema’s earliest forms, a kind of from-scratch approach that strives to evoke the wonder filmmaking must have inspired when it was still a new invention. It’s no surprise that, unlike many other horror movies of this period, Suspiria has somewhat broken out of its hermetic circle of cult devotees and reached a degree of, if not exactly mainstream viewership, at least of broad appreciation from other cinephiles, including those typically averse to the horror genre. It revitalizes a whole toolbox of cinematic devices that are all too often merely taken for granted, awakening us afresh to their potency and restoring some of that simple awe we experienced at moving pictures as children.

In this sense, for all its reputation as a vision of excess, I actually find Suspiria to be rather ingeniously simple and pared-down in its construction. It is about the pleasure of fear and the pleasure of the movies; nothing more, nothing less. The grotesque and arabesque, as Poe might have put it: an unholy knot between abject horror and dazzling technique.

The first fifteen minutes or so establish the whole of the film. We begin with a remarkable title sequence that, in its black-on-white graphic starkness, will only serve to render the subsequent bursts of color and image more spectacular. Goblin’s now-iconic score determines the mood before anything else: first a series of attacking drums and shrieking strings before the title card, then the twinkling, gruesome music box theme that has become the film’s signature sound. Something harrowing and something beautiful, violent noise hand-in-hand with seductive melody. Susie Bannion decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe, a dry, nondescript narrator, never heard again, informs us in voice-over. One day at nine in the morning she left Kennedy Airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at ten-forty p.m., local time. The strange specificity of the hours and locations—so peculiar for a film that otherwise feels so unbound from any real place or time—is less a halfhearted gesture at abandoned documentary specificity and more akin to some sort of hypnotic incantation. The darkness of the screen, the flat fairy tale language, the swirling, miasmic score, a score that sounds as though it’s conjuring something out of fire or air, all serve to juice the audience’s imagination for the sights to come: an invitation to participate in the formation of the film’s dark fantasia.

Then the famous opening arrival, Suzy’s exit from the neon-lit airport—that automatic door, snapping open and shut, slicing like a guillotine, or perhaps like the knife that severs the last umbilical cord tethering us to the real world, the world of safety—and her abrupt ejection into the howling German night, splashing rain and flickering headlights, having to throw herself in front of a car just to get a ride, and even then being unable to communicate with her menacing chauffeur; the hallucinogenic caress of color on her wet hair and distressed, disconcerted face as she’s driven through the city; the water churning darkly in the dam the taxi passes that the camera emphasizes in three progressively closer shots, and later the rainwater rushing into the grate, overflowing it (everything is fluid, everything is spilling over); the nightmarishly unreal vista of the taxi winding its way through the tall, rigid, thin black trees toward the academy. All of this takes only five minutes, but the spell it casts is more complete than most films manage in two hours, and it is so rich in individually examined details that all on its own it could form the basis of its own essay. You’re immediately enveloped by an atmosphere that is at once cruelly commanding, almost startling in its aggression, and extremely enticing, enchantingly beautiful, presenting such an irresistible sublimity of form that you can’t help but surrender yourself to it; a helpless seduction that will prove deadly once the film locks you in and truly aims to scare, like willingly sinking into a venus fly trap. There lies the cruel dialectic at the core of Suspiria, and of the horror film more broadly: the primal interplay between pain and pleasure, the knowledge that what beguiles us just as often scares us half to death.

Because Suspiria is indeed a scary movie, a sentiment that has possibly gone somewhat out of vogue in the intervening decades since its release, having been buried under uncounted layers of “style over substance” (as if the two were dissociable!) discourse, and the fatally mis-/over-applied use of that elusive term camp. Suspiria may well be camp—it’s hard to argue otherwise when it stars grown women playing roles originally written for twelve-year-olds—but it’s not toothless and seldom ever silly. On the contrary, I personally found certain sequences quite terribly and viscerally frightening, frightening in a way few movies ever accomplish for me. The death sequences, during which you can practically feel the cold breath of evil on the back of your neck, are obviously the clearest stand-outs. The protracted sequence of the blind man in the Munich Königsplatz at night, dwarfed by the blindingly-lit neo-classical architecture that once served as the stage for Nazi rallies, is simply excruciating. The chill of terror at the gargantuan, amorphous shadows that flicker across the columns, the anxious dog snapping its teeth before turning on its master, measured editing ruptured by the attack, a creeping zoom on the eagle sculpture topping the building, the pummeling rhythms of Goblin’s drums and craggy, multilayered vocals…the experience of watching this felt a cold grip on my shoulder, an icy clasp in which I felt helpless before my own dread even as I was awed by Argento’s skillful scene construction. More terrible still: the nocturnal pursuit of Sarah through the halls, beginning with her in Suzy’s room backlit by an acidic green (a sour enough color for terror) as the door to the adjoining room swings open, a vision from a bad dream; followed down the corridor, Sarah a Gothic heroine in her nightgown, stalked through rooms of shifting blue and red; slashed from behind, an act surreally punctuated by a sudden blush of crimson light from behind broken glass; the knife jiggling the lock which is the sole barrier between her and death; and finally, in the film’s most upsettingly random cruelty, an abrupt plunge into a field of barbed wire, the door just in sight, but every effort to disentangle herself only induces further agonies. In a sense, her predicament is not so different from that of the film viewers. Straining against the fearful symmetries of Argento’s wicked spell only serves to deepen its power over you. Every frisson of terror prompts another sting of sensation, a greater incision, a tightening of the stranglehold you can no longer escape even if you wished to. The curse is too strong; the spell too mighty to resist.

           Such is the power of the “fright” sequences, but just as important, and often just as frightening, are the quieter interludes that link them together, perfectly paced (ninety-nine minutes is just right for this film), and rich with haunting, highlighted specificities that are not easily forgotten. The glint of a knife in the midday sunlight that causes Suzy to swoon—the water spouting out of the stone lips of the gargoyles decorating the front facade of the academy—the emptying of a glass of drugged wine into the sink, prompting a bloody splash of red against the slick pink glint of the basin—these are just a few of the many little details that Argento and screenwriter Daria Nicolodi have embellished their macabre narrative with. Some of them are relevant to the plot, most of them are not, but all contribute to the deepening wonder of the occult trance strives to exert, a falling into a dream. None of these details, however “irrelevant”, feel incidental in the least. As in a fairy tale, they all seem to be charged with some hidden diabolic significance, a lurking duplicity that the film’s narrative increasingly starts to literalize. A painted iris turns into a doorknob to a forbidden realm. The neon feather of an artificial peacock becomes a gigantic, blinding needle. After the petrifying climax, when Suzy strikes a fatal blow to her invisible tormenter, the academy itself crumbles to pieces, bodily and architectural collapse one and the same. (This unsettling confusion of decor and real life is just the sort of blurring Suspiria’s aggressively unnatural stylistics effect upon the audience.) And even relatively “stable” moments, like the dance lesson or the kitschy German bar party, retain a disconcerting edge of unreality, if not outright dread. Consider Suzy and Sarah’s hushed discussion in the pool: the camera dollies toward them from high above, briefly dissecting and impaling their figures as it passes over the trident ornamental motif decorating the balcony; it then simply looms overhead, Suzy and Sarah looking terribly vulnerable, their figures almost silhouetted in the deep blue water of the pool, fragile dark bodies suspended in a disturbingly contiguous block of color that is nonetheless structured by the cruelly enclosing rectangular designs on the pool’s floor. Toss in the necrotic howls and stygian sighs of Goblin’s score, and you have right here, contained within this single brief moment, all of the magic of Suspiria in one place: color, shape, sound, terror. Even in the most “realistic” scene, Suzy’s expository conversation with the two scholars who clue her into the dark truth at the heart of the academy, the images and editing are beset by bizarre spatial manipulations and strange perspectives; it’s as if, having shot so many images of horror and phantasmagoria, the cinematographer felt quite unable to shoot a “normal” sequence. Suzy and the psychotherapist are framed in low-angle shots, unearthly clouds creeping across the sky behind them; the perspective is quickly and drastically swapped for an extreme overhead shot, a dizzying reversal that renders the human figures infinitesimally small before the towering of the architecture. When Suzy talks to the Professor, a simple shot-reverse-shot exchange becomes an alarming eclipse of faces as each figure moves closer toward the center, with each character’s head eventually almost totally obscuring the other’s. Tovoli ends the conversation in the dim, softly iridescent reflection of a pane of glass, finally collapsing their rationalist discussion back into the fevered unconscious the rest of the film gleefully occupies.

If I have fallen to using the lowliest of critical tools, mere description, then it is simply because for me, as for so many others, the basic qualities of Suspiria are qualities that elude language. It’s such a purely audiovisual experience that words feel limp and even demeaning when applied to it, inviting the dangerous temptation to merely recount, in a sort of hushed awe, the individual moments that constitute it, as I fear I’ve done here. Even highly formalized, academic writing on this film (Linda Schulte-Sasse’s piece being perhaps my favorite) ultimately can only insist on the necessity of actually sitting through it to understand it, or more accurately to sense it, to soak in what makes it so significant. It is part of what has made this piece so difficult to write, why it still leaves me unsatisfied: a sensation of straining to capture an experience that, for all the ink that’s been spilled over it, slips through every writer’s grasp. But I hope my words have apprehended even the barest glimmer of the deep, ineffable admiration I have for this magnificent, diabolical, insurmountable classic.

I would like to close with an appreciation of what is probably the film’s most infamous sequence, the early, dreadful set-piece that depicts Patricia’s death. It signifies the purest synthesis of Suspiria’s powers in its runtime: a statement, I hasten to add, which does not intend to diminish the intensity of the subsequent scenes, but only to suggest that this particular sequence, which is unsurprisingly probably its most infamous, is as Suspiria as Suspiria gets, the peak of its “itselfness”. It is staged within the most outrageous set in a film full of them: a sort of gothic art deco inferno that, with its inscrutable Escher-like configurations of geometrical symmetry and garish stained glass window, suggests a sacrificial temple of doom more than it does an apartment building. There is indeed a profoundly ritualistic element to the whole sequence, a sense of predestined agony that lends it, despite its stylistic extravagances and sudden shocks, the weighty air of a calculated and purposefully measured death march.

We are put in poor Patricia’s shoes when abandoned by her roommate, she is spellbound by the ghostly flutter of a dress left to dry outside as it rustles against the windowpane. Lit a seductive blue, the markedly textural, even sensual quality of this gentle susurration, the mesmerically repetitive brush of fabric against glass, might well stand-in for the whole arsenal of techniques Suspiria unrelentingly deploys to envelop you in its cruel embrace. No one could resist the beauty of such a surface. Instead of souring it, the anxiety with which the scene is suffused actually heightens the beauty, sharpens its edges to their keenest expression. Has no film, before or since ever understood so well that even terror has its poetry?

A gnarled hand plunges through the window. Its grip presses Sarah against the glass and transforms her face into a grotesque, corpse-blue, monstrous. Her screams mingle with the yelling of the roommate outside, of the wailing on the score. The editing is brutal, kinetic. She is dragged out onto the landing and subjected to a series of awful degradations: three stabbings, bound with rope, stabbed four more times, the last directly in the palpitating heart.

There is nothing sadistic whatsoever about this scene. It is exhilarating, it radiates pleasure. It does not dehumanize Pat, but identifies her suffering with our terror, and shows both to be sublime. The blood is bright as paint; it renders the white of her dress even lovelier. The disembodied arm is Argento’s, molding us like putty in his hands. Every moment of agony, every twist of the knife is given its own suspended moment of emphasis, protracted, lit, and composed with the care a Renaissance portraitist would apply to a depiction of Christ. Ultimately Pat’s head crashes through the vortex of stained glass, her reared-back head haloed by the neon crater, lips smeared with scarlet blood. Her face is a mask of annihilatory ecstasy, a totalized expression of despair so intense it has vaulted into euphoria. Her enraptured death visage merges the sexual, the fatal, the spiritual, and the artistic into one blissful moment of agony: nothing less than the primordial release of total submission to the sweet, splendorous song of death.

It is in this frozen image of transcendent terror that the lover of Suspiria can find their mirror. I certainly know that I—having, after so long, finally been initiated into the cult of this exquisite, dreadful masterpiece—expect, with equal parts fear and delight, to see it throw my haunted reflection back at me again and again over the years to come.

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, 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Review: Two Short Story Collections from Adam Nevill: Hasty for the Dark and Wyrd and Other Derelictions.


England has a long and storied tradition of horror literature. From M.R. James and Walter de la Mare to Robert Aickman and Daphne du Maurier, England has been fertile soil for the growth of beautifully dark and sinister fiction. English horror fiction mastered the art of creeping dread, rich in quiet prose where something… sinister is slowly revealed, something that has been lurking, hidden in familiar surroundings or in familiar faces. In recent years, it could be argued that England has been experiencing a new golden age of horror literature. Writers like Ramsey Campbell, Joyce Carol Oates, Nicholas Royle, Clive Barker, have all upped the ante on what horror fiction is capable of. And to the top tier of English horror writers, we can add the name of Adam Nevill. Adam Nevill is famously known as a horror novelist, but here I want to focus on his two newest horror short story collections, namely Hasty for the Dark and Wyrd and Other Derelections. 

Adam Nevill’s collection Hasty for the Dark is an exploration of run-down cityscapes, the dehumanization of modern life, the ruthless exploitation of the needy. The strange places desire and a need for human connections can find us. In Hasty for the Dark, there seems to be some inescapable doom awaiting us all. In what form it takes and how it presents itself to us at that hour is where Adam Nevill shines. His stories in this are realistic depictions of the working class, and brings you into their day-to-day lives, only to have… something… emerge… Hasty for the Dark is an amazing read, every story showing a different side of Adam Nevill’s writing, and each strange and dark. Adam Nevill uses this realistic minimalist prose that, just as the most unexpected moments, erupts into this explosion of surreal chimerical imagery. Adam Nevill’s work tries to reach that moment of nightmarish delirium, of mind-breaking chaos. A sinister poetry of a twisting and flowing abyss. Utterly original terrors lurk in Hastry for the Dark, no vampires or ghosts here, these horrors come from the unique shadowy underworld of the author's mind. 

Angels Of London is a peek into the dark underbelly of working-class hell. Dilapidated buildings, humans stuck being wage slaves with no hope in the future, living your life to please those who control your bank account and therefore your existence. Frank is down on some hard times and needs to hole up in an affordable apartment until he can sort his life out. But his landlords are not so happy to just let him go. Angels of London is a masterwork of urban horror. Gorgeous language and an atmosphere anyone who has lived in the rundown portions of the city will instantly recognize. On All London Underground Lines is a mood piece, almost a long prose poem, portraying the dark and dank subways tunnels of London. Being stuck in the piss-stained shadowy underground is a nightmare that you can find yourself walking down into on any given day. Hippocampus, the story that inspired Adam to write Wyrd and other Derelictions, is a modern masterpiece, maybe in the top ten horror stories written in the last twenty years. I will talk more about this tale when I cover that collection later on in this review. Call The Name shows Adam trying his hand at a grand cosmic horror tale in the tradition of Lovecraft, Bloch, and Klein. An impending Apocalypse looms over the narrative, the coming of an ancient doom. Playing with familiar tropes and reinventing them into his own style, this is a nice change of pace from the other more nebulous stories in the collection and a lot of fun. White Light, White Heat has Adam writing a tale using the classic trope of urban horror, the hellish office job. Recalling Samuels, Ligotti, and Kafka, Adam Nevill again shows how well he knows the bleak life of the working class and how the terrors of a horror story can only reflect, never surpass how horrible working your life away really is. Little Black Lamb has Adam, in the great traditions of jazz music, playing his horn to try to bring his own unique voice to the mind-bending tradition of labyrinthine horror like Campbell, Evenson, and Golaski write. Bizarre plot elements hidden in a realistic narrative and ending in utter delirium, Little Black Lamb can stand with the masters of the form. The Days Of Our Lives is a tale of a strange eroticism and strange relationships. I found this one quite surprising in how perverse the author was willing to go. Eumenides (The Benevolent Ladies) is a walk through a kind of mental landscape, featuring a downtrodden man desperately seeking some kind of connection, either sexually or personally, and hoping to find it with a coworker he is attracted to. Where his desire leads him to is both baffling and bizarre. Adam Nevill’s Hasty for the Dark stands up there with Evenson’s A Collapse of Horses and Hunt’s The Dark Dark as an example of the best horror fiction being written today. An instant classic. 

Wyrd and Other Derelections is the newest collection of stories from Adam Nevill and has him venturing into some truly uncharted territory for horror fiction. Each story in this collection has a conceit, none of the stories feature any characters. Each tale is a guided tour, an exploration, through a scene of mystery, maybe even of atrocity. Some of the stories show an aftermath of some strange invasion, some show a scene after the conclusion of some diabolical ritual completed, some it just is not clear what happened. The reader is taken through the landscape by a kind of third-person narrator that describes the scenery but never the details of what happened. The absence of people lends these stories a kind of post-apocalyptic feel, it just lingers over these horrific, abandoned landscapes. Stories of complete atmosphere, reading these creates the experience of being able to linger in the world of say,  films like Suspiria or The Thing, but without characters or a need to have and further a plot interrupting your stay. It is horror as only a horror fetishist could write. To look over the aftermath of a Deep One invasion and stay a little bit longer in Innsmouth, to see a cursed freighter ship like the Demeter and what the demonic force did to the crew, these are the kind of pleasures this book has to offer. The exquisite prose is darkly sexy and alluring, the rich and atmospheric settings, these tales hypnotize you into their dark spell, this is top tier horror. You follow the direction of the story, eager to find out more but feeling trepid about what waits for you as the story unfolds. Oftentimes these landscapes are bleak and deserted, but there is an atmosphere of something dreadful has happened, a sinister quality to the air. Strangely the lack of protagonists or even characters makes the tales feel more immediate, more like you are actually there, which with these stories, is something quite unnerving. The first story that was written in this vein, and the inspiration for Adam Nevill to write more works in this mode was Hippocampus. Set on an abandoned freighter lost at sea during a terrible storm. As we explore the ship, the sheer strangeness of a huge ship completely devoid of any crew or passengers is striking. And then we start seeing signs of some kind of violence, some kind of terrible thing must have just happened aboard the freighter. And then as we go deeper into the ship, some kind of malignant force is felt, something is very wrong, something terrible has happened upon this ship. And then, something… nightmarish is revealed, and the story ends. And we are left not knowing what happened, just hints of something horrific. We are left in mystery and darkness. I don’t want to go through a story-by-story analysis, because every reader should encounter this book like I did, completely blind. The pleasure is in the slow unspooling of the tale and seeing where you end up by the end of the story. Wyrd and Other Derelictions is an actually unique collection in an oversaturated field of derivative books. It’s rare to be able to say a book is a complete original and breaks new ground in what horror can do, but Wyrd and Other Derelictions is that book. 

Interestingly, Adam Nevill started his writing career in the realms of erotic fiction, and Adam’s mastery of the tropes of erotica pays off in his horror fiction. Being able to set a mood, a place, while at the same time knowing how to lure the reader in, dole out hints, and tease the reader with what is to come, works just as well in horror as it does in erotica. The broken-down city landscapes of ruin and entropy, the rotting trash on the streets, buildings covered in rust and mold,  and the strange chimerical beings and creatures of nightmare lurking in the shadows of these dead streets, are a kind of horror erotics. The manipulation of his characters, like dead-eyed puppets in horror fiction or fiery perverse sex kittens in erotic fiction, dancing them to their destined ends, is a way of a genre fulfilling the reader's innate and private desires. Watching ourselves as the main protagonist, devoured, deformed, changed utterly by their encounter with the dark, is the keenest of pleasures. And let me add that the range that Adam Nevill has as a writer is astonishing. He is equally at home in the inner city as he is in the darkest wood. If Hasty for the Dark stems from the urban horror tradition of Campbell and Leiber then Wyrd and Other Derelections has its roots in the folk horror tradition of Blackwood and Machen. And Adam Nevill deserves to stand in that hallowed company, with Campbell and Leiber and Blackwood and Machen, in the history of horror literature. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

Interview: Gemma Files


Today we have an interview with Gemma Files! Gemma has been a force on the horror literature scene for around twenty years now. Almost a genre unto herself, she is a definite forerunner of the current weird horror scene and a monumentally important figure in the history of horror literature. With constant new works coming out from Gemma’s pen, she is as vital and as current now as she was with her first horror tales. One of the things I love about Gemma’s work is how self-obsessive and personal it is, whether she is writing queer westerns seething with sinister occultism, love stories that go beyond death, mysterious tales of ancient alien forces infecting our world, or stories of kinks pushed to the limits of our flesh, Gemma writes the kinds of works that only she could write, and the horror literature scene is a better place for them. 

I feel that with your collections Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart you exploded onto the field of horror fiction with an incredible new and personal voice, and are one of the true originators of what one would call modern-day weird horror. Breaking away from what a lot of more mainstream horror was doing, here was fresh work that was bizarre, erotic, confrontational, and poetic. It’s incredible the vitality and the freshness that you have maintained along your writing career!

Thank you very much! At the time, I went very quickly from the high of “oh, someone wants to publish literally all the fiction I've written thus far” to “man, it's like both those books dropped into a fucking well and disappeared, especially The Worm.” This was around 1999/2000, because I'd hooked up with the publisher at WHC 1999, which I attended because I'd won the International Horror Guild award for Best Short Fiction for “The Emperor's Old Bones”; it was a whirlwind of amazing feedback, as writer after writer I'd admired for years basically came up and told me they'd been following my career. My career. Which, at that point, broke down to me writing weird, hypersexual stories in my underwear at 2:00 AM from a tiny little no-bedroom apartment in Toronto, at least two of which I'd sold to a magazine run off on a mimeograph machine and put together with electrical tape, for the grand payment of $5.00 US. I had no idea I was even making any sort of impact at all, up 'til then. “I've been incredibly lucky,” I remember saying to my Mom, a bit later. “But was it luck, or was it work?” She asked me. I'm still not sure.

You have had a new collection come out from Grimscribe Press, “ In That Endless, Our End “, and it is just a masterclass of using various tropes, genres, and styles to express a very personal voice. Why is writing horror fiction important to you and what is it that keeps you coming back to it?

I used to say that I'd started out writing SF but very quickly figured out I don't know enough about science to fake my way through a whole story, but that's not really true—my real first influences were space opera and fantasy (especially unabashed decadents like Tanith Lee, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, C.L. Moore, and Robert E. Howard). When I was in the worst part of my life, however, I finally collided with vampire fiction through the one-two punch of Dracula and 'Salem's Lot. Previously, I'd been absolutely terrified by any hint of horror, especially in terms of horror films...one of my most frightening memories involves trying to “watch” The Shining on blocked motel cable during a school trip to Nantucket, which reduced the movie to occasional flashes of blood and the soundtrack. But I'd also always been fascinated by stuff like history, mythology, archaeology, monsters, witchcraft (which I studied as a haphazard practitioner), the Fae, etc. 

With 'Salem's Lot, I suddenly saw how horror could infiltrate the present day, how it might have relevance even to my own current world of adults who got drunk and smoked too much weed, of EST and Inner Child therapy, of disco music and bell-bottoms and bullying. Then, in middle and high school, I started boosting terrible horror boom paperbacks from bookstores and eventually imprinted on people like Anne Rice, Robert R. McCammon, Skipp and Spector, and Peter Straub, whose characters had a psychological realism I recognized, and mirrored. Horror just seemed more believable than most other stuff, to me; it echoed the various observations I'd made while trying to negotiate my way through the world as an undiagnosed neuroatypical child shoved into a woman's post-puberty body, too smart for my own good, with shit impulse control and no social skills to speak of, vibrating with horny rage. It still does. 

The big thing that resonates with me in horror even now is that horror deals with the most universal feelings, the biggest questions, and it takes them on directly. One of my autistic tendencies is that I hyperfixate and monologue about my hyperfixations, while another is that I used to try to bond with people by blurting out far-too-intimate anecdata, because for a long time I valued honesty over making people comfortable. (Note to self: When people ask you how you are, just say “I'm fine, how are you?” and let them talk, like a quote-quote “normal” person.) But all the things I ever felt that I'd been ostracized for talking about in public worked perfectly as fuel for my horror writing—they just fit there. Then I discovered Clive Barker, Kathe Koja, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and I realized that with horror, there were no rules—you could make poetry out of your own pain, wax rhapsodic about your strangest fantasies. 

Essentially, as Yukio Mishima put it, my heart's yearning has always been for Night, and Death, and Blood. Horror helped me realize that there was a place to put all that, somewhere I could produce the kind of stuff I'd always wanted to read—the kind of fiction which tells you that you can be a terrible person who does terrible things and the world around you won't crack apart, or if it does, maybe that's for the best. I often talk about “monster pride,” and for a long time, I really did think I was a monster. That there was something inherently wrong with me, simply because of the way my brain worked and the stuff I was interested in. Horror accepted me and helped me heal from a lifetime of internalized ableism, gender issues, sexuality issues, rage issues, etcetera...it lets me be my best self, both in real life and otherwise. It's where I feel most comfortable, and useful.

Maybe an over-asked question at this point, but one still very relevant. The age of Covid and the shutdown of a large chunk of our civilization has changed the lives of, I would assume, every single person on this planet in some way. And a lot of people are getting hit hard. Disease, unemployment, social isolation, and a creeping uncertainty about the future seem to be the landscape we find ourselves in. What role do you see horror, as a general genre and as a literature, playing in this new strange reality we find ourselves in?

I think that a lot of people—mainstream people—spend their whole lives pretending that if they ignore or deny the fact that bad things do indeed happen, those things won't happen to them. And I've always found that attitude pretty ridiculous, not to mention more-than-borderline harmful; it's like that New Age bullshit about how if you allowed yourself to entertain dark thoughts, you'd eventually get cancer. (CANCER DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY, GOODNIGHT!) It cultivates a flinch response to anything that makes you uncomfortable to consider, which means you never go any deeper than you feel like you have to. 

But a long time ago, I realized that the only thing I could say I absolutely knew in any true way was myself, which—when you think about it—does sound damn autistic. Through therapy and experience, I was forced to analyze my own reactions and habits, my internal tapes, my traumas, in order to just grow enough of a shell to make it through my daily interactions with a world I still felt as if I had no real part in. To get a job, to have relationships, to find a way to live that wasn't constantly painful for me, or the people around me. To love not just other people, but also myself. 

Horror is very good for playing out your darkest “if this/then this” chains of association. Horror presumes that darkness is not just a part of the universe, but a necessary part—that it teaches you what you can survive, how much stronger you are than you think. That it provides the contrast needed to understand what really matters. And all of those things are very useful skills to cultivate when the world around you seems just as traumatized as you are, if not more. When “nice, normal people” start worshipping false idols and strange gods, bending every hint of morality into an excuse for forever-war, screaming at each other about stuff that has nothing to do with anything, not only questioning the idea that things are indisputably true or false but actively implying that you can just lie about how you want things to be and the world will simply...reshape itself. I couldn't make this shit up, I sometimes want to say, except (of course) that I know damn well I can, and have, and will do again. More grist for the bloody, eternally-grinding mill.

TL;DR: On some level, I've always felt we lived in a horror universe, and now we kind of do. It's not like I'm happy about it, but it's kind of ironic if nothing else. 

Your early horror fiction seemed, to me, to largely be about characters having to come to terms with the darkness that lurked inside their very bodies and minds. Characters that were faced with the bleakness of reality, both in relationships and in the possibilities of existence, but either tried to take on and embrace the icy desolation of life or tried to overcome it. Your more recent horror work seems more concerned with characters who find themselves in some nebulous mystery and finding the limits of what can be known about oneself, the human, and the outside world, the non-human. These characters usually ending up in some kind of state of vertiginous confusion. Obviously, there is an interplay throughout all your work of various styles and obsessions, but there would seem to be a definite shift in the direction of your work. Would you find this a reasonable quick assessment of the changing of your horror fiction over the years? How do you see where your early horror fiction stands compared to recent works? 

Hm. Well, I think that evolution has a lot to do with the idea that, in hindsight, I didn't really know who I was back then. That I was still sort of...circumscribing the limits of my own personality and imagination, mapping out what I was and wasn't prepared to do. I think things changed, or started to change, around the time that my son was born. He'll be seventeen this year, which is frankly insane, but he's my soulmate, the love of my life. I've learned more about myself through my interactions with him than any other relationship has taught me. And now I know what I can do, what I'm capable of, who I am, in a far firmer and more...positive way than I ever did before. He's made me patient, and kind, and considerably less full of the sort of rage I only much later realized was actually fear disguised. I used to think I hated people, but now I know I was simply afraid of them, and that I have no reason to be; sure, they can hurt me, even kill me, but they can never destroy me. 

So yeah, my older stuff was maybe more colourful, a bit fairytale-ish, almost comic bookish in its gleeful excess, and I think I can still do that, when I want to. But all the stuff in “In That Endlessness, Our End” came out of a period of great upheaval, when everything I'd assumed was stable was suddenly overthrown. Trump was elected. Literal Nazis popped out of the woodwork. My publishers collapsed. I lost half my friends, possibly forever. And this is all before the fucking pandemic. It was like I could see something coming, and I knew it was bad, but not how bad. And now I do, and I'm still here, and so is my son, my husband, my family, my life. Maybe it's luck, maybe it's work. One way or the other, I believe I'll just keep going. 

You are a well-known critic and fan of cinema and the horror film, let me ask you this, if you say, instead of pursuing writing you had become a successful filmmaker, what are some horror films that you think would kind of give a view as to the kind of horror films you would have liked to have created? Films that represent you as an artist and have similar viewpoints and obsessions as you? 

In a lot of ways, I think of my fiction as my “films.” The great part about writing stories is that you can control everything, pop in and out of people's thoughts and perspectives, produce the perfect sound and/or image right on cue. You don't have to negotiate, or cooperate, or care about what price your ideas are exacting on the team supporting and enabling them. I used to tell my screenwriting students that the sooner they understood they were writing a template or blueprint that a whole bunch of other people were (hopefully!) going to make into something they might not even really recognize at the end of the process, the better. I understand the necessities of production; I've been around it all my life, watching it from both behind and in front of the camera. It's a lot of hard work, and I'm definitely not qualified for it. 

That being said, however...the films I admire take horror seriously, aren't afraid of excess, and have a weird sort of romance about them—something blood-soaked and beautifully photographed, grotesque and arabesque in the Poe-like sense, with a nice sense of both the liminal and the numinous. I'd love to do an adaptation of Elizabeth Hand's “Near Zennor” with an overall Kiyoshi Kurosawa feel but a touch here and there of Guillermo del Toro, in keeping with its Creepy Narnia/Alan Garner's Elidor sensibility. And speaking of which, how about a Ben Wheatley-style version of Elidor, set in the 1970s, with a screenplay by Stephen Volk channeling Nigel Keale? Or a version of Stephen Volk's Whitstable, maybe animated, with rotoscoping based on extracts from Peter Cushing films? Or a Clive Barker anthology film combining “In The Hills, The Cities,” “The Age of Desire,” “Down, Satan” and “The Testament of Jacqueline Ess,” as interpreted by Marjane Satrapi, Brandon Cronenberg, the Brothers Quay, and Rose Glass?

There are two types of horror movies I return to over and over: The ones that make me itch (inspiration) and the ones that make me happy (comfort food). Some of the former include Kairo, Cure, Hellraiser, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, The Devils, most Val Lewton, Session 9, Alien, The Ritual, May The Devil Take You, most David Cronenberg, Brandon Cronenberg's Possessor, etc.; the latter include Dario Argento's Suspiria, Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead, Event Horizon, The Collection, most older John Carpenter, various gialli, Come True, etc. Each list is subject to constant amendment, and each gets longer the longer I stay alive. (BTW, I recently finally watched The Untamed, and enjoyed the hell out of it.)  

A lot of your horror fiction, especially your early work,  I would consider fair to label as “transgressive” with issues of the body, identity, and sexuality. And I guess I mean transgressive as meaningfully pushing at where the socially accepted boundaries of what fiction can discuss and describe are. What does transgression in fiction mean to you? Also, are there non “horror” transgressive works that were an influence on you? Say maybe in the realms of erotica or surrealism or other non-horror genres?

One of the things about transgression, I've come to believe, is that it's less about pushing the envelope and more about questioning assumptions—giving voice to all those thoughts we aren't supposed to have, let alone talk about. I felt like when I had the main character of Experimental Film talk frankly about how defeated she felt when she interacted with her autistic son, that was transgressive—must have been, since it's the thing so many readers and critics chose to focus on. Half of them thought it was morally repugnant, while the other half thought it was brave; the latter half apparently felt recognized in it, which is certainly more what I was going for. In terms of my intention, while I was writing it, I just wanted to be as honest as I could be, and since I ended up making myself cry, I think it probably worked. But then again, I guess I often just don't really think about how other people are going to react when I put something down—it's more about “does this feel right, or wrong? Does it feel organic? Could it go another way? No? Well...okay, then.”

I'm definitely going through menopause now, which is interesting. Sometimes I feel like a total crone, uninterested in anything sexual at all, but then other times it'll all come rushing back and I feel the urge to go nuts with what other people might consider inappropriate content. There are always going to be readers who feel I'm going too far, especially right now, when younger people (she said, in an Old Lady Voice) appear to have decided that any sort of discussion re sex being something that really does happen on occasion because most human beings are saddled with a reproductive system that makes them get horny for each other is somehow triggering. I mean yes, sex can be traumatic, and awkward, and weird, and dysfunctional; it's a super-vulnerable process, often involving inserting bits of ourselves into each other, that can feel amazing even while it looks incredibly silly. It involves a lot of negotiation, or should, and sometimes a bunch of other emotions get caught up in the process, even negative ones. So I might not ever write anything quite as full-bore semi-pornographic as (say) A Book of Tongues again, but I'm also not ever going to pretend it doesn't exist. And I'm never going to completely lose my taste for body horror, considering I'm a lifelong fan of both John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg.

To some/the majority of people, though, simply not writing from the default can seem transgressive, aggressively so. By which I mean that whenever you slip in information here and there which disproves their assumption that everyone they read about should be exactly like them (white, cis, straight, male, American, conservative, Christian, in whatever combination), these particular readers react like you just played a nasty trick on them. Like: Why you gotta rub my face in all that gay/trans/female/POC etc. stuff, man? Why you gotta make everything political? But I made a decision a while back that I was going to try to write as few default characters as I could get away with, main or otherwise, because frankly, why not? If all they want to see is themselves, they can always look pretty much anywhere else. (I made a similar decision not to show male-on-female rape directly, either, because I'm already seen enough of that in popular media to last me the rest of my life, and I've kept to it. If people find THAT transgressive, then excellent—maybe it'll make them think about why they expected to see it in the first place, as well as how they were trained to think it was “normal.”)

Let me be clear: I like the way things have changed, mainly. I like being forced to consider the perspectives of other people, because part of the pleasure of writing, for me, is allowing myself to inhabit many different sorts of characters with many different sorts of beliefs, experiences, capacities. I may joke about Gen Z and their current flirtation with nu-Puritanism, but I get where it comes from. And I truly believe that the more demand is put on us to be inclusive and just in our fictional portrayals, the more that default will finally start to shift, if only for the simple reason that it'll prove to The Powers That Be how they've been neglecting a whole lot of intersectional markets they could be tailoring their “content” towards. Yes, capitalism is a scourge, but it's pretty practical, too. Sometimes the simple drive to sell stuff for money to new bunches of suckers can succeed in sparking change on an institutional level, even where all the well-intentioned debate in the world doesn't quite seem able to.    

There seems to be a resurgence of really interesting horror films being made recently. Films that seem to combine the adventurously weird films of the 1970s with a more cerebral art house feel. What do you feel about modern horror cinema? Are we approaching a new golden age? And what recent horror films would you single out for excellence? 

Like most things, modern horror cinema cycles back and forth between what sells best and what wasn't made to sell at all, but sometimes manages to find its own set of intersectional audiences. For every Conjuring Part 3 (and by the way, I rather enjoy the Conjuring films), there's a Sator, a Saint Maud, a The Dead Center. Considering how universal the emotions and concepts horror tends to play with, I'm really not surprised that a lot of it tends to be pretty populist, reactionary, and restorative; sometimes I'm even in the mood for that, as my Fun Horror list proves. But I do feel positive about the fact that it's a much wider range of stuff we get to see in general, these days, now that streaming is replacing theatrical as the arbiter of the scene. Tubi is a godsend. I can always find something I want to see, and if I still have to pan through a river of crap to find those nuggets, it goes a whole lot faster when I'm doing it algorithmically.

I find a lot of your work seems to explore the boundaries of “the beautiful” and “the abject”. Do you find beauty in horror and the abject? Or maybe beauty is itself a strange and abject thing/concept? 

On the Weird Studies podcast, Phil Ford and JF Martel have an entire episode in which they unpack the ways that actively perceiving beauty can function as a method for breaking the ties of human experience and touching something Outside, something that changes to fit and educate every individual who interacts with it...it's something that demonstrates the outer parameters of possibility, if that makes any sense. And I guess that idea is something I've found myself chasing all my life, from that time I stumbled over the “documentary” version of Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods on: A moment of numinous realization that would change my perspective on the nature of the universe and my place in it without anything even having to be said aloud. Which sounds religious, I suppose, but why else do we talk about a new world of gods and monsters? See, see where Christ's blood streams in the firmament; see that wheel a'spinning, way up in the middle of the air. Are we husks, or hosts? What can we ever expect, besides a long degeneration followed by decay? What happens to all those thoughts, all that love, when the last electrical charge winks out inside our mushy meat-brains? I mean, it's all the same shit, really.

What are you working on now and what can we look forward to seeing next from you? 

There are three novels I'm currently working on, in no particular order—Nightcrawling, my side project for a good five years now, which is like Experimental Film in that it spins off from a very particular part of my life; In Red Company, which I've described as a combination of The Devils and Midsommar, and takes place in Northumbria around 998 AD; and a currently untitled novel or novella I pitched as “Dracula Untold, except instead of Dracula it's Erzebet Bathori.” I also have a new collection coming from Trepidatio in 2022, called Dark Is Better, and a whole bunch of short stories, because people keep on asking me for those. Which I'm fine with, believe me.