Sunday, January 30, 2011

Burying Buried

I never got a chance to see this one in theaters, but finally caught it on Netflix.  And I have to say: I was gravely disappointed (especially after all the critical praise the film received).  The premise (a civilian contractor regains consciousness, and finds himself buried in a wooden coffin in the Iraqi desert) is a strong one, yet the decision to start the movie from that precise moment (and to stay in the coffin for the duration) inhabits the audience's
understanding of Ryan Reynolds's character.  Also, I found some of the drama a bit contrived, such as when Reynolds awakens and discovers that a giant snake (which allegedly entered through a crack in the coffin) is sliding out of the leg of his pants (wouldn't the snake have disturbed him on the way into his clothing? How did it turn around in there if it first entered at the cuff?).  The ostensible twist ending, moreover, falls flat--the fact that (WARNING: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!) Reynolds dies within the coffin makes the movie seem like much ado about nothing.  The plot here could be reduced to: man stuck in coffin; struggles, but never gets out.  In their failure to liberate the protagonist at the last minute, the filmmakers missed an excellent opportunity to have the audience experience some Shawshank-type catharsis.

Perhaps the movie's greatest shortcoming, though, is that (for me, at least) it never instills a feeling of claustrophobic dread.  There's some effective use of a blackened screen here, but paradoxically, bringing the camera inside the lighter-illumined coffin with Reynolds actually makes the confines seem larger.  I suspect that this sort of story ultimately works much better in print than on film.  It's the kind of predicament tale, for example, that Stephen King excels at (cf. "A Very Tight Place").  And who can forget the all-time master of the narrative of hasty internment, Edgar Allan Poe:

It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death.  The unendurable oppression of the lungs--the stifling fumes of the damp earth--the clinging to the death garments--the rigid embrace of the narrow house--the blackness of the absolute Night--the silence like a sea that overwhelms--the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm--these things, with the thoughts of the air and grass above, with the memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed--that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead, these considerations, I say, carry into the heart, which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil.  We know of nothing so agonizing upon Earth--we can dream of nothing half so hideous in the realms of the nethermost Hell.  ("The Premature Burial")
Now that's how you impart a sense of awful claustrophobia!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book Review: Shivers VI

In a post last week, I reviewed Stephen King's novella The Crate, which has just been published for the first time in Shivers VI.  Today I'd like to tackle the Cemetery Dance anthology (edited by Richard Chizmar) as a whole.

Admittedly, there are a handful of clunkers here (I won't single out the authors of such tales for ignominy), but the rest of the 21 selections do a fine job of eliciting the response promised by the volume's title.  Some of the standout pieces from that latter group:

"Waiting for Darkness" by Brian Keene.  This piece of flash fiction is short and anything but sweet.  It will make you think twice about allowing anyone to bury you up to your neck in sand at the beach ever again.

"Like Lick 'Em Sticks, Like Tina Fey" by Glen Hirshberg.  A story--concerning the burgeoning vampirism of two young Southern mothers--as offbeat as its title.  Hirshberg makes excellent use of pop cultural reference here to gloss the action and underscore the themes of the piece.

"Fallow" by Scott Nicholson.  A post-apocalyptic tale that conveys a sense of a devastated world in a mere dozen pages.  This one also concludes with perhaps the most discomforting scene of newborn-nursing this side of Rosemary's Baby.

"Mole" by Jay Bonansinga.  Barker meets Le Carre in this hauntingly hybrid tale of demons and religious espionage.  There's enough material here to make for a terrific novel--or better yet, a feature film.

"Keeping It in the Family" by Robert Morrish.   A phildickian (you know you've made it as a writer when your name is transformed into an adjective) narrative in which paranoia runs rampant.  The plot hints at an "intelligent" virus cooked up in a chemical lab in the caves of Afghanistan, but what proves most unnerving here is the group of mutant watchers that methodically terrorize the story's narrator.

Undoubtedly, though, the volume's two strongest pieces are the opening and concluding selections.  "Serial,"  a collaboration between Blake Crouch and Jack Kilborn, inaugurates the anthology's proceedings with no shortage of grue.  The tale presents a precisely (and chillingly) detailed account of a cat-and-cat game between dueling serial killers--one a motorist who preys on hitchhikers, the other a hitchhiker who hunts drivers.  While the conclusion here is a bit predictable in its irony, the journey towards that end-point makes for one wild, frightful ride.  Finally, in "A Special Place: The Heart of A Dark Matter," Peter Straub once again couches awful subject matter within graceful prose.  In this one, a serial killer in Wisconsin (surprise, surprise) tutors his young, social-misfit nephew in the craft of abduction and torture (perhaps the uncle says it all when he tells his nephew that if he ever goes bald when he grows up, he "might wind up looking like the guy in that painting, 'American Gothic'").  Readers need not be familiar with A Dark Matter, but "A Special Place" does shed an interesting light on the novel's characters and events.

The print debut of the Stephen King piece will likely be the main attraction here for collectors/completists, but Shivers VI has plenty else within its contents to recommend it.  At over 400 pages (including author biographies/story notes) and only $20, this sixth installment in the anthology series provides plenty of bang for your Cemetery Dance bucks, and will keep you shivering long after this cold, harsh winter has ended.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Face Off (series premiere)

So, twisted citizens of the Macabre Republic, have you watched Face Off?

And no, I'm not talking about an implausible action flick starring Travolta and Cage, but rather the new television program that debuted two nights ago.  Hosted by McKenzie Westmore (and if that surname strikes a chord, this is probably the show for you), Face Off is a competition series in which up-and-coming special FX makeup artists showcase their talents in the hopes for breakthrough
Hollywood success (the premiere was a bit vague as to what the last artist standing actually wins).  Thankfully, the show seems less obnoxious/oxymoronic than the usual "reality TV" fare; the first episode never gets heavy-handed in presenting the contestants' rivalries or the judges' personalities (although Glen Hetrick does have some Cowell-esque moments of brusqueness).  The process of putting together the various make-ups is interesting to behold, and the final reveals (of creatures such as the human-elephant hybrid
pictured above) are certainly more compelling than those featured on What Not to Wear or Extreme Makeover.  I also like the added wrinkle that the winner of the weekly challenge gets to confer with the judges and nominate a contestant to be eliminated.

After watching the debut, I have a deeper appreciation of special
FX makeup as not just a craft but a true art, one requiring a creative eye for the fantastique.  For sure, I will be tuning in to see where the contestants' vision takes them in the coming weeks.

Face Off airs Wednesday nights at 10 on SyFy.  The show's official website can be found here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Macabre Republic Takes a Snow Day

5 Hours of Shoveling Snow + 7 Hours at Work=Too Pooped to Post.

But I'll be back tomorrow to dish out the daily serving of the dark stuff.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Grand Piano Guignoil?

Something offbeat just offshore of the Macabre Republic...

Looks like someone tried to play pianist for Lovecraft's Deep Ones.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Most Gothic Place Names in the United States--Indiana

[For previous entries, click the "Most Gothic Place Names" label under Features in the right sidebar.]

The Hoosier state has more to offer than basketball and John Mellencamp.  It sports such wonderful place names as Massacre (you can bet this town has a bloody history), Mace (a real eyesore), Gnaw Bone (a carnival for carnivores), Chase (just conjures images of heroines on the run), Shadeland (what a perfect name for a ghost town), Manson (wonder if the high school band plays "Helter Skelter"?), Antiville (where they're against everything), Koontz Lake (Dean's vacation destination?), and Dead Mans Crossing (you'll have to yield the right of way here to the unliving).  But the most Gothic place name of all is found in...

Stony Lonesome.  A name that is at once rhythmic and imagistic.
I can't help but envision a small, isolated town, centered around a headstone-sprouting graveyard.  The kind of place where the dead outnumber--and weigh heavy on--their still-breathing brethren.  Indiana's answer to Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River, Illinois.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Universal Monsters in Our Midst

[For background info on this new feature, click here.]

Universal Monsters Confetti

When ordinary shredded paper just won't cut it...This monstrous confetti consists of black bats and spiders, along with paper circles picturing the grim visages of Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy.  Perfect for raining down on a parade of angry villagers, for marking the midnight start of Halloween, for cheering on gruesome newlyweds, and for celebrating this year's 80th anniversary of the original Dracula and Frankenstein movies.

So go ahead, monstrophiles: let the confetti fly, continuing the dispersion of the Universal icons throughout our Macabre Republic. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Movie Review: True Grit

True Grit (2010; Adapted and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen)

Dialogue that crackles like a well-stoked campfire.  Oscar-caliber performances (Jeff Bridges as a crotchety marshal with a deadly shot; Hailee Steinfeld as a smart, plucky 14-year-old determined to see her father's murderer captured and hung; Matt Damon as a drawling yet loquacious Texas Ranger).  Amazing scenery, depicting a stark Arkansas landscape.  These are some of the qualities that make True Grit a truly great western.

The Coen Brothers no doubt put their stamp on this remake of the revered 1969 John Wayne movie.  Their screenplay brims with witty repartee, with the characters firing off more zingers than a drunken, trigger-happy desperado.  Such abundant humor makes the sudden outbreaks of grisly violence (including a cringe-inducing, Blood Simple-esque scene involving a knife and a human hand) that much more jarring.  Whether placing emphasis on the light or the dark, though, True Grit forms a shining example of compelling storytelling.

Just like the heroine Mattie Ross's gun, the film does misfire occasionally.  The villains get very little screen time, a fact that renders the climactic shootout less cathartic than it might have been (Josh Brolin--who plays the killer Tom Chaney--is talked about more than dramatized, and thus cuts a less imposing figure than, say, Javier Bardem as antagonist Anton Chigurh in the Coens' quasi-Western crime drama No Country for Old Men).  Also, the decision to adhere to the original Charles Portis novel perhaps results in an anti-climax that falls flat compared to the rest of the movie.  So this is not quite a perfect movie, but one that the Coens were perfectly suited to make.  And the gruff and scruffy Rooster Cogburn is a role that Jeff Bridges was born (certainly not yesterday) to play.  In short, True Grit is a modern-day classic, one of the best films of 2010, and an indisputable must-see.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Here's a poem that perhaps helps to explain why many publications only accept electronic submissions...


Dear Ed.,
If only you'd settled for a form rejection.
I'm used to those, I could of slepped easy.
But no, you went out of your way to respond
And were too hasty in dismissile, missing the hole point.
No, just a honest attempt at verysimilitude.
A shame I should even have to spell all this out to you.
You know tho what hurts most of all?
Conspickuously absent was the invite to
Submit again to your preshous magazine.
But I went ahead anyways & took the liberty.
This new peace packs a wallup, I promise.
I can only hope you open your own mail, Mr. Bigshot Ed.,
Since Ive directly addressed to you these
Pages with their healthy dose of aunthrax.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Carnivale Revisited--"The Day That Was the Day"

[For previous episode guides, click the "A.G.T.V." label under Features in the right sidebar.]

Episode Guide--Season 1, Episode 12: "The Day That Was the Day"

And on the fateful day that concludes the fantastic first season of Carnivale:

Ben, desperate to save the snake-bitten Ruthie, actually seeks out Prof. Lodz's help.  Lodz in turn brings Ben to Management's trailer for a meeting (albeit not one of the face-to-face variety).  Management insists that he and Ben share the same nature, and
instructs him how to tap into his healing powers in this dire case: "To restore a life, you must take a life."

Samson, no doubt chagrined to spot Ben leaving Management's trailer, nonetheless covers for him when the law comes looking for the chain-gang escapee.

The cuckolded Stumpy strikes a deal with Jonesy, as does Brother Justin with Tommy Dolan.

Apollonia summons Lodz to her trailer.  During his "conversation" with the catatonic figure, a stunned Lodz utters: "How long have you known?  It can't be her.  This is madness.  You can't do that."  Viewers, alas, will have to wait until Season 2 to learn the true significance of such cryptic comments.

Justin uses his dark powers to have Norman visit the scene of his ultimate sin, yet ironically discovers that Norman's greatest evil was rescuing Justin and Iris when the siblings were children.  Defying Norman's call for an exorcism, the distraught Justin cries: "There is no demon in me.  The demon is me."  With this, Justin drops to his knees and begs Norman to kill him.

Following a visitation by Henry Scudder, Ben finally deciphers what he saw scrawled in the mine in Babylon: "avatar."

Sofie achieves a measure of vengeance against both Jonesy and Libby. ("This is what it feels like to be betrayed by someone you love.  You fucked Rita Sue.  And you knew.")

A climactic fire engulfs one of the trailers, leaving the survival of three troupe members in doubt.

"The Day That Was the Day" is, fittingly, the strongest episode from the show's first-year run.  It offers answers and new questions, resolution and further conflict.  And the final shot of the season, involving a character's simple gasp for breath, is all the more powerful for its understated quality.

Keep venturing back to Macabre Republic.  In the coming weeks, we'll revisit the second (and lamentably, final) season of Carnivale.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


[For previous game, click here.]

Can you solve the puzzle within 20 seconds, or are you going to choke?


__   E   __   __  R        __   I   __   __,        __   __   I   __

MISSES: B, G, N, S, T, U

HINT: Haunted by Hoopsticks

Correct answer appears in the Comments section of this post.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On the Road with Silver John: "The Desrick on Yandro"

[For background info on this recently added Feature, click the "On the Road with Silver John" label over in the right sidebar.]

"The Desrick on Yandro"

Intrigued by John's song, the megalomaniacal Mr. Yandro
Insists that the balladeer serve as his personal guide
And lead him back to that remote mountain
From which the family surname seemingly derived.

But it's apt to be a regretful quest for Yandro, a man
Interested in rumored gold more than his people's origin.
For the journey leads to a creature-ringed hovel
And a jilted witch with ancient grudge waiting within.

Manly Wade Wellman's short story "The Desrick on Yandro" can be found in the collection Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Most Gothic Place Names in the United States--Illinois

[For previous entries, click the "Most Gothic Place Names" label under Features in the right sidebar.]

Since Hawaii and Idaho offer no viable candidates, I'll skip ahead to Illinois.  The Prairie State features such suggestive names as Dexter (a dead end for serial killers), Stonington (gee, wonder what form of public execution they favor here), Willeys (guaranteed to give you the heebie-jeebies), Raven (best ignore that tap-tap-tapping at your chamber door), Moonshine (a whole community of home brewers!), Birds (Tippi Hedren's least favorite town), Hicks (cue the Dueling Banjos), Tazewell (and your target will never get up again), Cropsey (guess that boogeyman urban legend isn't limited to Staten Island), and Flagg (where the Walking Dude finally settled down?).  But as far as I'm concerned, the most Gothic place name in all of Illinois belongs to:

Smothersville.  This one is pretty much self-explanatory.  I'll just add a bit of forewarning: if you happen to find yourself lodging in this town, be sure to sleep with one eye open (and NEVER ask for an extra pillow).

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cracking Open The Crate

For the past three decades, The Crate has been best known as one of the main segments in the 1982 film Creepshow.  It also appeared in the comic-book-style companion to the movie, but the actual Stephen King novella upon which the segment was based has never been published.  Until now, that is.  The author's original text is collected at last in the new anthology from Cemetery Dance, Shivers VI.  I'll review the anthology as a whole in a future post; today, I'd like to offer my reactions to reading The Crate for the first time.

Defying expectations, the print version proves markedly less cartoonish than the Creepshow segment.  Whereas the latter is modeled on E.C. Comics narratives, the novella (with its eerie university setting, its featuring of a malefic object shipped from the far reaches of the world) has an almost Lovecraftian quality.  The creature in the crate cuts a more sinister figure than its filmic counterpart, and King's death scenes are more intricately detailed and thus more chilling than those directed by George Romero.  Also, the movie segment--dominated by Adrienne Barbeau's performance as a boozy, ball-busting housewife--goes heavy on the comeuppance, but the novella focuses on the more serious theme of companionship (surprisingly, King keeps the wife character off-stage throughout most of the story).  There are some obvious glitches (mid-scene shifts in viewpoint; inconsistencies in reference [i.e. characters alternately cited by their first and last names]) in this early piece of writing, but King's skills as a storyteller are still evident.  Like some latter-day Pandora, the author pries the lid off a box full of ominousness, and his Constant Readers will no doubt appreciate what King has let loose upon the world.

For those who might like a quick Creepshow refresher before cracking open Shivers VI, here's the relevant movie segment (courtesy of You Tube):

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Are You Clued In?

Perhaps not surprisingly, my favorite board game growing up was Clue (the Hasbro product even inspired me as a child to write a Gothic mystery--a would-be novel called Murder About the Mansion, which somehow featured tennis pros John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl[!] in its cast of characters).  Anyway, here's a little trivia quiz for all you Clue lovers out there in the Macabre Republic.  The answers can be found in the Comments section of this post.  Good luck, amateur detectives!

1.What is the name of the mansion where the game is set?  (If you miss this one, you deserve to be hit upside the head with a lead pipe.)

2.When you make a Suggestion, the player pawn of the suspect you are citing is automatically relocated to the suggested room.  True or False?

3.According to the official rules, which character moves first on the game board?
(A) Prof. Plum  (B) Mrs. Peacock  (C) Colonel Mustard  (D) Mr. Green  (E) Miss Scarlet

4.Of the six weapons tokens, which is the only one not made of pewter?

5.An Accusation (i.e. your attempt to win the game by guessing [and then peeking at] the three cards inside the Case File) must be made in the room where you are asserting the murder took place.  True or False?

6.Which of the following rooms does NOT include a secret passageway?
(A) the Kitchen  (B) the Billiards Room  (C) the Study  (D) the Lounge  (E) the Conservatory

So how did you score?
5-6 Correct: Bravo! Your parents should have named you Sherlock.
3-4 Correct: Your sleuthing skills could use some honing.
1-2 Correct: Face the facts--you don't have a clue.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

QuickList: The 11 Best Books of 2011(?)

No, I haven't gotten my hands on any advanced reader copies.  I'm merely forecasting based on author reputation and the description of the project.  Here are eleven eagerly anticipated books scheduled to be released in the coming year:

1.The End of Everything by Megan Abbott.  The reigning queen of noir takes her dark crime narratives in a new direction with this 1980s-set tale concerning the disappearance of a 13-year-old girl.

2.Abarat 3: Absolute Midnight by Clive Barker.  The title says it all--this third volume in Barker's (young) adult fantasy series is going to be dark.

3.The Croning by Laird Barron.  The renowned weird-tale writer applies his Lovecraftian talents to a broader canvas in his debut novel.

4.Choke Hold by Christa Faust.  In this Hard Case Crime sequel to Money Shot, ex-porn star Angel Dare finds herself mixed up in the violent world of mixed martial arts.

5.A Rope of Thorns by Gemma Files.  If this follow-up is even half as good as A Book of Tongues, fans of the weird western are in for a sensuous, blood-soaked treat.

6.Locke and Key: Keys to the Kingdom by Joe Hill.  This latest volume of Hill's graphic-art dark fantasy saga (which is also being developed as a Fox TV series) is not to be missed.

7.The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee.  Ketchum's American cannibal series (Off Season; Offspring) continues.  Once again readers can expect gruesome mayhem conveyed by beautiful prose.

8.Damned by Chuck Palahniuk.  This story of an 11-year-old girl who awakens in hell promises to be Palahniuk's most twisted and blackly humorous novel to date.

9.The Century's Best Horror Fiction, Ed. John Pelan.  This massive two-volume anthology has been long awaited, but publisher Cemetery Dance vows that this is the year it will see print.

10.Valley of the Scarecrow by Gord Rollo.  Rollo's autumnal Gothic novel was supposed to be released in 2010, but got pushed back to this year when Dorchester Publishing rebooted.  Can you say "delayed gratification"?

11.Flashback by Dan Simmons.  Dystopian-SF development of a concept previously explored in the novella (collected in Lovedeath) of the same title.

Will these actually prove to be the best eleven books of 2011 when all is read and done?  I can't wait to find out.

Friday, January 14, 2011

DVD Review: Moment of Death

In yesterday's post I lauded the blackly humorous show 1000 Ways to Die, but today I would like to highlight an item that takes a more serious look at the subject of human mortality.  National Geographic's Moment of Death (which can be Instantly Viewed online by Netflix subscribers) is a fascinating documentary that explores the crucial boundary between "here" and "gone."  Narrated by the gravelly-voiced Peter Coyote, this DVD is stocked with operating-room footage, computer simulations of bodily workings, and the commentary of medical experts (not to mention journalist Mary Roach, author of the terrific nonfiction book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers).  Some of the more compelling elements here include a chronicling of doctors' attempts to manipulate the moment of death (e.g. "therapeutic hypothermia"--an experimental treatment geared to staving off mortification in cardiac arrest victims, and one that gives new meaning to the notion of putting someone "on ice"); an account of the likely physical/psychological responses to traumatic incidents (drowning, excessive bleeding, fire, electrocution, guillotining); a detailing of the procedures used to determine whether someone is merely comatose or actually brain dead.  Most intriguing of all, though, is the concluding exploration of near-death experiences.  Science offers a physiological explanation for those popular reports about tunnels 
leading toward bright lights (i.e. such imagery is a byproduct of the extreme stress placed on areas of the brain), but the documentary also presents a case (the story of a man's incredible experiences while lying on an operating table) that suggests there is something truly spiritual about dying.  Moment of Death is only fifty minutes long, but it will linger in your consciousness well after its ending. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Macabre Republic Picks: The Best A.G.T.V. Show of 2010

American Gothic was well represented on television in 2010, thanks in large part to the brief but memorable runs of programs like Happy Town and The Walking Dead (the latter will return for a second, more extensive season in 2011).  But Macabre Republic's choice for the best "A.G.T.V" show goes to one that has been around for a few years now.  And it's a show that will be around for some time to come, if it intends to live up to its title.  That show is none other than 1000 Ways to Die.

Even leaving aside the T&A factor, and the gloriously b-grade production value of the dramatic reenactments, this Spike TV program proves entertaining viewing on numerous levels.  First, there's that sardonic (dare I say deadpan) narrator chronicling the various cases nationwide of utter stupidity and outrageous mishap.  The individual segments are also marked by enough bad ("Of Courset Kills"; "Chippen' Dale")--and sometimes bawdy ("Ass Full of Caulk")--puns to send HBO's ol' Crypt-Keeper gyrating in his grave.  But perhaps the best aspect of the show is all those CGI-animations of the causes of death, gruesome graphics accompanied by the expert testimony of (allegedly) real-life doctors.  Such nitty-gritty detail makes 1000 Ways to Die must-see A.G.T.V. not just for horror writers such as myself, but for anyone looking to satisfy his/her morbid curiosity.

For sample clips and info about episode air-times, check out the show's website here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Carnivale Revisited--"Day of the Dead"

[For previous episode guides, click the "A.G.T.V." label under Features in the right sidebar.]

Episode Guide--Season 1, Episode 11: "Day of the Dead"

"Something's building, kid.  I can feel it," Samson tells Ben, and viewers will agree wholeheartedly after encountering this penultimate chapter of Carnivale's Season 1 narrative.

Complications and machinations are the order of the day, in an episode set against the backdrop of the Mexican carnivalesque celebration, El dia de los Muertos.  The lesbian attraction between Sofie and Libby continues to develop (at least until Apollonia intervenes by sending her daughter a disturbing vision).  In her heart, though, Sofie wants Jonesy, and discusses the matter with Rita Sue, not knowing that the latter is having an affair with the man.  Jonesy (hoping to make things work with Sofie) finally breaks things off with Rita Sue; Rita Sue salaciously upstages Stumpy's new cootch dancer Catalina; Catalina convinces Stumpy (struggling to deal with two women now) to sit for a tarot reading with Sofie and Apollonia.  The end result is that Sofie learns (thanks to Apollonia's whispers in her head) of Jonesy's relationship with Rita Sue--plus the fact that Libby knew about it and never said anything.  What Sofie does with all this late-gained knowledge should make for a riveting season finale.

Meanwhile, Father Norman--having witnessed holy water turn to blood when he made the sign of the cross on Brother Justin's forehead in the previous episode--worries that Justin might be possessed by a demon and in need of an exorcism.  Reporter Tommy Dolan then approaches Norman with some disturbing news.  Dolan has been doing some digging, and has learned that Justin was in an asylum during the weeks he was missing.  But that's nothing compared to the bombshell Dolan drops next: that Justin's car was seen at the Dignity Ministry late on the night the place was burned to the ground (killing the orphans housed inside).

Ben decides at last to trust Samson, telling him about his repeated visions of Henry Scudder.  Samson can't shed any light on the cause of these visions, and when Ben presses him for more detail about the momentous event that happened back in the Old Country (which Samson had alluded to in the prior episode), all Samson is sure of is that Professor Lodz was centrally involved.

Lodz, having conspired with Management to carry out a scheme to "reach" Ben, is quite the busy blind man in this episode.  Proving what a snake in the grass he really is, the Professor travels into town on the day of the Mexican festival and arranges to purchase something terribly poisonous.

"Day of the Dead" is Carnivale at its finest.  The nightmarish surrealism that has marked the series all season long recurs here (the episode opens with an unsettling dream sequence in which Ben watches Justin dispense razor blades instead of Eucharist wafers to his congregation).  And the storytelling in this episode is nothing less than superb.  First, there's a shocking revelation, as we learn at last who actually torched the Dignity Ministry.  The episode then concludes with a cliffhanger, which finds one of the troupe members on the precipice of extinction.  El dia de los Muertos might literally turn out to be a day of death, but one that is no cause for celebration whatsoever. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Most Gothic Place Names in the United States--Georgia

[For previous entries, click the "Most Gothic Place Names" label  under Features in the right sidebar.]

The Peach State positively teems with terrific names.  There's Axson (Jack Torrance's favorite town), Black Spring (doom is in bloom), Friendly Village of Crooked Creek (duplicity personified), Quitman (population: one misanthropic recluse), Shadowland (in the heart of Straub County), Enigma (an utterly puzzling place), Scuffletown (where disorderly conduct's the norm), Scarecorn (the Halloween mazes must be something else), Farmers High (from cooking too much crystal meth?), and Coffinton (which no doubt points straight toward Graves Way).  Such a rich crop made it hard to pick a single appellation, but my choice for the Most Gothic Place name in Georgia is...

Gore.  "Gore, Georgia" just has a wonderful ring to it (like a hatchet blade on a grindstone).  It suggests a municipality drenched in bloody deeds; a place where bulls break out of their pens and go on gruesome rampage.  This sounds like the perfect spot for a splatter film festival, and the most likely town in the country to be ravaged by the effects of global warming.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cruel Tees

Americans are walking advertisements for dark humor and sarcasm.  Exhibits A-E:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Macabre Republic Picks: The Best Mythos Tale of 2010

There are several excellent entries in the anthology Cthulhu's Reign, but none better than Mike Allen's "Her Acres of Pastoral Playground."  This story has stuck with me, like a splinter in my gray matter, ever since first reading it this past summer.  The imagery here--at once surreal and supernatural (as the protagonist's recurring nightmares clue him in to an even more horrific reality)--is absolutely haunting.  Delmar, a former academic at the local university (Lovecraft fans can guess which one) attempts to create a safe haven for himself and his wife and daughter when the old gods waken, but the results are nothing like he planned.  Seeds of mystery and dread are sown throughout this weird tale: What has happened to Delmar's not-quite-absentee daughter Meaghan?  What is the significance of that black circle singeing the grass, and the walls of fog surrounding Delmar's farm?  Allen's pulpy horrors (e.g. "the windowpane bows and shatters as a slimy mass of dense hairy jelly shoves its way through, unfurls in an explosion of sucking lamprey mouths and clusters of lidless human eyes") assault the reader on a visceral level, while also prodding phobic pressure points (all those tentacles spontaneously sprouting from human bodies evoke the fear of cancerous mutation).  Yet the story proves most disturbing on the emotional front, as a loving husband/father is forced to come to terms with the consequences of his well-meaning efforts to shield his family from eldritch catastrophe.  A character-driven narrative detailing the impact of cosmic horror on a decidedly domestic scene, "Her Acres of Pastoral Playground" is an easy choice for Best Mythos Tale of 2010.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Universal Monsters in Our Midst

Here's another new feature debuting in 2011 at Macabre Republic.  Universal Monsters in Our Midst will chronicle the various ways in which the iconic film characters have permeated American pop culture  (you might think of it as a product guide for monstrophiles).  The first item to be highlighted is: 

Classic Monster Mountain

Forget the national monument--this is a Universal monument.  Just don't call it "Count Rushmore"--Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein are all headliners here.  The quartet of legendary grotesques get the Presidential treatment, their likenesses immortalized in a faux cliff-face (composed of "heavy weight polystone material").  Just be careful if you move this miniature monument to monstrosity into your home.  Rumor has it that the Gill-Man, enraged at his exclusion, is slogging his way from the Black Lagoon and intends to stomp out every last replica. 

Friday, January 7, 2011


Similar to the final round of that popular TV game show (but minus the ageless androids who serve as host and hostess), the word game below provides the category, some of the letters in the answer, and a list of misses (i.e. letters that were already guessed but don't appear in the answer).  A hint (akin to a crossword-puzzle clue) is also given, to help narrow things down for you.  Can you solve the puzzle in 20 seconds or less, or are you going to choke?


_  _  R  R  I  O  _       _  O  _  _  O  R  _


_  _  _     _  I  _  _  O  _  _

MISSES: G, H, L, P, U, W

HINT: Vampire epic

(Correct answer appears in the Comments section of this post.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

On the Road with Silver John: "O Ugly Bird!"

Here's our first new feature of 2011, focused on the work of the renowned American Gothicist Manly Wade Wellman.  For over three decades starting in 1951, Wellman published a series of stories (not to mention five novels) about a heroic figure called Silver John--a wanderer of the Southern Appalachians who wields a silver-stringed guitar and a mean knowledge of the occult (both of which come in handy as he encounters various supernatural pitfalls).  The Macabre Republic feature On the Road with Silver John will offer ballads about the Balladeer, quick poetic teases for Wellman's tales.  My hope here is to encourage the modern generation of readers to seek out Wellman's terrific folkloric fantasy/horror narratives.  I'll cover the Silver John stories (collected in Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens) one at a time, starting today with the volume's lead-off piece, "O Ugly Bird!"

"O Ugly Bird!"

Greedy Mr. Onselm terrorizes with his hoodoo,
With the swoops of his grotesque avian twin.
But now John the Balladeer has come along,
And he's determined to do both wretches in.

He's the hero for which the harried folk
Of the mountain have long been praying.
Pure of heart, and savvy enough to know
That a guitar's good for more than playing.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Adve_tures of Huckleberry Fi__

Just a quick op-ed post about a news piece I read today on AOL, involving a classic novel (and seminal work of American Gothic) by Mark Twain.   In the article, Steven Hoffer calls our attention to a revised edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn soon to be published by NewSouth Books.  What makes this version (edited by Auburn University professor Alan Gribben) noteworthy is the fact that each instance of the infamous N-word in the original has been replaced with the ostensibly less offensive "slave."

Hoffer's article also gathers reactions--positive and negative, erudite and sardonic--to the planned bowdlerization.  My own two cents: Prof. Gribben might have the best of intentions (to get Huck Finn off banned-book lists and into the classroom), but he is setting a dangerous precedent.  Does this mean, then, that any public-domain book containing questionable subject matter can be summarily retrofitted to satisfy modern standards of political correctness?  Furthermore, the search-and-replace mode of revision perhaps does a disservice to Twain's prose, creating a sense of dissonance analogous to the dubbing of an R-rated movie to make it suitable for airing on network television (all those cries of "motherfreaker" and "ahh, forget you" always sound off).  My biggest problem, though, with the NewSouth edition of the novel is that it reeks of avoidance.  A golden opportunity is lost--to educate students about cultural history, about the impact and, yes, inappropriateness, of certain words.  Besides, if teenage readers aren't mature enough to handle encountering the N-word in a narrative, then they probably aren't ready to study a work of art such as Twain's novel in the first place.      

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Most Gothic Place Names in the United States--Delaware

[For previous entries, click the "Most Gothic Place Names" label under Features in the right sidebar.]

First, my apologies: in my eagerness to get down to "Florida" in the wintertime (or perhaps I'm just alphabetically challenged), I skipped right over Delaware last week.  But the little state neighboring my native Jersey has plenty of terrific names to offer.  There's Slaughter Beach (a real sand trap), Cripple Creek (dire spot for divers), Long Point Landing (cue the Psycho music), Locustville (even the playgrounds are plague grounds), Six Forks (all the makings of an angry mob), The Blades (whose residents would fit right in with the folk from Six Forks), Woods Manor (sounds like the setting for a Charles Brockden Brown novel), Stones Throw (glass houses be damned), and Cave Colony (pirate hideout? haunt for Ketchum-esque cannibals?).  It would take an incredible appellation to outdo these choices, but I did find one in...

Shady Side.  The name captures the sense of dangerous duplicity inherent in American Gothic--the dark underbelly of the superficially bucolic.  This town sounds like its entire area falls on the wrong side of the tracks; a haven for confidence men, and a hotbed of illicit activity.  A place where every resident has his/her shady side, and is proud of it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Macabre in the New Year

At the start of the new year, I just wanted to thank everyone out there who has been following this blog since its launch back on August 1st.  The past five months have been a blast, and I'm excited for the year ahead.  The familiar elements of Macabre Republic will remain in place (e.g., the survey of the Most Gothic Place Names in the United States continues its weekly run, and another Top 20 Countdown is in the offing), but there will also be a slew of new features making their debuts in the near future.  So keep on coming back for your daily serving of the dark stuff.  And remember, here in the heart of Gothic America, the apple pie is to die for.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Beelzebub Tweets

BLZ, Bub

[For earlier tweets, check out this post.]

Oh happy day! The irresolute masses make their proclamations, and make liars of themselves not long thereafter.
--2:25 P.M., January 1st

The city's next morning glory: frozen piss in the gutters, confetti-dusted vomit in the streets, jagged glass everywhere waiting to impale.
--10:41 A.M., January 1st

One year away now from the apocalypse prophesied by the Mayans. Best devote yourself to bacchanalia while you still can.
--12:02 A.M., January 1st

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Countdown: The Top 20 Stephen King Works of American Gothic Short Fiction--#1

#1."It Grows on You"

Where else could the countdown end but in Castle Rock?  The story is set after the events of Needful Things, and the town has seriously decayed: the Rock is now "like a dark tooth which is finally ready to fall out."  It "seems the whole goddamn town is dying," and the perfect emblem for this condition is furnished by the "deathly" look of the abandoned, rotting mansion known as the Newall house.  King has steeped himself in American Gothic tradition here; the spooky house--"empty for eleven years now, no one has ever lived there for long"--recalls the titular domicile of Shirley Jackson's classic novel The Haunting of Hill House.  Moreover, the "leaning, crepitating bulk" of the Newall house stands atop a ridge overlooking the section of Castle Rock called the "Bend"--an obvious reference to "Frenchmen's Bend" in William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha novels.

King echoes Faulkner not just in details of setting but also in terms of characterization.  Joe Newall, a mysterious outsider distrusted, if not despised, by the locals, is modeled after Thomas Sutpen in Absalom, Absalom! (like Sutpen, he distances himself from the community, and "never crosse[s] the threshold" of the town church).  Newall's wife Cora, meanwhile, is drawn from the same grotesque cloth as Emily Grierson in the classic Faulkner story "A Rose for Emily," as can be gleaned from a juxtaposition of verbal portraits:

[Emily's] skeleton was small and spare; perhaps that was why what would have been merely plumpness in another was obesity in her.  She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue.  Her eyes, lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough as they moved from one face to another while the visitors stated their errand. ("A Rose for Emily")
[Cora Newall] was a grainbag of a woman, incredibly wide across the hips, incredibly full in the butt, yet almost as flatchested as a boy and possessed of an absurd little pipestem neck upon which her oversized head nodded like a strange pale sunflower.  Her cheeks hung like dough, her lips like strips of liver; her face was as silent as a full moon on a winter night.  She sweated huge dark patches around the armholes of her dresses even in February, and she carried a dank smell of perspiration with her always.
Like its Faulknerian predecessor, King's story foregrounds the biased attitudes of the townspeople, who trade in vicious gossip about the Newalls.  Fact accordingly blurs with fancy: "In January of 1921, Cora gave birth to a monster with no arms and, it was said, a tiny clutch of perfect fingers sticking out of one eyesocket.  It died less than six hours after mindless contractions had pushed its red and senseless face into the light."  When Cora suffers a fatal fall down a staircase in her home, "a rumor went through town (it probably originated at a Ladies Aid Bake Sale) that she had been stark naked at the time."  Not to be outdone, Benny Ellis claims that Newall "had gouged out his daughter's one eye and kept it in a jar of what Benny called 'fubbledehyde' on the kitchen table, along with the amputated fingers which had been poking out of the other socket when the baby was born."  The Newalls may in fact be an evil clan, but the exact nature of that evil is hard to discern because of all these wild tales told by the locals.

Indeed, the story's plot is as unruly as the architecture of the sprawling Newall house, but this skewed structuring only makes the hints of lunacy that much more disconcerting.  The climax comes in the midst of a sex dream: old-timer Gary Paulson--one of the the group of "cronies" who hang out at Brownie's Store and fixate upon the Newall house--suffers a cerebral hemorrhage while dreaming of the time when the adult Cora lewdly exposed herself to him back when he was a child.  Paulson dies gasping the enigmatic words "The moon!" and then the story concludes with the following brief paragraph: "The day after he is laid to rest in Homeland, a new cupola starts to go up on the new wing on the Newall house."  It appears that the home feeds vampirically on the townspeople, thriving on their misfortune.  This Northern Gothic mansion was always being built up when the Newalls resided there, and continues to metastasize even when it lacks living occupants (in terms of King's haunted houses, the Newall place hearkens back to the Marsten House in Salem's Lot but also looks forward to the eponymous Rose Red).  The story's title thus proves to be a sinister pun.  Forever pondering the prominent home, which was "an affront to the sensibilities and an offense to the eye," the crew at Brownie's would often quip, "But it grows on you."  That it does, but not in a good way for the remaining populace of Castle Rock.

Beautifully written and rife with haunting imagery and incident, the story itself grows on you (like a worm battening on your gray matter).  It's the type of narrative that invites repeated readings, each as effective as the last in establishing a sense of weirdness.  This "story about secrets and sickness," as the author aptly labels it in his endnotes to Nightmares & Dreamscapes, turns the reader into an analogue of the men in Brownie's Store, obsessed with a looming house of gloom and the dark history of its former(?) owners.  For all these reasons, "It Grows on You" ranks as the greatest work of American Gothic short fiction that King has written to date.