Archive for Film and Media

Wording with Thorns

Only the fiction of my horror stories is exaggerated. The supernatural is mostly metaphor and code. The horror is real.

A lot of people—especially people with majority privilege—like to complain about political correctness. Think about this. Think about lying in your loved one’s arms at home at night, sleeping soundly. You wake up because so many arms have grabbed you that you can’t move. You get one more glimpse of your lover—you know instantly that she or he is going to be dead soon. Next, you’re tied to a stake, and bundles of burning sticks are being thrown at your feet just often enough to keep the agony high. These bundles are called “faggots.” You’re called a faggot, too, because your life is worth no more than tinder because of those you love. Watching you die is someone’s entertainment.

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If you think you have a right to complain about political correctness, and you have a shred of decency, you may not realize that there’s no exaggeration in the previous paragraph. More often than not in the name of Jesus Christ, people brutally and LEGALLY murdered their neighbors who expressed same-sex attraction from medieval times through the Holocaust (we wore pink triangles in the concentration camps, lest you forget). In the year 2016, homosexuality is still punishable by death in the Muslim world, not just in Iran (where the method of choice is live burial, like in the Edgar Allan Poe stories), but in nations the U.S. calls allies.

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After the U.S. stopped putting homosexuals in prison, it still locked us up in mental institutions, using electro-shock and other methods to “cure” us that would likely be considered violations of the 8th Amendment and the Geneva Convention (remember American Horror Story: Asylum?). True story: homosexuality was officially considered a mental illness in the U.S. until the 1970s, and a lot of people in the U.S. still act like it is. Read the news about which minorities are a plague this week. When people treat you like you’re an illness, they want to cure you. What do people do with illnesses? Eliminate them. Hitler had a final solution. Do you?

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The world really is that bad. So when you worry about political correctness as a Great Satan, I think you’re missing the forest for the trees. If you want to complain about idiots who try to use political correctness as an excuse to censor art, please be my guest. I gladly say fuck those motherfuckers: I hope their intestines spontaneously explode from their bodies and form a slide for them to ride straight to hell.

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I gladly say inappropriate things and create some of the most incorrect characters imaginable in my fiction. Some people who are fighting against political correctness feel that free speech is under threat, and to the extent that they’re right, I’m with them, but political correctness should be about acknowledging the power of language, which is something every good writer (and, in my opinion, good human being) should reckon with. So, fellow language-users, consider these two critical points:

  • Hate speech is a clear and present danger. If you’re arguing about limits on your free speech, remember that there already is one: you can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater. Why? Because that’s an instance of speech that threatens the safety of a group of people. Dictionary.com defines hate speech as “speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability”. “Faggot” devalues the lives of gay people and encourages murders like that famous murder of Matthew Shepard. Likewise—more on this in a moment—when a group of people on Facebook attacked me by using the words “handicapped” and “bipolar” as insults, it clearly fit the definition of hate speech related to disability and therefore did not qualify for protection under the first amendment.normalboring
  • “Use” and “mention” of words are distinct. I have mentioned the word “faggot” many times here. I have referred to its history of hatred, but I have not used that history or used the word to apply to a specific human being. This distinction is subtle and difficult for many people. So is the distinction between in-group use and out-of-group use. Language is about contexts. Political correctness helps people less familiar with contexts to navigate them. Unless you’ve known me for a good long time, you’re better off not using the word “faggot” in my presence. I’m bipolar and I’m gay. A really close friend might call me a crazy fag, but the probability that you’re that person is close to zero.

So I referred to a recent experience with hate speech related to disability. Despite the persistence of ex-gay camps and such that insist on trying to “cure” homosexuality, the mainstream no longer treats it as an illness, which is good, because it seems like a fine thing to me. I can’t say the same about the other stigmatized category I’m in. So people feel much more justified in treating me like I’m an illness to be eliminated. Take your meds. Wipe yourself into an oblivion where you won’t bother us anymore.

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When people make fun of us, I really just want to point out to you normals that you’re literally incapable of fathoming how un-fun it is. Unless you have my mental condition, your brain is not equipped to handle what mine processes. I am THAT different from you. But if I say that, people will think it’s some sort of arrogance or exaggeration. But it’s biochemical certainty. Part of what I try to do with my horror fiction is give you people glimpses. Edgar Allan Poe did that, too. Word is he was bipolar, and having read all of his work, I feel fairly confident his diagnoses would have had much in common with mine (never been an alcoholic, though). Lots of you have some hero-worship for him… mine’s a little different. I think he was in my club. Chances are, you’re not. Bipolar pride. Woo-hoo. Now turn down the fucking lights and remember we’re all going to die.

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For the last few election cycles, gay people were the favorite category to pick on. This time it’s the mentally ill, as we’re clearly the cause of all the shootings and such (nevermind that all the stats show we’re far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crimes, thanks in part due to asshole horror writers who don’t do research). Seems I can’t get a break. Like it or not, the zeitgeist is with me, and I am with you. My recent bouts with illness have left me feeling too in touch with contemporary psych, but a little bit of Freud stands strong: the repressed shall always return…

Which reminds me, when you call something “exemplary,” you mean it stands as an example of your highest values. The person who led the mob that used hate speech against me was called “exemplary” by an organization specifically for his behavior on Facebook, I put myself in reach of this bigot because of his high standing in the organization, yet the organization (which has a sordid history with alleged racists and rapists) refuses to act at all. I suppose I AM crazy to think “sane” people would see that “political correctness” is about decency, and, to quote a popular writer, “We endorse things by our participation in them.” People in the organization are hypocritical enough to dismiss me as too touchy and therefore not worth considering as yet another crazy “victim” of their membership’s hate.

Perhaps decency is just too damned rare. My mania is quixotic.

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UPDATE: The “organization” referred to in this blog post is the Horror Writers’ Association. When the recipient of the HWA’s President’s Award, given for his “exemplary” achievement not in literature but in the FACEBOOK COMMUNITY, encouraged a mob to attack me with hate speech on Facebook, I reported the incident to the President and Vice-President of the HWA. I was informed that the HWA “would never tell any member or any of our volunteers what they can say on their own page.” This echo of the HWA’s doomed position in an earlier incident chilled me. I’ll borrow from Brian Keene. In a “statement regarding their decision to allow an avowed white supremacist and fascist serve as a Bram Stoker Award Juror” they tried to defend themselves by citing a “principle of supporting and practicing freedom of expression.” Of course they backpedaled when they realized that being a horror writer isn’t an excuse for lacking human decency… but I’m concerned that Keene is right about history repeating itself, and although I may not be one of the HWA’s greatest victims, they’re standing fast by a bigot who’s proud of hate speech against people with mental disabilities. They stand by calling him “exemplary.”

TOP RESPONSES FROM HWA

“I would never tell any member or any of our volunteers what they can say on their own page.” (The HWA President, Lisa Morton, who gave the President’s Award to Patrick Freivald for his “exemplary” standing in the horror community due to his work on Facebook–she is therefore the person most directly responsible for representing the HWA in endorsing his Facebook values, which demonstrably include supporting hate speech against the disabled)

“You’re not a special snowflake. Sorry. [You are] Using Bipolar disorder for excusing passive aggressive behavior.” (The Vice President, on why HWA won’t act in response to my complaints about hate speech–he later berated me aggressively, all on record)

Several other HWA “luminaries” have read the hate on Freivald’s page and assented to the party line that I “overreacted to something that never happened in the first place.” Lisa Morton angrily severed contact–as if she had been wronged–when I alluded to a film about rape, but whether she likes it or not, her methods are tried and true for squashing rape victims. Nope, I’m not as bad off as such victims in this case, not by a long shot, but I’m sick of HWA grabbing at any excuse to shut down dialogue that points out what everyone knows: they’ve got deep, deep problems.

REEL DARK in the Spotlight

Have you ever been afraid of the movies? Not afraid AT the movies–any good horror film should give you chills–but scared that the movies themselves could somehow darken your world?

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Get ready to be shocked out of your seat. After a limited release in 2015, Reel Dark is back in 2016 with this stunning new cover by Aaron Drown Design and two new tales, Michael West’s sojourn into apocalyptic soundscapes “Ave Satani” and Alexander S. Brown’s love-song to late-night horror-hosts “Grotessa.” In all, it’s a collection of twenty authors who in prose and poetry combine elements from across genres–horror, sci-fi, and noir, of course, but also the western, comedy, and others–in order to show us the mayhem the movies might work on the world.

Here’s the lineup:

Russ Bickerstaff, “24 per second: Persistence of Fission”

Hal Bodner, “Whatever Happened to Peggy… Who?”

Alexander S. Brown, “Grotessa”

James Chambers, “The Monster with My Fist for Its Head”

L. Andrew Cooper, “Leer Reel”

James Dorr, “Marcie and Her Sisters”

Sean Eads, “The Dreamist”

JG Faherty, “Things Forgotten”

Amy Grech, “Dead Eye”

Jude-Marie Green, “The Queen of the Death Scenes”

Karen Head, “Amnesia”

Jay Seate, “It’s a Wrap”

Caroline Shriner-Wunn, “Confessions of a Lady of a Certain Age” and more poetry throughout the book!

Rose Streif, “Caligarisme”

Sean Taylor, “And So She Asked Again,”

Pamela Turner, “Rival”

Jason S. Walters, “Low Midnight”

Mike Watt, “Copper Slips Between the Frames”

Michael West, “Ave Satani”

Jay Wilburn, “Cigarette Burns”

Trouble Where Arthouse Meets Megaplex

Recent articles have lauded the movie The Witch for flying from the festival circuit to grace the mainstream’s megaplexes with its arthouse horror presence. I’m a snob about snobbery: while some arthouse fare is brilliant, a lot of it is pretentious crap. Please don’t misunderstand me. A lot of films in general are crap. I just prefer crap to be unpretentious. Otherwise, arthouse films have as much of a chance at being brilliant as other kinds of films, and that’s what irks me about critics getting in a twist over The Witch because it’s an arthouse film errantly appearing at a theater near you. The unstated assumption is that because of its origins, it has a better chance of being brilliant, and what’s more, there’s something unusual about brilliance being near you.

thewitch_online_teaser_01_web_largeThis blog isn’t about The Witch, so before I go on: The Witch is good, not particularly pretentious and only a little artsy. Not in my top five similarly-themed films (maybe Suspiria, Antichrist, Haxan, Inferno, Rosemary’s Baby); perhaps top ten.

So then, I’m talking about that familiar opposition between arthouse and mainstream, an opposition that usually valorizes the arthouse as good for you and therefore good. Also, there’s a sense that arthouse is not your house, at least if “you” are of the masses. Art opposes product, mass production and mass consumption, things for and by the masses. Art is, in a word, elite, and therefore it stinks of elitism. Art is art in part because it excludes masses.

But wait! Here’s the problem. Art comes from an art-ist. It comes from an individual, whereas mass production comes from a production company, a corporation. By opposing product, art also opposes the economy of scale that makes masses faceless.

I am not interested in theorizing art or artists here, but I am interested in a difficulty I feel, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling, when I try to take a stand against arthouse snobs. “Arthouse” seems anti-democratic because it’s exclusive, but it seems democratic because it’s humanizing.

First, I’ve got to say that people who think indie/arthouse/festival-born films are automatically better than big-production studio pedigrees likely have not been to many film festivals. Imagine that actor you hate—you know the one—who seems to have a new movie out every time you turn around. Now imagine you’ve gone into one of that actor’s movies, except it’s not that actor, it’s someone just as annoying who reminds you of him, and no one else in the movie can act, either, and the sets are really fake, and the camera is off-center. And you’ve just noticed that one of the other leads is in the theater sitting next to you. And your seat is really uncomfortable. And the sound is a little tinny. No, not all, not even most indie/arthouse/festival movies are like that. But some of them are.

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However, then you go next door, and you see this film directed by this woman you’ve never heard of starring this other guy who’s totally awesome with this girl who’s clearly going to be a star, and you think you should be going to film festivals every weekend. You settle in and have your brain massaged for about two hours, and when you’re done you feel edified and refreshed, the intellectual version of someone in a soft drink commercial, colored by your emotion of choice: fear, longing, joy, passion, sadness, rage. Your average indie/arthouse/festival experience doesn’t offer very many chances of getting off like that, but it might offer a few.

Sometimes the goods get you, but sometimes you do get the goods. Spitting on the arthouse snobs may reject one form of elitism, but too-copious spitting risks rejecting artists who do good work, artists who can’t help that ultimately, their work, too, has become a differently-branded form of product that carries its own advantages and disadvantages in different markets. Tempting as rough shaming may be, we must work to educate the ignorant snobs who think the origin of a thing (or a person) necessarily relates to its quality. Yes, some firmness of hand may at times keep them from forcing terrible films and the like down our throats. Otherwise, they can help to promote good ones, such as The Witch (and the others on my list of witch-y favorites) and study hard to learn that the claim to be acclaimed need not be self-fulfilling.

Christmas Dystopia: The Real Season of Fear

‘Tis the season to be afraid.

No, I’m not confusing the Holiday Season—fuck it, I mean the Christmas Season—with Halloween. I mean the real season of horror, the one when the days are shortest, when Winter is not only Coming but finally Gets Here. The one when if, at least in some parts of the world, you’re kept out of the inn, you might freeze to death… if the creatures of the long night don’t rip you and your newborn to pieces first.

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Winter is here: Jasen Dixon of Ohio anticipates the Resurrection as a symbol of changing seasons with a zombie nativity scene.

If you pay attention to, well, people who know things, you know that the Jesus Christ of the Bible wasn’t born in late December but likely in April, but the Catholic Church decided many moons ago that timing His birthday around big pagan party time, already existing Solstice celebrations, would lubricate conversion. Christmas goes hand in hand with Easter: the coming and going of the cold months, the hard months—the birth, death, and resurrection of the Savior—fit neatly together, becoming a package of holidays to celebrate light at the beginning and end of the year’s greatest darkness (at least in the globe’s northern hemisphere).

My point is that historically, Christmas Day itself is a symbol of light deliberately placed in the middle of great darkness, and as such it calls attention to the dark mire it would illuminate. And for many of us in the Christmas Belt, an accessory that holds up much of the world’s economy around this time of year, it does. I paraphrase a line from the Christmas horror film—one of many—Gremlins (1984), which made a deep impression on me as a child: commenting that “the suicide rate’s always the highest around the holidays,” a character remarks of some unhappy people, “While everybody else opens up presents, they’re opening up their wrists.”

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I suppose seasonal affective disorders (the SADs!) could explain a lot of the suicides, as well as the popularity of my genre around this time—more about that in a moment—but I think not, and I don’t think many of you readers would let me go with such a facile explanation, either, because if you’re a grown-up who finds the idea of a strange man invading your house via chimney more terrifying than otherwise, you know that this time of “magic” has a lot to do with the Dark Side of the Force.

Let us consider, then, five reasons beyond seasonal affect why this season is one of darkness and doom. Afterwards, I’ll close with something less depressing, but first, I’ll note that all five of these reasons are major themes of everyone’s favorite Christmas horror story—not the one about putting an eye out, which is horrific enough—but Charles Dickens’s story about ghosts that gleefully torture an old man, “A Christmas Carol:” dickenschristmascarol

  1. Money. This year, like every year recently, I tuned into news on Black Friday and heard both stories: first, retailers were disappointed by people not spending enough, and second, retailers were beset by outrageous violence committed by people too desperate to spend. ‘Tis the season to spend on yourself, on others, and there’s never enough. You never get enough or give enough, and in the process of being inadequate, you do damage to yourself and others. You feel your inadequacy and the damage you do, and do you feel good about giving and receiving? Of course not. You feel like the shit of the capitalist world.
  2. Charity. Santas and others ring bells outside grocery stores and everywhere else, trying to guilt people into giving to strangers while they’re trying to stretch their budgets far enough to accommodate everyone on their lists. Let’s face it, the world is falling apart. It needs people to be charitable, and we all know, as Bernie Sanders keeps reminding us, that most of the wealth is going into the pockets of 1/10 of 1% of the population and just disappearing there, so the rest of us are supposed to sustain the exploding population with the scraps, but we… can’t… do it. So, defeated, most of us don’t even try very hard, or at all. And we just feel shitty about it, because shitty feelings are really all we have to spare.
  3. Love. Speaking of things we all want but don’t get enough of, what but pictures of beautiful people enjoying each other’s fond company as they revel in gifts can remind us better of what we don’t have? More poignant than the missing presents is the missing people, and for every person who’s happy in love, you can find two who have lost each other, or who have each other but have lost whatever brought them together, or who never found one another to begin with. As the nights get longer, people get lonelier, and the illusion that everyone is celebrating togetherness underscores loneliness like nothing else can.
  4. Age and Death. People have more to lose than romance. Christmas magic, if it worked for you at all, probably worked for that short span of years when your brain was underdeveloped and you could actually believe in flying mammals with glowing noses. Your childhood is gone. What did you lose with it? Who used to be with you on these holidays who isn’t now? For many of us, this is a season of remembering, and remembering ain’t always a happy act.
  5. Family. Those who don’t have family, mourn, and those who do—well, those who do aren’t necessarily happy, either, because with all the other crap happening, families are seldom at their best when they finally all gather ’round that tree or sacrificed feast animal or whatever it is that brings them all to one place to judge one another and seethe. For many, Christmas is the time to peel away scabs or simply reopen old wounds. Have some more nog and let loose on those weaknesses only you know about, push those buttons only you can—you’re family.

Now that I’ve argued that pretty much everything good is bad, you might think I’m advocating for the Gremlins-described suicide solution or at the very least for cancelling Christmas, but far from it. Although it’s not my favorite holiday, I like Christmas and have, in fact, already told you why: it is the light placed here to remind us of all this darkness, and as a sort of memento mori, Christmas deserves acknowledgment for what it is, a fuzzy center in a hole of suck.

OtrantoThanks to Charles Dickens, Joe Dante’s Gremlins, and everything from the original Dec. 24, 1764 Gothic novel Castle of Otranto to the present-day Krampus, our popular culture has served up a large vein within the horror genre to slice into as a means of exploring the suckhole of Christmas, not as a religious holiday but as a cultural phenomenon that combines the best and worst of humanity in a colorful package with a bow on top. These fictions of fear can displace all the terrors of our lives’ vacancies onto monsters we can see and maybe even fight and destroy. We can’t easily solve the problem of who’s not with us by the tree this year, but we sure can imagine using simple sunlight to beat back the tide of gremlins, and hey, maybe all it takes to make charity work is to show the most monstrous of the 1% a few well-timed ghosts.

KrampusThe fantasies are simple on the surface, yes, but so are the illusions of childhood, and come Christmas time, don’t we all deserve a little bit of simple? The problems with which they help us to cope are about as hard as problems come, so maybe some simple is what we need to crawl out of the suckhole, at least for a day.

150 Years of Monstrosity (Coming for You Now)

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Richard Marsh’s The Beetle. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Parasite. Marie Corelli’s Ziska. Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan. Ishiro Honda’s Matango. William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night.” Angela Carter’s “The Lady of the House of Love.” Richard Laymon’s The Traveling Vampire Show. Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God and Blood Merdian. Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching. H.P. Lovecraft in Comics. Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film.

Sharla Hutchison and Rebecca A. Brown edited MONSTERS AND MONSTROSITY FROM THE FIN DE SIECLE TO THE MILLENNIUM, a collection of essays that discusses all of these works, essential if you want to be in the know about modern horror.

I wrote the essay on A Serbian Film, generally considered by people in the know to be among the ugliest films ever made.

Go on. Feed your head. Get the book from the publisher, McFarland, or from Amazon. Give it as a gift. Insist on getting it as a gift.

All of the above. You can never have too many monsters.

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Table of Contents

Introduction (Sharla Hutchison and Rebecca A. Brown) 1

Part I: Forgotten Monsters and Social Unrest

  • “She has a parasite soul!” The Pathologization of the Gothic Monster as Parasitic Hybrid in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Richard Marsh’s The Beetle and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Parasite (Emilie ­Taylor-Brown ) 12
  • Marie Corelli’s Ziska: A Gothic Egyptian Ghost Story (Sharla Hutchison) 29
  • The Queer God Pan: Terror and Apocalypse, Reimagined (Mark De Cicco) 49
  • Attack of the Mushroom People: Ishiro Honda’s Matango and William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night” (Anthony Camara) 69

Part II: Monstrous Violations of Private Life

  • Through the Eyes of the Monster: Angela Carter’s “The Lady of the House of Love” (Jameela F. Dallis) 92
  • Re-Vamping the Early 1960s: Freakish Vampires and Monstrous Teens in Richard Laymon’s The Traveling Vampire Show (Rebecca A. Brown) 111
  • Gothic Commodification of the Body and the Modern Literary Serial Killer in Child of God and American Psycho (Christopher Coughlin) 129
  • Rocking and Reeling through the Doors of Miscreation: Disequilibrium in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (Susan Poznar) 144

Part III: Millennial Monsters

  • “I think I am a monster”: Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is for Witching and the Postmodern Gothic (Bianca Tredennick) 168
  • “Madness and monstrosity”: Notions of the Gothic and Sublime in Comics Adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft (Rebecca Janicker) 187
  • The Monster of Massification: A Serbian Film (L. Andrew Cooper) 206
  • “Bears that dance, bears that don’t”: Aggression, Civilization and the Gothic Bear (Julie Wilhelm and Steven J. Zani) 228