Thursday, June 30, 2011

Countdown Recap

Here's a quick pictorial recap of the countdown of Top 20 American Horror Movie Posters, numbers 20-2 (click on the corresponding number to read the individual post for that poster).  Be sure to travel back to the Macabre Republic tomorrow, when the choice for #1 will be revealed. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Short Story Spotlight: "You Must Remember This"

"You Must Remember This" by Gary A. Braunbeck  (

Gary A. Braunbeck's fiction is marked by its uniquely weird premises, by the author's knack for dramatizing the disruption of quotidian existence by the uncanny.  "You Must Remember This," Braunbeck's latest short story, is no exception.  Randy and his wife Cindy are watching the old home movies that they just had transferred to DVD from 8mm, when Randy makes an unsettling discovery: the scenes he views onscreen deviate strangely from the past he recalls, and in some instances prove to be outright fantasies with no connection whatsoever to his actual experiences.  What possible explanation could there be this perplexing turn of events, other than Randy (who takes Zoloft to treat his depression) being mentally unstable?  Well, let's just say that the story builds to a whopper of a plot twist, one that manages to be both surprising and fitting.  And poignant, as Braunbeck's greatest gift--his ability to craft realistic, recognizably human characters, people nursing both physical and emotional wounds--is also on full display here.

Ultimately the imperative phrasing of the title is unnecessary, because this is one story that the reader will have no trouble remembering.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Most Gothic Place Names in the United States--Oklahoma

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

Oklahoma offers up such darkly musical names as Strawberry Spring (beware fog-cloaked serial killers), Hitchcock (this place is for The Birds), Shrewder (the inhabitants are always looking to outfox you), Hester (a scarlet letter on every varsity sweater), Ketchum (a real Jacktown), Tenkiller (gives new meaning to "shooting a supermodel"), and Mound Grove (a glorified graveyard).  No sooner did I spy the following, though, than I knew it constituted Oklahoma's most Gothic place name:

Dead Women Crossing.  The name suggests a site of misogynistic massacre.  Or some shunned town where female ghouls are on the prowl.  A locale where life and death intersect, and ghosts eternally search for the correct path to the beyond.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Countdown: The Top 20 American Horror Movie Posters--#2

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#2. Cloverfield

This poster proves that you don't need famous faces or witty taglines to grab people's attention.  Encountering this depiction of unfolding apocalypse, the observor can't help but wonder what decapitated Lady Liberty.  Also, the smoking New York City skyline inevitably evokes the spector of 9/11.  Even the film title sparks curiosity here, based on the poster's imagery (what exactly is the significance of "Cloverfield"?).  Overall, an ingenius poster, in perfect keeping with the film's viral marketing campaign.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Gothicism of American Gothic: "Potato Boy"

[For the previous entry, click here.]

This episode of American Gothic actually never aired during the show's 1995 run, perhaps because it is rife with sexual innuendo (a lonesome Selena gets frisky with ten-year-old Caleb during an after-school lesson in her apartment).  Also, religion is debased throughout: a dead bug floats belly-up in a basin of holy water; a church looks like the setting for a splatter movie after a priest spills blood-red wine all over during communion; Sheriff Buck (providing voiceover) also wonders if one the prim and proper churchgoers is "a screamer or a squealer."  Yet anyone who has read The Monk 
knows that the negative portrayal of religion is a traditional feature of the Gothic.

The Potato Boy of the episode's title is a Boo Radley-type bogey that has captured the imagination of Trinity's children.  Rumor has it that the boy is the bastard child of creepy Old Man Warren and the young woman he imprisoned and impregnated.  She died delivering him, since the boy allegedly weighed 30 pounds at birth.  He was also wretchedly deformed (no eyes; giant claws for hands) and thus has been kept locked away in the mouldering Warren house ever since.  Turns out, the Potato Boy is inside, and he is disfigured, but he has a beautiful soul.  In another example of the episode's coupling of religion and the grotesque, the Potato Boy is given an angelic voice (which he uses to belt out church hymns).

The episode shows that Trinity is populated with secret sinners.  The school teacher is a harlot; the local psychiatrist is a pedophile; the priest is a dope fiend (who doesn't practice what he preaches when it comes to Christian forgiveness: he's disowned his wanton daughter, Selena, banishing her from his church [how a priest has come to have a daughter is a question the episode skirts]).  And of course, the sheriff is the most duplicitous figure of all.  But give the devil his due: Lucas Buck makes a good point when he advises Caleb, "Be careful what you see in a man's eyes.  It might not be the truth."  In Trinity, South Carolina, the windows to the soul tend to be darkly shaded.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Countdown: The Top 20 American Horror Movie Posters--#3

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The image (I love how Leatherface's carving tool cuts into the red-lettered film title) and accompanying caption ("America's most bizarre and brutal crimes!...") shine with pulp luridness.  But what truly distinguishes this poster and earns it a Top 3 spot on the countdown is its oversized, interrogative tagline.  Never has a more gruesome question been posed to moviegoers.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dark Passages: Summer of Night

Cue the Alice Cooper music: school's out for summer.  But one book about a haunted school is required summer reading for every horror fan in the Macabre Republic.  Dan Simmons's hefty 1991 novel Summer of Night is indebted to Stephen King's It, but its opening (quoted below) deliberately echoes Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.  Also, in the third paragraph of this dark passage, notice how Simmons Gothicizes the school building, trans-forming it into the equivalent of a looming mansion.  The central sentence in that paragraph (describing the school's facade) is appropriately labyrinthine, conveying ornate detail via antiquated diction.  All in all, an engrossing start to an unforgettable narrative:

Old Central School still stood upright, holding its secrets and silences firmly within.  Eighty-four years of chalkdust floated in the rare shafts of sunlight inside while the memories of more than eight decades of varnishings rose from the dark stairs and floors to tinge the trapped air with the mahogany scent of coffins.  The walls of Old Central were so thick that they seemed to absorb sounds while the tall windows, their glass warped and distorted by age and gravity, tinted the air with a sepia tiredness.
Time moved more slowly in Old Central, if at all.  Footsteps echoed along corridors and up stairwells, but the sound seemed muted and out of synch with any motion amidst the shadows.
[...] Visitors to the small town of Elm Haven who left the Hard Road and wandered the two blocks necessary to see Old Central frequently mistook the building for an oversized courthouse or some misplaced county building bloated by hubris to absurd dimensions.  After all, what function in this decaying town of eighteen hundred people could demand this huge three-story building sitting in a block all its own?  Then the travelers would see the playground equipment and realize they were looking at a school.  A bizarre school: its ornate bronze and copper belfry gone green with verdigris atop its black, steep-pitched roof more than fifty feet above the ground; its Richardsonian Romanesque stone arches curling like serpents above twelve-foot tall windows suggesting some absurd hybrid between cathedral and school; its Chateau-esque, gabled roof dormers peering out above third-story eaves; its odd volutes looking like scroll-works turned to stone above recessed doors and blind-looking windows; and, striking the viewer most disturbingly, its massive, misplaced, and somehow ominous size.  Old Central, with its three rows of windows rising four stories, its overhanging eaves and gabled dormers, its hipped roof and scabrous belfry, seemed much too large a school for such a modest town.  (7-8)

Work Cited

Simmons, Dan.  Summer of Night.  New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1991.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It Tolls For Humanity

Following up on yesterday's post, here's the clip for what I would argue is the best opening-credits sequence ever created for a horror movie.  (If anyone can think of a better choice, please clue me in!)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Countdown: The Top 20 American Horror Movie Posters--#4

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#4. Zombieland

Parody at its finest: this poster riffs brilliantly on the iconic Universal Studios logo.  The colorful animation creates an instant sense of worldwide apocalypse, and the tagline at the bottom perfectly captures the dark humor of this zombie comedy.  A terrific poster, heralding an incredible movie (The Hangover, also released in 2009, wishes it was 1/10th as funny).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Most Gothic Place Names in the United States--Ohio

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

Ohio ranks high on the list when it comes to place names with (American) Gothic intimations.  The Buckeye State gives us Torch (a perfect burg for firebugs), Gutman (the butcher shop's always well-stocked), Shadyside (come on down if you aren't on the up and up), Devil Town (naturally must border River Styx), Needfull (a haunt for Leland Gaunt?), Moats (where every man's home is literally a castle), Funk (dejection on an unprecedented scale), Batemantown (American Psychos, unite!), Three Locks (no open-door policy for this populace), and Worstville (abso-lutely horrible).  But the best of the lot is...

Old Gore.  Conjures images of bloodstained sidewalks and town squares festooned with desiccated viscera.  The kind of place where the local cinemas only screen vintage Herschell Gordon Lewis films.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011

The E Street Band--and the entire world of rock & roll--suffered a terrible loss over the weekend with the passing of Clarence Clemons at age 69.  The larger-than-life figure's saxophone playing formed an essential part of the Springsteen vibe, as anyone who has ever listened to "Rosalita" or "Badlands" would attest.  But perhaps Clemons's most memorable work was the three-minute solo at the heart of the epic "Jungleland."

Farewell, Big Man.  Your fans will always be looking for you out on the Street.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Demon for All Seasons

This twisted Father's Day short shows that Trick 'r Treat's Sam doesn't only come around in autumn.  Perhaps the best part of the video, though, is the pair of announcements at the end.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Countdown: The Top 20 American Horror Movie Posters--#5

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#5. Thirteen Ghosts

Viewing this poster leaves me as pop-eyed as the figure depicted here.  The imagery--featuring what looks like some bizarre outbreak of psoriasis--is supremely surreal.  I love the placement of the film title inside the howling mouth, and the usage of multiple taglines (each sounding the theme of plurality) is also quite fitting.

Friday, June 17, 2011


[For the previous game of Hangmany, click here.]

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


"___       ___  O  ___  ___       ___  O  ___       ___  ___  I  ___  Y"

___  Y       ___  I  ___  ___  I  ___  ___      

 ___  ___  U  ___  K  ___  ___  ___


HINT: geriatric necrophiliac

Answer appears in the Comments section of this post.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

On the Road with Silver John: "Nine Yards of Other Cloth"

[For previous ballads about the balladeer, click the "On the Road with Silver John" label under Features in the right sidebar.]

"Nine Yards of Other Cloth"

A mean fiddler who uses music just like black magic
Means to court a young beauty named Evadare.
When John tries to shield the girl from such fiendish advances,
He finds that Shull Cobart plays anything but fair.

Shull's devilish instrument lures John to Hosea's Hollow
To be served up to a legendary creature hideously deformed.
Shull believes the evil Kalu will find good John quite palatable;
Fortunately for the balladeer, the beast's been spiritually reformed.

Manly Wade Wellman's short story "Nine Yards of Other Cloth" can be found in Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Countdown: The Top 20 American Horror Movie Posters--#6

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

Poster art has never been pulpier than in this 1950's offering (The colors, man, the colors!).  I love the 3-dimensional quality of the lurid scene depicted here, with the pincered female hanging in the foreground and the rest of the outsized crustacean looming in the background.  Sure, the movie's title sounds like some bizarro Sex Ed video, but the overall effect of this poster is definitely attention-grabbing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Most Gothic Place Names in the United States--North Dakota

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

North Dakota wasn't nearly as barren as I had expected, featuring place names such as Carbury (the crypts here are all either 2- or 4-doored), Overly (excessiveness is a residence requirement), Rival (no one does bitter better than these townspeople), Munster (Herman's northern hideaway), Dickey (a place of Deliverance?), Devil's Lake (Ol' Scratch's favorite watering hole), and Bonetraill (hell on hikers).  I can authoritatively state, though, that the most Gothic place name in North Dakota comes from...

Straubville.  It sounds like a town full of Peter worshippers.  A place steeped in Mystery, and the perfect spot to listen to a Ghost Story.  A community where A Dark Matter is on the docket every single day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

QuickList: The 5 Best "Could Switching to Geico Really Save..." Commercials

We love quirky humor here in the Macabre Republic.  The current Geico commercial series (a welcome relief from the cavemen and the money with the eyes) does dry and offbeat to perfection.  Here are my choices for the five best "Could Switching to Geico Really Save You 15% or More on Car Insurance?" commercials to date:

5. Does Elmer Fudd have trouble with the letter 'r'?

4. Does it take two to tango?

3. Was Abe Lincoln honest?

2. Does a former drill sergeant make a terrible therapist?

1. Do woodchucks chuck wood?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Gothicism of American Gothic: "Dead to the World"

[For the previous entry, click here.]

The fifth episode of the series presents three different storylines.  First, Caleb prepares to enter an archery competition at a local carnival.  As always, Sheriff Buck insinuates himself in Caleb's affairs, buying him a state-of-the-art bow & arrow and instructing him about the use of psychological warfare.  "It's not who you are, it's who people think you are," the sheriff tells the boy.  He's lecturing about having swagger, but Buck also sounds the American Gothic theme of duplicity--the gap between appearance and reality, public persona and inner character.  Meanwhile, Buck's lover Selena prevents Boone Mackenzie (Caleb's best friend and chief rival in the competition) from practicing his archery by keeping him after school under the pretense that he needs to work on his penmanship.  You know matters have really gotten sordid when even your gradeschool teacher has a hidden agenda.

In the second storyline, Deputy Ben deals with some domestic strife involving his ex-wife and young son.  Barbara Joy is physically abused by her current husband Waylon Flood, who also bullies his stepson.  Ben tries to deal with the tyrant man-to-man, but Sheriff Buck tilts the playing field by using his powers to force the cabinet maker to fall onto his own table saw.

The main thrust of the episode, though, comes from Gail's investigation of the seeming murder of her former childhood friend Holly Gallagher by Buck.  The flashback scene opening the episode shows Buck deliberately driving Holly's car off a bridge after she threatens to expose his "dirty little secret"--the fact that he is Caleb's real father (Holly works at the hospital where Caleb's mom died, and she assists her boyfriend Buck by stealing the file containing Caleb's birth record).  But as Gail digs up the ten-year-old dirt (and literally has Holly's rusted vehicle dredged up from the riverbottom), she discovers that Holly didn't die in the accident.  Having suffered brain damage from oxygen deprivation when the car went underwater, Holly has been hidden away in a sanitarium for the past decade.  Her mother Janice, a cosmetics saleswoman, has quite a gift for concealment.  Unwilling to accept that her "perfect little girl" is now an invalid, Janice (with Buck's help) leads the townspeople of Trinity to believe that Holly died tragically.  Talk about dirty little secrets...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Countdown: The Top 20 American Horror Movie Posters--#7

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

Okay, technically it's a documentary, but it plays like a horror movie (a fact advertised by the poster's declarative tagline).  The abandoned building here gets my vote for the creepiest facade to appear on a poster since The Amityville Horror.  What I love most about this photographed scene, though, is its rustic colors and its looming, denuded trees.  All in all, awesomely autumnal. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Super 8 (Movie Review)

Super 8   (Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams; Executive Producer: Steven Spielberg)

Take the best parts of E.T. and Cloverfield and what do you get?  One super movie.

Super 8 is set in the small town of Lillian, Ohio in 1979, yet hearkens back to the sci-fi films of the 1950's.  A mighty creature wreaks havoc on a quiet community, but this is much more than a monster movie.  It's a human movie, populated with realistic characters with whom the audience easily identifies.  The film offers not just heart-pounding action but also heart-tugging emotion.

To delve into plot specifics here is to do an injustice to a movie where discovery forms such a large part of the enjoyment.  Suffice it to say, Super 8 deftly hooks viewer interest with both its back-story (the gradually-revealed circumstances of a tragedy that has created a bitter rift between the families of two main characters) and its present dilemma (what was it that escaped from that derailed Air Force train, and what exactly is it up to now?).

Basically, this film has it all: mystery, adventure, humor (the jokes are genuinely amusing, and never corny or obtrusive).  And it has romance--the relationship that blossoms between the adolescents Joe and Alice (played by Joe Courtney and Elle Fanning, who are nothing short of outstanding). The rush provided by special FX eye candy is nothing compared to watching the moments of sweetness unfold between these two endearing characters.   

Super 8 is the best blend of science fiction and American Gothic to hit the big screen since M. Night Shyamalan's Signs.  It's the perfect film for summertime--or any other cinematic season.

A final note: even if you have been sitting on the edge of your seat, be sure not to bolt from the theater the instant the end credits start rolling.  You'll miss out on one last treat that Super 8 offers.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

You Don't Know Jack (DVD Review)

The passing this past week of Dr. Jack Kevorkian spurred me to seek out the 2010 HBO movie You Don't Know Jack.  This biopic proves aptly titled, showing what a complex figure the infamous physician really was (more than a cheap punchline or--his hoary, skeletal appearance notwithstanding--some modern-day icon of grim reaping).  Al Pacino gives a quiet yet commanding performance, one devoid of his trademark bombast (the courtroom scenes here hardly hearken back to the climax of ...And Justice For All).  He portrays Kevorkian as a man of noble intentions but often oft-putting demeanor; one poignant line from the film perhaps sums it up best: "The right message, but the wrong messenger."  By film's end one gets the sense that Kevorkian was less a villain than a tragic hero, a man who ultimately orchestrated his own downfall via his audacious defiance of the U.S. legal system.

Directed by Barry Levinson and co-starring Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, and Danny Huston, You Don't Know Jack handles its eccentric title character and emotionally-charged subject matter with the utmost care.  No sensationalist drama, the film delves soberly and tactfully into the euthanasia debate.  And no matter where you might stand on the issue of assisted suicide--whether 
you consider Kevorkian a civil rights crusader or a glorified serial killer--you will find this movie compelling viewing.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Countdown: The Top 20 American Horror Movie Posters--#8

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#8. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

This poster might not be as flashy as some of the others on the countdown, but the more I look at it, the more I love it.  The Janus-like melding of Bette Davis's and Joan Crawford's visages; the prismatic panels; the macabre variation on a nursery rhyme; the inverted, decapitated head blurring the distinction between human being and toy doll.  Also, the fine print at the bottom of the poster does a mighty fine job of building hype, like the verbiage of some dark carnival barker. Your curiosity fuse definitely needs replacing if this poster doesn't jolt you with wonderment.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Most Gothic Place Names in the United States--North Carolina

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

Take a walk through the Tar Heel State and you'll come across places named Worry (count on constant concern), Mocksville (ridicule gone communal), Pumpkin Center (the epitome of seediness), Soul City (a glorified ghost town), Roughedge (the populace definitely lacks polish), Stackhouse (Sookie's neck of the woods?), Rattlesnake Lodge (the beds vibrate, but not in a good way), Boogertown (rhinotillexomania is running wild), and Lynch Beach (beware those bonfires).  But you don't have to be Dante in order to tour the town with this week's superlative appellation:

Half Hell.  Imagine a community whose borders overlap Tophet's.  A place where every other thoroughfare is a road to perdition.  Or where sinister torment is the norm for twelve hours each day.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dr. Death Checks Out

Time's up for Jack Kevorkian.  The most controversial, if not ghoulish, physician in the Macabre Republic passed away on Friday at the age of 83.  Irony of ironies: the gravely ill Kevorkian did not turn to suicide (assisted or otherwise).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Countdown: The Top 20 American Horror Movie Posters--#9

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#9. Jaws

This poster has the look of a pulp-era fiction magazine cover (e.g. Weird Tales), yet its imagery falls squarely within the realm of realism.  The depicted scene is a masterpiece of dramatic irony, with the bullet-headed shark shooting straight up towards the oblivious swimmer.  Also, the red-white-and-blue color scheme signals that the horror of Jaws is as American as a trip to the beach in summertime.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Kingly Trivia

Okay, King worshippers, it's time to put your thinking caps on...

Which Stephen King novel bears a title that matches the nickname of one of the founding members of the Symbionese Liberation Army?

The answer appears in the Comments section of this post.

Friday, June 3, 2011

On the Road with Silver John: "Old Devlins Was A-Waiting"

[For previous ballads about the balladeer, click the "On the Road with Silver John" label under Features in the right sidebar.]

"Old Devlins Was A-Waiting"

Asked to play a part in a strange conjuring experiment,
John treks through the mountains to Flornoy College.
His folk singing and silver-stringed-guitar picking will form
Perfect complement to the professors' esoteric knowledge.

It all sounds innocent and interesting enough,
But soon John is going to need a good deal of poise.
For a student's summoned kinfolk are the Hatfields,
The notorious, perennial enemies of the McCoys.

Manly Wade Wellman's short story "Old Devlins Was A-Waiting" can be found in Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Short Story Spotlight: "Naked Angel"

"Naked Angel" by Joe R. Lansdale

To help promote the release of their highly-anticipated "interactive crime thriller," the folks at Rockstar Games have put together an original anthology, L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories.  One of the contributors to the anthology is the legendary writer of dark crime novels, Joe R. Lansdale, hisownself.

"Naked Angel" hooks the reader from the get-go with a brilliant premise: the nude corpse of a beautiful young woman has been found encased in a block of ice left in a back alley.  This bizarre murder links to a broader criminal conspiracy; matters are further complicated when the patrolman who discovered the victim realizes he once knew the woman and her family.

A master of the outrageous simile, Lansdale is perfectly suited to Chandleresque fiction (Take the following gonzo comparison from "Naked Angel" as a case in point: "After a long time a big man in a too-tight jacket came and answered the door.  He looked like he could tie a knot in a fire-poker, eat it, and crap it out straight.").  The author's knack for producing crackling dialogue is also readily apparent here, as seen in the following exchange between the local patrolman and a police detective called to the crime scene:
Coats nodded.  "I couldn't figure if this was murder, vice, or God dropped an ice cube."
"Lots of guys would have liked to have put this baby in their tea," Galloway said.
The ice had begun to melt a little, and the angel had shifted.
Galloway studied the body and said, "She probably didn't climb in that ice all by herself, so I think murder will cover it."
The brevity of the story stifles its air of mystery (a limited number of characters means limited suspects), but "Naked Angel" expertly captures the seedy, sultry atmosphere of 1940's Los Angeles.  Fans of Lansdale's crime fiction will not want to miss this offering.

"Naked Angel" is available for free online reading hereThe L.A. Noire anthology (which also includes stories by Megan Abbot, Lawrence Block, Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, Jonathan Santlofer, Duane Swierczynski, and Andrew Vachss) will be published in e-book format on June 6th.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Countdown: The Top 20 American Horror Movie Posters--#10

[For the previous entry, click here.]

#10. Grindhouse

This double-feature poster is twice as delightful.  The overall layout (I love the black-and-red color scheme) conveys a terrific retro vibe, capturing the spirit of the grindhouse era.  The images for the individual films are nothing less than arresting: Rose McGowan's deadly prosthetic; the black muscle car rushing dead on, away from a horizon lined with sultry silhouettes.  Unabashedly hyperbolic, the poster promises incredible bang for the moviegoer's buck, and that faux film strip running across the bottom provides a tantalizing sneak peek at the heap of cinematic eye candy in store.