About Plutonian Press

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review: Haunted Worlds by Jeffrey Thomas

Image result for haunted worlds jeffrey thomas

Today I wanted to talk about this wonderful new collection I just read of haunting and haunted tales, Jeffrey Thomas’s Haunted Worlds. This book has kind of been flying under the radar of weird horror fans and I think it deserves a brighter spotlight on it. Haunted Worlds has this wonderful and surprising diversity of content. Whatever style of the weird and dark that you like, you are sure to find something to sate your appetite in Haunted Worlds. Mr. Faun is this strange psychological tale of terror, riaL gnoL is a ghostly haunting that may hide much more, The Toll is a Outer Limits inspired scifi shocker, The Temple of Ugghiutu is a tale of dark fantasy at its finest. But I wanted to focus on the stories that fall more on the side of the nightmarish. And trust me, there are stories in here that are not safe to read in the dead of the night.

The first story in the book is a insidiously charming little number called Carrion. A mood piece about unsettling roadkill and pregnant women. The story focuses on Lambert, a man who is getting older and is just plain dissatisfied with his life. At his job he harbors a secret desire for a co-worker, all the while he is trying to work up the nerve to ask her out. On his daily drive to work he keeps seeing this rotting animal corpse on the side of the road, and obsessively keeps track of its state of decay. He fantasises on the crawling things that must be eating at the corpse, the insects that infest it. Later he finds out the coworker he longs for is pregnant. She eventually stops coming to work. This causes the story to spiral into disturbing visions of strange invasions of the body and parasitic creatures half seen emerging from the flesh. Lambert feels dead inside, and these things that feed on the dead haunt him, maybe even are inside him. Is the roadside corpse the Carrion of the title… or is Lambert?

Later in the collection, we come to The Left-Hand Pool. The Left-Hand Pool and Carrion are kind of reflections of each other. They stand apart as stories but reflect similar obsessions and fears. The Left-Hand Pool is a story about a man, just going through the motions of making a living at a soulless job he does not really care about. But, at that job, there is a woman there he would like to ask out, which gives him something to light up his droll existence. The road on his way to work crosses a body of water that has been separated by the road built going down the middle of it. Now the right hand side of the pool is seemingly a normal pool of water. But the pool on the left side is covered in slimy muck and appears to be filled with rotting things. Later on, on his drive, he sees something coming out of the filthy mire stagnant pool. Something mysterious, alien, and beautiful. Then at his job he finally gets up the nerve to ask the woman out he has been longing for. She rejects him, the smile on her face disappearing as she walks away… she has a boyfriend. Deflated he thinks back on a childhood memory of going hunting with his father and being horrified at his father killing a deer. The slow pursuit of the gunshot wounded deer stuck like a sliver in his mind, sad and disturbing. Later on, he sees the same mysterious creature emerging from the clean pool on the other side of the same track of the road. It stands taller and seems in full bloom, changed somehow, now seemingly insane and demonic. He drives home where something from his past awaits him, bringing him full circle with the horrors of his childhood. Both The Left-Hand Pool and Carrion are masterworks in strange and ambiguous horror.  

And finally I want to talk about The Green Hands Parts 1 & 2. This just may be the best story in the book. A novella divided into two sections. The first deals with a man named Zetter, who is on the run from these creepy and strange pursuers, chasing down Zetter, trying to touch him with their bizarre glowing green hands. He does not know what they want, but he does know that they bring erasure to anyone they touch. They blend in with the unknowing crowds, attacking out of nowhere. Part 1 is a tense chase narrative that ends in a madness that continues into the next part. In part 2, things really go apeshit. The story goes full throttle into a surreal cosmic fantasy that falls even further down the rabbit hole of strange hand obsessions. Interesting enough, horror stories revolving around disembodied hands have a deep history in weird horror. Tales like The Beast with Five Fingers by W. F. Harvey, The Body Politic by Clive Barker, and Bianca’s Hands by Theodore Sturgeon are essential reads in this genre of hand body horror and cousins to The Green Hands. But, at its heart, I think it is best seen as a homage to William Hope Hodgson. Hodgson’s short stories of strange things that emerge out of the unknown to assault the protagonists like A Tropical Horror, Demons of the Sea, and Out of the Storm, and his bizarre cosmic horror novels like The House on the Borderland are landmarks in the history of weird horror fiction. Hodgson was perfectly at home writing stories full of unrelenting invading horrors and cosmically mindbending alien worlds, and you can see how they inform and influence The Green Hands. This is a major story and is really a must read. Let me put it this way, if Ligotti’s The Last Feast of Harlequin is the greatest homage to Lovecraft ever written, then Thomas’s The Green Hands is the greatest homage to Hodgson ever written.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Interview: Jeffrey Thomas

Image result for haunted worlds jeffrey thomas

Hello and welcome to The Plutonian, Jeffrey Thomas! Today I wanted to talk to you a bit about your new short story collection Haunted Worlds. I first got word of this collection from Des Lewis’s review of it. In that review, he stated that your story Carrion would have been a great fit for my anthology Phantasm/Chimera. So, of course, I had to check it out! I really loved reading Haunted Worlds! And I must say he was absolutely right, Carrion has this great mix of nightmarish ambiguity and creeping dread that I am just an addict for. I also felt that numerous other stories in your collection, including The Left-Hand Pool, were just as disturbing and mysterious. What draws you into engaging with the dark and nightmarish?

JT: I believe dealing with dark, unsettling or frightening situations in fiction is a mutual release for the author and the reader, a kind of safety valve for angst and a way to feel less alone with these anxieties, through such communication. Real-life concerns are distorted into something bizarre or weird – as you say, nightmarish – for the sake of delivery, becoming somewhat more universal, symbolic through the use of the fantastic. I wonder if nightmares themselves – of which every person, no matter their literary ability, is a skilled if unconscious creator – serve the same cathartic function. For my part, stories like Carrion and The Left-hand Pool specifically give me a vehicle for expressing my individual anxieties and observations on the human experience. At the same time, however disturbing the fiction, the fantastical element also reassures the reader that this isn’t really happening…it isn’t real…it isn’t real…

I must say, reading Haunted Worlds, I was struck by the wide range of styles you use in the collection. It’s amazing how well you pull all these different modes of writing off. There are the aforementioned nightmarish stories. There are also some morality tales with surprise endings that would be at home in an issue of Tales from the Crypt, there are some stories that lean more towards dark fantasy, some quiet horror, etc. Do you just write in whatever mode you are feeling that day, or do you purposely try to expand the limits of what one would expect of a story from you?

JT: I aim to be versatile; it would bore me to only write one type of story, use only one approach, just as it would bore me to only read Lovecraftian fiction or crime thrillers, to only listen to one type of music or watch one type of film. Even writing only in my dark future world of Punktown, despite it being a setting that can encompass many types of story, would feel limiting to me. Plus I like to stretch my literary muscles, to grow through challenge (as when I was asked to write a story for a collection of new Sherlock Holmes stories, and had never even read any of the originals before; I pulled it off and appeared in that anthology). I realize this variety of style and tone might result in my short story collections lacking a truly unified feel, but I hope the diversity makes up for that, and there are repeated themes and even images that echo throughout a book like Haunted Worlds.

I have to ask, was Bunuel’s film Le Chien Andalou an influence on your surreal and dreamlike story The Green Hands? They both seem to share some of the same obsessions.

JT: I’ve never seen it, though I’m familiar with the famous scene of a man slicing a woman’s eye with a straight razor. I just read a brief description of it on Wikipedia and I see what you mean: shots of the moon, a severed hand, insects crawling out of a hole in a person’s palm. I really must watch the film on YouTube. I will say, though, that some imagery in The Green Hands was directly inspired by paintings by the cover artist, Kim Bo Yung.

I find that you have one of the more subtle writing voices in the field. What I mean by that is that it seems you purposely try to keep the prose centered on the story and try not to show the author behind the work. I see your writing more related to a Matheson or a Hemingway than a Ligotti or a Bradbury. Would you find that to be a fair assessment? What are your thoughts on a more ‘purple’ prose style versus a more ‘clean’ style?

JT: Because my settings – particularly, Punktown and Hades – are so often fantastical, phantasmagorical in nature, I try to keep my voice low-key and matter-of-fact to give those environments a sense of verisimilitude. I believe this makes my worlds more accessible. I think a too showy or flowery style on top of that dense weirdness would be a bit much. When I do dole out a little more in the way of poetic prose, it’s usually in brief passages modulated so as not to seem glaring. That said, I love and envy the poetic voice of many writers, but such a voice complements the particular type of work they do. For instance, Thomas Hardy’s stories, like Tess of the d’Urbervilles, might merely be soap operas were it not for the beauty of his prose and the depth and intelligence behind the mechanics of the plot-lines. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian does the opposite of what I do with Punktown, in that it takes a real-life historical setting and events and presents them in a way that is fabulously nightmarish, through its hallucinatory and gorgeous language. Style serves content and intent.

What authors would you say were big influences on you? And what current authors are you excited about?

JT: Though it might not be readily apparent, again, Thomas Hardy and other writers not associated with fantastical fiction like Yukio Mishima, Charles Dickens, Thomas Harris, Martin Cruz Smith. In a fantastical vein, Bradbury, William Peter Blatty, Clive Barker, of course, Lovecraft. There is an overwhelming number of newer writers these days doing very impressive weird fiction and horror. Laird Barron, Nathan Ballingrud, Livia Llewellyn, Simon Strantzas, Matthew M. Bartlett, Cody Goodfellow, Gemma Files, John Langan, Richard Gavin, Mike Allen, Christopher Slatsky, Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, Michael Griffin, Scott Nicolay. Not-quite-newcomers like W. H. Pugmire and my brother Scott Thomas. I hate to leave anyone worthy out and I could certainly go on and on. There are names I’d like to add now but I need to acquaint myself with more of their work to see if the consistency is there.

Why is genre writing important? Why should people read horror, science fiction, and fantasy?

JT: I’m not sure I’d say anyone should read any type of fiction, but I can speculate on why they do. As I discussed earlier, in terms of weird fiction/horror, that kind of work can be cathartic, but in a more general way, fantastical fiction can offer a measure of escapism while at the same time, paradoxically, addressing real-life issues and situations – be they societal, political, or what have you. I think the flights of imagination possible in genre fiction can be exhilarating, provoke wonder, show us what human ingenuity is capable of. Maybe we won’t achieve the dazzling future of space exploration and intergalactic alliances that a science fiction writer envisions, but we can admire the ability of the human mind to conceive of such a vision, as we admire a dancer or gymnast pushing the possibilities of the body’s expression. Or maybe that science fiction writer, that George Orwell, can warn us what dark path we should be wary of taking. I feel genre fiction provides us allegory more readily than does nongenre writing. It’s evolved from the campfire tale, the nursery rhyme, the myth, the fable.

I think it would be fair to say that we are currently living in a pretty turbulent political/social time. What is a genre writer’s responsibility during such a time? Should a writer feel the need to engage with social issues? Or does a writer not have a responsibility to society, just a freedom to pursue their own visions?

JT: We are responsible only to not waste the reader’s time. We are responsible only to entertain. That being said, we can hold ourselves to personal responsibilities, and I myself do like to address societal issues in my work. My Punktown stories often concern colonialism, culture clash, class systems, human interaction with technology, and so on. It’s funny; online somewhere I read a reader’s review of my Punktown work (which I hasten to add is usually enthusiastically received, ahem) that complained the stories, which almost always function independently of each other, are just “slices of life.” That is to say, there are no wars or revolutions (why does science fiction always have to be about a war or revolution?), no big honking space battles, no messianic figures foretold by legend, come to singlehandedly save the day. Precisely: my Punktown stories are meant to be little slices of life…in a fantastical milieu, under strange circumstances. Their protagonists work in coffee shops and bookstores; at most, they’re low level crime investigators. These common folk work best for me in expressing what I observe about the human experience. I should think such characters would be more accessible for readers to relate to. But, we are so accustomed to those larger than life situations when it comes to science fiction – not to mention that many science fiction readers don’t want profound horror in their science fiction, many horror readers don’t want blatant science fiction in their horror. And there are those of course who don’t want to read anything that might seem didactic. Given our turbulent times, many people want to escape from the onslaught of all that in their reading. I must respect all these individual tastes in entertainment. I myself can only create what my sometimes angry, sometimes forlorn, always quirky muse directs me to create.

Do you have any new works coming up we can look forward to? What is next in your writing career?

JT: At this writing, Centipede Press is preparing a huge three-volume collection of nearly all my published Punktown short fiction, which will include a new novella written for the project. I lightly polished every story in there and I feel these are the definitive versions. I have a number of novels stalled at the halfway point – I haven’t completed a novel in years – but it looks like I’ll be signing a contract that will necessitate me finishing one of those novels by July. That’s the incentive I need! I continue to write short stories for anthologies/publications I’m invited to, as I’m able, though my day job and duties as a father don’t always allow for the free time. A role-playing game built around the Punktown universe is close to completion, and it looks like a graphic novel adaptation of some of my Punktown stories is going forward. I also have a collection called Tales From Somewhere, in which the stories all take place in a fictitious Asian country – inspired by my travels to Viet Nam – that needs a publisher…if anyone out there is interested!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Guest Post: Adam Golaski with "Excerpts from the 'Head' Talk"

Excerpts from the “Head” Talk

Heard on the radio while out on an errand: “What we see in one scene after another, really, in this landscape—routine torture and beheadings and brutality, rape of Yazidi women who are enslaved, a child soccer game with a human head.”

from Popol Vuh (circa 1554):

One and Seven Death: Where are my cigars? What of my torch? They were brought to you last night!
One and Seven Hanahpu: We finished them, your lordship.
One and Seven Death: Very well. This very day, your day is finished, you will die, you will disappear, and we shall break you off. Here you will hide your faces: you are to be sacrificed!

And then they were sacrificed and buried. They were buried at the Place of Ball Game Sacrifice, as it is called. The head of One Hanahpu was cut off; only his body was buried with his younger brother.

One and Seven Death: Put his head in the fork of the tree that stands by the road.

And when his head was put in the fork of the tree, the tree bore fruit. It would not have had any fruit, had not the head of One Hanahpu been put in the fork of the tree. This is the calabash tree, as we call it today, or “the skull of One Hanahpu,” as it is said.

A Maiden, daughter of Blood Gatherer: I’m not acquainted with the tree they talk about. Its fruit is truly sweet, I hear.

Next, she arrived where the tree stood. It stood at the Place of Ball Game Sacrifice.

A Maiden, daughter of Blood Gatherer: What? Well! What’s the fruit of this tree? Shouldn’t this tree bear something sweet? They shouldn’t die, they shouldn’t be wasted. Should I pick one?

And then the bone spoke; it was here in the fork of the tree.

The Head of One Hunahpu: Why do you want a mere bone, a round thing in the branches of a tree? You don’t want it.
A Maiden, daughter of Blood Gatherer: I do want it.
The Head of One Hunahpu: Very well. Stretch out your right hand here, so I can see it.

And then the bone spit out its saliva, which landed squarely in the hand of the maiden.

The Head of One Hunahpu: It is just a sign I have given you, my saliva, my spittle. This, my head, has nothing on it—just bone, nothing of meat. It’s just the same as the head of a great lord: it’s just the flesh that makes the face look good. And when he dies, people get frightened by his bones.

Right away, something was generated in [the maiden’s] belly, from the saliva alone, and this was the generation of Hanahpu and Zbalanque.

from “The MFA’s Small Masterpieces”

… If the act of noticing is the museum-goer’s sixth sense, this display is a good first test. How many visitors who are attracted by the glitter of pre-Columbian gold notice that one of the small Muisca votive figures is carrying a tiny human head? This art was made by headhunters.

Aside from this gruesome fact very little is known about the Muisca, a tribe that thrived for centuries before the Spanish Conquest in what is now Colombia. It is not known to what ritual use these superbly crafted votive figures were put, although one theory is that the Muisca believed that gold was magic. …

A good shoemaker can eye a foot and know its requirements; the shoemaker who lived in Gerbert (circa 1181 C.E.) was good. Also, he was evil. When he saw the foot of a royal daughter he proposed to her. “No,” she said. Like, obviously. She was royal. He became a knight to impress her. She was not impressed. To avenge himself, he became a pirate, and harassed the royal daughter’s kingdom. When she died, he opened her grave and fucked her corpse. About to leave the open hole, he heard a voice: “You’re a father.” The fruit of the shoemaker’s lust was a nightmare head. Don’t look at it! The shoemaker put it in a box. When his second wife, the daughter of the emperor of Constantinople, learned what was in the box, she knew her husband was evil. Her guard tossed the shoemaker and then his box into the Grecian Ocean. The nightmare head spat: its voice is a whirlpool called Satalie.

Cold Calls, Christopher Logue’s “account” of books 7 – 9 of The Iliad, describes the beheading of Nyro of Simi “the handsomest of all the Greeks, save A,” by Aeneas. Aeneas’ “minder,” Mowgag, puts the head on a pike; “the chingaling of its tinkers”—the bells that Nyro wove into his braids—a gruesome instrument. But Nyro’s head speaks otherwise: “Athena yells” “through poor Nyro’s wobbling mouth”: “Slew of assiduous mediocrities! / Meek Greeks / Hector will burn your ships to warm his soup!”

Neil Corcoran writes, “[Christopher] Logue invents strange, un-Homeric names of, to me, uninterpretable significance. These become more plentiful as the sequence progresses… Cold Calls introduces, among others, Deckalin, Mowgag, Meep and Nyro.”

My family left Marion, Massachusetts in 1982. We would’ve stayed longer if not for—. Zhuangzi used a human skull for a pillow. In Zhuangzi’s dreams, the skull mocked him and said, “I can tell you what it’s like to be dead. It’s happiness.” Throughout ’81 – ’82, I dreamed about a human head, crab-eaten flesh, empty eye-sockets. I was just a little boy. The head said to me, “Wake up wake up wake up!” My parents sang to me, they served me warm milk, they let me sleep between them, but though I clutched a stuffed lion, that head woke me every night until we finally moved.

from “The Screaming Skull” by F. Marion Crawford

“He was found dead on the beach one morning, and there was a coroner's inquest. There were marks on his throat, but he had not been robbed. The verdict was that he had come to his end ‘By the hands or teeth of some person or animal unknown,’ for half the jury thought it might have been a big dog that had thrown him down and gripped his windpipe, though the skin of his throat was not broken. No one knew at what time he had gone out, nor where he had been. He was found lying on his back above high-water mark, and an old cardboard bandbox that had belonged to his wife lay under his hand, open. The lid had fallen off. He seemed to have been carrying home a skull in the box—doctors are fond of collecting such things. It had rolled out and lay near his head, and it was a remarkably fine skull, rather small, beautifully shaped and very white, with perfect teeth.”

from The Arabian Nights

Sage: I have a book called The Secret of Secrets, which I should like to give you for safekeeping in your library.
King: What is the secret of this book?
Sage: It contains countless secrets, but the chief one is that if your Majesty has my head struck off, opens the book on the sixth leaf, reads three lines from the left page, and speaks to me, my head will speak and answer whatever you ask.
King: Is it possible that if I cut off your head and, as you say, open the book, read the third line, and speak to your head, it will speak to me? This is the wonder of wonders.”

The next day the sage Duban entered the royal palace carrying an old book and a kohl jar containing powder. He sat down, ordered a platter, and poured out the powder and smoothed it on the platter.

Sage: Take this book, your Majesty, and don’t open it until after my execution. When my head is cut off, let it be placed on the platter and order that it be pressed on the powder. Then open the book and begin to ask my head a question, for it will answer you.
King: I must kill you, especially to see how your head will speak to me.

Then the king took the book and ordered the executioner to strike off the sage’s head. The executioner drew his sword and, with one stroke, dropped the head in the middle of the platter, and when he pressed the head on the powder, the bleeding stopped. Then the sage Duban opened his eyes.

Sage: Now your Majesty, open the book.
King: Sage, I see nothing written in this book.
Sage: Open more pages.

from The Boston Sunday Globe, May 3, 1981:

Human head found

MARION, MA. An investigation was continuing yesterday to determine the identity of a human head found at Silver Shell Beach by a local boy, a state medical examiner said.

Dr. Ann Dixon said authorities were trying to identify the head by matching teeth with dental records.

The head was found Thursday by a local boy playing in the beach grass near the recreation house. The beach was closed through Friday.

Sources: Weekend Edition, NPR, Sept. 16, 2017; Popol Vuh. Translated by Dennis Tedlock. New York: Touchstone, 1995; Garrett, Robert. “The MFA’s Small Masterpieces.” The Boston Globe Calendar, June 27, 1985;  Ashe, Laura. Early Fiction in England: from Geoffrey of Monmouth to Chaucer. London: Penguin Classics, 2015;  Logue, Christopher. War Music. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2015; Corcoran, Neil. Poetry & Responsibility. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2014; Simon, Peter J. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002; Crawford, F. Marion. Uncanny Tales. North Yorkshire: Tartarus Press, 2009; Heller-Roazen, Daniel. The Arabian Nights. Translated by Husain Haddawy. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010; “Human head found,” The Boston Sunday Globe, May 3, 1981.

Halloween Recommended Chillers

The skeletal hand of autumn is starting to hold sway. The nights are getting longer and the winds bring a chill air. Now is the dark season. A time for staying indoors, staying safe from the things that only emerge from under the light of the pale moon. So I present to you a list of some of the most chill-inducing films and short stories to help set the mood. Perfect for Halloween, and the long winter ahead.

Image result for alone with the horrors

Alone with the Horrors: The Great Short Fiction of Ramsey Campbell.

Ramsey Campbell is not to be trusted. He does not write fun, zany, entertaining horror stories. No, he writes horror stories with the intent of fucking you up. A creeping dread pulls you along through one of his narratives. Till you get to the end, where something happens, you are not quite sure what it was, but you are sure that you wish you had not seen it. And now that you had, you will not be sleeping. There are many collections of his work I could have chosen, Demons by Daylight and Cold Print are personal favorites. But Alone with the Horrors collects most of his best chilling work. Some of my favorites include The Companion, The Brood, and The End of a Summers Day. Keep the lights on.

Image result for the secret of ventriloquism

The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett.

Jon Padgett writes like he has seen your nightmares. Like he has been inside your head. He writes like he is talking to you. Showing you sights you thought you wanted to see, until you see how Jon has perverted them and corrupted them. Leaving your dreams a twisted nightmare. Stories like The Mindfulness of Horror Practise, The Indoor Swamp, and 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism have this hypnotic power, this dark delirium that Jon Padgett immerses you in, never to let you go.

Related image

Pulse ( Kairo ) directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

People ask me all the time what the most frightening film I have ever seen is. I, without even needing to think about it reply, Pulse. They laugh and tell me about how they have seen Ringu and are can handle Japanese horror. I say, here, borrow this, then tell me what you think. To a person, every single one has come back, silent and visibly shaken, and admitted that Pulse creeped them out. This film has this sinister power, I challenge anyone to watch it and say it did not scare them. Something about unseen things in the shadowy corners, things you did not realize were there the whole time, then you see them, and they watch you, and come towards you, real, real, slow. The camera does not cut, the camera does not pan, the ghostly things just keeps looking right at you and they keep coming closer and closer. The first time I watched Pulse I had to turn it off halfway through. The sense of dread was overpowering. To this day I hesitate to revisit this film.

Image result for night of the living dead

Night of the Living Dead directed by George Romero

Maybe the most downbeat film I have ever seen. A vision of the end of the world that is just devastating. The zombies that Romero shows us are ourselves, what we all will become. Rotted and corrupt. He shoves our deceased bodies in our faces. They rise and they attack and they will not be defeated, the only result is death. There is no escape in this film. Everyone falls apart and everyone turns on each other. There is nowhere to run to. No one to save you. Night of the Living Dead shows us the worst of ourselves. And there is nothing we can do about it. A real-life nightmare of cinema. Everyone has seen it and talked about it. But it has not lost one bit of its power to shock and scare its audience.

Image result for let's scare jessica to death

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death directed by John D. Hancock

Maybe my favorite of the whole genre of psychological ghost films. An atmospheric chiller that never lets go of its secrets. In a strange way, it is the offspring of the film Carnival of Souls and the novella Carmilla. A perfect film to be caught late at night on television when you are in a half asleep state. Its dreamlike rhythms are absolutely intoxicating and will get under your skin. Beware the still waters and the dark woods, for you do not know what is out there, whispering your name….

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: The Blackcoat's Daughter

Related image

The Blackcoat’s Daughter has to be one of the finest horror films of this decade. A true original, a masterwork seemingly lost in a tide of pointless prequels and unwanted remakes. If I had to describe the filmic landscape of The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I would say a combination of the cold Canadian backdrop of the films of David Cronenberg, the diabolical nightside philosophies of The Witch, and the slow creeping dread and sense of impending doom of the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Hideo Nakata. The Blackcoat's Daughter is the first film from director Oz Perkins, who also directed the ghostly slow burn, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. Based on these two films, I think the chilly, icy, quiet branch of the horror genre may be seeing a resurgence in the capable hands of Oz Perkins.

During the dead of winter, two stranded students are enveloped into the sinister manipulations of evil forces that lurk behind the everyday. A tale that is both darkly hypnotic and seductively vague, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is not a safe film to watch during the midnight hour. It is a study in unease and will have you looking at shadowy corners, both hoping and dreading that something is there. Highly recommended.   

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Black Cats and Black Graves: The Films of Lucio Fulci.


 Image result for the gates of hell fulci
 Image result for the gates of hell fulci

In any discussion of the great horror directors, the name of Lucio Fulci must be high on the list. His dark landscapes of fog-enshrouded cemeteries, plagues of rotting zombies, malevolent spider attacks, and obsessive ocular violence, are a must visit in the dismal night covered country of horror cinema. Fulci’s zombie trilogy, The Gates Hell, The Beyond, and The House by the Cemetery, were a formative viewing experience in my life. Seeing The Gates of Hell at around the age of 12 or 13 both scared me so much I ran out of the room around the halfway point of the movie, and fascinated me with its operatic violence against the body and it’s just overwhelming doom-laden gothic atmosphere. The Gates of Hell was the gateway drug that turned me into a horror film fanatic. His later zombie film The Beyond further pushed the envelope of surreal filmic transgression. The Beyond stands with toe to toe with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead as the pillars of the zombie film. Fulci then hit us with The House by the Cemetery, which on first watch I have to admit I was kind of baffled and confused by. More a haunted house film than a zombie invasion film like The Gates of Hell and The Beyond. But on subsequent viewings, I have come to love the subtle deliriums and just bizarre plot twists of The House by the Cemetery. In all three films, there is this kind of unseen chaos, inflecting the film and the viewer. The characters move through the films like they are lost in some foggy haze, and the films end with a shocking bewilderment rather than any kind of finality. The human body is not the only thing on attack in these films, it’s as if the zombies are carriers of a primal chaos, attacking both reason and narrative. At the end any of these films, you are left in a place of dark confusion, slowly you realize that in fact, you the viewer, were the one that was under attack.

Related image

Fulci first burst onto the horror scene with what may be his most famous and influential film, Zombie. Fulci takes Romero’s undead apocalypse scenario from his Living Dead series and brings it back to the zombie’s genres roots by taking place on a secluded tropical island, paying subtle homage to films like White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie. Zombie is maybe the most ‘pure’ zombie film alongside Bianchi’s Burial Ground. You show up for outrageous gore and shambling corpses, and the film outright drowns you in bodily corruption and death. Zombie is an unimpeachable classic of the genre and not to be missed. Also, I must recommend a more obscure Fulci film that deserves a second look by horror fans. And that film would be The Black Cat. A clever homage to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat is a remarkably fast-paced, suspenseful murder mystery, which is a definite departure from the surreal zombie films he is more known for. To anyone who thinks Fulci is a hack who could not direct a mainstream horror film with a more recognizable plot and realistic characters, I urge them to watch The Black Cat. The film follows the general plot of Poe’s story, a man, who may or may not be a murderer, is under attack by a malefic black cat. The black cat may be some kind of demon or may just be the paranoid delusion of a tormented mind. And something that I found absolutely charming about this film is, the black cat that is featured in this, under a backdrop of sinister music and growling sound effects, is a delightfully beautiful cat who seems more interested in preening for the camera and looking gorgeous then actually trying to look like an evil cat. And the cat has a ton of screen time, every second outshining all else in the film.  While the film is a dead serious horror film, the cat is so damned cute that it steals the show. It’s so cute that you would be tempted to take it home, let it into your family, where it will haunt your every move, and trap you in its sinister manipulations. I think that may be the paramount thing to understanding why Fulci’s films work so well, he was a director who knew what the audience wanted, he knew who the real stars of his films were, whether black cats or undead zombies. He made horror films for horror fans, he would deliver exactly what you wanted, and leave you trapped in its nightmare.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Unearthly Beauty of the Cinematic Other

Related image

After watching Alien: Covenant with a friend, we got into the usual conversation people have following film viewing, what was good and what was bad about it. He hated it, thought it was full of bad acting and nonsensical plot driven decisions. Which it is. But then I argued that the film had merit. It did contain some rather startling and brilliant imagery. My positive review was pretty much based solely on the scene down in the underground chambers, where David summons one of his alien offspring to come forth. It stands straight up, a disturbingly blank white face dripping with crimson blood. And David looks at it like a father or a mother would, with pride and maybe even a bit of tenderness, and whispers about how you must blow on its nose, to earn its trust. It is just such a strange and bizarrely intimate scene. That is a scene that will live forever in my mind. The rest of the film may not be that great, but what do you do with a bad film that contains a moment of absolute beauty and perfection, that many great films try for but just miss? Similarly, I also love Alien: Resurrection for the scene where Ripley is carried, coming in and out of consciousness, in the arms of a Xenomorph, like a sleeping lover, into that pit of flesh, tentacles, and other biomechanical protuberances. There she is swallowed ever so slowly into the maw, her face enraptured as in a dream, as if her cosmic destiny had finally revealed itself. The rest of the film is barely watchable. But that scene stands with the first 40 minutes of the original Alien as filmic masterpieces of cosmic mystery and perverseness.

Related image

This kind of beautiful imagery trapped within a low-rent film is not limited to the Alien series. It seems to be almost a tradition in the science fiction film. Who can forget the hairy long-tongued monster from The Brainiac carrying out his foretold doom? The invasion of evil crawling brains from Fiend without a Face? The hypnotic alien with a vaginal face bringing the end of the world from Goke: Bodysnatcher from Hell? All those films have these scenes that seem lifted from some odd fever dream. I would say that the Alien franchise certainly contains less campy fun and offbeat imagination then films like It Came From Outer Space or The Mysterians. But even in big-budget science fiction, the bizarre and dreamlike image can still be found.

Image result for alien covenant david xenomorph