Skip navigation

Category Archives: General Horror

A friend asked me recently how I felt about the World Fantasy Award association’s decision to stop using the bust of Lovecraft as its trophy.

These handsome fellas right here.

Short answer: I think it was a great decision, and will benefit us all in the long run.

Long answer:  Have you ever read “The Thing on the Doorstep”?

Some people might argue it’s one of Lovecraft’s best–or, at least, most innovative–works.  Aaron Mahnke (of the podcast Lore) claims that it’s the first horror story to introduce the setting of the insane asylum.  (I take a bit of issue with that…insane asylums were definitely present before then–“The Repairer of Reputations”, anyone?–but he still was one of the first.)  The story revolves around mind control and the living dead, all well before they were popular in mainstream horror.  On top of that, it’s a classic unreliable narrator set-up that starts off with a bang.

It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer.

Damn, right?

Well, I’ve always just fucking HATED it.

Why?  (Spoilers, but come on, the man died in 1937.)

Because the malevolent force is a wizard who’s functionally immortal because he possesses the mind of those close to him.  Only–wouldn’t you know it?–he was unfortunate enough to have a single daughter.  And her mind was weak, as a woman’s is.  And thus he would not have the full force of his strength as long as he inhabited his daughter’s body.  So, of course, he possessed her, got her to seduce a man (our hapless protagonist), and then gained control of his mind.

While I can appreciate its literary merits, I’m never going to like it.  I’m never going to embrace it and think that this work encapsulated his genius.  I read it and think things like, “Oh, come on.”  Or, “Motherfucker, your long-suffering estranged wife was vastly more powerful and hearty than you ever could hope to be.”*

I can deal with that, though, because clearly women confused and baffled Lovecraft.  That’s really the only story with a female protagonist.  Most of the time, he just seems to forget they exist, and honestly, I’m okay with that.

But what if elements of the weak-willed, silly woman was present in every. single. one. of his stories?  Would I be able to ignore it?  Would my feelings about his writing stay the same?

I don’t think any of us would deeply enjoy reading an author who highlighted a feature of our core identity and used it as a weapon, a threat, or a joke in every single one of his works.  But I think it’s really easy to forget that those elements–and to be clear, I am talking about his blatant racism, there’s no getting around that fact–are there, if you’re not the one being singled out.  As a white female, I’m not phased by the cat’s name in “The Rats in the Walls”.  It doesn’t immediately jump out at me that every single black person in his stories seems to be either simple but upstanding or literally a member of a barbaric death-cult.

But if you’re the target, each and every slip and descriptor is a reminder that you’re not welcome.

I hate boring horror.  I hate things that strive to be as traditionally frightening as possible, both within horror as a whole and within Lovecraftian fiction specifically.  I think a lot of us do.  I think we seek out innovation, and that’s why the mythos has been such a fertile stomping ground–because there are so few rules, so few facts set in stone.

But if we keep telling people they’re not welcome–or tell them not to be silly, of course they are, and then expect them to be happy about a gift of a hateful man’s head–we’re never going to learn all that horror can be.  Diversity can be a buzzword, but it can also be our salvation.

We can only read stories of broad-chested English adventurers exploring the deep sea/Antarctic/Congo who stumble across an ancient cult and then get destroyed by something unthinkable or unknowable.  We can do that for the rest of our lives, if we want.  There’s certainly plenty of that ilk out there to last a lifetime.  For some people, that might be enough.  But it’s not for me.

The Cultist

*I love Sonia Greene.  I really, really do.

I haven’t written since March?  Good god.  Are any of you still out there?  I don’t blame you if you’re not.

Since March and now, I have defended my dissertation, gotten the hell out of graduate school, and dove back into medical school.  Life is far, far better than it was.  I never did finish Flatland (yes, I know, it’s like 90 pages).

Apparently, horror country/bloodgrass is its own musical genre.  I’m baffled I haven’t heard about this until now.

I’m not sure if that’s a digiridoo or throat-singing in the second one, but I approve wholeheartedly.

I’ve been writing in fits and starts, but I’ve been fighting to get to a more regular schedule.  I’ve gotten one short story accepted so far…I’ll post the deets when it’s out.  (I was told sometime this fall…so, here’s hoping.)  Its subtitle might as well be, “Here’s how the Cultist feels about graduate school!” (and I will admit I was in tears writing most of it), but, eh, I guess they liked it well enough.

I’ve got a lot of questions about horror-writing (or, more broadly, speculative fiction in general).  And yes, I have read Stephen King’s On Writing, and I did find it quite useful.  But it’s not all-encompassing.  Particularly

  1. As far as I can tell, darkmarkets.com seems to be the go-to for current fiction calls.  And it seems to boil down to two classes: the calls that pay a (tiny) flat fee per story ($5-15), and the kind that pay per word (generally .3-.6/word).  The former seem much more casual and independent, and, as far as I can tell, the per-word folks seem to be better established and more serious.  Is it better just to apply everywhere and get your name out there, as beggars can’t be choosers?  Or should you be somewhat judicious?  I can see arguments for both, TBH.
  2. How can you tell if your pseudonym is stupid?
  3. Where does one find feedback?  I don’t know any other horror writers in the immediate proximity, and Stephen King seems to feel that feedback is necessary, but writer’s groups are/can be a bit masturbatory.
  4. Is there a market for people only interested in writing short stories?  It seems that people use short stories to break into the world of novels, but I think that horror novels are a very different (and frequently more disappointing) beast than short horror.  (It is far, far harder to avoid telegraphing the ending in a novel than a story–furthermore, short stories have room to be weird and inconsistent, and I adore that.)

So, I’m at a bit of an impasse right now (not that it’s keeping me from writing).  I’ll try to figure this out and post as I go.  Until then, I remain

The Cultist

Currently reading: Flatland (because man cannot live on Lovecraft alone, and I’m woefully ignorant in the classics of sci-fi.  I’ve read Vonnegut, the Ray Bradbury one about people on Mars we had to read in middle school, and The Lathe of Heaven, and that’s pretty much it.  No Octavia Butler, no Isaac Asimov, no Earthsea*, nothing.)

Finished: The Madness of Cthulhu, volume one.  I wasn’t super taken with this one, I have to admit.  I’ll probably do an in-depth review of it, but suffice it to say only two or three stories jumped out at me, and one of them is arguably more body horror than Lovecraftian.  (My own opinion, clearly, but this is a safe bet with any story that involves the protagonist itching their skin off.)

Surprised I’m recommending: The Gothic Fantasy series, specifically, the host stories, horror, and sci-fi ones.  If the cover puts you off, I don’t blame you one bit.  But I picked up the horror stories one, because, well, horror, and I was tremendously surprised to find only a few stories I had read.  Ignore the gilt, swirling covers and the cheesy title pages.  These stories are excellent, a great mix of the classic (I had never read Le Fanu before, and now I suppose I have no excuse**) and the new.

Posts in the future: I hold that the less frequently drawn-upon Lovecraft references make the best short stories***.   While they’re few and far between, I have read a number of absolutely spectacular short stories based on “The Whisperer in the Darkness” (the Mi-Go, Yuggoth/Pluto, the collection of brains in jars…all that).

Plus, all things considered, they're substantially scarier than bubbles mashed up with a train.

Plus, all things considered, they’re substantially scarier than bubbles mashed up with a train.

I’m also starting to become more mindful of authors writing in the guise of Lovecraftian fiction to touch upon sociopolitical issues–these are perhaps even rarer, but they’re hard to shake off once you’ve read them.

Me: Defending my PhD May 20.  25 pages into my thesis and counting.  Lots of experiments to run, but determined more than ever to keep my quality of life intact.  Which means MORE: more reading, more writing, more thinking about horror.  So yes, I’m back on this blog, and with a vengeance!

The Cultist

*Although when I was in elementary school I DID read Le Guin’s series Catwings, four picture books depicting the adventures of winged cats.  Seriously.  (TBH, I thought it was awesome, but my dad did a double-take when he saw the name on the cover…)

**Though I am not a fan of gothic literature, no sir.  There’s one story where the big, epic, awful reveal is that the bride and groom-to-be are actually siblings (the groom’s wretched father had raped the bride’s mother and insisted that all keep it a secret)…but they were already cousins to begin with.  Say what you will about cousin-cousin marriages and the low risk of deleterious mutations, I’m just saying that the punch of the capital I Incest was somewhat lessened by the pre-agreed upon, less squicky lowercase incest.

***Excluding everything August Derleth ever wrote.  Water elementals.  My ass.

Back from a sunburned country just in time for a committee meeting, so the longer posts will have to wait for another few days.  But in the meantime, I thought you might get a kick out of the life-sized sculpture of H.P. Lovecraft that Guillermo del Toro keeps in his house, because of course he has one and of course he does:

HP Lovecraft

Dang.

The Cultist

As grad school ebbs and flows (it’s pretty much all ebbing, at this point), I tend to fall into treat yo’self mode pretty hard.

treat yo self

Except for, you know, I’m a not-very fashionable nerd with limited social skills.  So what sort of thing tickles my fancy?

Sweets, books, and shit like this.  I present to you Lovecraft-inspired bottles.

bottle 1

Ooh yeah.

bottle 2

I don’t even know what I’d do with them, but man.  So nice!

The Cultist

 

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a PhD student in the fall of (what I hope to God to be) my final year.  There are currently three big hurdles to my defense:

  1. Convincing my committee that I can publish a first-author paper by May-June 2016
  2. Actually writing the damn first-author paper and convincing my PI to publish it
  3. Writing the actual dissertation (lol, you know, that thing?  My thesis?)

Which is all well and good, and if it’s not all well and good it’s an unavoidable part of the PhD process, but this is just a long-winded way of saying that I’m currently in the quagmire of hurdle #1.  I have a committee meeting November 23rd, which seems like a good distance away–except that I’m leaving for a conference on the 12th and get back the 19th (at which point I will be hideously jetlagged), so functionally I have very little time to prep things.  Which is a still long-winded way of saying: No long posts in the immediate future.  Mostly links and random thoughts on horror.

I’m still thinking about horror, believe me!  I’m in the middle of The Girl with All the Gifts, and while I’m not usually one for zombie fiction, it’s written well enough that I’m enjoying it immensely.  In anticipation of the conference and the flights that come with it, I’ve ordered both Shadows over Innsmouth and Weird Shadows over Innsmouth.  And I have, like, 4 volumes of Caitlin Kiernan’s short stories.  I will be in good shape, I promise.

But yes, in the meantime, I wanted to bring your attention to Junji Ito.  I don’t read manga at all, but I make a major exception for Junji Ito.

Lovecraft ItoWhile I wouldn’t describe Junji Ito’s work as blatantly Lovecraftian (although The Thing that Drifted to Shore captures the sheer horror of the sea in ways that Cthulhu and the Deep Ones could never do for me), he creates a sense of bleak loneliness and the notion of inescapable destruction that haunts you for days.

This is a good place to start: and yes, I know it’s not cool to pirate, translations for pretty much everything he’s done are available online.  (Incidentally, the Human Chair was based on a 1925 short story…how cool is that?)

snail

It’s definitely worth checking out: I think The Enigma of Amigara Fault is probably his most famous in America, but nearly everything I’ve read of his I’ve enjoyed.  And by enjoyed I mean “found horrifically depressing, vivid, and disturbing”, but for good cultists, it’s pretty much po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

-The Cultist

Sorry I’m late (something something figures for paper, something something conference coming up, something something OH MY GOD HOW IS MY COMMITTEE MEETING IN LESS THAN A MONTH I NEED TO DEFEND AND GET OUT OF HERE, etc.)!  But I assure you, I have not been idle.  When not frantically teaching myself Adobe Illustrator and trying to replicate 10-year-old experiments (yeah…not so much), I’ve been reading and attempting to watch as much horror as I can handle.  Today, I’d like to tell you about Event Horizon, a movie I started to watch, freaked out about badly, tried to continue to watch, gave up, retreated, and looked up plot points on Wikipedia/IMDB and key scenes on Youtube.

Before I get any further: SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS in this post, spoilers abound, I will not cut because everything would be cut, because this entire damn thing is just one big SPOILER.  If you do not want Event Horizon SPOILED SPOILED SPOILED, you should look at this adorable lizards in adorable little outfits, and then you should read something else.

lizard 2SO MAJESTIC!

lizard 1(Both of these are from Holy Mountain.  Seriously, how can you not love this movie?)

Anyway, so.  Event Horizon.  Never have I watched a movie with such terrible CG that has upset me so badly*.  (Belated note to animation team: Yes, I know that you wanted to show the abandonment of life and the cessation of normal daily activities by showing frozen items floating idly in zero G.  You intended to create a powerful sense of desolation and horror.  It was a noble endeavor, but my sole reaction was a powerful sense of “That is the fakest can/watch/piece of clothing I have ever seen”.)

From a superficial perspective, it might seem surprising that I consider Event Horizon to be a perfect encapsulation of modern Lovecraftian horror.  Event Horizon is a nominally sci-fi horror movie about Hell.  And I do mean that literally–not just extreme discomfort or unpleasantness, not even a sort of Gary Larson-esque landscape replete with flames and moderately bored devils

Larson hell

Hell is the worse thing you can imagine.  Hell is physical pain beyond imagining, but more importantly, every regret you’ve ever lived and tried to move past thrown in your face relentlessly, for eternity.  Hell is all things evil.

Evil, Hell–these are words that a Lovecraft fan should react to with unease.  There’s no arguing that it’s effective horror, but it’s the complete opposite of the indifferent cosmos that Lovecraft creates.  A force that creates a special, personalized inferno that you and only you will respond to–that’s the definition of care and attention, albeit in a twisted, remarkably disturbing way.

Over and over again, characters in Event Horizon talk about Hell.  Their personal Hell.  The existence of Hell.  A dimension of pure chaos and evil.  It’s the antithesis of Lovecraft.

Right?

I would argue Event Horizon is not a thin veneer of sci-fi masking a gooey center of horror.  I would argue that it is is pure sci-fi–but sci-fi precisely as Lovecraft would have imagined it, not as we’re primed to recongize it.

The main characters in the film are Cowboy Curtis (if you’re slightly older than me)/Morpheus (if you’re my age) as the intrepid captain and that guy from Jurassic Park as a scientist.  They’re in search of the Event Horizon, a ship the scientist designed to test an experimental gravity drive that would enable ships to move faster than the speed of life.  But a distress signal was dispatched, and it’s now up to the crew to figure out what happened.

A lot, as it turns out.

Immediately upon arrival, there’s clear evidence of a massacre.  And by that I mean body parts floating around, mostly.  Blood everywhere.

And here’s where the first hint of Lovecraft shines through.  There’s a lot of hand-waving about how this gravity drive works (it creates a black hole, which I imagine was a moderate surprise to everyone but physicists and other people familiar with the term Event Horizon), but one thing immediately becomes clear: a portal was opened into another dimension.  And the scientist has NO IDEA what or where that dimension was.

Blithe forays into different dimensions in the name of science, activation of novel and tremendously powerful scientific devices or artifacts without full understanding of what they’ll do…From Beyond is the most striking manifestation of this theme, but it’s not the only one, not by a very long shot.

But what happened?  The gravity drive was activated, a portal was opened.  Something came through.  Something was experienced, and all humans that came into contact with experienced dreadful, personal hallucinations and were summarily destroyed in what Wikipedia describes somewhat quaintly as a “blood orgy”.  Was it truly a portal to Hell?

Maybe.  It’s possible we’re supposed to suspend disbelief even more than usual and just assume that the good ship stumbled into a parallel universe that is Evil with a capital E, one that PRECISELY matches all our conceptions about hell.

Is that likely?  I don’t think so.  And I think Event Horizon is a great film because it captures the human reaction to the unknowable (yes, I must say it) far, far better than Lovecraft did.  What do humans do if they’re faced with something that their minds cannot expand to comprehend and cannot dismiss or ignore?  It’s hard to believe that the experience would be anything other than sheer horror.  But…if they’re in a Lovecraft story, they’re packed up neatly into a padded cell, where they spend their days alternating between sitting quietly and babbling on about non-Euclidean geometry.

What would happen in real life?  The first crewman to experience the gravity drive attempts to kill himself, telling the others that the dimension had shown him “the dark inside of him”. I think it’s much more likely that the incomprehensible capital-W Whatever he experienced punctured his understanding of the world, leaving a void that struck his conscious/subconscious brain as so wrong that he filled with the worst thing it could conceive.  He created his own hell, and it was more than enough.

It must be mentioned that, as much as I like this movie, the crew’s general conceptions of Hell/Absolute Evil look AN AWFUL LOT like literally the entirety of Hellraiser, which is delightfully Lovecraftian in its own right.

big puzzle box

That is a damn big puzzle box

barbed wire

Pinhead: “We have such sights to show you.”

Woman from Event Horizon: “I have such wonderful, wonderful things to show you.”

But, you know, Hellraiser came out in 1987, and the shenanigans aboard the Event Horizon take place in 2047.  Perhaps the images of Hellraiser, at this point, were fully embedded in the collective identity of humanity at that point.

The Cultist

 

*Other than The Phantom Menace.  *Ba-dump tish*

As we come to the end of this series, I’d like to tell a rather unusual story.  A story of a decades-long search that only recently came to fruition.  (I debated whether or not it deserved its own blog post, as the subject is decidedly not Lovecraftian in nature.  But at the end of the day, this little internet niche is my personal dictatorship, so here it is, and there you go!)

Anyway.  When I was firmly in the grip of adolescence (ages 12 to 14 or so, I’d say), there was practically nothing I liked more than going to Tower Books and Records, a sadly now-defunct store 30 minutes away from my house.

I was a fan of bookstores in general, but Tower Books and Records was uniquely…lord, I don’t want to say “edgy”, but edgy is really the only adjective I’m coming up with right now.  It struck puberty-riddled me as punkish and irreverent and sexy.  Every time I went there, I stumbled across something that (at the time) seemed impossibly different and significant.  I remember reading as much of Please Kill Me as I could standing awkwardly between aisles, because there was no way in hell my parents were going to let me buy it.  Ditto multiple collections of Letters to Penthouse, and a slender volume that may have had some unifying plot beyond “Here’s a bunch of cocktail waitresses and all of the many and varied ways in which they have sex with their patrons”, but despite careful and close study I was unable to suss it out.

But I think what I remember most vividly (yes, even more vividly than Cock Tales, or whatever that book was called) was a graphic novel based on Struwwelpeter.  You’ve probably heard of Struwwelpeter before.

coverIt’s a series of German poems meant to instruct and entertain young children in the subjects of personal hygiene and behavior.  Light-hearted tales about how if you sucked your thumb, the Scissorman would come at night and cut them off, and how if you played with matches you’d be burned into a crisp.  Complete with illustrations!  Ha ha!  What fun we have!

kaspar2The little boy wouldn’t eat his soup, so he wasted away and died.  LOL!

But this version…this was an absolute nightmare.  Each chipper, boundlessly eager poem about the death and destruction of a disobedient child was accompanied by a finely-detailed, black and white drawing.  SStTitD had primed me to appreciate horrific illustrations, and these…these were something else.  They weren’t abstract and faintly terrifying through suggestion.  They were crystal clear, surrealistic depictions of terror that would have horrified Freud.

Even at the time, I had this sick, sinking feeling that I was witnessing something that would stick with me forever.  Something that I shouldn’t really be looking at.  But I read it all, as much as I could cram into my skull before my parents grabbed me by the collar and dragged me bodily out (as they usually had to do where Tower Books and Records were concerned).

I couldn’t find that book the next time I went to Tower Books and Records.  And then Tower Books and Records was no more.  I remembered that version of Struwwelpeter–oh, I did remember it–but I hadn’t remembered the author’s name, nor the illustrator’s, nor even the name “Struwwelpeter”.

Over the years, I told people about it, and they laughed or shuddered, whichever was more appropriate.  Occasionally I looked for it, but never got very far.

Which brings me to this very week, and to my previously mentioned problems with book-hoarding.  I mean, when I wrote about Mostly Ghostly…I couldn’t help but order a copy.  And that wasn’t too hard (despite the fact that Mostly Ghostly was apparently also the name a tweenage-Goosebumps-esque series, I was able to sift through the chaff pretty effectively).  And so, the thought kept nagging at me.  Could I find that horrific book of German verse?

Well.  It wasn’t hard to search for “horrific German nursery rhymes” to find out that the title was Struwwelpeter, but there I hit a dead end.

I have a very dear friend who is basically the Rainman of internet searches.  You can say to him (and I have), “Goddamn, I stumbled across this really weird clip of a man in a chicken costume stomping on balloons, and now I can’t find the clip or the movie it was from, and I’ve googled every possible iteration of “man” “chicken costume” “balloon” “stomp” and got nothing,” and within 40 minutes he’ll send you the original Youtube video as well as a link to watch the entire movie, in a legal-ish manner.  I do not have such skills.  I don’t type entire questions into the search bar, I don’t use Yahoo or Ask or Bing, but beyond that my internet-fu is pretty piss-poor.

So, I googled “Struwwelpeter modern” and came up with a modern artsy children’s book with a cheerful-looking cover.  No dice.  I googled “Struwwelpeter horrific images”, “Struwwelpeter graphic novel”, “Struwwelpeter re-telling”, and so on and so forth.  I even posted to the hivemind of Facebook, but got nothing.

Finally, after some wretched combination of search terms, I found a slide-show for an art class project.  Basically, it was a sort of “Make Struwwelpeter your own” sort of thing.  I didn’t have much hope, but I clicked through it, and–what was that?  Yes!  YES!

heinrich-hoffmann-illustration-project-15-638

The images were still burned into my cerebrum.  I knew I had found my book.

I had a date and two names.  And I had Amazon Prime.  The rest was a forgone conclusion.

So, Struwwelpeter: Fearful Stories and Vile Pictures to Instruct Good Little Folk is on its way.  Were my impressions overly colored by adolescent angst and hormones?  Will the book terrify me as it did 15 years ago?  Time will tell.  But goddamn, I am so, so, SO excited.

And that’s more or less how I became the horror nerd that I am today.  I’ll be more Lovecraft-oriented on Friday, I promise.

The Cultist

First of all, I am all over this documentary like white on rice.  Topical!

But on to today’s topic…ghosts.  Generally speaking, I don’t find ghosts very frightening or compelling.  Even in my youth, long before I had heard of Lovecraft’s cosmic monsters, my fear was relegated to the following:

  1. Vampires: I was alternately reassured by the fact that you had to invite them in and terrified by the fact that they seemed to KEEP FREAKING GETTING IN.  However, all of the illustrations I had seen showed beautiful women sprawled out on top of the bed, which led me to the (admittedly overly-hopeful) conclusion that vampires would be absolutely confounded by bedsheets.  To date, I can’t really sleep if there’s not a blanket or a comforter pulled up over my neck.
  2. Skeletons: Not zombies, not reanimated corpses.  Skeletons.  This confounded my highly logical scientist father, who patiently explained to me, over and over again, that skeletons lack muscles and tendons, and as such are inanimate by design.  I appreciated my dad’s attempts, but he just didn’t understand how these things worked.

I say this because despite all of these things, the third book that I would deem to be the most influential in my youth was a slim purple-covered paperback volume called (simply) Ghosts, in the Usborne World of the Unknown series.

I had this book for most of my childhood, but somewhere along the way it got lost or donated.  This has surely happened to countless books over the course of my life, but I could never quite reconcile myself to the loss.  Finally, this summer, I realized that I lived in the golden age of the internet search engine and had Amazon Prime, and, with a little elbow grease, there was nothing stopping me from reliving my childhood.

Of course, I hesitated a little even after realizing that–much like realizing that Hawaiian Punch isn’t actually that good and Hostess Cupcakes are bland and stale-tasting, I was deeply concerned that the book would not live up to my remembered hype.

ghosts

I am very happy to say that I was wrong.  So wrong.  This book is absolutely excellent.  It’s short, but every page is crammed full of anecdotes, theories, folk-tales, and illustrations.  Bill Bryson described visiting the American History Museum in his youth, before it was slick and polished and well-organized; his delight came in part from the lack of organization, from wandering around and stumbling across random, delightful artifacts.  I felt similarly about this book.  There’s details on stagecraft (ever wonder how they showed ghosts on stage in the 19th century?), world legends (the Gibbering Ghosts of India!), and possessed animals (the possessed British mongoose named Geb?).

And now, for a brief bit of personal philosophy:

At the risk of sounding like I’m an aged, infirm individual (I am newly 28, and no, I do not think I am old), I’ve started to think more seriously about physical possessions, what I want to keep, what is worth acquiring, what is worth hanging onto.  Like most people, I tend to be a STUFF magnet, and I’m sorry to say that my horror collection is definitely part and parcel of this.  It’s so easy for me to justify new purchases–like, of course I need an illustrated copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories!  I mean, of course, I respect Poe, but I don’t particularly enjoy reading his stories that much…I mean, Fall of the House of Usher was great, sure, but he’s Poe!  I have to at least have one of his books, right?

This woman is helping me break that habit:

kondo

In case you haven’t heard of her, she is Marie Kondo, and she wrote a slim volume on organization.  Her philosophy boils down to: Keep only things that bring you joy.  I’ve been getting better about keeping that in mind, although I’m certain that my kitchen cupboards would make her puke and I still tend to compulsively buy books.

But anyway–this is a round-about way of saying that as soon as I ripped open the Amazon mailer and retrieved Ghosts, I knew that I had made absolutely the right decision.  I probably won’t hang on to that Poe volume (I know, I know, I know: Lovecraft immensely admired Poe, Borges thought Lovecraft was more or less a Poe slash-fiction writer, but goddamn it, I gotta be me, and I’m not a Poe person), but this time I won’t be letting Ghosts go.  No sir.

The Cultist

Okay, I did think of a few other horror movies I’ve watched start to finish, and they were all vampire-based:

  1. Let the Right One In: I enjoyed this one, but I did cover my eyes at a few points
  2. Nosferatu: I was surprised–it’s so old and cliched now, but I did get legitimately frightened at a few moments.  The actor playing the vampire just moves SO slowly and deliberately.
  3. Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula: I…do people actually find this movie scary?  To me, it was like they took EVERY possible vampire theme–creepy old guy/sexy young guy/ugly monster/steampunk/werewolf?–and tried to mash them all into a single, unified horror movie.  And it just did not work at ALL.  (And did anyone else laugh at the ending?  Not the actual killing of Dracula, but the part where Mina gives her little impromptu speech to all the vampire hunters, and after YEARS of fighting Dracula, they’re all just like, “Yeah, I guess we were wrong…”)  (Although Tom Waits as Renfield was an amazing choice.)
  4. Dracula (the original): I think I watched this when I was 9 or 10, and I was not very impressed.

But anyway!  I think Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was probably the first frightening book I read, but I also have extremely fond memories of Mostly Ghostly.

mostly ghostly 2

I had a hell of a time finding this book, because it’s also the same name of a series by R. L. Stine.

(Incidentally, R.L. Stine would probably be thought as an obvious choice for a blog post…but eh, I don’t have very strong memories of reading his books.  I mean, I definitely read a lot of them–that I know for sure–but I guess by that point my sense of horror was already somewhat dulled by years of exposure to pictures like this

harold

and this

oh-susanna*).

Written by Steven Zorn and illustrated by John Bradley, this book is IMPRESSIVE.  The version I had was hardcover and absolutely massive–just long and large, so it never fit comfortably even on my tallest bookshelf.  This was done, presumably, to make room for the art.  The illustrations themselves are less frankly horrifying than SStTitD, but they’re no less skillful.  They’re more cartoonish, but every one of them is vaguely unnerving in a way that I found absolutely compelling as a child.

mostly ghostly3

The stories themselves are based off of old famous ghost stories.  There’s one about a hanged murderer who doesn’t realize he’s dead, a funny one about a new aristocrat who doesn’t believe his enormous estate can be complete without a ghost, but I think the one that stuck with me the most is about a terrible clammy THING that shows up on a ship.  But this is where my adult knowledge and childhood memory fails me somewhat, because while I can remember a lot of the individual stories, I can’t remember who wrote what.  And while 8-year-old me certainly didn’t care about the source of these stories, it’s interesting in retrospect to realize that I was reading adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edith Nesbit, and Ambrose Bierce.

The Cultist

 

*This illustration is a perfect example of exactly what I love about SStTitD.  The story it’s associated with is just a simple urban legend about a college girl annoyed by her roommate’s humming–she finally grabs her shoulder to get her to stop, only to discover that her head has been cut off.  Yeah, it’s definitely creepy, but what is going ON in this picture?  How does it relate?

oh-susanna

But it doesn’t matter.  It just conveys the impossible and the fear of the unknown in such a vivid way that it serves only to enhance the sheer terror of the story.