Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Most Gothic Place Names in the United States--Utah

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

You've got to hand it to Utah when it comes to Gothic place names.  The Beehive State presents us with Bone Valley (a lowlands golgotha), Coal City (where all the naughty boys and girls are disappointed on Christmas morning), Hardup (congregation of the downtrodden), Arsenal (favorite hideaway of the militia move-ment), Heist (dedicated to elaborate scheming), Borden (an axing you shall receive), Shadow Run Estates (darkness in charge), Dragon ("Floating" or "Red"?), and American Fork (arming angry mobsters all across the country).  Head and shoulders above all these appellations, though, is...

Sleepy Hollow Two.  A town haunted by a Mormon version of the Headless Horseman?  Or perhaps the ideal location for the filming of the sequel to Tim Burton's movie.  You can't help but picture a fog-shrouded scene, filled with rustic houses and fenced by dense woods.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Valley Ghouls

It has the format of COPS, the irreverent sensibility of Reno 911, and the monsters-in-our-midst premise of True Blood.  And it's a successful mix, judging from last night's premiere of the new MTV series Death ValleyAn embedded TV news crew tracks the exploits of the Undead Task Force--the officers charged with protecting the general public from the hordes of vampires, zombies, and werewolves that have descended upon the San Fernando Valley area.  Kill shots and one-liners abound in the pilot episode, but comedy ultimately trumps the macabre.  There are some inspired bits of wittiness here (e.g. a confrontation with a werewolf couched as a D.U.I. stop) that hopefully can stay fresh over the course of a full season.  Perhaps the long-term success of Death Valley hinges on the development of a story arc and the presentation of the monsters as villainous characters and not just grisly targets.  Safe to say, though, I will be tuning in again next Monday night at 10:30 to watch the UTF at work.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dark Passages: "The Wind"

The wind: welcomed when moderate, dreaded when it whips.  Invisible (manifesting only in its effects on other objects) and howling mouthlessly, it has an undeniably ghostly quality.  Ray Bradbury captures this perfectly in his short story "The Wind."  The following passage illustrates the author's unique ability to develop an uncanny premise (as he posits a supernatural undercurrent to a force of nature).  It also showcases Bradbury's knack for trans-forming a mundane situation (here, a telephone conversation between friends) into something macabre and haunting...

"So far, so good.  I'm locked in the kitchen now.  Part of the front wall of the house blew in.  But I planned my retreat.  When the kitchen door gives, I'm heading for the cellar.  If I'm lucky, I may hold out there until the morning.  It'll have to tear the whole damned house down to get to me, and the cellar floor is pretty solid.  I have a shovel and I may dig--deeper..."
It sounded like a lot of other voices on the phone.
"What's that?" Herb Thompson demanded, cold, shivering.
"That?" asked the voice on the phone.  "Those are the voices of twelve thousand killed in a typhoon, seven thousand killed by a hurricane, three thousand buried by a cyclone.  Am I boring you?  That's what the wind is.  It's a lot of people dead.  The wind killed them, took their minds to give itself intelligence.  It took all their voices and made them into one voice.  All those millions of people killed in the past ten thousand years, tortured and run from continent to continent on the backs and in the bellies of monsoons and whirlwinds.  Oh Christ, what a poem you could write about it!"
The phone echoed and rang with voices and shouts and whinings.  (207-208)

Work Cited

Bradbury, Ray.  "The Wind."  The October Country.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.  199-210.

Note: I had planned to post this Dark Passage yesterday, but the gusting winds(!)  from Hurricane Irene knocked out my Internet connection.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Irene Iterations

Category 1: Jim Carrey's comedic variation on Jekyll & Hyde

Category 2: Poe moroseness

At midnight, in the month of June,
I stand beneath the mystic moon.
An opiate vapor, dewy, dim,
Exhales from out her golden rim,
And, softly dripping, drop by drop,
Upon the quiet mountain top,
Steals drowsily and musically
Into the universal valley.
The rosemary nods upon the grave;
The lily lolls upon the wave;
Wrapping the fog about its breast,
The ruin moulders into rest,
Looking like Lethe, see! the lake
A conscious slumber seems to take,
And would not, for the world, awake.
All Beauty sleeps!--and lo! where lies
(Her casement open to the skies)
Irene, with her Destinies!

--from "The Sleeper"

Category 3: The Goodnight Irene, famous finishing maneuver of "Adorable" Adrian Adonis (whose wrestling trunks might be the most unnerving image ever to appear on this blog)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Short Story Spotlight: "The Big Blow"

"The Big Blow" by Joe R. Lansdale (Mad Dog Summer: And Other Stories)

OK, technically it's a novella (that was later expanded into a novel), but this Joe R. Lansdale narrative is a perfect one to delve into this weekend as Hurricane Irene bears down on the East Coast of the Macabre Republic.  "The Big Blow" details an epic boxing match involving real-life pugilist Jack Johnson, a bout suddenly trumped by the great hurricane that ravaged Galveston, Texas in the year 1900.  The novella is fast-paced (building to a surprising but rewarding conclusion) and sports a cast of extremely colorful characters.  It's also as salty as the seawater that floods the streets of Galveston, with Lansdale walloping the reader right from the opening sentence: "On an afternoon hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock, John McBride, six-foot-one-and-a-half inches, 220 pounds, ham-handed, built like a wild boar and of similar disposition, arrived by ferry from mainland Texas to Galveston Island,a six-gun under his coat and a razor in his shoe."  Now, if that powerful hook doesn't inspire you to keep reading, you must have been knocked delirious by gale-force winds somewhere along the way.  "The Big Blow" ranks among the finest of Lansdale's tales. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Most Gothic Place Names in the United States--Texas

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

Don't mess with Texas when it comes to Gothic monikers.  The list of suggestive appellations includes Cain City (fratricides united), Little Hope (for all who enter here), Avenger Village (decidedly pro-vigilantism), Phantom Hill (ghost sightings on the rise), Devils Shores (a beachfront for Beelzebub?), Fry (Texans sure are keen on capital punishment), Old House Place (dark and derelict), Gore Landing (not far from Cut and Shoot), and Koockville (a community of loonies).  But make no bones about it, the most Gothic place name in the Lone Star State is...

Skellytown.  A landscape surely riddled with shallow graves.  A town where the closets brim with dead bodies.  And it's not hard to imagine the most popular costumes and props here, come Halloween.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

...Is Another Man's Treasure

The Palace (of) Depression figures prominently into both the book and film versions of Eddie and the Cruisers.  But the place is no mere fictional construct; it was actually built in the early 1930's in the Atlantic City suburb of Vineland.  And who better to profile this architectural oddity than the guys from Weird NJ:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book vs. Film: Eddie and the Cruisers

Eddie and the Cruisers was the first movie I ever watched when my family purchased a VCR back in the mid-80's.  Today, I own the DVD, and have watched it countless times.  For all my familiarity with the film, though, I was oblivious to its literary source.  It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I finally purchased and read the 1980 novel by P.F. Kluge that inspired the movie.  So how do the two versions stack up against one another?  Read on... (caution: plot spoilers).

The novel is narrated by Frank "Wordman" Ridgeway (Tom Berenger's character in the film), so Eddie and the Cruisers is literally and figuratively his book.  He forms the central character, even as he plays Nick Carraway to Eddie Wilson's Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great American novel is referenced several times throughout the book).  The narrative thus proves much more personal/confessional than the film version.  Frank's voice--inflected with world-weary cynicism--also creates distinct echoes of hard-boiled detective novels (cf. the work Raymond Chandler).

As does the film, the book shifts back and forth in time, moving back through the decades to the Crusiers' heyday, and contrasting that golden age with the tarnished nature of the band members' modern lives.  Kluge's scenes, though, take time to unfold, whereas the film (thanks to jump-cutting) often offers smoother--and more poignant--transitions.

The cast of characters is more fully developed in the novel, which helps elevate them from background figures to major suspects in the mystery stemming from the popular resurgence of the Cruisers' music.  For instance, Wendell, who doesn't deliver a single line of dialogue in the film (and is killed off midway through), is integral to the plot of the novel.

The book does a much better job of establishing Eddie's dream, the musical goal he is trying to accomplish (something more compli-cated and significant than in the film version).  On the other hand, director (and co-screenwriter) Martin Davidson more skillfully handles the subject of Eddie's death: the question of whether the nascent rock star's demise was an accident, a suicide (a consid-eration the book seems to shy away from), or possibly even a faked death.

While the film wonderfully captures the vibe of the Jersey shore scene of the mid-20th Century, Kluge's novel extensively details the sights, sounds, and smells of the Garden State.  Readers travel with the Cruisers from Newark to Camden, Asbury Park to Atlantic City.  In effect, Kluge (a native of Berkeley Heights) has penned a Springsteenian ode to New Jersey.

The film's major advantage, however, is its musical aspects.  In the novel, Frank has to resort to quoted lyrics and his own para-phrasing narration (he acknowledges his struggles to depict the Cruisers' performances: "How can I recapture that night? I can't sing it, play it, or relive it.  All I can do is recall bits and pieces."). The film's viewers, meanwhile, get to see the Cruisers in action, get to listen to the soundtrack (which I would rank as one of the top five in film history) furnished by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band.  Indeed, it's doubtful that Eddie and the Cruisers would have struck such a chord with its audience if not for its interpolated songs--the enthusiastic anthem "Wild Summer Nights," the haunting ballad "Tender Years," and, of course, the bar-rocking classic "On the Dark Side."

Perhaps what most distinguishes Kluges' Eddie and the Cruisers is its dark, sinister tone (as it slips into the dark side of American Gothic).  A derelict Quonset hut forms an eerie yet integral setting; the book climaxes with a series of bloody murders.  The film opts for a milder air of spookiness, but its final scene raises goosebumps for a whole other reason.  The music builds to a shattering crescendo, the documentary footage of the Cruisers fades to black, and suddenly the reflection of an older, bearded Eddie Wilson (he's alive! he's alive!) appears in the storefront window.  A delightful twist ending, especially for anyone who happened to have read the novel (where Eddie in fact died in a car crash) first.

I absolutely loved Kluge's novel, and have crusied through it twice since obtaining a copy.  For all its strengths, though, the book is hard-pressed to match the film version for sheer, affective power.  That's why, using the 10-point divvy system, I ultimately give the edge to the 1983 cinematic incarnation:

                                 Film: 6
      Book: 4

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Seal of Removal

No, this lone creature didn't get stranded after swimming up out of the Passaic River.  For some strange reason, the seal is all that remains of the children's playground (in the riverside park located in my hometown) that was bulldozed into oblivion several months back.

And for some bonus Photesquerie:

Is it just me, or does this mound of infield dirt (sitting a couple of hundred feet away from the seal in the first picture) look like Jabba the Hutt?  Stare at it long enough, and you can almost make out a mouth and a pair of eyes.  Han Solo best stay out of Lyndhurst!

Friday, August 19, 2011


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

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


" ___  R  ___  ___  G        ___  U  T      

T  ___  ___        G  ___  ___  ___ ."


HINT: Ving Rhames's deliverance

Answer appears in the Comments section of this post.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On the Road with Silver John: "Owls Hoot in the Daytime"

(For previous ballads about the balladeer, click the "On the Road with Silver John" label in the right sidebar.)

"Owls Hoot in the Daytime"

In a forsaken place where owls are diurnal
And a humongous possum's kept as a pet,
A housefront built around a cavemouth
Forms the strangest sight yet.

John is committed to unearthing truth,
But this is a tale he might not live to tell,
For the facade leads him to an uncanny beast
Whose truest home is hell.

Manly Wade Wellman's short story "Owls Hoot in the Daytime" can be found (surprisingly enough) in Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Most Gothic Place Names in the United States--Tennessee

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

The Volunteer State offers up a host of terrific names, such as Black Center (dark at heart), Stainville (C.S.I.: Tennessee), Hardscrabble (many unhappy returns), Chuckey (where no one likes to play with dolls), Crackers Neck (usually sunburned), Forty Forks (the angry mob has amassed), Bone Cave (skeletal shelter), Yell (for help, before it's too late), Crouch Crossroads (you can expect to be ambushed here), and Hanging Limb (must be a branch of Lynchburg).  This week's laurel, though, goes to...

Gravelotte.  Sounds like a landscape dominated by a cemetery.  Or the kind of town where solemn countenances abound, as the locals have all resigned themselves to a grim fate.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Mount Rushmore of Macabre Movie Actors

Mount Rushmore has been on my mind since visiting South Dakota for this week's "Most Gothic Place Names in the United States" post.  I've been wondering...what four faces would comprise the Mount Rushmore of Macabre Movie Actors (i.e. those revered thespians whose careers are marked by ventures into the dark side)?  Using "overall body of work" as my criterion, I carved out the following fabulous foursome:


 Career Highlights:

Frankenstein (1931)
The Mummy (1932)
The Old Dark House (1932)
Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
Targets (1968)


Career Highlights:

House of Wax (1953)
The Fly (1958)
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)


 Career Highlights:

Whatever Happened to Baby  
  Jane? (1962)
Dead Ringer (1964)
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Burnt Offerings (1976)
The Watcher in the Woods (1980)


Career Highlights:

Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Secret Window (2004)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber
  of Fleet Street (2007)
Dark Shadows (2012)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cat Lover

If there was ever any doubt that drugs make people do crazy things: the news this week about an Iowan meth-head who decided, ahem,
to get frisky with a feline (there's a more risque joke begging to be made here, but I'll restrain myself).

The sordid details of this story almost make the events of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" seem quaint by comparison.

Hopefully, Gerardo Martinez's inter-species misdeeds won't lead dealers to start marketing crank as an aphrodisiac.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

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

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

I struck gold in South Dakota, unearthing such priceless names as Moreau (a House of Pain on every street), Mound City (major necropolitan area), Jolly Dump (delighting in detritus), Black Eyes (a community full of damaged reputations), Crook City (what Deadwood should have been called?), Batesland (where the peep holes aren't confined to front doors), and Badnation (a country-wide indictment).  But when it comes to Gothic place names in this state, the following is as good as it gets...

Bad Wound.  It's hard not to imagine such a town having a bloody history.  Or perhaps the injuries suffered here are of the more intangible (but no less grievous) nature.  The kind that fester inside a person, and call for terrible vengeance against whoever perpetrated the perceived misdeed.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Gothicism of American Gothic: "Strong Arm of the Law"

[For the previous entry, click here.]

The eighth episode of American Gothic opens with Caleb and his sidekick Boone sneaking up onto a porch at night to catch glimpse of a naked woman.  The would-be voyeurs, though, are shocked to discover no bathing beauty but rather a group of pig-masked figures busy drowning a man in a tub.

Will Hawkins, the victim, had recently endorsed a rival candidate for the position of town sheriff, leading Deputy Ben to doubt that Hawkins's death was a mere accident.  Further suspicion falls on Lucas Buck when a band of lawless brothers arrive in Trinity and begin shaking down local business owners (under the flimsy pretense that they are collecting for charities such as the "Sheriff's Retirement Home").  But Buck is not responsible for the presence of the criminal quartet, who have chosen the wrong Southern town to stir up trouble in.  The Sheriff's qualities as a Gothic hero-villain are never more evident than when he first smooth-talks the brothers (leading them to believe that he approves of their misbehavior), and then methodically takes vengeance against them.  Justice is is chillingly dispensed: one brother, in Poe-esque fashion, ends up buried alive alongside Will Hawkins in the latter's coffin.  And the episode's climax offers a scenario that prefigures the traps of the Saw films: Buck handcuffs two of the brothers together (one has been trapped inside a wrecked, overturned car), sticks a burning road flare inside the gas tank, then tosses the captives a knife and proposes that they try to free themselves by cutting off a hand at the wrist.

An exploding gas tank soon decides the matter for the hoodlums.  Prior to meeting this grisly fate, the brothers had also run afoul of Caleb.  Midway through the episode, they sneak into Caleb's room in the boarding house, accosting him for making off with their suitcase full of stolen goods.  The tables are turned, though, and Caleb ends up putting a scare into his visitors by unleashing a beastly roar.  Caleb credits his (unseen) sister Merlyn with the supernatural assistance, but one can't help but wonder if the boy (dubbed a "demon child" by one of the spooked brothers) is really infused with Buck's ungodly powers.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Identify the Stylist

[For the previous round of this game, click here.]

Think of this as the literary equivalent of the old game show Name That Tune.  Can you identify the author of the following passage based on its stylistic hallmarks?

Haunted houses, forbidden houses.  The old Medlock farm.  The Erlich farm.  The Minton farm on Elk Creek.  NO TRESPASSING the signs said but we trespassed at will.  NO TRESPASSING NO HUNTING NO FISHING  UNDER PENALTY OF LAW but we did what we pleased because who was there to stop us?
Our parents warned us against exploring these abandoned properties: the old houses and barns were dangerous, they said.  We could get hurt, they said.  I asked my mother if the houses were haunted and she said, Of course not, there aren't such things as ghosts, you know that.  She was irritated with me; she guessed how I pretended to believe things I didn't believe, things I'd grown out of years before.  It was a habit of childhood--pretending I was younger, more childish, than in fact I was.  Opening my eyes and looking puzzled, worried.  Girls are prone to such trickery, it's a form of camouflage, when every other thought you think is a forbidden thought and with your eyes open staring sightless you can sink into dreams that leave your skin clammy and your heart pounding--dreams that don't seem to belong to you that must have come to you from somewhere else from someone you don't know who knows you.
There weren't such things as ghosts, they told us.  That was just superstition.  But we could injure ourselves tramping around where we weren't wanted--the floorboards and the staircases in old houses were likely to be rotted, the roofs ready to collapse, we could cut ourselves on nails and broken glass, we could fall into uncovered wells--and you never knew who you might meet up with, in an old house or barn that's supposed to be empty.  "You mean a bum?--like somebody hitch-hiking along the road?" I asked.  "It could be a bum, or it could be someone you know," Mother told me evasively.  "A man, or a boy--somebody you know..."  Her voice trailed off in embarrassment and I knew enough not to ask another question.

The distinctly female point of view (and a narrator given to transgressive behavior as a young girl)...

The theme of mother-daughter strife...

The Gothic settings (American farmhouses in ruins)...

The long paragraphs and labyrinthine sentences...

...This must be the work of Joyce Carol Oates.

(The passage is taken from the opening [p. 3-4] of the title story of Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque.)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Most Ominous Garage in the Macabre Republic...

...Stands just up the street from where I live.

I doubt even Buffalo Bill would dare stash a decapitated victim inside this place.

Gotta love that sign that's been posted.  (Trespassers can't say they weren't warned!)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

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

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

Digging up Gothic names down South was no problem whatsoever: consider Stiefeltown (suppression guaranteed), Barefoot (and brewing moonshine, I bet), Shadow Wood (count on being secretly followed), Wide Awake (the kids are up all night on Elm St.), Crowburg (where humiliation's suffered on a daily basis), Ravenwood (outgrowth of Poe?), Alligator Lake (the picnics never lack for excitement), Hell's Half Acre (property of Mephistopheles), Quarantine (the height of isolation), and Graves (the folks here are extremely down to earth).  Still, I'm throwing caution to the wind and nominating the following as the most Gothic place name in South Carolina...

Ware Place.  Visitors and citizens alike are advised to tread carefully here; it sounds like a place that wrings unease from people.  The kind of town featuring an archetypal sheltered-and-dilapidated home--a suitable domicile for Michael Myers or Boo Radley, but perennially shunned by the rest of the populace.