The boom times for paperback horror novels were the 1980s and 1990s, and right next to bus station bookstore perennials Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum and Stephen King, who might serve as these writer's more successful patron saint. Here, among these books were dozens of evil canine also-rans, a pack of not-quite-Cujos, not to mention psychic tots that more than resemble Danny Torrance, and post-Pennywise scary clowns. But these were also books that were a bit too pulpy and trashy for the King -- think Satanic orgies, demonic babies eating their way out of cursed mothers, and incestuous gothic tales to make V. C. Andrews blush.Read More
To call Stephen King's novel "IT" a masterpiece may be hyperbolic, but I think I'm going to say it anyway. King has. of course, written novels that had a clearer through-line, which cohered more or better, or which were altogether subtler. But King once said that that "It" was, for him, a king of grand unifying thesis of his career, one which was "the summation of everything I had learned and done in my whole life up to that point". Thus, the novel is both the end of and the summing up of a stage of King's career, but also of his life experiences, especially as a scared, bike-riding kid in the mid-century Maine, all sticky mouth and chocolate-fingered -- feeling like an outsider, lusting innocently after the girl next door, and battling the scary clown we call adulthood.
As such, its an idiosyncratic portrait of a time and place made even more so by King's then-contemporary cocaine habit. As he vacuumed massive quantities of the substances off of his writing desk, he pounded out the 1000+ pages that constitute its well-endowed length. There are plenty of elements of the book too weird to describe with any sense: the cosmic battle between Pennywise and the turtle who puked out the universe, for instance, or the truly bizarre kid-orgy that everyone who's ever read it will surely remember.
The 2017 film adaptation of "It" is both a pretty faithful adaptation of parts of the book, and a dramatic rearrangement of the book's elements. For one, the setting in time has changed from the 1950s (the original novel taking place between the Losers Club's childhood in the 1950s and their 1980s adulthood) to the 1980s, although the film's 80s references are limited to a few songs on the soundtrack and a theatrical marquis advertising Lethal Weapon 2 and Batman. The temporal rearrangement doesn't change the story much so much as it makes it seem timely in a post-"Stranger Things" world. After all, the 80s are so hot right now.
So if Stephen King's novel represents the distillate left over after boiling down 30 years of horror, "It" (2017) might be said to exemplify the horror trends of our new century so far, including: A.) the idea, now enjoying currency after "The Conjuring" and its ensuing wave of sequels and spin-offs made bazillions, that everything was scarier in decades past (see also "Ouija 2", Rob Zombie's movies, even stuff that just feel like 80s movies, like "It Follows"), B.) the tendency to highlight horrific imagery and atmosphere over plot, and C.) a weird mix of dread and nostalgia. The result is a movie every bit as idiosyncratic as the original novel, but less personal and more of a pastiche.
The kids are good, sometimes even great, and the adult actors acquit themselves nicely despite being broad types. And Bill Skarsgard, while standing on the shoulders of Tim Curry, does a pretty darn good Pennywise, although not quite as blissfully ridiculous as Curry's. The Pennywise scenes, in which the Losers encounter their fears personified, are all either the best or the worst scenes in the movie, depending on your taste, while the sequence of the Losers exploring the local haunted house is fun and inventive enough to invite comparisons with the 1980s "House", or even the Hooper/Spielberg "Poltergeist".
Like the tv movie original and the lunatic novel it is based on, the 2017 "It" is best enjoyed after surrendering to it's potent, flawed brew of sometimes genius, sometimes just weird elements. Whether It: Chapter Two, the sequel which will presumably deal with the adult portion of the book, will be as appealing remains to be seen (and if you're anything like me, you remember the kid sections of the novel and tv movie far better than the adult part).
But regardless, "It" (2017) now ranks and one of the better, and more respectful, King adaptations and if you watch it, you just might find yourself afloat on tides of well-crafted, pleasantly familiar horror nostalgia.
Life, the newest movie (aside from Alien: Convenant) to pay homage (read: rip off) the Alien series, is also pretty vacuum-ous. The attractive-but-bland stock characters are paper thin, and the plot can be summarized by a phrase, like “alien kills everyone”.Read More
Kiernan's prose provides the greatest part of that wonder. Achingly beautiful, always strange and never quotidian, she never lets the reader find any firm ground. Fittingly for a story which involves a Manson-like cult, it feels hallucinatory, dreamlike. And unlike most stories that fit, even peripherally, into Lovecraft's mythos, the story does not try too hard to replicate the feeling induced by the Master's works.Read More
Of course its an absurdity to ask such a question. Be it resolved that everyone is different. Be it resolved that all writing is different. Even so: when you write, if you write, are you trying to say something?Read More
Hello again, dear reader. Last time we were together I wrote about writer's block, a subject near, if not dear, to my heart. As you can tell from the length of time between posts, its something with which I have continued to tussle over the last month or so.
The reasons why are myriad and personal, and are certainly too boring to do more than hint at here; suffice it to say that my living situation has changed recently, and I don't do change well.Read More
Though a lot of folks smarter than myself have argued, one way or the other, as to whether or not "writer's block" actually exists, I tend to think it does. Not the least before I periodically suffer long fits of it several times a year.
Its the kind of thing that makes you feel some real ennui, because I'm the kind of person who has said, aloud if not to a person, that all I really want to do is be allowed to write. If its true that we're all given one thing at which we're better than everything else, I think mine would be writing. This is not to say, of course, that I'm better than F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Nabokov, or you, or R.L. Stine, or anyone at all. Its only to say that of all the things I try to do (sleep, occasionally exercise, talk to people, do math, balance my checkbook, connect with someone or something), writing is the one which I do with the most success, which is: maybe a little.Read More
Having come down with a nasty cold the last few days, I did what I always do when I feel like total shit, and tucked into the biggest, thickest, most difficult books that I could reach without having to get out of my chair. In this case they were Susanna Clarke's magnificent Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and Alan Moore's almost appallingly excellent From Hell.Read More
Eyes of My Mother is 76 minutes long, but you feel every minute as if they've been crammed down your throat. It has pretentions to artistry and pathos. It is filmed in black and white, lavished on long static shots of its character's face. Long, static shots of a woman, bound in chains, shuffling out of the barn in which she has been prisoner. Long, long static shots of body parts arranged on a counter, shrink-wrapped, waiting to be stowed in the freezer. Its fairly boiler-plate horror content, different from less ambitious horror flicks only in the presentation.Read More
About 4/5 of the way through A Cure for Wellness, Gore Verbinski’s nearly two and a half hour long horror epic, it becomes clear that there will not be a satisfactory resolution to the many threads and set ups teased earlier in the film. Certainly, the film is beautiful looking, in an ugly kind of way. But amidst a miasmatic soup of sea greens and handsomely framed, symmetrical shots, the film seemingly becomes bored with its own mysteries. Eventually, it wanders into another story entirely. What had been a psychological horror mystery about a mysterious clinic offering obscure treatments develops into the territory of rote gothic horror.
It is an endemic problem for horror narratives; just look at Stephen King.Read More
In author Sharma Shield's The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac, an American family are touched in surprising, tragic and often poignant ways by their connection with a large upright bipedal ape named, improbably, Mr. Krantz. Mr. Krantz can talk - well enough, in fact, to seduce a woman named Agnes away from her husband and son. Her son, a sensitive boy named Eli, even meets Mr. Krantz, stuffed into a too-small suit, with tufts of thick and gnarled hair betraying his animal nature, before his mother leaves to begin a new life in the woods with her lover. The event is a catalyst of "high strangeness" which affects generations of his family in various ways.Read More
Media has always been a little scary. It started way before Trump’s constant attack on the “unfair” or “fake” news, before the internet, even before the word media connoted some form of published communication. It probably started with grimoires, arcane texts full of spells and esoterica, prized by magicians and alchemists, decried by the medieval Catholic church.
But this, you understand, was before horror was a genre. Horror as we know it didn’t exist until some folks in the 18th and 19th century had sufficient privilege and leisure to amuse themselves, and then us, by writing ghastly stories. Before that, horror was merely the way things are.Read More
There has been some recent furor, understandably, over the sudden coining of the term "alternative facts". It startles, not because of what it seems to say about our relationship to "truth", but it has never before been put so concisely. There have always been examples of "alternative facts", but there has never been a term for it that didn't sound ugly, like "conspiracy theory", or "lie".
Here is an "alternative fact", by which I mean a statement that is maybe not be true -- "they" say isn't true -- but which you and I, wink wink, "know" is true anyway: there's something fishy about the JFK assassination.
The official story, of course, the fact, is that Lee Harvey Oswald murdered the President on 11/22/63. But the "alternative fact" is that Oswald was set up, or had help, and that the real party responsible for JFK's murder was the Mafia/CIA/Communists/aliens/time-travelers/etc. This "alternative fact" has had an effect on reality, or in the very least in our experience of reality.
So many novels, television shows, films, and other media have some stake in the alternative fact that the "truth" -- it was just one scrawny little guy acting alone -- almost seems like the more lunatic idea.
Here's another fact, a real bummer. Humans occupy, or fly over, or peer through satellites at even the most remote areas of the North American continent. The country is much surveilled. We have probably discovered all of the larger flora and fauna long ago. Related to this fact is another: those few remaining pristine areas are few, and at constant environmental risk
But here's the "alternative fact", which seems to speak to us from another, truer world: our planet's haunted forests still crawl with monsters and strange beasts, flagrantly unconcerned with tourists and cameras. Bigfoot, when he thinks we're not looking, hollers eerily and covers big swaths of forest with great big bounds. As a Montanan, I can't help when I see the mountains to hope, fervently, that he really is up there somewhere, a hairy Thoreau roughing it for all us sinners.
There are others, too. The Loch Ness Monster, of course, and Mothman, and the Jersey Devil, and the Ozark Howler, who is sometimes heard, I'll let you guess doing what, in Oklahoma.
And there's the Owlman, and the Sea Monk, and the Thunderbird, not to mention the Man-Eating Tree.
And for all of them, there's someone on the Earth, and often quite a few someones, who believes intently that the whatsit exists. This is the distinction between a lie and an "alternative fact". A lie is told consciously. If the Lutz family fabricated the their stories of violent and disturbing hauntings in their Amityville home, it was pure invention, a lie. But to walk by the house, Google it, or see it in one of the many films and say "you know, that place was haunted" is to cite an "alternative fact".
And anyone who has ever been a kid knows (which is most of us, anyway) know that our childhood houses, maybe even our childhoods themselves, are monster-ridden. My own was a very tall, very old woman who stared at me from in between the slats in the closet. The only way I knew to keep her at bay was an arbitrary ritual of yelling and running. I was loudest when I was most at risk; going up the stairs, the darkness reaching up after me. Once up in the bedroom, only marginally safer in bed, I would lie very still, covers pulled over my head. I intuited that it would all be alright if she didn't see me move, but that if she knew I had caught her staring at me, something awful, I'm not sure what, would happen. I knew, with a certainty and intensity that I left in the past, that she was there. Something tells me that this might sound familiar to you.
One more, to demonstrate their awesome power. The fact is that we are a tiny island light-years away from anything, surrounded by a sea of nothing. The human race shouts itself hoarse in the dark.
The "alternative fact", a lot more fun, is that the skies are positively lousy with spaceships: UFOs have been visiting us consistently since at least the mid 20th century, if not way way before. They may have built the pyramids, the sphinx, Stonehenge, the ancient city of Teotihuacan and everything else. One night in the late 1940s, they even crashed into the desert, and were subsequently covered up, metaphorically if not literally, by weather balloons.
So many of the American 20th and, so far, 21st centuries' stories have seen their genesis in "alternative facts" that they've coined their own oxymoronic phrases to describe them. One of those phrases is "science fiction".
I would encourage you, therefore, to take a moment to celebrate that cherished nonsense, our "alternative facts", at least once a day, preferably at night. Take a long, nervous moment and look at the black tangle of the treeline, if there is one. If not, look warily to the sky.
Look until your senses leave you and, if only for a moment, you truly expect something wonderful and irrational to appear.