Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spoon River Redux

Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology is approaching the centennial mark of its first publication (in 1915), but the book still stands as the premier collection of American Gothic verse.  These poetic gems--epitaphs voiced by the deceased inhabitants of Spoon River's cemetery--shine both individually(as they shed light on the secrets and scandals of a typical Midwestern community) and collectively (as they connect with, and frequently contradict, one another).

As you might guess from its title, my own Angry Villager Anthology, a poetry sequence that will begin tomorrow and run each day in October here at Macabre Republic (alongside other, Halloween-related posts), is modelled after Masters's masterpiece.  The "anthology" gathers the dramatic monologues of the people of Grantwood, who have finally (on the next-to-last night of October) captured the monster that has been bedeviling their small town all month long.  Now the blood-lusting mob of villagers plans to parade the creature through the streets of Grantwood, and then end the procession with a public execution in the town square.  En route to their destination, the villagers fill in the backstory of the monster's misdeeds but at the same time expose the dark heart of their own community.

In preparation for tomorrow's start of the Angry Villager Anthology, I thought I would post some samples from the Spoon River Anthology (which is in the public domain) today.  The book's framing poem "The Hill" appears below, followed by selections of individual monologues.

The Hill

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom, and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the
     boozer, the fighter?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife--
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie, and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud
     the happy one?--
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One died in a shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in the search for heart's desire,
One after life in far-away London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton
And Major Walker who had talked
With venerable men of the revolution?--
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying--
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where is Old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking of neither wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse races of long ago at Clary's Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.

Amanda Barker

Henry got me with child,
Knowing that I could not bring forth life
Without losing my own.
In my youth therefore I entered the portals of dust.
Traveler, it is believed in the village where I lived
That Henry loved me with a husband's love,
But I proclaim from the dust
That he slew me to gratify his hatred.

Constance Hately

You praise my self-sacrifice, Spoon River,
In rearing Irene and Mary,
Orphans of my older sister!
And you censure Irene and Mary
For their contempt for me!
But praise not my self-sacrifice,
and censure not their contempt;
I reared them, I cared for them, true enough!--
But I poisoned my benefactions
With constant reminders of their dependence.

Chase Henry

In life I was the town drunkard;
When I died the priest denied me burial
In holy ground.
The which redounded to my good fortune.
For the Protestants bought this lot,
And buried my body here,
Close to the grave of the banker Nicholas,
And of his wife Priscilla.
Take note, ye prudent and pious souls,
Of the cross-currents in life
Which bring honor to the dead, who lived in shame.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Countdown: The Top 20 Stephen King Works of American Gothic Short Fiction--#11

[For previous entries, click the "Top 20 Countdowns" label under Features in the right sidebar]

#11. "Cycle of the Werewolf"

First, for those who would accuse me of fudging: I hold that Cycle of the Werewolf qualifies as "short fiction" as defined for the purposes of this countdown.  The book's page count shrinks considerably when you take away all the Bernie Wrightson illustrations, and the actual text of the narrative places it squarely within the novella range.

In this werewolf equivalent to Salem's Lot, a "shadow" has fallen over Tarker's Mills, Maine, a quaint little town "where baked bean church suppers are a weekly event, where small boys and girls still bring apples to their teachers, where the Nature Outings of the Senior Citizens' Club are religiously reported in the weekly paper.  Next week there will be news of a darker variety."  That's because starting in January and proceeding methodically each month, a predator savages a victim on the night of the full moon.

King crafts an engrossing mystery regarding the human identity of the werewolf, while sounding notes of duplicity and distrust.  In a fevered dream, the Reverend Lester Lowe preaches a Homecoming Sermon whose subject is THE BEAST WALKS AMONG US: "he may smile and say he is your neighbor, but oh my brethren, his teeth are sharp."  Likewise, Constable Neary opines while sitting in the town barbershop that the Full Moon Killer "could be anybody--a teller at the bank, a gas-jockey at one of those stations out on the Town Road, maybe even someone right here now."  Neary's theory is that Tarker's Mills is dealing with an ordinary lunatic, a "werewolf" only "in the sense of being an animal inside and looking perfectly normal outside."  The irony, of course, is that aside from the the actual supernatural creature plaguing it, Tarker's Mills has plenty of residents who fit Neary's description--such as the hardly-mild-mannered librarian Milt Sturmfuller, who "puts his wife in the hospital over a bit of egg that the dishwasher didn't take off one of the plates" (don't worry, this brute receives his lycanthropic comeuppance in November).

Appropriately, the least likely suspect proves to be the werewolf ("it was simply impossible to think of that person, of all persons, being the killer.  Neary would have believed his mother the killer before he would have believed that").  In a terrific scene, the monster (in human form under a waning moon) is finally unmasked on Halloween night by a trick-or-treating child.

As seen most recently in Under the Dome, King is a master of the small-town-besieged storyline.  Never though, has he written more succinctly and entertainingly on the subject than in the dozen episodes of this calendrical narrative.  The months fly by like minutes in Cycle of the Werewolf, a gripping (and at times grisly) work of American Gothic short fiction.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Interview: Barry Napier

Barry Napier is the author of the short fiction collection Debris, the Strange Publications chapbook The Final Study of Cooper M. Reid, and the poetry collection A Mouth for Picket Fences (released today by Needfire, the poetry imprint of Belfire Press).  The Lynchburg, Virginia native makes his online home at ghosts in (parentheses).

This past week I conducted the following interview with the author.

Macabre Republic: Hello, Barry, and welcome to Macabre Republic.  Let's start out by talking about your new poetry collection, A Mouth for Picket Fences.  This strikes me as a work born of a keen American Gothic sensibility.  What does that phrase  "American Gothic" mean to you, and in what ways do you feel it applies to your work?

Barry Napier: I think any imagery with picket fences and the interaction of neighbors in small rural towns covers the definition of "American Gothic."  Of course, I also think that it certainly stretches beyond that.  "Gothic" is such an elusive term these days because of culture, obviously.  High school and college students no doubt still see gothic as representing a musical movement that, to be fair, is not quite gothic at all.  I think the often depressing sounds and musings of The Cure and the shock-rock factor of Marilyn Manson and his minions are sort of the new American Gothic in some odd way.  Truth be told, I left high school with the impression that these things were gothic.  Then college courses on Gothic Literature had me reading things like Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.  You can imagine my surprise and, I'll be honest, slight disappointment.

That being said, even these two examples prove that there is indeed something dark and unknown at the center of gothic sensibilities.  In putting the poems for A Mouth for Picket Fences together, Grant Wood's historic painting came to mind quite a few times.  But I wanted to twist it.  I wanted to see what that painting could represent if Munch or Dali had done it.  I wanted to see what the pitchfork the old man is holding really represented.  I wanted to know what ghosts lurked in the house in the background.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Carnivale Revisited--"Black Blizzard"

Episode Guide--Season 1, Episode 4: "Black Blizzard"

This fourth episode of the series is at once quiet and loud, slow-paced and action-packed.  The loneliness of carny life is emphasized as Samson and Sophie individually leave camp to seek sexual release from a local.  And the danger of the Dust Bowl circuit is underscored as the titular storm (carrying "the topsoil of 10,000 farms") suddenly rages.

Professor Lodz senses the coming of the storm and uses the occasion to try to force Ben to demonstrate his powers.  The blind mentalist is onto Ben, telling him "You can't hide what you are."  Lodz also hints at his own integral role in the Carnivale backstory when he exclaims in exasperation to Ben, "I gave up my eyes for a fraction of what you possess!"  He tries to tempt Ben with the offer of serving as a mentor, but Ben isn't interested.

The episode itself might not have been that interesting if not for a couple of other developments.  As the carnival continues on the road to the dreaded Babylon, Texas, the constituents grow increasingly restless.  Jonesy's crew is verging on mutiny, and while the unhelpful Samson is away, Jonesy ventures into Management's trailer to discuss matters directly with the never-before-seen leader.  But Jonesy is in for quite a surprise when he draws the curtain on the compartment where Management lies.

Finally, on the Mintern front, Brother Justin continues to receive opposition to his ministry for migrant workers.  Both the town's councilmen and Justin's own superiors in the First Methodist church seek to dissuade him, but he insists that tending to the migrants is his calling.  That mission suffers a serious setback, though, in the shocking conclusion to the episode. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

So Where Do Authors Get Their Ideas?

I'd like to pretend that my story and poem ideas arise from ecstatic moments of divine afflatus, but for me inspiration usually isn't that glorious--premises/scenes/images often come to mind in the midst of carrying out mundane tasks.  And sometimes, the Muse is nothing more than a sadist.  Case in point: the story behind my piece of flash fiction, "Beside Himself," which debuts today over at 52 Stitches.  I had just arrived at ShopRite to do some afternoon food shopping (talk about mundane); while getting out of my car, I noticed an old woman in an adjacent spot loading her groceries and preparing to leave.  She pushed her carriage over towards the gap between the parked cars, and I looked over to make sure she wasn't going to hit my fender.  That's when I somehow managed to slam my driver's side door on my right index finger.  Yelping and cursing my own stupidity, I extracted my trapped digit, the tip of which had instantly empurpled.  The throbbing pain and conspicuous bruising caused me to fixate on the finger, and by the end of that day, the idea for "Beside Himself" had formed.

Curious about what that idea was?  Just use your (presumably healthy) right index finger to click on over to 52 Stitches.  Also, if you'd like to check out another recently published work of flash fiction, you can find my piece "Flash Flood" (which was inspired by disaster footage glimpsed on the evening news) in the third issue of Untied Shoelaces of the Mind.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Countdown: The Top 20 Stephen King Works of American Gothic Short Fiction--#12

[For previous entries, click the "Top Twenty Countdowns" label under Features in the right sidebar]

#12. "Night Surf"

Imagine Stephen King's 1150-page epic The Stand condensed into a 10-page short story--actually, you don't have to imagine it, because such a piece can be found in the early collection Night Shift.  "Night Surf" reads like an Americanized version of On the Beach and Lord of the Flies.  In the aftermath of global apocalypse (here caused by the A6 superflu virus ), a small group of survivors huddle together "on the beach" in a now-desolate resort town.  These twentysomethings also have developed a pagan streak: when the story opens, they have just finished burning an infected man alive--a barbaric act carried out under the rationale "that if we made a sacrifice to the dark gods, maybe the spirits would keep protecting us against A6."

Obviously, these aren't your stereotypical heroic survivors who've banded together for the common good.  If anything, the stress of the situation (they have to wonder if they are truly immune, or just the slowest to take ill and inevitably perish) has made them hostile to one another, like a latter-day Lost Generation.  Narrator Bernie spends a good portion of the story denigrating his ostensible girlfriend Susie.  Spending post-apocalyptic life with her is no (ahem) day at the beach, but at least Bernie is also honest enough to admit that being around him is no picnic either:

She was standing in the doorway wearing one of my shirts. I hate that. she sweats like a pig.
"You don't like me very much anymore, do you, Bernie?
I didn't say anything.  There were times when I could still feel sorry for everything.  She didn't deserve me any more than I deserved her.
"Night Surf" Gothicizes a traditional site of merriment, as Bernie repeatedly contrasts the current, grave state of the beach (with its deserted lifeguard tower "pointing toward the sky like a finger bone") to the old glory days of fun in the sun for the general public.  The story also hauntingly underscores the cosmic indifference to human life and death.  Standing watching the waves crash against the shore, Bernie thinks: "And if we were the last people on earth, so what?  This would go on as long as there was a moon to pull the water."  While The Stand superimposes supernatural elements onto its disaster storyline, "Night Surf" pounds the reader with the fatalistic tenets of literary naturalism.  

Friday, September 24, 2010

Macabre in the Blogosphere

A QuickList of some good horror-related blogs...

1.Horror Movie a Day!: as the title suggests, this blogger watches/reviews a horror movie (old and new, good and bad) every single day.  The ghoulish equivalent of Julie & Julia.

2.American Frankenstein: Norman Partridge's blog offers more than just the latest info about the author's own writing.  Partridge's love of Monster Culture is evident in the various pics, reviews, and mini-essays he posts.

3.Horror Reanimated: a blog from across the pond, this one is worth checking out for its guest-authored "The Book I Would Like to Be Buried With..." feature.

4.Antibacterial Pope: writer Nick Cato has a knack for posting horror movie reviews that are at once informative and witty.

5.The Vault of Horror: a top-notch horror blog brimming with enjoyable material.  Fans of countdown-type lists will love the offerings here (e.g. "25 Most Awful Horror Movies of the Decade").

6.Domination of Black: Laird Barron tends to be very succinct in his posts, but this leading author of weird fiction does a great job of calling attention to the work of talented newcomers in the field.

7.Critical Mass: Not a blog per se but rather a continuously-updated website.  You'll be amazed at the amount of genre reading that writer Don D'Ammassa has done (and still found the time to post short reviews of all those books).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

DVD Review: Moon of the Wolf

As I mentioned earlier this month, this DVD was one of the gifts I received on my birthday.  With a full moon hanging in the sky overnight, I thought it would be a good time to post a quick review.

This made-for-tv effort from the early 70's plays less like a horror movie than a Southern Gothic mystery.  A young girl is brutally murdered in the Louisiana bayou, and now the hunt is on for the wild dogs or violent man believed responsible (despite one old Cajun's constant ravings about a loup garou, nobody seems capable of translating his warnings and making the werewolf connection).  Secret affairs and clandestine activities are slowly exposed in the course of the investigation, casting suspicion on various characters.  The identity of the werewolf is concealed until the end of the film, which in appropriately Gothic fashion, climaxes with a scene of an imperiled heroine inside an isolated family mansion.

Admittedly, the special effects here are laughable; when the werwolf finally shows his beastly face, you'll almost wish the filmmakers had kept him off-screen for the duration.  A pre-Salem's Lot Geoffrey Lewis is wonderfully cast as a grotesque rustic, but David Janssen's acting (as the sheriff protagonist) is so wooden he ought to be stationed in front of the local cigar store.  Nonetheless, the film's plot keeps the viewer engaged throughout the 75-minutes runtime, and Moon of the Wolf ultimately serves as an entertaining variation on Universal's The Wolf Man.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Countdown: The Top 20 Stephen King Works of American Gothic Short Fiction--#13

[For previous entries, click the "Top 20 Countdowns" label under Features in the right sidebar]

#13. "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French"

"What is deja vu?" is the correct response to the Final-Jeopardy-type title of this story collected in Everything's Eventual.  Viewpoint character Carol Shelton experiences a chronic case of that strange feeling as she travels with her husband Bill to a 25th-anniversary second honeymoon on Captiva Island in Florida.  Along the way, Carol hears unidentifiable voices ("Floyd, what's that over there? Oh shit.") and makes inexplicable discoveries (the flakes of burnt paper stuck in hair like "black dandruff")--disorienting story details that only make sense in retrospect.

In true American Gothic fashion, King's story highlights the dark underbelly of everyday life.  Carol ruminates: "Besides, it wasn't just love that held people together.  There were secrets, and the price you paid to keep them."  Some of the big secrets impinging upon Bill and Carol's marriage are Bill's former affair with his secretary and Carol's private decision to get an abortion (she tells everyone she suffered a miscarriage).  The story also Gothicizes an everyday American scene, as a drive down an ordinary Florida roadway keeps morphing into a fiery apocalypse.

The eventual plot twist that Carol and Bill are dead (having perished en route to Florida when their chartered Learjet crashed) is no jaw-dropping shock, but what distinguishes "That Feeling..." is King's dramatization of Carol's experiences following the accident.  The religious images (e.g. a roadside billboard of Mary) that Carol glimpses take on a disturbing significance as she belatedly catches on to what is happening:
She opened her eyes and looked around the sun-brilliant cabin of the Lear 35, and for a moment she understood everything--in the way one understands the tremendous import of a dream upon the first moment of waking.  She remembered asking [Bill] what he believed you got, you know, after, and he had said you probably got what you always thought you would get, that if Jerry Lee Lewis thought he was going to hell for playing boogie-woogie, that's exactly where he'd go.  Heaven, Hell, or Grand Rapids, it was your choice--or the choice of those who had taught you what to believe.  It was the human mind's final great parlor trick: the perception of eternity in the place where you'd always expected to spend it.
Or the choice of those who had taught you what to believe.  Here King's story takes a wicked twist, positing Catholic guilt as a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Carol's strict religious upbringing (nuns wielding rulers and spook stories about eternal damnation; a grandmother who gave Carol a medallion of Mary for her tenth birthday, telling her to  "Wear her always as you grow, because all the hard days are coming") has now trapped her in an endlessly looping nightmare.  For the indoctrinated Carol, Mary had been "the ghost of all her childhood days," and now the Mother of God will continue to haunt Carol in her personal hereafter.

Apropos of a cyclically-structured story about deja vu, "That Feeling..." is a work that warrants multiple readings (once the plane-crash plot twist is known, one can appreciate the various clues that are threaded throughout the text).  King's narrative holds that Hell is repetition, but the author's Constant Readers will be happy to return to this masterfully-crafted tale of the afterlife.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Allusions, High and Low

In yesterday's book review of Horns, I noted how Joe Hill playfully embeds various devil-related references in the narrative.  Today I would just like to follow up by tracing two other areas of allusion in the novel--the first a harkening back to a classic novel and the second a more low-brow borrowing from pop culture.

Hill's novel is set in the fictional town of Gideon, New Hampshire, through which the so-called "Knowles River" runs.  The setting and particular choice of river name suggest a nod towards John Knowles, author of the American Gothic/coming-of-age novel A Separate Peace.  Both Horns (whose second section flashes back to a summer from protagonist Ig Perrish's youth) and A Separate Peace feature an unlikely childhood friendship, and an underlying jealousy that festers into betrayal.

The second line of connection is more of a bawdy joke, and a subtle bit of Yankee-bashing (by the son of the Red Sox Nation's most visible constituent, Stephen King).  Early on in Horns, Ig is harrassed by an unlikeable pair of police officers, but uses his devilish influence to nudge them into being not just work partners but a homosexual couple.  I have to wonder if it's mere coincidence that the names given to these cop characters, Sturtz and Posada, echo the actual names of a former Yankees "pitcher" (Tanyon Sturtze) and the team's incumbent "catcher" (Jorge Posada).  But I guess it could have been worse: Hill could have had Sturtz and Posada belt out showtunes from Damn Yankees...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Review: Horns

Horns by Joe Hill (William Morrow, 2010)

Stephen King is one of the world's most accomplished novelists, but he might not even be the best writer in his own family.  His son Joe Hill stakes a strong claim to that title with his incredible second novel Horns--a book that balances gut-wrenching horror with belly-clutching humor.

Near the one-year anniversary of the unsolved rape and murder of his beloved girlfriend Merrin, protagonist Ig Perrish visits the shrine set up where her body had been discovered (in the New Hampshire woods, close to where an abandoned foundry looms like a ruined castle).  In his drunken stupor, Ig performs some unremembered act of obscenity, one that leads him to wake up the next day with a pair of devil horns sprouting from his head.  These horns, Ig soon discovers, exert a terrible power: the mere sight of them causes others to speak with no conscious filter, confessing their dirtiest secrets to Ig and seeking his approval of their most sinful urges.  Scenes of dark hilarity ensue as Ig learns what the people he encounters really think of him (wait until you read how Ig reacts to his grandmother's grotesque inner feelings).

Horns hooks readers with its fantastic premise, but reels them ever inward with its nested mysteries.  Who could have murdered Merrin?  What secret was Merrin hiding--why did she suddenly break up with Ig on the night she was killed? What did Ig actually do to get his devil horns?  What was the Morse-coded message Merrin flashed Ig in church when they first met as children?  What is the significance of "the treehouse of the mind" that Ig and Merrin later stumble upon as young lovers?  The answers to these questions prove as elusive as the snakes slithering by the hundreds through the novel.

As engrossing as the book's plot is, though, readers will still want to slow down enough to relish Hill's prose.  (Some selected gems: "Besides: The language of sin was universal, the original Esperanto"; "His tongue moved sluggishly around in his mouth, an eel swimming in blood"; "Lit from behind by the August sun, the tissues within [the mammogram] looked like a black sun, going nova, looked like the End of Days, and the sky was as sackcloth.").  Indeed, this is a novel that can be enjoyed on multiple levels.  For instance, there's the satisfaction gained from seeing a despicable villain finally receive his comeuppance for everything he's done to Ig and Merrin.  At the same time, part of the fun lies in tracking the various devilish in-jokes: the Exorcist-referencing character names, the bar-restaurant christened "The Pit," Lucifer matches, devilled eggs, Rolling Stone song lyrics, the pitchfork Ig finds at the foundry and carries around with him...

The multi-talented Hill has crafted a novel that at once offers pitch-black comedy, dark fantasy, action and suspense, profundity and profanity.  Even as Ig (and by extension, Horns) grows increasingly infernal, the narrative remains rooted in a heartwarming love story.  If there is a better, more versatile American Gothic novel published in 2010, I cannot wait to read that book.  Simply put, Horns is one helluva accomplishment.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Beelzebub Tweets

       BLZ, Bub

Snuck into a screening today of Devil.  Inaccurate drivel.  If only Shyamalan had sought me out as a technical consultant.
--18 minutes ago.

Trust me: you haven't lived until you've peeled off and licked the undersides of a dead baby's eyelids.
--6:40 A.M., September 16th

Lucky, my ass. Those slots at the Borgata cleaned me right out. Gonna have to hit up Ol' Scratch for some new funds.
--9:23 P.M., September 13th

Another day, another new group of the downcast to torment. God, I love my work (thank You, You tyrant, for expelling me way back when).
--4:07 A.M., September 10th

"...has a devil put aside for me, for me, for meeeeeee!!!"  Freddie was so prophetic.
--12:01 A.M., September 6th

Just watched: a pack of teens branding a homeless man with dashboard lighters. They all laughed as he smoldered.  As above, so below.
--3:49 P.M., September 4th

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Movie Review: Devil

Devil  (2010; Directed by John Erick Dowdle; Screenplay by Brian Nelson; Story by M. Night Shyamalan)

Anyone wondering if Devil is going to do for riding the elevator what Psycho did for showering can rest easy.  You won’t be frightened into taking the stairs from now on.

Executive-produced by M. Night Shyamalan, this supernatural thriller (the first installment of “The Night Chronicles” trilogy) has a compelling premise: five strangers are trapped in an elevator in a Philadelphia office building, but one of them is the Devil himself in disguise.  Apparently the Prince of Darkness has come to toy with the other sinners before killing each of them and sending them free-falling into hell.  This exposition about “The Devil’s Meeting” is provided by one of the religiously-versed security guards at the office building.  Ramirez shares his beliefs with his co-workers during the crisis situation, and furnishes additional detail via an obtrusive voiceover (it’s somewhat disorienting to hear such a minor character assuming a choric function throughout).

If Devil succeeds at all, it is as a murder mystery.  The wavering finger of suspicion targets all five passengers on the elevator, none of whom are quite what they appear.  As the body count starts to mount, the respective survivors look all the more guilty.  But this is also where the film begins to go awry.  The death scenes in the elevator just aren’t that terrifying, and after the first couple of instances grow almost tedious (as the pattern develops: the lights in the elevator conveniently malfunction for a few moments, sounds of struggle and dismay are heard, followed by the discovery of a ravaged body when the lights turn back on).  It also doesn’t help that the most interesting character of the group is the first one to be dispatched.

The film fails to instill a sense of claustrophobia, largely because the action continually cuts away from the trapped passengers to detail the efforts of the police/workers/firemen trying to liberate them.  More importantly, Devil lacks an aura of dread (viewers expecting the same thrill as provided by movies like The Last Exorcism or Paranormal Activity will be severely disappointed).  The climactic revelation of the Devil (tied in to a plot twist that isn’t very shocking) proves surprisingly banal; the figure terrifies neither with its appearance or dialogue.  And the film ends on a facile, God-affirming note that circumvents any lingering sense of unease.

This is not an awful movie; it will keep you interested as it keeps you guessing.  It just does not provide the suspenseful experience that viewers might be expecting heading in.  The set-up is intriguing, but the payoff is unsatisfying.  Devil, unfortunately, is a film destined to be damned with faint praise.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Carnivale Revisited--"Tipton"

Episode Guide--Season 1, Episode 3: "Tipton"

The brilliant parallelism of Carnivale's storylines continues in this third episode of the series.  Brother Justin establishes his migrant-devoted "Dignity Ministry" (in a building that formerly housed a Chinese brothel and opium den), but encounters disapproval from Mintern officials who do not like the idea of "Okies" within the town limits.  Meanwhile, the Carnivale folk engage in some "old-time evangelism" of their own: after the sheriff of the small town of Tipton refuses to let the Carnivale operate (he doesn't want to see his cash-strapped townspeople fleeced), Samson and company recast themselves as a religious revival troupe.  Ben receives top billing in this carny confidence game as the healer "Benjamin St. John," and the irony, of course, is that Ben (unbeknownst to his co-workers) is an actual healer.  By episode's end, though, Samson has started to suspect that there's more to the roustabout than meets the eye, just as Iris has begun to realize that her sibling Justin's powers extend beyond inspirational speaking.

This simultaneity of the Mintern/Midwest storylines, though, does not confound the sense of chronological progression.  The episode skillfully fills in more of the show's backstory even as it churns up future plot complications.  We learn that Henry Scudder had the healing touch as well (by this point it's become fairly obvious that Scudder is Ben's father).  A dying ex-lover of Scudder then tells Ben that when the man left her fifteen years earlier, he headed towards Babylon, Texas.  Oddly enough, that's the Carnivale's current destination, and for some reason Samson and Jonesy seem distressed by such prospect.  What's waiting in Babylon?  The travelers have some more dust to shake (as Samson would say) before viewers get to find out.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Countdown: The Top 20 Stephen King Works of American Gothic Short Fiction--#14

[For previous entries, click the "Top 20 Countdowns" label under Features in the sidebar]

#14. "Why We're in Vietnam"

If the Gothic, as literary critics often note, addresses the oppressive presence of the past, then Stephen King's novella "Why We're in Vietnam" (part of the sequence of interlocking narratives comprising Hearts In Atlantis, but a piece that can be read on its own) definitely qualifies as Gothic fiction.  In the year 1999, main character John "Sully" Sullivan heads down to New York City to attend the funeral of fellow Vietnam veteran Dick Pagano, and the occasion dredges up Sully's old wartime memories (the novella opens with the statement: "When someone dies, you think about the past").  Sully's Vietnam experience has scarred him physically, but his psyche seems to have suffered the deepest wounds: over a quarter century after coming home, Sully still sees the apparition of an old Vietnamese woman murdered by another member of his platoon during a near My-Lai-type massacre.  Though silent and generally benign, the mamasan has a haunting effect on Sully: "She was a ghost, and his head was the haunted house she lived in."

The figure of the traumatized veteran is certainly not new to war fiction; also, other genre writers before King (e.g., Joe Haldeman, Peter Straub, Jack Cady) have produced Vietnam-inspired narratives of Gothic horror.  Still, King manages to break new ground, and "Why We're in Vietnam" proves to be much more than a ghost story.  The novella takes an utterly unexpected turn as Sully drives back home to Connecticut following the funeral.  While stuck in a traffic jam, he suddenly spies a barrage of consumer products dropping down from the heavens: "all things American fell out of the sky, blitzing I-95 north of Bridgeport with their falling glitter."  This is one of the most surreal (and astounding) scenes King has ever written, but the impetus for Sully's bizarre vision is obvious; the fancied bombardment can be traced to a conversation Sully had back at the funeral with his old Lieutenant.  Naturally, the two veterans discuss the war, and at one point, Sully poses: "Why were we in Vietnam to begin with?"  Lt. Dieffenbaker challenges Sully's use of the past tense, asserting that "we never got out.  We never got out of the green.  Our generation died there."  He then launches into a rant that expounds upon the novella's Mailer-esque title:
"We had an opportunity to change everything.  We actually did.  Instead we settled for designer jeans, two tickets to Mariah Carey at Radio City Music Hall, frequent-flier miles, James Cameron's Titanic, and retirement portfolios.  The only generation even close to us in pure, selfish self-indulgence is the so-called Lost Generation of the twenties, and at least most of them had the decency to stay drunk.  We couldn't even do that.  Man, we suck.
"[...] You know the price of selling out the future, Sully-John?  You can never really leave the past.  You can never get over.  My thesis is that you're really not in New York at all.  You're in the Delta, leaning back against a tree, stoned and rubbing bug-dope on the back of your neck. [...] Everything you think of as 'your later life' is a big fucking pot-bubble.  And it's better that way.  Vietnam is better.  That's why we stay there."
There are more twists and turns to the novella than I've covered here in this brief post, but the Lieutenant's speech cuts straight to thematic heart of the narrative: a scathing indictment of an entire generation's missteps and misdeeds.  In "Why We're in Vietnam" we once again see that Stephen King is much more than a booga-booga type entertaining the masses with print versions of campfire tales; he is one of the most important writers of 20th (and now 21st) Century American literature.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Anatomy of a Weird Tale: Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Houses Under the Sea"

Today marks the debut of another new feature here at Macabre Republic. Anatomy of a Weird Tale (vs. the more review-oriented Short Story Spotlight) delves into literary analysis of standout works of contemporary weird fiction.  First up, a 2007 novelette reprinted in last year’s Lovecraft Unbound anthology: Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “Houses Under the Sea,” whose story of a bizarre religious cult and monstrous underwater gods riffs brilliantly on the classic Mythos work “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

Kiernan shifts the setting from remote and moldering Innsmouth, Massachusetts, to the modern, everyday world of left-coast California.  Offering no mere pastiche of Lovecraft’s oftentimes-unwieldy prose, Kiernan also performs a stylistic makeover.  Boxy, expository paragraphs give way to lines of almost poetic quality. For instance, Kiernan employs the device of anaphora throughout, via the anonymous narrator’s recurring “I close my eyes, and...” construction.  The various completions of such lines all involve the narrator’s ex-lover Jacova Angevine, a former Berkeley professor expelled from academia due to her esoteric research interests.  Jacova is now presumed dead; as the prophetic head of the Open Door of Night cult (with its return-to-the-sea creed), she led her followers into seeming mass suicide in Monterey Bay.  The fact that the narrator can’t help but see her whenever he closes his eyes signals the extent to which Jacova haunts his memories, his dreams.

The narrator realizes that Jacova has become “my ghost, my private haunting” (163), and labels his own narrative as a “ghost story” (179) [in fact, Kiernan’s scenes of an enigmatic female lover gazing raptly out of a bedroom window form striking parallels to Peter Straub’s Ghost Story].  Citing a line he attributes to Joseph Campbell—“Draw a circle around a stone and the stone will become an incarnation of mystery”—the narrator writes that Jacova had “drawn a circle about herself” (183), and (thanks to their short-lived affair) around him as well.  Jacova has bewitched him, figuratively speaking, and now he struggles to make sense of her weird beliefs and endeavors.  His recollections of the suddenly-infamous figure are disordered, fragmented: “All these divided moments, disconnected, or connected in so many different ways, that I’ll never be able to pull them apart and find a coherent narrative.  That’s my folly, my conceit, that I can make a mere story of what has happened” (162).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fantastic Casting: The Dark Tower

Late last week the news broke that Stephen King's Dark Tower books were going to be brought to the big and small screens (as a trio of theatrical films and an interconnecting television series).  Naturally, this revelation ignited a burning question: what actors would be chosen for the lead roles?  Fans have been posting their dream casts all over the Internet; here are the stars I would line up if I were at the helm...

Roland: Viggo Mortensen is a no-brainer to play the rugged, Eastwood-esque gunslinger.  Mortensen has done epic fantasy (The Lord of the Rings); he's done the western (Appaloosa); now he can tackle both genres at once.   Alternate choice: Guy Pearce.

Jake: This will be the toughest casting task for producers, to find an actor both talented enough and young enough so that he won't outgrow the role of the 11-year-old Jake before all the movies/episodes are filmed.  The part will likely go to an as-yet unknown, but I'll toss out a name anyway: Mortensen's co-star in The Road, Kodi-Smit McPhee (which would be apropos, since The Road has definite Gunslinger overtones [i.e. man and child trek across a dangerous, post-apocalyptic landscape]).

Eddie: Ah, if only Adrien Brody were younger.  He would have been perfect for the part of the ex-junkie New Yorker.  But I'll go with the versatile and incredibly underrated Casey Affleck here.  Second choice: Matt Bomer, of TV's White Collar.

Susannah: King himself has stated that he always envisioned Angela Bassett in this role, but alas she's a little too long in the tooth at this stage of her career.  I think Jada Pinkett-Smith has the moxie to make an excellent Susannah, though.  Alternately: Thandie Newton.

The Man in Black: Walter O'Dim is not your standard wizened wizard, as seen at the end of The Gunslinger when he pulls back his hood (King actually describes him as black-haired and handsome).  Johnny Depp no doubt would have a field day playing this dark and slyly humerous character.  Jackie Earle Haley comes to mind here as well (well, except for the "handsome" part).

Oy: Andy Serkis (just kidding!--although if he can embody Gollum, he'd probably have no problems as a Billy-Bumbler).  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lifestyles of the Eldritch and Squamous

Practically immortal, they spend most of their sunless days in amphibian splendor far under the sea, wearing their tall golden tiaras and other exotically-engraved jewelry.  They're not averse, though, to trading with the upper-earth men, offering gold and the secrets of propitious fishing in exchange for idol worship and the occasional human sacrifice.  And on every April 30th and October 31st they swim to the surface and hop ashore to the churches of coastal Massachusetts to take part in some of that old-time religious worship--ceremonies inevitably followed by frolicsome party mixers.  But then it's back down to their underwater hideaways in Y'ha-nthlei, their phosphorescent palaces of many terraces, with gardens of strange leprous corals and grotesque brachiate efflorescences.  There they'll wait patiently for the influx of new citizens, all the while drinking in the world with their bulging, unblinking eyes.  These greyish-green fish-frogs with a passion for miscegenation are none Other than...

[Answer appears in the Comments section below]

Sunday, September 12, 2010

American Meth (Documentary Film Review)

Yesterday's post addressed Stephen King's Under the Dome, a novel in which methamphetamine production/usage proves central to the plot (e.g. think of the civic havoc that the tweeked-out addict Phil "Chef" Bushey ends up wreaking).  While reading the novel over the past few weeks, I also stumbled upon (it's available for Instant Viewing on Netflix) the 2008 documentary American Meth (a film whose very title smacks of "American Gothic").

Producer/director Justin Hunt and narrator Val Kilmer take viewers on a Blue Collar Tragedy Tour through Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and New Mexico--areas where methamphetamine has posed an alarming drug problem.  The documentary offers candid interviews with addicts, as well as the local authorities, activists, and company officials committed to battling the epidemic.  Some eye-popping details are provided along the way (e.g. the lists of products used to make meth), and the photos of "meth mouth" (the tooth decay and gum disease resulting from prolonged usage) are enough to scare anyone off from ever trying the drug.  Admittedly, American Meth does bog down about halfway through the film, devolving into a trashy reality-TV program as it focuses on the (trailer-)home life of husband-and-wife meth addicts and their four neglected children.  Still, this does not blunt the overall impact of the documentary.  "The devil's serum" (as meth is dubbed by one interview subject) is poisoning the American heartland, blighting communities and destroying families--a stark reality more frightening than any storyline Stephen King can imagine.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Living Under the Dome

In his epic novel Under the Dome, Stephen King combines American Gothic horror (the secrets, scandals, and deadly intrigues in a seemingly idyllic town) with apocalyptic science fiction (extrapolating from the premise of an entire community cut off from the surrounding world by being sealed inside an invisible, technologically-advanced dome).  The novel is King at his world-building best, and after spending nearly 1100 pages trapped with the people of the fictional Chester's Mill, Maine, I got to thinking: what would it be like if my own hometown was placed under the Dome? Would the developments be the same as in the novel, or would there be some key differences?  Here are some of the points that came to mind as I speculated:

*My northern New Jersey town lies within miles of Manhattan, so the tragedy of 9/11 literally hit close to home.  I suspect that the sudden encapsulation by a Dome would trigger a massive terrorism scare in the townspeople.

*Three major airports (Newark, LaGuardia, JFK) operate nearby, so not only would the nation's air traffic suffer a serious disruption, but there would also be an increased risk (initially) of planes crashing into the unseen Dome.

*Many residents commute to Hoboken and Manhattan via the train line running through town, and many out-of-towners drive here, park their cars, and then hop on the train.  A Dome would break apart a significant number of families in town and potentially strand a horde of non-residents.

*The back end of town is comprised of swampy meadowlands.  If conditions got particularly sultry under the Dome, mosquitoes could form a terrible plague.

*Since the town is more densely populated than King's Maine setting, there would be an increased demand for the now-finite resources.  I'm betting that a food riot wouldn't have to be orchestrated by a sinister political leader like Big Jim Rennie (who, incidentally, is one of the best villains King has created in years).

*A chemical manufacturer has a huge plant set up in town; if an explosion ever occurred there, the fiery destruction would no doubt rival the inferno that rages through Chester's Mill.

*There's a medi-center but no hospital located within the town borders, so caring for the sick/injured would be a daunting task.

*For years there have been rumblings of a growing gang presence in town.  One could imagine such groups more openly and brazenly defying authorities while under the Dome.

*I'd venture to say that the townspeople would be much less likely than King's Maine folk to have generators on hand to combat the loss of electricity.  In that sense, matters could take a much darker turn than they did in Chester's Mill.

So what about your hometown?  How does its location, geography, and demographics compare to that of Chester's Mill?  What if you and your neighbors were forced to live under the Dome?

What then?    

Friday, September 10, 2010

Short Story Spotlight: "The Fence"

Neighbors.  They let their kids run wild.  They insist on mowing the lawn at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning.  They can't get into their own car without setting off the blaring alarm.  No doubt about it: neighbors have a knack for grating on our nerves.  This is a fact Belinda Frisch understands full well, as demonstrated in her delightfully nasty little tale published in the latest issue of Shroud magazine.

I can't go into too much detail about this story without spoiling things, so I'll just give a quick overview.  Beth is battling an ear infection, and her condition isn't helped by the pounding bass coming from next door, as neighbor Tim blasts the same song all night long.  Finally, Beth's exasperated husband John decides to take action: he is going to build a fence between the two houses.  But this proves to be no ordinary task, as Frisch gives a wicked twist to the old Robert Frost maxim, "Good fences make good neighbors."

According to her bio blurb, Frisch has published fiction in Deadly Dolls: Femme Fatales in Fright Fiction; she also received honorable mention in the genre short story category of the 76th Annual Writer's Digest Competition.  And judging from "The Fence," this is a writer ready to stake off some territory within the horror genre.  I'll certainly be keeping a lookout for her byline.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Countdown: The Top 20 Stephen King Works of American Gothic Short Fiction--#15

[For previous entries, click the "Top Twenty Countdowns" label under Features in the right sidebar]

#15. "Chattery Teeth"

King doubles the frisson in this Nightmares & Dreamscapes piece, melding the "psychotic hitchhiker" story with the tale of carnivalesque horror.  Traveling salesman Bill Hogan picks up two dangerous items when he stops off at the low-rent emporium known as Scooter's Grocery and Roadside Zoo.  The first is a cagey young drifter who dubs himself Bryan Adams (after glimpsing the singer's CD in Bill's van); the second is the eponymous novelty.  Bill and company set off on a ride through the Nevada desert during a mounting dust storm that turns the open road into a Gothic locale: "skirls of sand running across the desert floor" are likened to "fleeing ghost-children," and passing cars and trucks "loom out of the blowing sand like a prehistoric phantom with round blazing eyes."  The excursion takes an even darker turn when Bryan Adams proceeds to pull a knife on Bill; chafing at the attempted robbery (he's been victimized before by a hitchhiker), Bill wrecks rather than surrenders his van.

Angry as a rattler, Bryan Adams strikes out at Bill, who has been trapped in his seat belt by the accident.  But then our seemingly hapless hero receives some unexpected (by him, not the reader) aid: the presumed-broken, jumbo-sized Chattery Teeth come to life and attack Bryan Adams.  King's talent for transforming innocuous objects (e.g., cymbal-clashing monkeys, speed-ironing laundry machines) into terrible instruments is on full display in this Creepshow-esque climax of graphic comeuppance.  The Chattery Teeth hardly seem jokey when they clamp down on Bryan Adams's nose and then drop down to take a meaty bite out of another, below-the-belt protuberance (when "Chattery Teeth" was adapted for the TV-movie Quicksilver Highway, the castration scene was unsurprisingly cut out).  The last thing Bill sees is his ravaged assailant being hauled off the side of the road: "The Chattery Teeth were dragging Mr. Bryan Adams away to Nowhere, U.S.A."

But Bill hasn't had his last encounter with the Chattery Teeth.  When he returns to Scooter's nine months after the bloody incident, he finds that the proprietor Myra has been holding onto the teeth for him (she found them sitting on the porch the day after the storm, and figured that they had fallen through the bottom of the paper bag Bill had been carrying when leaving).  The dime-store item has turned up like a bad penny, yet rather than becoming unnerved by this uncanny development, traveling Bill is comforted by the idea of taking possession once more:

[...S]uddenly he found himself thinking of the kid.  Mr. Bryan Adams, from Nowhere U.S.A.  A lot of kids like him now.  A lot of grownups, too, blowing along the highways like tumbleweeds, always ready to take your wallet, say Fuck, you, sugar, and run.  You could stop picking up hitchhikers (he had), and you could put a burglar-alarm system in your home (he'd done that, too), but it was still a hard world where planes sometimes fell out of the sky and the crazies were apt to turn up anyplace and there was always room for a little more insurance.
Bill pockets his newfound insurance policy and drives off contentedly.  He's no longer defenseless against the predators haunting the open road.  In fact, you could say that he's armed to the teeth. [cue Cryptkeeper cackle]

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Carnivale Revisited--"After the Ball is Over"

Episode Guide--Season 1, Episode 2: "After the Ball is Over"

Questions proliferate in this second episode of the series.  What is the significance of the phrase "Every prophet in his house" that Brother Justin keeps hearing?  How is it that people's secret sins are being revealed to the preacher?  Why is "Management" hidden within a curtained compartment in his trailer?  Does such a figure even exist, or is Samson the real leader of the carnival?  Who/what caused the appearance of the ghostly baggage trailer that Ben explores?  Why is the carnival going to deviate from its circuit to head south?  And how/why does the presumably catatonic Apollonia rise from her bed, seek out Ben, and then express "You are the one"?

Fortunately, the episode also provides viewers some answers to its various mysteries.  The tuxedoed figure who appears in Ben's and Brother Justin's dreams is identified as Henry Scudder, an ex-carnival member who performed as "The Gentleman Geek."  More importantly, Ben discovers that Scudder has a connection to someone from his own past.  And finally, a key clue is revealed in the last shot of the episode; keep an eye out for what Ben notices about Management's trailer.

The characters grow more familiar to the audience in this episode, as does the world they inhabit (a detailed milieu wonderfully conveyed by the show's sets, props, and vintage clothes).  Modern viewers are transported to another era, and learn what daily life was like in the 1930s--for Dust-Bowl-crossing carnies as well as constituents of a quaint California community.  Carnivale's flights of dark fantasy no doubt prove even more amazing because the series itself is so firmly grounded in historical reality.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Haunted Jaunts--"Bodies: The Exhibition"

Today's post delivers the first installment of Haunted Jaunts, my personal reports on Things to Do and Places to See in Gothic America.  The inaugural jaunt: a trip to South Street Seaport in New York City to see Bodies: The Exhibition.

Bodies, basically,  is a museum of human beings--a cross between Madam Tussaud's and the gross anatomy lab.  The collection of plastinated corpses and extracted organs is presented as an educational experience (the exhibition is extremely informative), but let's be honest here: the reason the attraction has proven so successful is that it appeals to people's morbid curiosity.  The opportunity to stare death in the face--but from a safe distance--is what draws us to gawk at these flayed figures that look like refugees from a Hellraiser movie.  Many of the glass-cased specimens--the gigantically-swollen thumb, the unfurled intestines, the smoker's lungs and the cirrhotic liver--give the exhibition a sideshow vibe, and the bottled fetuses prove eerily reminiscent of that carnival mainstay, the pickled punk.  And even I have to admit, there's something  ghoulish about having the opportunity to pose for a gift-shop photo with one of the preserved cadavers (incidentally, it's hard not to suspect a mordant sense of humor behind the above advertisement for the exhibition--where the proclamation "Now Open" is placed right alongside a dissected figure whose viscera are conspicuously visible).

This exhibition will not be to everyone's tastes (some might protest that such naked display strips the deceased of not just their skin but also their dignity).  Still, for those of the right age (I wouldn't bring young children) and temperament, Bodies will be an unforgettable experience: you'll realize what an incredibly intricate machine the human body is, and marvel that it does not break down more often.  I recommend checking out the exhibition at one of its nearly dozen locations nationwide if you ever have the chance.  A few words of advice, though: when purchasing your ticket, you'll be given the chance to pay extra for the audio-guided tour, but the exhibition is well mapped out and can be navigated just fine without the listening device.  I'd also suggest attending at an off-peak time (not on a holiday weekend, like I did), so you won't be elbowing other patrons to view the exhibits and read the placards.  Lastly, be forewarned that you are NOT allowed to photograph, let alone touch, the Bodies.  There are lab-coated guards standing by, and these grim Igors look like they'd have no qualms about incorporating you into the next exhibit if you violated the rules.  So be sure to resist your impish impulses, lest no one be able to find hide or hair of you.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Monster Bash

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday, so today I would just like to post about some of the gifts my wonderful girlfriend Michele gave me.  She always likes to have a theme when she buys me presents; this year, along with the The Wolf Man Headknocker (I like to collect the Universal Monsters), she got me the DVD for Moon of the Wolf--a made-for-TV horror movie that first aired during the month/year I was born (no, weisenheimers, the movie's not in black and white, but I will admit it's a bit of an oldie).  Michele happened to get us tickets to go see Larry the Cable Guy as well, and boy was she pleased when I pointed out that Universal's Wolf Man character was also named Larry.  Serendipity in the Macabre Republic!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

An Unofficial Coda to Death in Common

Back when the call for submissions first went out for Death in Common (the authoritative edition of which has just been published) I wrote the following poem based on the death of fictional serial killer Charles Lee Eaton (the anthology's premise: police have just discovered the body of Eaton [who hung himself] and the moldering corpses of his many victims in the basement of his home.  Adding further oddity, the murdered figures' mouths are stuffed with wadded up pieces of paper covered in hand- or typewriting).  Unfortunately, I misunderstood the submission guidelines, which asked for poems written in the first person from the posthumous perspective of Eaton's individual victims.  So my initial effort was rejected (I did ultimately place two format-appropriate poems in the anthology).  That first attempt, written for such a specific market, really can't be submitted elsewhere, but I just thought I would post it here in honor of the anthology's re-release.  Here, then, is my own take on Charles Lee Eaton's mysterious demise: 

Eaton's Last Victim

He roamed through his basement menagerie of races and creeds
Eager to learn what these muted bodies had to convey.
He removed the stoppering wads from their mouths
And scanned the message in each bottle-fly-rife corpse.
The uncrumpled pages invariably sported their original text,
But Eaton spotted a palimpsest, reading beneath lines to receive
Posthumous reports on the numinous state to which
His forerunners had been summarily dispatched.

Except Eaton was grossly displeased by what he perused,
The fetid grievances aired by intemperate spirits
Who spilled words as freely as they had their arterial wine.
Magpie gripes about his wanton vulturing formed
The banal subject of all these embittered, telltale hearts.
Every last testimony he ashed in the furnace,
Then turned back to find the same balled gags already
Restored to their orifices, like unreasonable facsimiles
From the hereafter, from those determined to be heard.

His waspish victims continued to spew their pulp, and finally
Eaton--feeling cheated, not chastened--made his grim decision:
When he departed, the world must be left wondering "Why?"
No, neither tongue nor belated confession would stuff his mouth.
So he noosed himself tight and took the precipitous step
That censored his life and crimes into eternal senselessness.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Halloween Re-Envisioned

One of the articles of faith here at Macabre Republic is that it's never too early to start thinking about what you will be for Halloween.  This year we all will have some very special options to choose from, since Clive Barker has teamed with Disguise to design a unique line of costumes and accessories.  Halloween has always been near and dear to Barker's heart, as seen in books like The Thief of Always and stories like "The Departed" (a.k.a. "Hermione and the Moon"), not to mention the haunted attractions he designed in the late 90s for Halloween Horror Nights at the Universal theme parks in Hollywood and Orlando.  This year, though, he is determined to reinvent the holiday, turning it into a pageant of dark fantasy.  The products of his extraordinary vision are gathered in Clive Barker's Dark Bazaar; costumes and accessories are listed on the dedicated website, and the video below offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the creation process:

One final note: last week Clive Barker underwent successful throat surgery to remove some bothersome polyps.  On behalf of his legions of fans, I would just like to wish him a speedy and complete recovery.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Halloween: New Poems (Book Review)

Halloween: New Poems, Edited by Al Sarrantonio (Cemetery Dance Publications, 2010)

The Halloween Season is fast approaching, and what better way to ready for it than to read this delightful anthology put together by renowned October scribe Al Sarrantonio (Horrorween, Hallows Eve, Halloweenland).  Halloween: New Poems collects 41 (i.e. 10 + 31) pieces of original work by 19 different luminaries in the horror genre (and also features stellar artwork by Alan Clark and Keith Minion).  Some of the standout poems are Steve Rasnic Tem's "How to Play Dead," which kicks off the book with an eerie narrative about a glutinous doorstep beggar, and Elizabeth Massie's "Spider's Night Out," which  presents the holiday from the titular insect's point of view.  Tom Piccirilli's "Phantom Pains" is a haunting tale of tragedy and remorse, and James A. Moore's "Autumn" wonderfully matches the bereft mood of the speaker to the season's dying landscape.  Sarrantonio himself weighs in with a trio of amusing poems whose concise lines read like a cross between Ray Bradbury and Emily Dickinson.  Perhaps the highlight of the book, though, is the inclusion of the first-ever published verse by Joe R. Lansdale.  Lansdale's distinctive style and darkly comedic worldview are on display in a half-dozen entries, including the gloriously grisly "Observing Nature on Halloween Night."

Halloween: New Poems features a surprising number of pieces that employ quick-fire rhymes, which at times give the contents of the book a sing-song quality.  But Bradley Denton, whose "Cap'n Hook (A Tale of the Prairie)" forms the longest (and most visceral) selection in the anthology, seems wryly self-aware of the limerick-like quality of its stanzas.  Take, for example, the following excerpt, in which a group of teenage farmhands lust after the boss's daughter:

"Now wait just a minute,"
piped up both of the Bobs.
"I saw her this morning
"when we came for the job.

"She was there by the barn
"as we got in the truck.
She was watchin' and grinnin'
"like she wanted to--"

"Hold on now!" snapped Jimmy.
"Y'all can just stop it!
"We're here to throw bales,
"not to spread lies and gossip!"

At $40, the price of the trade hardcover will no doubt be steep for the non-collector--especially considering that the slim volume can be read in about an hour.  At the same time, though, this is the type of book that you'll eagerly pull off your shelf year after year; such assured treasuring makes Halloween: New Poems a worthy investment in October festiveness.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Hollywood's Hottest Monster Lovers"

If you've been on the Moviefone website lately, you might have noticed the sidebar link to a Maxim slideshow of "Hollywood's Hottest Monster Lovers."  This pictorial survey of the "beast-loving babes" who fall hard onscreen for the strong and violent type includes the likes of Kristen Stewart, Anna Paquin, Heather Locklear, and Naomi Watts.  The slideshow got me brainstorming about other actresses that deserve a spot on such a list:

1.Madchen Amick, Sleepwalkers.  OK, maybe it was just a high school crush that Amick's character had on the lycanthropic Brian Krause, but there's no doubting the beauty of this fresh-faced actress.

2.Mia Farrow, Rosemary's Baby.  Farrow hooks up with Satan in NYC (insert Woody Allen joke here).

3.Charlize Theron, The Astronaut's Wife.  The statuesque Theron (sporting a Farrow-style haircut) succumbs to Johnny Depp's otherworldly charm.

4.Winona Ryder, Bram Stoker's Dracula.  The romance plot that director Francis Ford Coppola added to Stoker's narrative might have been hard to stomach, but Ryder herself is always easy on the eye.

5.Clare Higgins, Hellraiser.  Her character makes the list simply for the ardour with which she couples with the skinless Hell-escapee Frank.

6.Beverly Garland, The Alligator People.  We can't forget about the old school beauties.  Surely, Garland could have found a better mate than her dermatologically-challenged husband in this Southern Gothic chiller.

7.Sheri Moon Zombie, Halloween (2007).  Here we're talking about the love of a stripper-mom for her bogeyman-in-the-making son.  Director Rob Zombie apparently has no qualms about exploiting his wife's admirable assets. 

Well, that's all I could come up with off the top of my head.  Can you think of any other worthy candidates?  If so, you can append the actresses' (or actors') names to the list in the comments section below.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

And the Winner Is...

This morning I conducted the drawing for the Comments Lottery.  I literally drew names out of a hat--for each comment that a person left on this blog during the contest period, a slip of paper with that person's name on it was entered into the drawing.  A couple of people had multiple entries, but the actual winner of the drawing (for his comment to the post on King's "The Last Rung on the Ladder") was...


Matt has won a $25 gift card, which he can use in the Macabre Republic aStore or anywhere on  Congratulations, Matt!

And thank you to all who participated in the contest.  I hope to run one again in the coming months (perhaps even doing an unannounced Comments Lottery to reward followers of the blog).  My goal is to build a sense of community here at Macabre Republic, to provide a forum for other voices besides my own.  So please, don't be shy about leaving comments to the posts.  As you hopefully can see by this point, I don't bite (well, except on that one night a month when the moon rounds out--then you might want to keep your distance...).

In other news: I've extended the sidebar poll by two more weeks, in the hopes that the deadlock at the top will get broken.  So if you haven't voted for your Favorite American Haunted-House Novel yet, go ahead and give a quick click.