Mommie Dearest: H.P. Lovecraft’s Descent into Maternal Madness By John A. DeLaughter.
Tag Archives: horror
When we used to live in the Borgo Pass Walpurgisnacht was way more important than All Hallows Eve. Children would come from all over the countryside for the unwrapped sweets and plum brandy we would give out. You better have a lot of both otherwise your house would burn down, your cat would die, or your firstborn would disappear, but it was all in good fun. Talk about your tricks or treats!
Then we moved to the United States for the economic opportunity. Jobs other than chauffeur were scarce in the Borgo Pass so if you didn’t have your drivers license you were pretty much screwed. Even if you did have a license getting a taxi through the Pass was a pretty treacherous undertaking. Then there were the European wars, a boom and a bust for us at the same time with so many corpses all around but still no jobs.
Anyway the day before yesterday a whole bunch of kids showed up at the old schloss here and demanded treats. Well the brandy ran out in a few minutes and the leftover candy from Walpurgisnacht last April didn’t last long either. We had eaten most of it ourselves. On top of that I couldn’t find a needle or razor blade in the whole house. We had some Vicodin around but you wouldn’t want to give that to little kids, it might hurt them and think about the parents that just steal their kids’ candy.
To make a short story longer, last April we had the whole house decked out with booby traps for Walpurgisnacht and we were ready with our unwrapped sweets and cakes. I’d laid in a good supply of razor blades and Mama had a whole pin cushion of needles just waiting for the little darlings. I also had literally a barrel of slivovitz shipped in from the old country. Well guess what happened? Nobody came. Nobody used the knocker. Nobody rang the bell. You would think people were dead or afraid of us.
When we carefully asked around people said that nobody made a big deal about Walpurgisnacht in the United States; stupid Halloween was the macabre holiday. This is simply ridiculous. This was hard to believe. When the children surprised us on Halloween many didn’t dress as corpses or revenants at all. Some dressed as so-called super heroes and princesses! I didn’t see a single sword, razor, or dagger. What’s up with that? America is a very strange place.
Well somebody told me about something called a “trunk or treat” which is some sort of alternative to the Halloween “trick or treat” experience. It must be trick or treat for lazy people, and heaven knows there are too many of them around. The other big difference is you invite children to the trunk or treat event not wait for them to just show up. This got me to thinking, why not host a trunk or treat at the old château on Walpurgisnacht next April 30!
I know it is a long time to wait but we sleep most of the winter anyway so that makes the time fly. A benefit is the candy is super cheap around Walpurgisnacht, unlike Halloween, Christmas, or St. Valentine’s Day. The dollar stores are the best place to buy. In the US there still is the problem of most of the candy being individually wrapped, unlike Eastern Europe, so getting the wrappers back on the candy, so many individual pieces, is a real pain but still worth the effort.
You know what? I was engaging in America’s #1 leisure time activity last night, and guess what it is, it ain’t sex, it’s television. So what you say. So what! I was supposed to be out camping and I was but I didn’t let a little thing like that get in the way of MY leisure time. You see I had my smartphone with me (and what an apt name for the little gadget, get one with the biggest screen size you can). I was merrily ensconced in the supine position in my sleeping bag watching television and eating Reese’s Pieces while the rest of the clan and friends were out freezing their butts off, getting bug-bit, getting smoked out roasting weenies, S’mores, telling stories, etc. No sir, your’s truly isn’t going to be found wasting valuable clicks in the ol’ lifetime game on stuff like that when through the wonders of modern technology I could be sitting by myself watching television.
But this is not the main thrust of this essay. What was I watching you ask? Why Matango of course, crudely translated into English as Attack of the Mushroom People or Fungus of Terror. And what a bit of tasty 1963 Japanese fare it was too. Now I’m sure by now you think you know where this little piece of arcana is going, but you, with your degraded sense of perception are oh so wrong. So stick around if you want to get that Jethro Bodeen 6th grade edecation stretched a bit.
First let’s get a few things about foreign language films straightened out. This Matango affair is a Japanese language film. Now I want to make it clear from the start that this is no art film. Sometimes foreign language and art cinema get confused. See all art cinema is bad. Some foreign language films (most) are art films, but by logic not all foreign language films must be art films. So some foreign language films can be good (but not many). Did you follow that? I hope so, most times I’m not too sure about you.
“The body lay outside an abandoned, boarded-up theater. The theater had started as a first-run movie house, many years back when the neighborhood had still been fashionable. As the neighborhood began rotting, the theater began showing second-run films, and then old movies, and finally foreign-language films.” ― Ed McBain
Unfortunately before TV took over as the #1 entertainment venue, most foreign language film venues (almost all the dreaded “art film” theater) were in the seedier neighborhoods, in the same alley as the porno houses and peep shows, so a lot of people weren’t aware of the few gems that came out of the foreign language cinema. Now your intrepid host here, being a courageous sort, wasn’t afraid of these neighborhoods of ill repute so I actively sought out these far too few baubles on the foreign cinematic charm bracelet. You wouldn’t believe the amount of infantile and prurient fare I had to, um, let’s save that for later. Where was I? My point is we don’t want this Matango confused with some far inferior motion pictures, I would say worthless, from Sweden or Italy made by so-called artistes of the cinema.
Then the next thing we need to make clear about enjoying a good foreign language film like Matango is turning the subtitles off and turning the alternate language track for English on. I know the lips don’t match and the dialog almost certainly doesn’t either, but the last thing we want to do is let something as tedious as reading interfere with our quality leisure time activity. Sometimes you just have to give up one thing for another better thing. Anyway with your reading comprehension I wouldn’t want your enjoyment to be ruined by having to hit the pause button all the time to ask a lot of questions.
What most people don’t know about Matango is it’s based on a piece of classic sea faring horror literature. It’s based on a story called The Voice in the Night by William Hope Hodgson. This is a most creepy early horror story that influenced a lot of later horror stuff and not the usual drivel that was clogging up literature at the turn of the 19th century. Hodgson practically invented the giant sea monster and did invent the attacking fungus genre and the latter is what we have here. See how important he is to modern art? Now with your education and lack of casual reading I wouldn’t expect you to know any of this plus it’s kind of not that well known anyway so I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here.
Well Matango was produced by the far seeing and justly famed Toho studios the visionary folks that also pretty much invented the giant monster flick single handedly. It’s advertised to be in Tohoscope whatever that is. Anyway it is wide screen and in color, real pluses.
Anyway let’s get started. A bunch of high rollers are on a sailing holiday somewhere in the Pacific where their ship is severely damaged in a storm and then becalmed. Eventually they are shipwrecked on an uncharted weird island that just happens to have a creepy hulk of its own with a lot of fungus on it. Can you see a classic in the making?
Well they clean up the old tub and try to make a home out of it until they can get rescued. The island is all covered with little and big mushrooms and fungi and other weird alien looking stuff. They’ve got food but it sort of runs out and those little toadstools look tasty and smell so fresh. Guess what’s on the menu? Shiitake happens! Now you know what happened to all the folks on the other boat, and it ain’t rescue. The usual body snatcher type mayhem ensues.
The movie is in color and the island is filmed in such a freaky color scheme you might think you’ve eaten some ‘shrooms yourself. The transformation pustules are pretty gross to look at so that makes ’em cool while your eating some Reese’s Pieces.
Once this little known classic was over it was nighty-night time for your’s truly no matter what nonsense the others were up to, probably eating the toadstools in the campground or those colorful plate things that stick out of trees since the S’mores were gone, but I know better now. See TV can be informative as well as entertaining.
Anyway, unless they have me tied down and are force feeding me those toad stools I’ll be up early because Saturday morning means just one thing besides breakfast, The Three Stooges!
Preface: A lot of people, okay some people, alright one guy actually asked me: Why do you use so many question marks? Well if you had ever paid attention in school you would know that this Greek guy named Plato wrote about a great teacher named Socrates. Socrates was maybe the greatest teacher ever. He might even have been able to impart some knowledge on you, my poor friend. Well Socrates wanted people to think. He didn’t want to give the students all the answers so he actually asked more questions than he answered; to make you think about stuff. Some naysayers say Socrates didn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain and he asked all those questions because he really didn’t know anything, but Plato was a pretty reliable guy so we have to give ol’ Socrates the benefit of the doubt. Anyway that’s what I’m trying to do with all these questions, get you to think, and you don’t have to tell me how frustrating that can be. So from now on just pay attention and quit asking all these stupid questions.
Horror films are the pinnacle of modern intellectual entertainment. The highest achievement of art in humankind’s long and dreary history. This isn’t to say that the cinema is the best place to experience the fright, but the modern Digital 3D IMAX movie theater is probably the equivalent of the Roman Coliseum as far as entertainment is concerned. Television, your mega home theater system, where you can sit with your nuts hangin’ out, is of course the best venue for experiencing even the most tedious parlor drama, so horror fare is going to be best there. There is no substitute for fast forward, rewind, pause, freeze frame, and picture-in-picture, so the cineplex is just going to have to ride in the back seat.
How can I make this statement? Well the answer is self-evident but you are a little slow so I’m here to spell it out for all you history and sociology professors.
First let’s take a little quiz. Why do you go to auto races? To see the crashes and drink beer, not to watch cars endlessly go around in circles. Why do we go to the amusement park? To ride the monster upside down backwards 10g roller coaster, not the teacups. Why do we go to the opera? Not for the singing but for the blood and guts, murders and battles. I think I’ve made my point. People likewise go to the cinema not to see some guy play chess with Death or some other guy meet a gal on the Empire State building but to get the bejeezus scared out of them in a gory monster fest of demon mayhem. That’s right, the zenith of cultural entertainment is the horror flick and it has been since the 1930s.
First lets get something right out of the way. Live entertainment, any live entertainment, is inferior entertainment. Why? Because the technology involved is inferior to movies and television. I know I am going to get all sorts of whining about artistic merit but this is Luddite thinking. We live in a technology driven culture and what is more technologically advanced than television, digital cinema, computers, tablets, etc. Nothing except maybe NASA and how many of us are going to get to ride a spaceship in our lifetimes? Besides we don’t have to. With surround sound, subwoofer, 3D giant screen HD TVs you can experience virtual spaceflight in your home without the fear of upchucking your beer and popcorn or being blown to bits, or burning up in the atmosphere. You’re having a good night’s sleep after the Alien chest burster breaks loose.
Who also wants to sit in row 52 in the balcony, wait in line for a seat, wait 10 minutes for the bathroom, or get busted for smoking weed when we can always have a front row seat at home? So now we have eliminated live theater, classical music, ballet, performance art, rock concerts, and mimes, etc. from our menu of preferred entertainment unless we can watch them on TV. I think I’ve made my point.
Why horror you say? I knew your attention span was short, because we’re here for the car crashes, remember? When Tom Hanks is in a film we don’t want to see him acting like a little kid, we want to see him as a prison guard when a swarm of bees come out of a prisoner’s mouth and into another guy. When we see Vin Diesel we don’t want to really see all those fake car crashes and ultraviolent shooting, but we do want to see the lights go out and alien monsters attacking spaceships and astronauts. Again, I think I’ve made my point.
Back to the Coliseum thing. Listen, we are in the modern equivalent now of the decline of the Roman Empire in our cultural history and what did the Romans’ value in their time? Bread and Circuses. Now they didn’t have the luxury of popcorn and horror movies so they had to settle for a sandwich and some lions beating up on Christians or even better some gladiators beating the piss out of each other. See the similarity: lion = monster, Christians = scared teenagers in a cabin. History repeats itself.
Look how far we’ve come and who’s to say the Roman Empire isn’t something to aspire to? They conquered most of the known world in their time and what are we trying to do today? I rest my case.
On to what is best in horror entertainment. Every artistic era has its good, its bad, its imitators, and charlatans. What is the state of horror films today? Well only so-so I would say including an over-reliance on crappy comic book superheroes. Superheroes are kiddie fare. I don’t want to see ’em fighting my monsters and ghosts. I want to see frightened teenagers victimized by berserk psychopaths or better yet, real monsters.
Probably the best movie ever made is Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II, it includes all the classic horror elements jacked up for the end of the century and Bruce Campbell, the greatest actor of all time is in it. Evil Dead II is the Mona Lisa of film making.
To start with Evil Dead II is really just Evil Dead with better special effects. Now any movie will rise in quality if more technology, for example, special effects, are involved. So Evil Dead II has to be better than Evil Dead by definition, no argument there. So what are the elements that make it so good. This is going to take awhile so sit back.
Teenagers in a cabin in the woods cut off from any rescue or escape, the pinnacle of horror setups. Next we have the menace of the invisible unknown demon. Next we have a demonic murder and burial. Then we have demonic possession. Now we have the monsters themselves. We have blood shooting out of walls, possessed body parts, rednecks, shotguns, the undead, and the ubiquitous chainsaws. See why this is a classic? In the end we see a hole into another universe open and deposit Campbell complete with car and shotgun in Medieval times. What artist has ever included all the elements for his/her field of art in one masterpiece? None before! The fact that there was a 2013 reboot speaks for itself as far as classic is concerned. How many times has Citizen Kane been rebooted? ‘Nuff said.
So go see the new Vin Diesel flick Riddick right now. See the under appreciated Drag Me to Hell . See the Evil Dead reboot. See the most excellent Cabin in the Woods, perhaps the greatest monster fest of all times.
You will finally be contributing to modern culture as well as being entertained and if your hoity-toity artist friends demean your tastes, leave ’em off the invitation list.
SARGASSO #1 NEARLY SOLD OUT!
The Horror, The Horror
Another serious one so just go away now… Besides I already put it up at BookLikes so it’s kind of old news. Really no reason for you to stick around.
I’m a huge fan of horror fiction, all kinds. I do tend to favor the more esoteric sorts of fare that don’t really have a concrete and neat conclusion, but not always. I can appreciate a good thriller full of monsters, haunted houses, creeps from beyond the grave, space aliens. I have to admit I’m kind of tired of the big three though: zombies, vampires, and werewolves. I’m also a little snobby and avoid the Dean Koontz, Preston Child, and Bentley Little fare. I like a well written, as in higher literary aspirations, as well as a creepy, eerie, or weird story. I will just read a suspenseful monster fest for fun however.
Horror is another one of those shamed genres like Romance, Westerns, Crime, SciFi, and Thrillers. For some unknown reason Mysteries seem to somewhat escape this literary pariah status. No matter how well written and thoughtful a horror novel is it will be shunned by the true literati (= snobs). The only novels that escape this fate are those that are written by writers that are already considered literary writers and not classed with the genre outcasts. Therefore a Colson Whitehead can write a post-apocalyptic zombie book and the literati will accept it as “experimental.” BS flows nonetheless, such novels are sure to be overrated within the genre because of their literary cachet. Thus Gravity’s Rainbow, as much a genre novel as anything, is classed literature, while Misery, every bit a literary novel, is not.
Wherefore does this nonsense arise, I ask? Partly it is reliance on the short story in the horror genre. The short story is actually the lifeblood of the horror genre and it has always been the red headed stepchild of what is considered true literature once the novel became the dominant fiction literary form. Short stories are almost a literary genre unto themselves, treated as a sort of sub-literature or novelty for short attention spans. This persists even though snob rags like The New Yorker have printed stories and novellas as high brow fiction for decades. They get away with this by pretending the writers of these shorter bits are really serious novelists just moonlighting in shorter magazine fare.
Now that we’ve disposed of this bit of silliness, what is left? Well I think the shunned status is partly also caused by horror being about unreality that largely doesn’t conform to a defined “art” category like surrealism say. “Literature” is supposed to be about real or possible things. This obviously is not always true, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, and Franz Kafka are again notable exceptions.
However I think the main reason horror literature is snubbed is because these fears that we entertain are formed in early childhood and somehow intellectuals think we should be largely beyond these things as adults. To enjoy, or maybe I should say, savor and ponder these symbols and subjects is considered a sign that we haven’t grown up. After all grownups don’t believe in ghosts, monsters, aliens, or haunted houses. The fact that these can be deep seated symbols worth considering is dismissed.
Many horror writers and fans attempt to artificially jump out of the genre by referring to it as “dark fiction” as scifi tried to unsuccessfully re-brand itself as speculative fiction in the ’60s and ’70s. I’m from Chicago and I believe you should call a spade a spade; used cars are not pre-owned cars. Like Bentley Little, if a horror writer tries to tell me he/she is a dark fiction writer bad things will result. Horror fans who want to be called dark fiction fans have an inferiority complex when it comes to their “literature” brethren but this doesn’t justify painting over the genre label. Get used to it, you are a horror fiction fan and certain types aren’t going to want to discuss your reading list whatever you brand it.
Labels are useful things. They help us to define and choose what we want. They provide a convenient place in say a bookstore to filter what we want to look at. If all books were filed together the shopping experience in a used bookstore would be infinitely more difficult. Dark fiction isn’t an accepted genre, so filing said books in with regular fiction is silly no matter how inferior the writer/fan feels for having to shamefully go to the horror section, even for a literary masterpiece. There is little purpose beyond snobbishness for shucking the horror label.
The horror, the horror.
Fifty Shades of Despair
I got this off the Huffington Post so don’t bitch to me about the factual quality. It was on the internet so it has to be true just like the advert says. It says the most requested book at Gitmo is not the Quran, but the BDSM 50 Shades of Grey series! That says a lot about the general reading public left in Gitmo and leads me into today’s essential rant: Why is Gitmo still open and who is still left there?
First of all the good news, the rehabilitation program in Gitmo has to be working at least a little. The reading level has turned from the Islamic terrorist’s number one inspirational tome to the same thing that your average WalMart knuckledragger reads. This in itself makes a strong argument for mainlining these guys back into society, even here on US soil. No doubt these former hate mongering berserkers are going to work for even less than your current enslaved class of illegal aliens, so even Republicans should support this. As long as they have a steady diet of strokebooks, “Housewives,” and Kardashian fare to feed them everything should be hunky dory. My sure fire easy solution for closing Gitmo. President Obama listen up!
My second rant, er, well reasoned argument is why is Gitmo such a hot potato? Why not just close it anyway and let them all go. Put them on the next bus for Guantanamera instead of Guantanamo. These few left can’t be that big a deal since we killed all the real bad guys already, haven’t we? I have a couple of other ideas. Why not just let ’em loose somewhere and let law abiding citizens exercise some second amendment rights. Kind of like that story “The Most Dangerous Game.” Now these guys go from America’s Most Wanted to Most Wanted Moving Target. Creates a new definition for the price of freedom.
Another humane act would be to just walk away and throw them the keys. Then it’s Castro’s headache not ours. Not bad. Again freedom always has its price. My last and maybe best idea is to just drop them off where they came from and make ’em drone bait. That’s right. Practice makes perfect so a few hundred guys running around in the desert should be like novice level video game stuff. If they only put me in charge.
Anyway the last thing you want to do is try these guys in a military OR especially civilian court. Look at the costs? What if some get off, now what do you do? What if they sue in a civil court? More headaches. The worst outcome would be if some of these guys would actually look like innocent people you shouldn’t have thrown in some illegal dungeon without a trial. Who wants to open that can of worms and embarrass the government, congress, and the current and former presidents?
Given the fact that maybe we can’t close Gitmo lets just distract people from it. We need a Gitmo “leaker;” one who will rat out the government on the whole rancid mess and become a traitorous scapegoat and distract everyone from the real problem. We can give him a free ride to some third world dictatorship where there is no extradition treaty, jerk his passport, and then wring our hands for months about how he jeopardized national security and agents and soldiers in the field. The intendant distraction will make Gitmo once again look like the high patriotic enterprise, essential to national security that it almost surely isn’t.
Well here again I’ve solved another big contemporary problem in about 10 different foolproof ways and I didn’t even spend that much time on it. When you have the brains I do even a Dminus effort looks brilliant.
I’m still working on that Television essay but the topic is so deep and important it’s taking a while. It is coming along nicely though. You won’t be disappointed.
Monsters & Literature
Here’s your Independence Day treat. Don’t eat it too fast, it’ll make you sick.
Okay, now I’ve already told you about how all music is better when played faster and louder, well here is the next step in our artistic journey: all art and entertainment is better if it also includes monsters. Although this construct is self evident, I’ll provide a few examples along the way just to prove it. Also we will get into the unfortunate misuse and overuse of monsters in literature.
In prior literary times it wasn’t common to feature monsters in literature. We would get the occasional witch or demon but no real monster stuff up until the Romantic and Victorian eras. Then we got real monster stuff like Frankenstein and Dracula. However these were all considered brown wrapper books, back of the store stuff for the most part. Who really got monsters started into literature was Herman Melville. Melville wrote a lot of stuff: Typee, Oomu, and a story about a lazy guy who doesn’t want to work, crap nobody reads anymore and crap nobody read back then either. Then he came up with a brilliant idea, write the same kind of book but include monsters in it: man-eating whales and giant squid. Well you know the rest of the story. They couldn’t keep Moby Dick; on the shelves even though it was longer than a Stephen King novel. Now you might think a whale is no big deal but think about the novelty in the 19th century, nobody had real monsters in novels or stories, so a giant, man-eating, toothed, sperm (he, he) whale was a big deal. Sure it’s dated now but so’s your mother. Peter Benchley even stole it in the modern era and made it a crumby shark for heavens sake, so you can’t say it’s that dated.
Well monsters in literature went out of favor for awhile while guys like William James and Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope (he, he) wrote a lot of boring books that nobody reads anymore, even when they’re assigned in school. Kids just crib it from some Ivory-Merchant movie, or Cliff’s Notes, or Wikipedia now. And it’s no wonder, these books are dead boring and rarely feature even the occasional witch, demon, or even body snatcher (They aren’t very well written either.).
So a couple of years ago (2009) there was a spate of “literary” (= boring) novels that got jazzed up with the addition of monsters. This was generally a good thing. It all started with Jane Austen’s dreary book of marriage foibles entitled Pride and Prejudice. Now Ms. Austen got one thing right: alliteration in titles, but that’s about all she had worth reading. Then along came the eminently talented Seth Grahame-Smith with the genesis of how to make the 19th century “parlor” novel tolerable: add monsters. We therefore got Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I cannot describe how excited I was on first hearing about this “novel” artifice. Sadly the execution was not as grand as I had hoped it would be. Don’t get me wrong, this was far better than the dreadful zombie-less version of P&P but it wasn’t as good as it could have been, hence the disappointment (What’s new?). The problem was the zombie sequences were all bolted on, not made integral to, the plot of marrying off the ugly and fat Bennett daughters. There were lively scenes of zombie ninja slaughter interspersed but it never really affected the main characters in any lasting way. Now for a monster insertion into a piece of writing, film, or television (we’ll leave out live theater for the obvious reasons), to be realistic it has to engage the major storyline and affect at least some of the main characters. Just having zombie fight sequences inserted with everyone else living happily ever after is never gonna wash.
Here’s how I would have done it, and done it right. I would have had at least one of the girls get bitten by the “unmentionables.” Then the action could have figured on how the daughter would have to be married off before the “affliction” became obvious to the suitor. See how much better that would have been. Alternatively you could have Elizabeth being bitten but then engaging in a mad race with Mrs. Bennett to get the other sisters married off before the curse sets in on her. Another angle could be to have the stricken Elizabeth, summoning her last ounce of humanity, pimping Darcy off on a less worthy but also less undead débutante. Ah, I was born to be an editor or producer.
Anyway this started a wave of updated and improved “classics” starting with the marvelous Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (much better alliterative title than the clumsy P&P&Z). A lot of my hoity-toity (ex)writer friends referred to these pastiches as “abominations.” Needless to say we crossed them off the invitation list.
Well of course things got out of hand like they always do. Pretty soon we had Android Karenina and similar dreck. An android is not a proper monster, it’s just a robot. Then we had the spate of historico-literary punch-ups like Queen Victoria Demon Hunter all of which were blatant fakes except for the excellent Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter which was based on actual suppressed federal documents. I think FEMA or the Trilateral Commission were behind the suppression. Now the entire sub-genre of monster enhanced classics has waned from both overexposure but also from the fact that the literary novels left to insert monsters in are so bad that even a monster won’t save them.
There you have it: add monster, shaken not stirred.
Next time I’ll tell you how the inclusion of television, broadcast or cable, can enhance anything from sex to nature walks.