Women in Horror Month: Lovecraftian fiction and StoryBundle special

I typically don’t recommend books unless I have read them in their entirety, but I’m going to make an exception, because the clock is ticking on a great bargain. Thanks to StoryBundle, I’ve acquired some great Lovecraftian fiction and non-fiction ebooks. And since we are celebrating Women’s History Month here at My Horrific Life, I want to direct your attention to two books in particular. The first is She Walks in Shadows, an anthology of short stories written by women. Fans of Lovecraft will note the absence of women in his fiction. The stories in this collection are not only written by women, but feature women as the main characters. Purists will be pleased as the stories are faithful to the Mythos and its core philosphy. The stories I’ve read thus far really capture the weirdness and dread of Lovecraft’s fiction, minus his extravagant verbiage.

The other woman-authored book is Priestess: The Collected Blackstone Erotica by Justine Geoffrey. This one is…different. If you like the perversity and explicit porniness of Edward Lee’s fiction, this may be the perfect collection for you. Let’s just say that nothing is left to the imagination, and poor H.P.L. is likely rolling in his proverbial grave.

While you can purchase these through Amazon at the links above, the most economical bargain is through the StoryBundle Lovecraft collection, which is only available for the next 14 days. In case you aren’t familiar with them, StoryBundle curates collections showcasing indie authors, and lets the buyer pay what they want…within reason. Most basic bundles start at $5, with an option on unlocking all of the books in the bundle for $15-20. You can also decide if you want a portion of your purchase to support a charity. Once you purchase a bundle, the DRM-free ebooks can be downloaded to your computer or eReader of choice.

I haven’t had time to delve deeply into most of the other titles, but am intrigued by When the Stars Are Right: Towards an Authentic R’Lyehian Spirituality by Scott R. Jones. This seems like a great book for anyone who has had any sort of “religious experience” while reading Lovecraft’s fiction, but who doesn’t relate to the religious texts and grimoires created by Donald Tyson and other occultists. I’m sure I’ll be reviewing it in depth in the future.

The entire Lovecraft Bundle can be purchased for a minimum of $15, and like their other collections, it won’t be offered again once the bundle expires. The other books in this bundle are shown in the image below.

The StoryBundle Lovecraft collection

American Psycho needed a woman's touch

The novel American Psycho, written by Bret Easton Ellis, featured such graphic depictions of sexual homicide, sometimes running on for nearly a dozen pages, that it incited feminist outcry and death threats against Ellis.  I had read the novel when I was a tender 19 years of age, and as much as I typically enjoy fictional scenes of gore and torture, it was too much for me. There seemed to be no point to the scenes, and the endless monologues about designer brands became their own form of torture. The novel’s sadistic murders had to be omitted or softened for the film version to get an ‘R’ rating, but now, in the current post-“torture-porn” era, the time may be ripe for an explicit “hardcore horror” remake. Given the outcry that the book was hopelessly misogynist, it is ironic that  it was adapted for film by self-proclaimed feminists Guinevere Turner (writer) and Mary Harron (director).

The film adaptation eschews the novel’s graphic violence in favor of its satire of ‘80s consumer culture and its criticism of affluent white masculinity, which is largely defined by conformity and superficiality. Corporate psychopath Patrick Bateman and his peers are obsessed with surfaces. Bateman’s daily routine revolves around maintaining and improving the surfaces of his body. The countless hours spent obsessing over tanning, cucumber facial peels, and six-pack abs make his quest for the perfect masculine body look eerily similar to the fascist beauty regimens employed by the women he despises. His existential crises may be triggered by something as meaningless as not getting a reservation at his favorite restaurant, or the discovery that his coworker has a more attractive business card. Bateman’s sexual relationships are largely informed by pornography and are entirely devoid of emotional content. Bateman himself acknowledges that nothing lies beneath these attractive surfaces. “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.”

Not surprisingly, his victims are most often women, members of racial minorities, gay men, and people who are economically marginalized, all of whom he sees as less than human. While the novel never seemed to transcend its misogyny and classism, the film adaptation’s approach is savagely funny, with the joke ultimately at Bateman’s expense rather than that of his disenfranchised victims. For more about the “subversive female gaze” of the film, and the ordeal of getting the film made despite opposition by feminist groups and studio interference, read “The Female Gaze of ‘American Psycho‘” and “How American Psycho Became a Feminist Statement.”

And please be sure to check out Mary Harron’s other horror film, The Moth Diaries , currently available on Shudder.

"FantasticLand" only $1.99; Lovecraft Storybundle special

OK, so this isn’t part of our Women’s History Month celebration, but we want our readers to know that our friend Mike Bockoven’s first novel FantasticLand is only $1.99 on Amazon Kindle for a limited time!  Todd and I are excited to review his novel, and this is a great bargain.

StoryBundle has a great deal with their current Lovecraft collection. A mere $15 can get you a dozen Lovecraft-inspired stories in the ebook format of your choice. One of these books, oddly enough, is Lovecraftian erotica. I have purchased two other bundles from StoryBundle in the past, and have had a good experience with the company and the products. This deal expires in 20 days, so get on it.

Lovecraft Country: America's Monsters Exposed

In honor of Black History Month, I’m taking a break from covering erotic horror to review Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country: A Novel, which I’ve been reading for the past month. I love the cover art, which melds the images of a Lovecraftian tentacled monster with the hoods of KKK members, and bears the tagline, “America’s Monsters Exposed.” As the title and cover art suggest, the novel depicts not only the distinctively American fictional horrors of H.P. Lovecraft and his contemporaries, but also the very real horrors of racism in the Jim Crow South and 1940s America as a whole. It’s a fitting combination, because for all of Lovecraft’s creative genius, his major character defects were his racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia. Although his personal correspondence and stories indicate a softening of these attitudes later in his life, perhaps in part due to marrying a Jewish immigrant from Russia, some of his early writings were atrocious. Ruff references this when protagonist Atticus expresses his enjoyment of Lovecraft’s fiction, only to have his father ruin his enjoyment by pointing out, with no small degree of gleeful sadism, an early Lovecraft poem entitled “On the Creation of Niggers.” Repeatedly, the novel illustrates the complicated relationship between African American readers and the fiction created by racist white authors, as illustrated in the following dialogue:

“But stories are like people, Atticus. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws. The flaws are still there, though. “
“But you don’t get mad. Not like Pop does.”
“No, that’s true, I don’t get mad. Not at stories. They do disappoint me sometimes.” He looked at the shelves. “Sometimes, they stab me in the heart.”

Not only is Atticus shamed by his father for enjoying the fiction of a racist such as Lovecraft, he is questioned by white people who  can’t comprehend that a black man could be appreciate science fiction, let alone be a reading enthusiast at all. One of the most harrowing scenes occurs when Atticus is pulled over by a southern police officer–not because of a traffic violation, but because a black man couldn’t possibly own a decent car. When the officer searches his car trunk and finds a collection of science fiction and horror novels, along with evidence of his military service, this proof of Atticus’ intellect and past heroism arouses further suspicion that the car and the belongings must have been stolen from a white man. Indeed, while the novel does feature Lovecraftian monsters and occult rites, these things are not nearly as terrifying as the mundane horrors of the Jim Crow South.

Sadly, despite the progress we’ve made in this country, we aren’t necessarily much better. Consider this occurrence from my graduate school days. My program brought in an African American FBI Special Agent to teach a class on cybercrime, and while hurrying from one end of campus to the other with his laptop tucked under one arm, he was stopped by a police officer who suspected that he had stolen the laptop. Even after showing her his FBI badge and explaining he was on campus as a guest instructor, she offered no apology whatsoever. He later recounted his experience to my class with the explanation, “The black man can’t have nice things.”

As awful as the examples of racism are in the book, the book isn’t entirely dire and oppressive because the the interconnected narratives tend to offer happy endings for the characters, who are able to outwit the villains. This is especially refreshing considering how the horror genre often treats black characters as expendable.

 

Vampires, Wine, and Roses: a classy collection

I admit, I’ve been bad about actually posting reviews for things related to this month’s theme of romantic and sexual horror. Frankly, it’s because I haven’t felt in the mood. Not only am I bored by the entire romance and erotic genres, it seems that in this post-PC era of “grab ’em by the pussy” dark-ages style sexual conquest, romance is dead.

So after watching several 1970’s lesbian vampire movies in the hopes of finding something, anything, worthy of discussion and deconstruction, I remembered my vast home library of horror fiction. In the process, I rediscovered a now out-of-print short story collection, Vampires, Wine, and Roses, featuring stories by classic and contemporary authors. Fortunately, copies are plentiful on the secondary market, in both a trade paperback format and a handsome hardcover edition (pictured above).

Although a couple comedic shorts by Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce are a bit out of place, the collection as a whole is great reading for anyone with a hunger for classy and romantic vampire stories. Here, we have stories by Bram Stoker,  Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Edith Wharton, Anne Rice, Rod Serling, Baudelaire, Alexander Dumas, Ray Bradbury, and others. Despite the inclusion of contemporary authors, the effect as a whole is that the reader is transported to a more genteel time. This isn’t an ideal collection for those who are looking for explicit erotica, but nonetheless conveys a great deal of passion and genuine creepiness.

My Horrific Life gets kinky this February

Still from Jean Rollin’s Living Dead Girl

Now that we are abandoning January’s pleasant apocalypse fantasies, February will be devoted to something far more horrific: romance. In honor of Valentine’s Day and our corporate overlords who mandate that we purchase obligatory tokens of affection for those whom we love, we are kicking things off with our favorite romantic horror films and sexy vampire movies. Then as the romance wears off–as it always will–we will try to keep the spark alive by exploring horror that features kink, sadomasochism, and taboo sexuality.

As February is also Black History month, we will also be featuring reviews of race-related horror, including my current read Lovecraft Country: A Novel. We really can’t contain our excitement for Get Out, which looks something like The Stepford Wives, except subservience is  along racial, rather than gender lines.

Thomas Ligotti's Conspiracy Against the Human Race: "Existence is MALIGNANTLY USELESS"

 

Although it’s enjoyed popularity due to frequent references on True Detective: Season 1, Thomas Ligotti’s first and only non-fiction work, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror, is not bound for approval by the masses. Ligotti is all too aware of this fact. As he states in the introduction, “As a rule, anyone desirous of an audience, or even a place in society, might profit from the following motto: ‘If you can’t say something positive about humanity, then say something equivocal.’ ” While a promising series, even True Detective could not maintain Ligotti’s worldview. In the first season finale, die-hard pessimist Rustin Cohle has a benevolent vision of the afterlife and is converted to a more socially acceptable worldview. Ligotti would never pen such an ending, in his fiction or otherwise.

Early in the book, Ligotti rhetorically asks if life is worth living, to which he answers his own question with a resounding NO. Drawing from diverse sources including philosophy, psychology, neurobiology, and selected religious texts, Ligotti makes a compelling argument to support this claim that human existence is MALIGNANTLY USELESS (his emphasis). Although Ligotti does explore varieties of theistic determinism (see also my previous post on Calvinism), and doesn’t seem to entirely dismiss the possibility of a  malevolent Higher Power manipulating us like human puppets, his own view is atheistic. According to Ligotti, we are “Nature’s blunders,” programed by our genetics and evolution to have no free will, yet evolve to develop consciousness, which serves no good purpose. It merely provides us with the illusion of having a self, and constantly reminds us of our own inevitable demise. The “Conspiracy” of the title is committed by the human race against the human race. That is, we lie to ourselves and others that life is worth living, and by reproducing, we doom future generations to needless suffering.

In case you wonder how this book fits in with Apocalypse Month, I include it because he offers suggestions to proactively correct Nature’s blunder of giving us consciousness: “Nature proceeds by blunders; that is its way. It is also ours. So if we have blundered by regarding consciousness as a blunder, why make a fuss over it? Our self-removal from this planet would still be a magnificent move, a feat so luminous it would bedim the sun. What do we have to lose? No evil would attend our departure from this world, and the many evils we have known would go extinct along with us. So why put off what would be the most laudable masterstroke of our existence, and the only one?” Ligotti provides suggestions. The mildest solution would be to strive for ego-death, as advocated by Buddhism. Alternately, we could willingly opt to gradually reduce the population into extinction by instituting a one child per couple policy, or all all of us could decide to stop reproducing altogether. The most extreme solution would be for us to leave the planet, and before exterminating ourselves, blow up Earth from outer space to prevent Nature from ever making such as mistake ever again.

Ligotti’s views are bound to be censured or dismissed outright. Paradoxically, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race is sometimes comforting. I doubt that was the intended effect. I’ll explain. My favorite section of the book is the chapter “Cult of the Grinning Martyrs,” which is really about the cult of positive thinking. Ligotti is in part influenced by Schopenhauer, whom he quotes, “I cannot here withhold the statement that optimism, where it is not merely the thoughtless talk of those who harbor nothing but words under their shallow foreheads, seems to me to be not merely an absurd, but also a really wicked, way of thinking, a bitter mockery of the most unspeakable sufferings of mankind.” Our culture is relentlessly “bright-sided“to use Barbara Ehrenreich’s term. Our society doesn’t merely favor optimism, but actively suppresses and marginalizes those who recognize the negative side of human existence. Between positive psychology and the Law of Attraction, we take it up one end or down the other. We are forced to actively lie to ourselves about things that cause us pain, either pretending these things don’t exist, actively lying to ourselves and everyone around us about these realities, or, well, looking for the “bright side.” Only a vision as dark and uncompromising as Ligotti’s could serve as a counterbalance to this trend, but it’s strange that such a malignant work could be so gorgeously written.

Weirding the Apocalypse Part 2: Pontypool

Based on the Tony Burgess novel Pontypool Changes Everything, the film Pontypool is a strange take on the zombie apocalypse narrative. Instead of a conventional contagion, the cause of the outbreak is a virus of language itself, with the English language and terms of endearment designated as especially dangerous. The afflicted begin to repeat words and nonsensical phrases before attacking and cannibalizing others. A doctor terms the disease Acquired Metastructural Pediculosis, and determines that the infection is caused by not merely hearing the infected words, but by speaking them and fully understanding their meaning. He also states that if the disease is left unchecked, it could threaten the fabric of reality itself. This would imply that language creates reality and not the other way around. While the doctor never explains this fully, it seems that some familiarity with semiotics and postmodern theory is useful when watching this film.

The strangeness of the film’s concept nearly overshadows the great performances by Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle, respectively portraying ex-“shock jock” morning show DJ Grant Mazzy and his producer Sidney Briar. The radio show format is perfect for a story about language and understanding. There is very little on-screen violence and gore. Instead, most of the “action” is narrated to us by Mazzy and other radio personalities, based on briefings from law enforcement and calls from panicked citizens.

It had been several years since I first watched Pontypool, and have just now begun reading the novel, which is even weirder. Burgess uses a writing style that resembles the language of the infected, or the language of the cure as presented in the film adaptation. It’s also worth noting that Burgess himself adapted the novel to a screenplay. Pontypool Changes Everything is part of a loose trilogy of Burgess novels, also including The Hellmouths of Bewdley and Caesarea, available as a one-volume set The Bewdley Mayhem.

 

Grave Desire: A Cultural History of Necrophilia (book review)

Steve Finbow’s book Grave Desire: A Cultural History of Necrophilia  is one that I wish I had known of while drafting my own chapter for Understanding Necrophilia: A Global Multidisciplinary Approach, however, it went under my radar during my initial lit review and subsequent revisions.

Finbow has a unique approach of moving seamlessly from real-life case studies to fictional narratives and back again, weaving them together with a variety of theoretical discourse. Because there is nothing to mark the transition between real and fictional examples (aside from consulting the end-notes), I foresee mishaps for rushed researchers. For example, a hapless undergraduateswriting a research paper and could easily misattribute a quote by fictional serial killer Patrick Bateman of American Psycho to Ted Bundy.

My favorite section of the book, and what would have been relevant to my chapter in Understanding Necrophilia, is Finbow’s discussiom of hyperrealism and simulacra in the context of the pornography use of necrophiliac serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen. Dahmer and Nilsen had remarkably similar behaviors in terms of pornography consumption, in their tendency to create homemade pornographic images their victims, and in their pattern of dismembering victims and using parts as masturbatory aids. Finbow observes:

…the object aethetized or eroticized is fundamentally dead, it has no being apart from its image, the image of and over which one masturbates, replacing the object with its copy…the body becoming rejectamenta, the person no longer, just something to be used and then to be disposed of. For Dahmer/Nilsen, living human beings were simulacra, they were copies of copies  of copies of objects of desire to be mut(il)ated into yet more copies until the subjects (torn, tattered, erased, decomposed) had to be disposed of, annihilated, or turned into things (p.133, Kindle edition).

As the passage above indicates, Grave Desire may not be reader-friendly for those unaccustomed to this type of academic writing, but I do recommend it for those interested in cultural theories of necrophilia.

Review: Understanding Necrophilia

For this edition of Scary Scholarly Saturday, we are going to look at the anthology Understanding Necrophilia: A Global Multidisciplinary Approach, edited by Drs. Lee Mellor, Anil Aggrawal, and Eric Hickey. I’ll admit upfront that I’m biased in my review, because I authored the chapter “Objects of Desire: Necroeroticism in Mainstream Pornography.” I won’t go into detail about my own chapter (you can read the supplemental material here), other than to say that I did my best to ensure that I was the villain this anthology deserved. I’m so pleased and honored that my first print publication is in a collection alongside chapters by those listed above, as well as other personal heroes including Katherine Ramsland, Michael Stone, Louis B. Schlesinger, and my BFF Cody Charette.

In my (biased) opinion, there are no bad chapters in this book. Furthermore, this book is truly the first of its type, due to its multidisciplinary approach to the subject of necrophilia, which tends to be under-studied and under-reported. Many of us presented new research findings, or furthered existing discourse on the subject. I can’t discuss all of the chapters in depth, but will cover a few highlights.

Chapters are grouped by discipline and subject matter, including historical and legal issues, cultural aspects (including depictions in literature and popular culture), etiological models, forensic investigations and treatment, and case studies.

*In “A Wider Shade of Pale” and “Mincing Words,” Lee Mellor examines paraphilias associated with necrophilia. The most important being that he finally lays to rest (pun intended) the idiotic term “necrosadism,” which  has been used to describe acts of piqcuerism and mutilation committed against corpses, and replaces it with a far superior term, “necromutilophilia.”

*In “Laws Pertaining to Necrophilia in the United States,” Dr. Cody Charette conducted a thorough examination of individual state laws un the U.S., debunking some often-misreported laws in the process. It is true that some states have no laws on the books against necrophilia. What I found interesting was the fact that a handful of states have laws containing gendered language that would theoretically allow female necrophiliacs to operate without fear of prosecution.

*Necrosurrealist artist David Gough was commissioned to create a new portrait for this anthology. The resulting piece, Putrefying Venus, is quite stunning.

*Jens Foell and Christopher Patrick discuss brain imaging data of paraphiliacs in “A Neuroscientific Perspective on Morbid Paraphilias.” Unfortunately, there are no brain imaging studies of necrophiliacs specifically, but the authors present a thoughtful discussion of how the existing research applies.

*Anil Aggrawal revisits his proposed typologies of necrophilia, previously outlined in his book Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects, another book worth reading. I expect his typology to become essential in discussions of necrophilia.

Lastly, I want to point out that Understanding Necrophilia isn’t just a collection of academics and professionals dissecting necrophilia from the outside. This anthology also features an essay by a self-proclaimed necrophile. As a side note though, in my personal observation, successful academics and professionals don’t necessarily stand at a distance from any perversion, if you get my meaning. More than a few of us understand perversions from the inside looking out. But the gesture of including such an essay is unique and further sets this book apart from typical academic anthologies. Understanding Necrophilia further departs from the typical academic publication in that it embraces the fringes of pop culture by its inclusion of a chapter co-authored by Robert Rhine, the creator of Girls and Corpses Magazine.