Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Grim Visage

There are a lot of derivative aspects to The Following, but the Poe-costumed killer in Monday night's episode was genuinely disturbing.
That mask was easily the creepiest I've seen since the Saw movies.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Quoting Poe

In the previous post, we encountered Poe's posthumous presence in the Michael Connolly novel The Poet.  Joel and Ethan Coen also channel ol' Edgar Allan in their dark comedy/caper film The Ladykillers.  Here's a sample of such spirit (please disregard the Japanese subtitles), a scene-splicing clip that invokes Poe's work
both literally and wittily:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dark Passages: The Poet

Fox's "The Following" is hardly the first entry in the dark crime genre to weave the works of Edgar Allan Poe into its plotline.  There are plenty of examples to be found in the world of fiction and film/TV, but one of the more ingenious instances is Michael Connelly's 1997 novel The Poet.  The book details the attempt to track down a Poe-quoting serial killer, and wallops readers with a terrific plot twist involving the writings of the 19th Century master of the macabre.  Here's a passage in which the protagonist, Jack McEvoy, discusses the personal impact of Poe's words:

Soon I was back in the embrace of the words of the poet.  Dead a hundred and fifty years but reaching from the grave to grip me.  Poe was a master of mood and pace.  The mood was gloom and the pace was often frenetic.  I found myself identifying the words and phrases with my own life. "I dwelt alone / In a world of moan," Poe wrote.  "And my soul was a stagnant tide."  Cutting words that seemed, at least at the moment, to fit me.

I read on and soon felt myself gripped by an empathic hold of the poet's own melancholy when I read the stanzas of "The Lake":

But when the Night had thrown her pall
Upon that spot, as upon all,
And the mystic wind went by
Murmuring in melody--
Then--ah then I would awake
To the terror of the lonely lake 

Poe had captured my own dread and fitful memory.  My nightmare.  He had reached across a century and a half to me and put a cold finger on my chest.

(passage quoted from pp. 195-6 of the 2004 trade paperback edition from Grand Central Publishing)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Worth Following?

The premiere episode of the new TV series from Scream-scribe Kevin Williamson bombards viewers with innumerable characters and heaps of exposition.  The Following also flashes back and forth in time at a dizzying rate, and absolutely overflows with Poe references (how come serial killers never admire Hawthorne, or Melville?).  At times the show feels like a mash-up of Seven, Red Dragon, and (most recently) The Raven, but does offer a nice twist in having the villain tutor a cult of deadly acolytes.  Best of all here is Kevin Bacon, who is perfectly cast as a troubled investigator (cf. his work in Mystic River).  The question remains as to whether the narrative can be successfully stretched over 14 episodes--let alone multiple seasons--but for now, The Following warrants continuing attention.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Short Story Spotlight: "Electric Mist Confidential"

"Electric Mist Confidential" by Weston Ochse (Cemetery Dance #68)

"The bottom line is that there's a frequency you can use to listen to the dead.  Somewhere between Old Gospel Hour and a classic rock station, there's a line of static the careful, steady hand can dial in that carries words never meant to be broadcast, never meant to be heard."  This ghostly static is the "electric mist" of Ochse's title, and the launching point for one terrific story.

Nathaniel Webster is a disabled veteran who spends his ample free time tuning in to, and communing with, the "deaders" broadcasting from their unmarked graves alongside a lonely stretch of Tennessee highway.  As the tale opens, Nate is drawn to a new posthumous voice, and his curiosity is likewise peaked by a mysterious figure in a car parked nearby.  That these two elements prove to be connected is no great surprise, but Ochse nonetheless manages to hit readers with a couple of stunning plot twists.  The story features both a strong narrative voice and an original and wickedly clever villain who has some truly ghoulish plans for his victims.  In its seamless mix of dark crime and the supernatural, "Electric Mist Confidential" is pure Cemetery Dance, and one of the best pieces of short fiction to appear in the magazine in the past year.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Siamese Strawberry

Last time I checked, America's farmlands hadn't suffered an apocalyptic blast of radiation.  So how to explain, then, this mutant fruit (photographed from both sides) that showed up in a container of strawberries I recently purchased?  The juicy monstrosity (compare the "normal" specimen beside it) looks like several full-sized strawberries melded into one--the produce equivalent of Chang and Eng.  Definitely the fleshiest (and oddest) piece of fresh fruit I've ever encountered.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Mob Scene: Paranorman

[For the previous scene, click here.]

The Oscar-nominated Paranorman has plenty to recommend it: vivid animation, endearing characters, satiric wit, sophisticated plot twists.  Perhaps best of all for lovers of American Gothic, the film features an extended angry-villager sequence.

Paranorman's pyrotechnic climax kicks off when a group of zombies shamble into the midtown section of Blithe Hollow, and a redneck resident promptly responds by pulling out a shotgun and shouting, "Kill 'em in the head!"  Mayhem and riotous violence ensue, but the dark behavior does not overshadow the scene's comedic elements.  There are sight gags galore, such as a hand mixer and a bowling bowl being wielded as weapons (along with the more traditional torches and pitchforks), and a young girl's flaming teddy bear tossed forth into the town hall like a Molotov cocktail.  A plunger-toting drama teacher climbs atop a car and histrionically proclaims "Cry 'havoc' and let loose the dogs of war," and then (when her audience fails to understand her) bluntly translates,
"Let's rip 'em apart!"  More subtle touches include a laundromat sign that reads "Hung and Dried," and the Frankensteinian-shaped head of musclebound Mitch (who apppropriately bemoans the townspeople's desire to "burn and murder stuff").  For all its rampant humor, the scene also has serious import, driving home the film's anti-bullying message: the zombies are ultimately misunderstood creatures, more victims than monsters, and protagonist Norman lectures the crowd about their intolerance of difference.

2012 was a big year for cinematic mob scenes, and none were more effective--or more fun to watch--than the one orchestrated in Paranorman.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kingly Trivia

Match the work in the left column with the King novel that cites it as an epigraph:

1. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451                   A. Bag of Bones

2. Herman Melville, "Bartleby"                       B. Wizard and Glass

3. Steve Earle, "Snake Oil"                                  C. Under the Dome

4. Mark Twain, "Huckleberry Finn"               D. Dolores Claiborne

5. James McMurtry, "Talkin' at the                E. Needful Things

6. Edgar Allan Poe, "The Masque of               F. Firestarter
      the Red Death"

7. Aretha Franklin, "Respect"                          G. The Stand

8. Blue Oyster Cult, "Don't Fear the              H. The Shining

9. William Shakespeare, Romeo                     I. The Talisman
      and Juliet

Answers appear in the Comments section of this post.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Fine Nine

What will be the Best Books of 2013?  Here's a QuickList of potential nominees:

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All by Laird Barron

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Joyland by Stephen King

I Travel by Night by Robert McCammon

Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates

Oktober Shadows by Norman Partridge

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

The Abominable by Dan Simmons