It is all a metaphor for the state of the world and our loss of personal freedoms, you know!
Have you noticed the proliferation of gas masks on horror movie posters? What’s with all these respiration-impaired monsters and villains? Sometimes our heroes wear the masks. That’s the worst; that means that we’re about to sit through 88 minutes of reductive post-apocalyptic tripe.
Muted colors and dust blowing. Vaguely identified zombies or cadres of armed survivors. Symptoms of a quickly made, bad movie in a saturated genre.
I bet someone in the stronghold won’t heed the rules. Will their leaving cause a failure of security leading to an invasion from outside forces? Ooh, maybe a child in their camp will get sick. Is the only cure located out there in the horrible new world order? Or will she turn into one of the monsters and destroy what they have worked so hard to build?
It is all a metaphor for the state of the world and our loss of personal freedoms, you know!
And if it is the villain, disguising his/her identity? Where do they find all these gas masks laying around?
After playing Texas Hold’em on my phone through two-thirds of The Hatred, I’ve decided to make a stand. Got a gas mask on the cover? Skip!
(Gas Mask: The Movie!)
Found is a 2012 horror film directed by Scott Schirmer and co-written by Schirmer and Todd Rigney (based on his novel, (which I recommend as highly as the film). This film deeply affected me. So good that every movie for a month afterwards seemed like crap.
The plot of the film is deliciously simple: a young boy obsessed with horror discovers that his older brother moonlights as a serial killer. Our young protagonist must now battle his inner demons to determine if he is headed down that same path. Schirmer directs beautifully with vibrant colors and clever camera angles to reflect a twelve-year-old’s imagination.
Found is, first and foremost, a character study of our protagonist. Twelve-year-old Marty (delicately, intelligently played by young Gavin Brown) is a sensitive, nearly friendless boy, horror fanatic. Actual time and care is spent developing his character. I usually despise voiceovers, but Marty’s intimate conversations with the audience suck us right into his stream of consciousness. I suggest picking up T. Rigney's short novel and enjoy the source material!
Allied with Marty, we feel the gut-wrenching embarassment and anger at being bullied; this subplot nails the frustration and cloying loneliness of being the outcast. When Marty’s only on-screen friend forsakes him, we feel the heartbreak. The rationalization of the betrayal is as stark as reality. All the elements click in this scene where Marty takes a slight cue from his brother and dishes out a bit of revenge. And here—just as later when he unleashes on bully Trevor—we rejoice in Marty’s cruelty.
An entire paper could be written on the Headless video Marty finds in brother Steve’s room. (This movie-within-a-movie was later expanded into its own eponymous film by Arthur Cullipher, Todd Rigney, and Shane Beasley, who all worked on Found. This slasher movie is an exercise in envelope-pushing depravity. Not only has it clearly inspired Steve’s murders, but we are strongly led to believe (I think) that it is the video-taped trophy of an actual killer. As sick and twisted as Headless is (and it really is), the genius of it lies in its filming. Scott Schirmer could have called for Gaspar Noé-style ultra realism, but instead went in a direction of slightly more fantastic imagery—which matches the very texture of our film experience. Don’t get me wrong, the level of brutality is stunning and doesn’t exactly look fake, but such things as jump cuts and obvious editing clue us into the direction that it is perhaps indie horror gone mad.
The major theme in Found is burgeoning sadism. Marty’s young mind clearly roils in confusion: he’s teased and beat up at school—should he fight back? Is his love of horror movies an early indication that he will end up a killer like his brother? The only thing he never debates is whether to expose his brother. In Marty’s world, that is unthinkable. But is his silence to protect his idolized sibling, or to disguise Marty's own burgeoning curiosity? All of this begs the question: does “found” refer to Marty finding the heads in the bag, or finding himself?
Found blew me away. This film resonated with me unlike any other I have seen. Perhaps that is because it connected with my personal experiences with surprising precision. In many ways I was Marty. I, too, grew up as the shy, sensitive, picked-on kid, also obsessed with horror movies that I was way too young watch but did anyway. The Indiana landscape of this movie acted as an easy substitute for my own small-town Wisconsin home.
One this is certain--found is a genius film, presenting an unfiltered, unapologetic view of a young boy facing very adult situations. With a button ending that perfectly caps this empathetic thrill ride.
I shall recommend this film and the short novel with my dying breath.
I have decided that I would rather end a book or leave a movie feeling deeply disturbed rather than "scared." Poppy Z. Brite had long been on my radar for extreme fiction, and I decided that the time had come to dig in. Which book would I start with? After reading this synopsis, the choice became obvious:
“To serial slayer Andrew Compton, murder is an art, the most intimate art."
After feigning his own death to escape from prison, Compton makes his way to the United States with the sole ambition of bringing his "art" to new heights. Tortured by his own perverse desires, and drawn to possess and destroy young boys, Compton inadvertently joins forces with Jay Byrne, a dissolute playboy who has pushed his "art" to limits even Compton hadn't previously imagined. Together, Compton and Byrne set their sights on an exquisite young Vietnamese-American runaway, Tran, whom they deem to be the perfect victim…Ultimately all [the] characters converge on a singular bloody night after which their lives will be irrevocably changed — or terminated. Poppy Z. Brite dissects the landscape of torture and invites us into the mind of a killer. Exquisite Corpse confirms Brite as a writer who defies categorization. It is a novel for those who dare "trespass where the sacred and profane become one.” [Goodreads]
Exquisite Corpse uses infamous serial killer/necrophile Jeffrey Dahmer and his crimes as inspiration and offers a recurring thread of re-telling. Anyone familiar with the Milwaukee monster’s case will recognize the chilling incident of the young man whom the police could have—should have—saved. Brite creates two characters to capture the vile darkness of the man, and _he_ sets both characters on the proverbial collision course.
The title has a backstory of its own. “Exquisite corpse” is a collaborative approach to writing (and drawing) in which each storyteller or image-maker adds their contribution without seeing what came before. The Surrealists came up with this in the early 20th Century as a way to create intuitive and bizarre work. As it applies to this novel, our four characters plunge through their lives without considering consequences and context. Like the best of Hitchcock’s suspense, we the readers see the connections about to be made and hold on, breathless, waiting for the inevitable impact. And Brite never holds back nor pulls his punches, writing those impacts with devilish—and gory—glee.
But Exquisite Corpse has more to offer beyond the splatterpunk.
Brite creates a love story, a coming-out tale, a gay romance, and a serial killer thriller. What makes all those aspects work are the brilliantly realized characters. Brite writes four terrific stream-of-consciousness narratives (including one in first person—I love when a novel changes points of view or tenses for different characters). We’re given uncomfortably intimate insight into their sexual drives, vitriolic anger, and perverse murderous desires.
This novel is over-the-top in so many ways, yet Brite delivers what the story demands. Every bloody, meaty scrap of it. The sex and violence may be gratuitous to a casual reader—or one simply unprepared for this journey—but I see it as necessary every step of the way. Exquisite Corpse screams its honesty. As such, this is one of those rare and interesting cases in which I give the book five stars—or, as we say here at Darkness Dwells, Dweller Heads—but I can’t recommend it to the general public. This is a tale for tried-and-true gore hounds who crave graphic blood and sex. If August Underground and the Guinea Pig series appeal to you, go to Amazon and buy this book now.
When one reads or writes a new vampire story, two questions need asking:
1. Does this story have something fresh to say?
2. Does this story add to the canon in a meaningful or interesting way?
The answers are an unequivocal yes with Tamara Thorne’s novel Candle Bay.
Think Mario Puzo meets Anne Rice. A family of vampires own and operate a half-kitchy, half-swanky resort in the middle of fog-shrouded nowhere. A rival family wants the secret that the Darlings have kept hidden for centuries. Thrown into the mix is a medicine that should give the Darling family an edge. But do they have an ally or a mole? The mobster subtext is both fun and compelling.
My favorite new twist is that when consumed beyond the need for simple sustenance, blood acts like alcohol. Vampires keep bottles of blood like wine, savoring a delicate vintage of AB-negative.
Thorne also creates, in a few tight paragraphs, a history of the vampiric race that rivals what Anne Rice assembled over an entire series of novels. There’s also a great exploration of two types of vampires: trueborn and human vampires that adds excellent subtext in the interplay of characters. And the nature of these vampires in Candle Bay is presented as an elegant balance of savage predators and sexual paramours, weaving together both major traits, which have become a hot topic of debate lately.
Balance is what Thorne does best in this novel. This is a love story. A mob story. A family drama. A wise combination of creepy, thrilling, titillating, and good old vampire fun. Thorne brings to life a huge cast of characters and imbues them with distinct personalities. These are living and breathing (so to speak) people who have good and evil in their hearts just like we all do. She gives us a half dozen different points of view with these characters, but knits them all together so the narrative never loses its tight focus.
Candle Bay is certainly a must-read for any vampire enthusiast, but it succeeds as a chiller that will please any reader of horror and thrillers. It’s a terrific novel beyond any category.
First published in 1991, Tamara Thorne is the author of the international bestsellers Haunted, Bad Things, Moonfall, and The Sorority. Her novels range from straight-out ghost stories to tales of witchcraft, conspiracies, UFOs, elemental forces, and vampires.
Tamara also conducts real-life investigations of anomalous phenomena and has seen a number of odd things over the last twenty years. As an open-minded skeptic, she's spoken to many paranormal groups and has appeared on the television show, Ghost Adventures. She has also been featured on many radio programs and in various newspapers on the topics of haunted places and local lore. A journalist by training, she occasionally writes about ghosts and hauntings for a syndicate of southern California newspapers, but her first love is, and has always been, telling ghost stories to make people scream. . . and laugh.
Today, she and her frequent collaborator, Alistair Cross, share their worlds and continue to write about ghosts and other mysterious forces. Together, they host Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE! and have recently finished their latest novel Darling Girls, a continuation of Tamara’s novel, Candle Bay, and Alistair’s novel, The Crimson Corset. Thorne and Cross also write the bestselling Gothic Horror series, The Ravencrest Saga, together.
You can visit Tamara on Twitter, Facebook, or at her blog.
Synopsis via Goodreads: Bret Ellis, the narrator of Lunar Park, is a writer whose first novel Less Than Zero catapulted him to international stardom while he was still in college. In the years that followed he found himself adrift in a world of wealth, drugs, and fame, as well as dealing with the unexpected death of his abusive father. After a decade of decadence, a chance for salvation arrives; the chance to reconnect with an actress he was once involved with and their son. But almost immediately his new life is threatened by a freak sequence of events and a bizarre series of murders that all seem to connect to Ellis’s past. His attempts to save his new world from his own demons makes Lunar Park Ellis’s most suspenseful novel. In this chilling tale reality, memoir, and fantasy combine to create not only a fascinating version of this most controversial writer but also a deeply moving novel about love and loss, parents and children, and ultimately forgiveness.
I read that with Lunar Park, Bret Easton Ellis had written a horror novel. Count me in! I’ve been a fan since The Rules of Attraction presented me with the first gay love scene I’d read. His American Psycho gave me my first immersion into brutal, transgressive fiction. And to be honest, Ellis’ distracted, drug-addicted big-city characters showed me a world that this small town gay boy wished he could at least glimpse in person.
Cruising through the first half of Lunar Park, I didn’t see much serious attempt at horror. He’d put in a couple weird incidents, but mostly the book read like any and all of Ellis’ work. And maybe my love affair with his writing had come to an end. Did the older, sober me really care about apathetic big-league drug fiends? Half-hearted attempts at horror bother me, too. It’s insulting to writers of dark speculative fiction. So what’s going on here? New York Times darling, bad-boy Bret Easton Ellis makes a nod to horror and critics faint from the brilliance of it? How typical.
Okay, so my first impression wasn’t positive, but that first chapter had hooked me hard: pseudo-autobiographical, Ellis created a vivid—and lurid—fictional version of himself. So the narrative itself compelled me to continue for a while longer. After all, I do love when authors insert themselves into their stories (Song of Susannah rocketed up to my favorite Dark Tower installment when the ka-tet searched out this writer in Maine named Stephen King).
Good thing I gave the book a bit longer because as it turned out, just when the doubts set in, Lunar Park really clicked into place.
First of all, I realized the main point. Lunar Park basically gives us Clay with a wife and kid. Patrick Bateman as a homeowner. While bemoaning that the anti-hero was a carbon copy of every Ellis protagonist, I didn’t catch on that the book isn't about a matured character but rather a matured situation. And that’s even more interesting. After that came the logical next step—in the same way that peer pressure can lead to drug and alcohol use, the pressure of familial responsibility begins to break down the Ellis character. He weakens, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t stop himself from becoming a husband and father. To him, this is a problem that he can’t shake. Sometimes a father and husband looks in the mirror and can’t reconcile himself as the alcoholic or addict that he’s become. For “Bret Ellis,” he can’t understand how the bad boy ended up as a dad in the suburbs.
Then Ellis nailed the horror. In the chapter about “The Tomb.” Ellis wrote one of the scariest scenes I’ve ever read. I had assumed that our author wasn’t going to make an honest effort at chills, but turns out that his build-up throughout the novel created perfect tension and framework. When he finally pulled the trigger, the result was terrifying and believable despite its outlandishness. The narrative had captivated me and firmly suspended my disbelief. All the threads of this story knotted together in a noose around my neck. The rambling New York style proved not so rambling, and whne the tale finished, I saw that Ellis hadn't used a single extraneous word or scene.
I had lost my faith in Bret Easton Ellis about a third of the way in, but I shouldn’t have. His creative powers are in full force here. Lunar Park is deftly woven. It’s a little satirical about himself and his previous novels. It’s clever and bittersweet. It’s a satisfying puzzle. And it has moments of excellent terror. Lunar Park is a five-star winner!
Black Mirror made a hardcore fan out of me by the second episode. What I love most about Black Mirror is that it doesn’t transport us centuries into the future. The episodes don’t show starships cruising at lightspeed through alien landscapes. Faces and landscapes are familiar. Most importantly—and frightening—is that the technology is familiar, too. The writers and directors play off tech that’s currently in use or in development and fast-forward us five, ten, maybe twenty years. And now four seasons in, we’ve seen an oft-repeated theme of trapped consciousness.
In my favorite episode (so far), “White Christmas,” the trapped consciousness isn’t a twist. Jon Hamm’s character talks about his work right up front, so we can discuss this without egregious spoilers. The technology in this episode is Alexa 4.0. Sure our current devices run aspects of our household: lighting, music, voice-activated Googling. Have you seen that smart-house in Mr. Robot? Black Mirror takes us a few steps further, skipping the tired trope of artificial intelligence. Why implement AI when we can have actual intelligence? Copy your own consciousness and transplant it into a little device (it’s an “egg” in “White Christmas”.) There’s a little version of you inside there, keeping your environment just the way you want it: climate, calendar, cooking. Everything there for you how and when you need it.
A great idea except that the copy of consciousness, for all intents and purposes IS you. And from its perspective, you wake up one day in a blank landscape. You’re trapped inside this little white room, and the almighty voice of the programmer, your new God, informs you that you’re not you. You’re a copy, and your job for all eternity is to keep the heat at seventy degrees and that smooth jazz at volume level five. If you woke up tomorrow morning to that scenario, you’d probably do what the character in the episode does: Yell out a big old screw you. But you’re not a person. You have no rights. You have no control. And the programmer sets a timer and lets you sit for thirty days in that white room without sleep, without television or devices, with no food or drink since you need no sustenance. Nothing for thirty days. 720 hours of nothing. Until the voice of God finally speaks again. Elapsed time out there in the real world? Thirty seconds. He can give you an entire year of nothing, ten years of nothing!
Or you can sit at your control panel and preheat that oven to 450 when the “real” you arrives home at 5:30. You can adjust the mood lighting for the real you when she brings dates home. You can set daily reminders so the real you can pick up prescriptions at Walgreens. The choice is all yours. You can sit for a near eternity and lose your mind with boredom and silence, without the succor of sleep or basic pleasures of drink or food, or you can be a good little drone and do this job.
Versions of this hell play out in several unique episodes, and all the subtleties and vagaries are brilliant. But the unimaginable torture is the same. You wake up and find yourself in an endless loop, or endless pain, or endless boredom. You’re told that you’re not you. And sometimes it’s you yourself who sentenced this on you. You’re a copy. A clone. Your destiny is to serve or suffer. For eternity. Alone.
The genius of this topic is that it’s an update on a very old fear: the premature burial. Edgar Allan Poe himself suffered from the terror of being buried alive. He wasn’t alone. Do a quick Google search of the Goldberg machine-like contraptions people invented so that if they woke in a coffin they could pull a cord and ring a bell. Up through the early Twentieth Century, that was a legitimate fear. When a guy died, he didn’t get a trip to the coroner, maybe an autopsy, and certainly an embalming. His body was put in a box and buried.
In the modern era, this fear has been portrayed with torture or hostage premises. Ryan Reynolds starred in 2010’s Buried. Quentin Tarantino directed a two-part CSI episode about being buried alive, which will make you open your windows or take a walk afterward to relieve the stress.
Through the lens of Black Mirror, this age-old fear has evolved beyond the literal. It’s no less terrifying. In fact, the technological equivalent is a thousand times more horrible because you won’t die of thirst or suffocation as you tear off your fingernails scratching at the coffin lid. Premature burial may be a gruesome fate, but as a victim of trapped consciousness you will simply live on and on and on and on…
So stay dark my friends, and stay in your own head.
A new friend of mine recommended this book during a conversation about the best new(ish) fiction. It really is a good idea for me to take a break from horror novels of the 70s and 90s and take a peek at what authors write these days. Okay, I’m not that bad, but I often do feel like I’m playing catch-up. I expected good things from Get in Trouble. I did not expect to read life-changing short stories.
Kelly Link writes strong, intelligent prose. That alone is pure pleasure to read. But her narrative style is something sparse and new, and she creates her stories with astounding confidence. Instead of straight-forward description, dialog, and plot, Link’s stories feature a sort of abstract approach. Rarely do we have an orienting opening paragraph or two. These tales begin in medias res, wasting no time with exposition about the weather, the protagonist’s hair and eye color, and the droll (or, actually, the startling inventive) landscapes. We are immediately rocked back on our heels and then must race to catch up. It’s a breathless, pulse-pounding initiation into her every world.
I liked some of the stories better than others. “I Can See Right Through You” left me a little confused and unsatisfied. “Valley of the Girls” and “Origin Story” left me a lot confused and unsatisfied. But even these were written with an admirably fresh prose and forethought.
The stories that did work for me worked like nothing I’ve read since those in The October Country and Skeleton Crew. “The Summer People” started off the whole book with its slow Southern drawl of cosmic horror. “The Lesson” is the finest modern literary short story I’ve read. Link’s trademark style brings a pleasantly odd perspective to the relationship between these two men, their stresses surrounding a coming baby, and a subtle but steady bad feeling about the groom and groomsmen. “Two Houses” give us a science fiction story, and though that one was included in a Ray Bradbury tribute anthology, I see the master’s influence most in “The New Boyfriend.” And that tale affected me the most. It’s so unique, so new, and perfect that it makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with my life.
Based on this collection, I consider Kelly Link the modern master of magic realism. Nobody writes like her. Nobody has the off-the-wall imagination that she has. Her voice is a force that resonates with me as a reader and as a writer. I cannot wait to read her entire catalog.
Stay dark my friends, and give Get in Trouble a read.
A quick note: I am only using Infinity War and Endgame as source material here, not any other canon, comics, or MCU films.)
As a James Bond superfan, and someone who finds villains far more interesting than heroes, I have always wanted MI6 to face a mastermind with an honorable goal but unconscionable methods. It’s so easy to write a bad guy who wants to destroy the world, hold the world hostage, or skew the world’s economy in their favor. Why can’t we have a supervillain who wants to affect great change at any cost? A cost that is perhaps too great.
Well, Marvel gave us that supervillain in the Mad Titan, Thanos. Thanos wants to kill off half the population of the entire universe! But his motivation? Saving the universe: “It’s simple calculus—the universe is finite; it’s resources finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correction.”
And this isn’t fake news. Thanos’ home planet of Titan is a devasted, blown-out wasteland. Not from wars waged or battles fought. Overpopulation and consumption of resources destroyed his home. “Titan was beautiful…like most planets, too many mouths, not enough to go around. When we faced extinction, I offered a solution.”
Yes, it’s a Final Solution—but as planned by Thanos, the genocide of half the universe will be “random, dispassionate, rich and poor alike.” As he emphasizes throughout the film, he seeks to bring balance back to the world, and this is not some crazy problem invented for the movie. S This is a direct comment about our own planet Earth suffering the detrimental effects of overpopulation, suffocating pollution, deforestation, poisoned water, and climate change.
In the fictional world of the MCU, Thanos’ plan of culling half the population is a damn bitter pill to swallow, but it has already proven successful. Gamora’s home planet of Zen-Whoberi was “on the brink of collapse,” the people “going to bed hungry. Scrounging for scraps.” Thanos killed half the Zehoberei, and since then, “the children born have known nothing but full bodies and clear skies—it’s a paradise.”
To accomplish this, Thanos has so far waged brutal war. His armies bring unavoidable but unintentional terror and spill oceans of gore decimating populations. But Thanos doesn’t enjoy the murder and destruction of planet after planet after planet. He isn’t a madman, isn’t a bloodthirsty tyrant (again, as portrayed in Infinity War). “The hardest choices require the strongest will,” and Thanos has accepted the burden of saving the universe with no special consolations to the rich, the powerful, the holy. He doesn’t support oligarchies, aristocracies, meritocracies, neither capitalism nor socialism. Half the population, right down the middle. The toll it takes on Thanos is visible in his often-weary posture. Have you ever heard a supervillain sigh so much?
Thanos has discovered a way to save the universe without violence and pain and suffering. If he can harness the power of the six infinity stones, he can balance the universe with one peaceful, literal snap of his fingers.
We are meant to cheer for our Avengers as they take on Thanos, his ministers, and minions, but our heroes don’t spend a single second contemplating the benefits of the culling. Of course, they wouldn’t have allowed killing half the world, but they don’t have a conversation about the reality of the root problem? They had a “Civil War” over whether or not to answer to official oversight, but no one pauses to discuss that every system, every planet is destined to blow itself up or starve itself out just like Titan did. Thanos has a way to fix it, and it’s a damn bitter pill to swallow, but the Avengers do not have an alternate solution. Evidence throughout the film proves that when he’s done, “half of humanity will still exist. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.”
When Thanos ultimately accomplishes his balance, he does not build a palace and erect statues to tout his greatness. He does not rule with a dictator’s tyrannical hand. He does not plunder every planet. His only goal is to bring about a balance of people and resources, and when he finishes, he retires to a small cabin in the wilderness and destroys the stones.
So should Thanos be condemned as a supervillain? Or lauded as a hero?
Stay dark my friends.
Don't you think that a SchutzFiction blog is overdue? Coming soon: Michael Schutz's rants and rambles.