Well, it’s official. I’ve written an uneven 73 posts on Just Dread-Full since the blog’s inception in late October of 2015. Now, before I continue, I had a different introduction written in this piece, but the ghost of Miss Jessel is apparently bitter about how I depicted her in my piece on The Innocents, because she’s crawled out of the movie and consumed my laptop. Really. Michael and I lost my laptop in the transition from his parents’ house to his house (one of us was carrying the bag). We, and his parents, have searched every conceivable place, and it’s simply disappeared. As such, I’m typing from his laptop, and I have to start this piece over again.
What is justice? What makes right actions right? Is it ever right, under any circumstances, to take a life? How do we treat the folksy mantra, “an eye for an eye?” These are all questions that Eli Roth’s short story “Valdivia” raised when I finished it, a story from Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Book of Nightmares.
My “relationship” with Eli Roth’s work is an interesting one. I find myself fascinated by his films and the uncomfortable ground he’s willing to tread, though I’m often prone to critiquing seemingly problematic elements of his work. At least, such was the case after I saw The Green Inferno, and then again when I saw Knock Knock. I can’t really see myself being best buds with him but I’m always excited to see what he’ll do next. Even if my thinking tends to differ from his, he has an alluringly creative mind. From the vantage point of a horror fan, the dude’s seriously twisted, but in a good way. Which is why when I opened The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares last night I was immediately attracted to Roth’s name, next to the title of a 15-page short story called “Valdivia.” Continue reading “Shades of Grey: Seeking Justice in “Valdivia””→
In his poem, “Roses,” William Carlos Williams writes, “The imagination, across the sorry facts, lifts us to make roses.” The poem can be uplifting or cynical, depending on its interpretation. When I sat down to write this piece, I was going to say that the poem was needlessly negative. Are the “facts” really that “sorry”? And can’t the mind work in an opposite way, so that everything around us is really rather nice but appears abysmal? Conversely, writers, for years, have been fascinated with the concept of disillusionment. Our minds build castles in the sky, and when those castles collapse, we see a depressing reality – or so the story goes sometimes. This was clearly Charles Beaumont’s interest in “The Magic Man,” a short story in his Perchance to Dream anthology – a story that isn’t scary, per se, but that subtly leads us to the darker crevices of the human psyche. (There will be some spoilers in this review). Continue reading “The Sting of Disillusionment”→
Zombies: pop-culture’s electrically hyped up obsession. While we haven’t completely tired of vampires yet, we love the thought of plague-stricken, psychologically incompetent but paradoxically dangerous human-monsters bumbling around, chewing flesh and making trouble for everyone. Surely The Walking Dead, which has received attention on a season-by-season basis on this site, is responsible for much of the captivation provided by the dead-in-life, alive-in-death status of these hungry roamers. But while The Walking Dead has some spot-on zombie action, I always suspect that maybe we’re more interested in a vision of the apocalypse – and the varied problematic but original scenarios an apocalypse creates – than the zombies, who serve as both a means to that vision and an entertaining sideshow. A recent short-story I read seems to validate this theory. Stephen Graham Jones’s Chapter Six is a zombie short-story that puts zombies in the backdrop of a sinister, surprising human drama. Continue reading “The Professor, the PhD Candidate, and the Undead”→
I love folksy beliefs. Chief among those that interest me is the belief that if you die in your dream, you really die. I don’t imagine this is true, because I have died in my dreams, and I’m still here to relate the experience. Sometimes in my dreams, I don’t merely die; I’m already dead. But Charles Beaumont taps into this fear of dream-death in his short story “Perchance to Dream,” which is also the name of the collection of short fiction the story appears in. Beaumont, one of the most influential Twilight Zone writers, died of Pick’s disease (and, possibly, early-onset Alzheimer’s) at age 38, but his contributions to the horror and science fiction genres are nonetheless abundant. This is the first of his works I’ve read, but with the compilation Perchance to Dream safely in my hands, I intend to read many more. Continue reading “To Read “Perchance to Dream””→
For Christmas, I was unexpectedly gifted with the book The Haunted City, presented by Jason Blum. Because I’ve seen myriad Blumhouse movies – and have been moderately thrilled to terrified by most of them – I was unquestionably excited by this present. Indeed, the book received much praise, which it splashed across its beginning pages. My excitement intensified. And I stumbled upon a story by Ethan Hawke. We all know him. He seems like a likable enough guy, and certainly a good actor. So I thought to myself: I wonder how Hawke does horror? And I had to find out. As it turns out, he does pretty well, but he left me wanting more. Continue reading “Hawke Does Horror Fiction — And Does Pretty Well”→
I’ve come to conclude that one of the richest elements of Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams is the introduction he writes to each story. I’ve also come to conclude that the stories aren’t scary, per se, but that’s okay; I don’t think he intends to scare as much in this book as he does in some of his more frightening novels, despite what the somewhat misleading book title would suggest. What is particularly intriguing about The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is its rich variety. Each story is distinctly its own entity, written with a different style. I think variety in output is often the hallmark of true talent, though I need not make the argument that King is truly talented, because that seems like an understatement. The stories stand alone as good writing, but combine together to form an eclectic view not on the infinitely terrifying, but on the darker side of life. Continue reading “A Trip to the Bazaar: Stephen King’s “Premium Harmony” in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams”→
This is part one of the short story I’m trying to write. Mind you, I do very little fiction — this is predominantly a review website — but I’m taking a stab at it. I haven’t gotten to the really scary stuff, yet:
“Well first of all, the air is stifling here. But really, just everything is stifling here.” I was craving a Frappucino but was working on exercising my self-discipline. Sometimes a hot gulp of black coffee sounds like a delicious, stimulating indulgence. Other times, it feels like a necessity. But there are times – like that night – when it just felt like a punishment for someone who loves Frappucino but carries its calories in her thighs. I paused and realized that I was tapping my foot frenetically. Continue reading “Chapter One – The Talk”→
Reading E.F. Benson’s “Caterpillars” tonight harkened me back to a summer night three years ago. I was in my bedroom on a balmy evening. I was living with my parents because I was a poor grad student. My parents usually turned the air conditioning on, but that night they didn’t and the stifling heat seemed to devour the wind that was trying to creep through my window. I fell asleep nonetheless, and when I woke up in the middle of the night, there was the shadow of a man standing above my bed. Mind you, this was before I re-kindled my childhood fascination with horror and that perhaps illusory world between life and extinction. So my mind wasn’t primed to see phantoms the way it theoretically would be now. I remember distinctly seeing the outlines of the books on my bookshelf behind the figure. I felt very much “there.” Everything looked real. Continue reading “It Was All A Dream: Or Was It?”→
Not surprisingly, Poe mentions madness early in the story “The Black Cat.” It’s kind of his shtick. He starts where many horror writers start: at the end of the story, with a narrator recounting a tale of terror and travesty. But unlike narrators in other stories, this narrator is damned by the events of the tale, and perhaps seeks solace in his retelling. Also unlike narrators in other stories, he’s not sitting around a fireside, and so many horror stories (“The Monkey’s Paw,” “The Bodysnatchers,” “The Turn of the Screw,” to name a few) start by the fireside. Our narrator sits in a prison cell, but he does not expect your sympathy. He is honest about his previous callousness. Not only doesn’t he expect your sympathy; he doesn’t expect you to believe his story. He proclaims: “For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence.” Poe knows how to write an introduction. Are you intrigued yet? I was. Continue reading “Exploring Poe-tential Evil in “The Black Cat””→