Archive for November 19, 2015

150 Years of Monstrosity (Coming for You Now)


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.


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

How to Figure Out THE PROBLEM

You know something isn’t right. A nagging feeling, an itch, a funny smell, a sour stickiness on your tongue, a lurking in the corner of your eye, a high-pitched whine that refuses to fade—it’s there, it’s real, but you don’t know what it is. It does more than haunt you. It bugs the living shit out of you. What the hell can you do about it if you don’t know what it even is? Here are some tips for figuring out THE PROBLEM.

  • Ask the bodies. You’ve collected and stored a few by now. Sure, some may be in the back yard, and some may be in the basement freezer, but why leave them tucked away all the time? During the dark hours, pull the shades, close the blinds, or just hang sheets over the windows, for goodness’s sake (don’t use duct tape—I learned that the hard way). Make sure you’re private, then gather the bodies, sit them up around your biggest table, and have a nice chat. Don’t ask right away; that would be rude. Start with the standard how’ve-you-been talk. Dead bodies appreciate that. Don’t assume that a body who didn’t like small talk during life doesn’t like it now. All dead bodies like small talk. After the small talk, pop the question. What’s the problem? If they know, they’ll probably tell you. Bodies are perceptive, but they don’t know everything, so give them a few chances before you start hacking.

Happy Birthday to Me (1981)


  • Change your meds. Chances are you don’t take your meds anyway, because, sheesh, how are you supposed to function when you can’t hear what anybody’s saying, just some kind of muffled sleepy crap? Anyway, the thing to do is to change up the doses. Some people describe psychosis and dementia as disorders, but others know that they’re windows to Truth. If you take an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor: many drugs for depression and the like) or anxiolytic (like diazepam, clonazepam, or another chill-out anti-anxiety pill in the Valium tradition), you might find that taking too much or suddenly taking too little makes you a visionary. We’re not talking high here. We’re talking the eighth fucking dimension, and if someone there doesn’t know what the problem is, the problem is worse than you thought.

Jacob’s Ladder (1990)


  • Eat something. Maybe you’re just hungry. You’ll see.

Naked Blood (1996)


  • Find a fellow who feels the same way. People in such situations tend to be loners, but friends and lovers are especially important when you have problems to deal with, and who better to help you find out what the problem is than your bosom buddy? The person with whom you travel the road of life? Nowadays, we all define family in different ways, so don’t let me or anyone else tell you who the person is. The connection could be platonic, paternal, pederastic, preternatural, or otherwise perverse—no matter. Only connect!

Natural Born Killers (1994)


  • Hire power. Money can’t solve all problems, but it can bring in the top experts from just about anywhere in the world, who can at least tell you that you have any kind of problem you can imagine. Therefore save up so you can invest when the time is right! Spending on the right expert can make the difference between being THE PROBLEM’s victim and kicking THE PROBLEM’s ass.

Dead Alive (1992)

Nicole Cushing’s MR. SUICIDE: Extremes of Horror, Thought, and Talent

MrSuicide_Cover_smallMr. Suicide is the best new horror novel I have read in years, and Nicole Cushing accomplishes the coup through immersion in the perspective of a psychopathic child on a quest to erase existences, maybe those of family members, maybe his own. The book is not for readers who are easily offended or who don’t like their world-views challenged by sickening, disturbing thoughts and images, but if you like literature that turns the world upside-down, shakes out the bad parts, and puts them on display for all to examine, you must read Mr. Suicide NOW.

For an asynchronous interview with Cushing (which features more of her great writing), visit the Spotlights page. For an explanation of why I love this novel, keep reading. As always, nobody bribed me to do this work, and though I’ve met Cushing, we only know one another through the writer-convention circuit.

When I first saw the novel’s second-person prose, I scoffed. I’ve read many books that try sustained second-person narrative, and they almost all fail, but Cushing succeeds because she does not hesitate to give her “you,” the novel’s perspective character, both universal appeal and cringe-inducing repugnance. In solitary moments, he meets Mr. Suicide, who goads him to off himself, and sharing the character’s perspective, you aren’t “sure if Mr. Suicide [is] just in your head” (9). At least initially, the second-person writing processes the wilder experiences of the character in a familiar-enough manner to keep reader and character intimate: his thoughts might really be your thoughts, if you confronted the same things he did. His seemingly rational reactions to what seem like irrational circumstances could make others of “your” feelings familiar, too, especially if you’ve had your own dark moments, contemplating suicide but soldiering on: “You lived on, mostly out of spite” (25). These more common feelings help less common feelings slide by, such as the early admission, “The first person you wanted to kill was your mother” (2). Well, if you were the type of person who wanted to kill, the first person you knew was probably your mother, so she’d be a candidate, right? So if you accept at the outset that you’re a psychopath, all of these thoughts make sense, right? Cushing creates psychopathic intimacy that pushes thought beyond limits of traditional rationality.

Beyond rationality, the boundaries of conventional ideas and behaviors blur, which Cushing acknowledges by making a major destination in her psychopath’s quest a fetish club called The Border Crossing. While most readers will find the club and the in-novel magazine it echoes, Perfect Monsters, plenty shocking, the most shocking border crossing Mr. Suicide displays might be the ease and seeming naturalness with which the central character conflates sex and murder, how as you move through the story, you feel “the urge to kill infuse itself into your urge to fuck” (129). The aim of sex becomes destruction, preferably the destruction of someone vulnerable, regardless of the someone’s genitals (orifices can always be created). Having superficially consensual but still predatory sex with a girl who suffers from significant disabilities, the perspective character reflects, “Fucking her was like fucking disease, itself” (82). Fucking, itself, becomes disease: the psychopath taints everything you with pathology.

The diseased mind you inhabit in Mr. Suicide inhabits, in turn, a diseased world. While the degree of his psychopathy is difficult to place in proportion to anything, it is literally and figuratively at home with his mother, whose abusive attitude has roots in “some bizarre twist… Christian dogma [that] managed to coexist with all the vulgarity in her head” (3). Cushing puts social hypocrisy on display throughout the novel, especially when she turns to the topic of mental illness, which many characters in the novel perceive as the problem with her central character but about which no one responds with compassion or even appropriate containment. When a cop comes to the kid’s house after he commits an early act of violence, the cop berates him and asks him to explain his behavior. “‘And do not tell me you have a chemical imbalance,’” the cop says, “‘Jesus Christ, if I hear another teenager say they’re bipolar-schizophrenic this week, I’m going to go bipolar-schizophrenic, myself’” (53). The cop’s attitude allows the psychopath, rightly, to dismiss him as one of many “bullies,” and it also shows how the common misuse of terms such as “bipolar” and “schizophrenic,” two different conditions with strong genetic components into which people do not simply “go” as a result of common stress, leads people to ignore serious problems. The simultaneous scapegoating and ignoring of mental illness enables violence. The novel does not blame or preach; it shows ugliness through searing prose.

Exposing ugliness through riveting, dark passages becomes Mr. Suicide’s main business, a business that makes the book almost impossible to put down (I read most of it in a single sitting). Why?

“If you opened your eyes to the best parts of ugliness, then you had answers” (127).

Some of those answers appear in the ugliness the main character finds on the streets of Louisville, Kentucky:

“There was a certain psychological refreshment you found in abundance. There were other people walking around, too. A good dozen of them, treading the sidewalk either alone or in pairs or in trios. You’d never met any of these people before, but just by looking at them you felt a strong kinship… Like you, they were people who lingered in the dark…

Many also had backpacks. Many, also, had escaped the chains of hygiene. Some of the women looked like whores. Some of the men looked like sleepwalkers. Occasionally you saw an infant among their number and felt jealous that it would, from its earliest days, get to revel in the sort of life you’d had to wait eighteen long years to participate in.” (100)

Opening your eyes to these details of street life—people who are disaffected, dispossessed, and otherwise at the bottom of the social hierarchy—might reveal appeal in disassociation from the hypocrites and bullies whose dogmas and misinformation foster the very violence that shatters boundaries. Tune in, turn on, drop out.

In a world full of ugliness, escape into darkness is appealing sometimes, and that is the lure of Mr. Suicide, as well as Mr. Suicide, “a Novel of the Great Dark Mouth,” as its subtitle proclaims. The novel is about, and is, a cage of unwanting. You may want to dissociate from the character whose mind you’re in, but you can’t escape having one thing in common with him: you do not want to be there. Dissociation is an unbreakable line of empathy to a psychopath, and Cushing uses it to tether you to horrors that swallow you, digest you, and, if you keep your mind open to the answers that ugliness offers, make you want the Great Dark Mouth to open again.