Monday, January 30, 2012

Book vs. Film: The Woman

(For my prior review of the novel, click here.)

Since author Jack Ketchum and director Lucky McKee collaborated on both the book and the screenplay, the literary and cinematic versions of The Woman form virtual mirror images of each other in terms of plot.  A comparison has to be made, then, along other lines, such as:

The roles in the film are masterfully cast.  Baby-faced Sean Bridgers (Johnny Burns on HBO's Deadwood) has a gleam in his eyes that makes him a perfect Christopher Cleek--a control-freak losing the battle against his own burgeoning insanity.  Angela Bettis, blessed with such a wonderfully emotive face, shines as the haggard housewife Belle.  But the real star here is Polly McIntosh as the titular cannibal.  She stunningly embodies Ketchum's character, brimming menace with baleful glares and growls rather than lines of dialogue.  Like some feral femme fatale, McIntosh manages to be grotesque and sexy at the same time.

The Woman is no doubt a vivid figure, but a decided advantage of the book is that it is able to bring readers inside her head (via italicized chapters presented through her viewpoint).  Accordingly, the film struggles to convey a sense of the Woman's spiritualist beliefs; a surreal opening sequence proves more confusing than effective.

My major complaint with the movie version is its soundtrack.  Simply put, the music is too obtrusive.  Even when the song lyrics are thematically appropriate, they compromise the gritty realism of the scenes, distracting viewers by forcibly reminding them that they are observing artifice.  A softer, more subtle touch would have worked much better here.

Both the book and the film should be commended for their commitment to storytelling, for their willingness to take time to unfold--to build character and situation through the steady accretion of scenes.  The film in particular makes repeated and pointed use of the gradual fadeout.

On the other hand, the film could have devoted some more time to explaining about anophthalmia (a birth defect involving orb-less eye sockets).  Still, the climactic appearance of the animalistic Cleek child does not disappoint.  The scene of Miss Raton's massacre by this dehumanized creature is perfectly horrifying to behold.

In the cinematic version of The Woman, there is no linkage to the other cannibal narratives in the series (a continuity that could quickly and easily established through flashback).  Indeed, viewers unfamiliar with Offspring would have no idea that The Woman follows directly from events at the conclusion of the prior film.  The novel form of the The Woman sounds a key theme that is absent from the film: the female cannibal's loss of her "family" (which she manages to reconstitute at narrative's end with her impromptu adoption of the surviving Cleek children).

Both the book and the film are enjoyable works of horror, but only the novel delves into the savage conscience of its anti-heroine.  That's why, using the 10-point-divvy system, I give this final ranking:

Book: 6
                      Film: 4

Friday, January 27, 2012

Countdown: The 10 Most Grotesque Residents of Winesburg, Ohio--#10

Winesburg, Ohio is the quintessential mid-American small town, but its inhabitants are anything but typical.  A fair share of these folks range far beyond the norm and (in their thoughts, words, looks, and actions) prove to be grotesque figures.

Sherwood Anderson invokes the term "grotesque" himself in the piece that serves as the general prologue to his renowned short story collection.  In "The Book of the Grotesque," though, the author asserts that such a label need not have a negative connotation: "The grotesques were not all horrible.  Some were amusing, some almost beautiful."  Anderson has a unique sense of the grotesque, which he presents here through a writer-character's notion "that the moment one of the people took one of the truths [e.g., 'the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carelessness and abandon"] to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood."

In the afterword to the Signet Classic edition of the book, Dean Koontz (yes, that Dean Koontz) complicates matters further by claiming that "the people of Winesburg, Ohio are not true grotesques as much as they are eccentrics, for their differences are less repellent than endearing."  These people are "lost, alienated, but basically decent."   Koontz is not completely off the mark here, yet perhaps takes too roseate a view of Anderson's characters.  To focus on a lovable quirkiness is to overlook the repulsiveness of many of these figures.

So as I begin counting down today the 10 Most Grotesque Residents of Winesburg, Ohio, I want to stress that my conception of the "grotesque" aligns with the use of the term in literary criticism--to denote characters with ugly/abnormal physiques, abnormal mindsets, and bizarre behavioral patterns.

With that in mind, let's meet our first resident on the countdown:

#10.Edward King

This elderly male makes brief but memorable appearance (in the story "A Man of Ideas") in the pages of Winesburg, Ohio.  He is described as a "proud" figure, but the inverse quality of his name suggests that there is nothing royal or elevated about him.  He is marked by a shabbiness of dress that reflects the tattered nature of his psyche: "Old Edward King was small of stature and when he passed people in the street [he] laughed a queer unmirthful laugh.  When he laughed he scratched his left elbow with his right hand.  the sleeve of his coat was almost worn through from the habit."  Other townspeople are alarmed by the sight of this strange man who lives in a house facing the Winesburg Cemetery.  His ominousness is also compounded by his usual traveling companion: his fierce, dog-killing son Tom, who "always carried a heavy, wicked-looking walking stick in his hand."  The low-brow patriarch Edward King is not someone who is considered endearingly offbeat but rather "dangerous"-ly insane.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Way Misty For Me

Snow on the ground and an influx of warm air combined to create quite the obfuscating atmosphere last night here in Jersey.  Here's what it looked like driving home:

No cyclopean monstrosity passed by overhead, of course.  But I was definitely thinking about this and other scenes from the movie as I cautiously proceeded.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Beelzebub Tweets

BLZ, Bub

[For previous tweets, click here.]

Why would I get involved with Super Bowl pools, when at best I could only draw two 6's?
--9:29 A.M., January 23rd

Hey, football fanatics: remember when you swore you'd cut off a finger/toe to see your team in the championship? Well, it's amputee time...
10:12 P.M., January 22nd

Whoever coined the phrase "cold as a witch's tit" never suckled dugs in Salem.
--5:40 P.M., January 16th

Temps have fallen below freezing this morning. I better go out and get busy watering my neighbors' front steps.
--6:34 A.M., January 12th

Tantalus's annual resolution: to go off a starvation diet.
--1:16 P.M., January 1st

Sunday, January 22, 2012


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

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


__   I   __   __   B   A   __   __         __   __   B   __   __   T   __

I   __       

T   __   __         __   A   __   T         __   __   __   D         __   I   __   __

B   Y         __   A   M   __   __         C   __   U   M   __   __   Y


HINT: alcoholic bulldog

Answer appears in the Comments section of this post.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Gothicism of American Gothic: "Ring of Fire"

[For the previous entry, click here.]

The title of this episode might echo that of a Johnny Cash song, but on American Gothic Sheriff Lucas Buck is the ultimate Man in Black.

"Ring of Fire" (which never aired during the series' single-season run) focuses on Gail's quest to solve the mystery surrounding her parents' deaths years earlier in a fire at their newspaper office.  Suspecting none other than Lucas Buck (whom Gail's parents had been investigating at the time) to be the fatal firebug, Gail breaks into the sheriff's home.  Hoping to dig up some dirt, she finds a remarkably clean and modernly furnished residence, albeit one with some bits of macabre decor thrown into into the mix: a gargoyle squatting over the front doorway, a dark stone statue in the foyer, a stuffed raven and an occult tome on a table.

As Gail grows more preoccupied by her search for answers, she suffers a nightmare that makes the shocking final scene from Carrie seem tame by comparison.  She envisions herself visiting her parents' grave site on a bright, sunny day, only to have the pair of mouldering corpses suddenly rip through the ground and demand that she avenge their murder.

Effusing his trademark seductive charm, Lucas offers to lead Gail to the truth (provided that she agree to welcome his future sexual advances).  Gail grudgingly agrees, and quickly regrets the decision.  The sheriff forewarned her that "no one's exactly who they appear to be," but Gail learns that lesson the hard way.  She discovers (via Lucas-facilitated flashbacks) that the childhood she recalls as idyllic was actually anything but.  Her father was guilty of both spousal abuse and sadistic violence towards his own daughter (apparently Gail had repressed the memory of how she got that burn mark on her arm).  Even more sordid details emerge: at the time of her death Gail's mother was pregnant with a child conceived during an extramarital affair with Gage Temple (father of Gail's cousin Caleb!).  Gage was also the arsonist who ended up killing both Christine and Peter Emory (not realizing that his lover was still inside the office with her wretch of a husband when he set fire to it).

At the start of "Ring of Fire," a librarian tells Gail that "the secret history of the South is hidden in blood.  Genealogy.  Family."  It's a distinctly Faulknerian sentiment, one that bookends with a comment Lucas makes later in the episode.  In absolute echo of Absalom, Absalom!, Lucas observes: "The past isn't dead.  Hell, it isn't even the past."  His words strike at one of the most central themes of the Gothic: the haunting and harrying impingement of prior history on the present moment.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

.38 Caliber Macabre

There's got to be a better way to carry a concealed weapon.  This weird news story gives a whole new meaning to "could potentially backfire."

But at least this guy should be well-prepared for prison life...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Beater of the Pack

Oh hell yeah: Eli (which is short for "Elite QB") leads the G-Men in another playoff lambasting of Green Bay at Lambeau Field.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cruel Tees

Bashin' with fashion:

"I know you have a thing for me,
but why is it so small and deformed?" 

"I Dyslexia [Love]"

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hillbilly Hilarity

I'd heard a lot of good things about Tucker & Dale vs. Evil before finally catching the movie on Netflix today, and let me tell you, it is terrific.  Brilliantly witty, it skewers the conventions/cliches of the backwoods-horror subgenre (think "Deliverance meets Larry the Cable Guy").  This one ranks right up there with Zombieland as the funniest horror-comedy I've ever seen.

For a taste of the film's humor, check out the trailer below (just be forewarned, though: it does seem to give a lot away).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kingly Trivia

Match the King character with his/her place of residence in Maine:

___ 1. Sue Snell                                A. Castle Rock

___ 2. Phil Bushey                        B. TR-90

___ 3. Becka Paulson                  C. Chamberlain

___ 4. Robbie Beals                      D. Ludlow

___ 5. Kyra Devore                       E. Haven

___ 6. Marjorie Glick                  F. Chester's Mill

___ 7. Joe Camber                        G. Jerusalem's Lot

___ 8. Timmy Baterman         H. Little Tall

Correct answers appear in the Comments section of this post.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Gothicism of American Gothic: "Rebirth"

[For the previous entry, click here.]

Initially, the premise of this episode makes it seem like something from The Ghost Whisperer rather than the grim fare the audience has come to expect from American Gothic.  Tired of her angelic afterlife--of her inability to touch or feel anything when she makes her visitations to her brother Caleb--Merlyn works to take on corporeal form once again.  She manages to reincarnate, assumes a new identity ("Halle Monroe"), revels in the joys of earthly existence, and even experiences love for the first time.

But all is not as saccharine as this synopsis might make seem.  Early in the episode, Caleb is shown to be a lonesome object of derision, as a group of teens taunt him about his ignominious family history.  Caleb has been tainted by the scandal surrounding the Temples, and observing his mistreatment, Marlyn appears to him lamenting that "It's the sins of the Father, and it ain't right."  This notion of generational plague is a recurrent theme in Gothic narratives.

Other Gothic trappings are also evident in "Rebirth"--literally, Ray (the motorcycle-riding local with whom Merlyn falls in love) is entrapped in a police cruiser when Sheriff Buck uses his powers to lock the innocent young man inside the vehicle on a suffocatingly hot afternoon.  The episode also offers a bit of Poe-esque grotesquerie when Buck forces Ray to dig up Merlyn's grave and discover that his dearly beloved girl has already departed.  We are only given brief glimpse of Merlyn in decomposing repose, but it is no doubt a haunting image.

Buck, seeing through the "Halle" disguise," eventually confronts Merlyn.  He doesn't seek to banish her, though.  Instead, he encourages her to continue on frolicking in fleshly form.  But Merlyn knows enough about Buck to recognize devilish temptation: she has returned to life by borrowing the spirit of a pregnant woman's child, and if she doesn't return that vital force to its rightful owner, the child will die before it has a chance to be born (perhaps killing the mother in the process).  Rather than committing "the ultimate sin," and losing Caleb's faith in her in the process, Merlyn chooses to take a suicide dive off the side of a bridge.  And so for the second time in the first half-season of the series, Merlyn suffers a shocking death.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"Primal" (Flash Fiction)

The following piece of flash fiction was published in the anthology Poe Little Thing Presents: In Space No One Can Hear You Scream, which came out last year and quickly dropped off the face off the earth (it's not even listed on the publisher's website!).  So I thought I would post my story--a bit of sci-fi horror that riffs on one of my favorite weird tales--here at Macabre Republic.


by Joe Nazare


Wilmar screamed his lungs deflated, fogging a miniature nimbus onto his visor.  Then just hung there, grinning, luxuriating in the immense, star-dappled blanket enveloping him.

His mood settled to a soothing “ahhhhh,” like the sigh of grass after a rainstorm—back in the days when Earth still sported lawns.

“Wow, nice yowl,” Blakely, his Spacewalk Liaison, broke in via the helmet radio.  “You’ve still got about three minutes left—plenty o’ time to build up for another outburst.  Or if you’ve had enough of the Big Black, I’ll start guiding you back in.”

Wilmar ignored the chatter.  He didn’t much care for Blakely; the guy was a weirdy.  Back before they’d made the jump out here beyond uninhabitable Neptune, Blakely had held his hand up high, bragging to him how he’d subcuted a complete library of ancient pulp fiction into his palmreader.  Whatever.

A four-EVA veteran now, Wilmar didn’t need Blakely to instruct him anyway.  He planned to stay out for his full allotted time, and not because the session was costing him thousands of digidollars.  This was his reward, for the thirteen hours spent daily in his work cubicle back home with his elbows pinned to his sides as he keyed.  And for all the aggravation suffered on account of that slumlord Noyes, who’d ignored the muffling regulations in his compartment building.

Here he could get away from it all: from the ever-metastasizing metropolises, and the overpopulation practically sinking every continent on earth.  

The situation had long since reached critical mass.  World authorities knew there was no hope of keeping people abstinent, yet realized that they’d have to try to keep them quiet if civilization was to endure.  Hence the formation of the Cacophony Cops—or Noise Nazis, as dubbed by those who ran afoul of the task forces and earned themselves a severe tongue-slashing.

Still, the stringent regulations did nothing to alleviate the crush of humanity, the legions of other people always storming your would-be buffer zone and stomping on your nerves.  The endless crowds made you want to shriek—the very thing forbidden by the Hush Laws.

Then came Hugo Philnack, bless his entrepreneurial soul.  Inspired by an old 20th-Century movie-poster tagline, he seized on the idea of rocketing passengers into Space (glorious word!), where they could scream their heads off ’til their hearts’ content in the great soundproofed surround.  The former fireworks manufacturer used his federal buyout money to purchase a shuttle, the Router-1, and gave earthlings the opportunity (for a premium fee) to vent into the vacuum. 

“Hugo-Nauts: Prepare for Ripoff!” the newstwitters scoffed initially, but Philnack had the last laugh after the first shipload of spacewalkers returned and raved—in judiciously muted tones—how they felt purged.  After that, people scurried to secure a seat on subsequent flights.

Wilmar included.  Four times now he’d journeyed Up-and-Out, and he relished each trip. Yet today a sudden doubt began to gnaw through his euphoria—did he really find this spacewalk equally satisfactory as the last?  Sure, the screaming left him feeling like he’d been brought to orgasm—but by a lover whose moves were growing steadily familiar.  He couldn’t help but fret: would the returns diminish further with next month’s already-booked excursion?     

NOOOO!  Out of nowhere, Blakely’s shrill denial crammed Wilmar’s headspace.

Wincing, Wilmar grabbed the umbilicus tethering him to the Router-1 and twisted around to stare daggers at Blakely.  Instead, his eyes popped wide when he looked back the fifty feet.

There was no shuttle to be seen.

The Router-1 hadn’t vanished; it’d just been eclipsed—by the monstrosities swarming over the hull as if it were an enormous hive.

The pinkish things were a fever dream of a crustacean, at least five feet long each with multiple pairs of pincer-tipped limbs.  But even such tenuous classification was belied by the veined-cellophane wings flaring batlike from the creatures’ backs.  Their “heads,” meanwhile, were a nest of snubbed tentacles, some uncanny sea anemone undulating.

Wilmar started trembling inside his insulated spacesuit as he goggled at these physics-defying grotesques living and moving nakedly in the void.  Whatthehell,” he muttered.

The utterance was barely audible, yet the aliens turned to “face” him as if they’d heard his whisper in the darkness.

“No!  Can’t be!  Amigos!” Blakely shouted onboard.  Wilmar couldn’t fathom the Liaison’s abrupt bilingual turn.  Given the hysterical inflection of that last word, Blakely hardly considered the creatures friendly.

As the color of the creatures’ heads phased through countless unnamable shades, a buzzing sounded inside Wilmar’s helmet—a static-like hiss that drowned out Blakely’s transmissions.  Wilmar realized his sensors must be picking up on some strange form of telepathy.  The message communicated between those alien minds became frightfully clear, however, once the so-called “Amigo” nearest the umbilicus raised a serrated pincer. 

The damned thing planned to unmoor him—to cast him off into infinity, sentence him to a slow, lonely death.

The sideways “V” of the creature’s claws bracketed the lifeline.  Wilmar wanted to shout his dismay, but felt like he had a thick ball of phlegm plugging his throat.

He closed his eyes, shutting out the fateful snipping.  An instant later his body jerked forward, and he looked and saw that rather than having scissored through the cord, the Amigo was reeling it in.

Each dexterous tug drew Wilmar closer to the swarmed shuttle.  He could only muster a whimper as the nightmares’ wings thrummed in anticipation.

Additional agitation manifested within the alien heap, but Wilmar could process the movement only after glimpsing what was passed along to a top-tier Amigo.  The thing’s hooked forelimbs now hugged a lidded silver canister.

Something about the size and shape of the obviously technological object tripped an instinctive alarm in Wilmar.  He found his scream at last, and loosed it.  A throat-scorching screech, protracted and no doubt deafening if Blakely was still tuned in.  Wilmar wailed and wailed, as if he aimed to scream himself inverted, orally eviscerated.  And all the while he prayed, to a God whose universal primacy now seemed a debunked myth, for the boon of insanity.  This his only hope remaining, that he might completely lose his mind.

Before he surrendered his brain.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Macabre (Republic) in the Blogopshere

Macabre Republic is spotlighted (the latest installment of an ongoing "Meet the Horror Bloggers" feature) over at Mephisto's Castle.  In the post, I offer my thoughts on the appeal of reading/
writing horror fiction and discuss the genesis of--and my goals for--Macabre Republic. Check it out here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Best Books of 2012(?)

The coming year certainly looks to be a banner one for genre fiction.  Here's a QuickList of ten books fans should keep a watchful eye for in 2012:

1.The Croning by Laird Barron.  I guess I jumped the gun when I put this first novel from the weird-tale maestro on last year's list.  But I have no doubt Barron's book will be worth the wait.

2.Somewhere I Have Never Travelled by Alden Bell.  Set in the same world as (and featuring some of the key characters from) the author's post-apocalyptic masterpiece, The Reapers Are the Angels.

3.The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett.  Bradburian dark fantasy.  I have a feeling that something wicked good this way comes.

4.The Twelve by Justin Cronin.  Speaking of post-apocalyptic fiction...this timely-titled novel continues the epic story begun in The Passage.

5.Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  If it is even half as good as Dark Places, this new mystery form the ultra-talented Flynn could be the runaway winner for Best Book of 2012 honors.

6.The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King.  A return to the world of The Dark Tower?  Count me (and no doubt millions of others) in.

7.Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale.  "Mark Twain meets classic Stephen King," heralds the book copy.  Now I'm on edge awaiting this release.

8.The Century's Best Horror Fiction, edited by John Pelan.  Long overdue (I was starting to wonder if the title referenced the Twenty-first Century), this massive two-volume anthology collecting the top tales from 1901-2000 is finally ready to be published by Cemetery Dance.

9.The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard.  OK, this one ventures beyond the realm of American Gothic, but a collection of Shepard's incredible fantasy work (centered on a "dormant, not quite dead dragon measuring 6000 feet from end to end") is an absolute must-read.

10.Gothic High-Tech by Bruce Sterling.  The latest collection from the most ingenious scribe in the science fiction field.  Another highly anticipated release (along with Lucius Shepard's book) from Subterranean Press.

And there they are...ten books to keep bibliophiliacs in bliss all year long.  Any other 2012 releases that you are eagerly anticipating?  Feel free to cite them in the Comments section of this post.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Universal Monsters in Our Midst

Too much rowdiness in the village last night?  Wake up this morning feeling as if your skull had been sawed open?  Then pour the black coffee and take some comfort from this hardly-ugly mug.