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.

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.

 

Boris Karloff's Tales of the Frightened

tales-of-the-frightened

While virtually everyone has some familiarity with Karloff’s films, it’s not as well know that he also narrated books and performed radio dramas. Boris Karloff Presents: Tales of the Frightened is a delightful audio collection of short stories narrated by Karloff himself. Each story is approximately five minutes long, usually involving murder or freak accidents, yet without being overly gruesome or explicit. Nonetheless, each story has a bit of a mean-spirited twist ending that implicates the listener as the next victim.

I really do enjoy Boris Karloff’s voice. While narrating these stories, he comes off as a kind-hearted man who is paradoxically saying creepy things. I confess, I’ve actually fallen asleep to this recording several times in the last month, because it has a weirdly cozy, comforting vibe.

There is also an out-of-print paperback edition containing the same stories, but the recording is currently available as an Audible download  Audible download for the low, low price of $4.87.

The Dead Zone is getting an audiobook release, and the original timing was sick

No blog about horror in daily life would be complete without at least one discussion of politics, and that’s especially true this election cycle. Not only do both candidates have historically low scores of trustworthiness, the lunatic fringes of society tend to endorse violence as a solution to real or perceived government corruption. This isn’t unique to this election. In 2010, the Tea Party movement received negative coverage for rallies in which at least one protestor carried a sign captioned, “we vote with bullets.” Also consider the screenshot below, posted by a gun-rights extremist:

untitled-1-recovered-recovered-recovered33

This is the stuff that pushes the limits of free speech and causes headaches for threat management professionals.

What seems unique in this election cycle is that one candidate seems to be openly courting extremists and promoting violent rhetoric. Of course, I am referring to Donald Trump’s tacit encouragement of violence against protestors at his rallies, and ominous suggestions that perhaps “2nd Amendment people” could “take care of” Hillary if she wins the presidential election. I suspect that Trump’s rhetoric that the election process itself is rigged would play into extremist ideology supporting domestic terrorism and assassination of political candidates and leaders.

This brings me to The Dead Zone, an early Stephen King novel that, well, kind of does promote the assassination of candidates, if only under the rare circumstances that one has infallible psychic abilities and knows that said candidate will start a nuclear war if elected. The Dead Zone was one of very few Stephen King novels to languish for decades without an audiobook edition. But seemingly in keeping with the zeitgeist of this election season, the folks at Simon and Schuster finally recorded an audio edition, originally to be released on October 25, 2016. Just early enough to complete a listen of the recording before Election Day. Hrmmm…

Some executive must have realized the faux pas just in time, or felt that the current political rhetoric was too heated, because the audiobook release has now been rescheduled for April 4, 2017.

This new release schedule is certainly less controversial and in better taste, and I respect the publisher’s decision to not feed into the current election craziness, but I admit that I’m a bit disappointed in the delay. I was eager to revisit The Dead Zone not because of the assassination subplot, but because the novel’s portrayal of politics was so prescient and appropriate given current events. The Dead Zone‘s villainous candidate, Greg Stillson, is a rather Trumpian character, and even Stephen King himself has acknowledged the similarities via his Twitter. Stillson is a brash, larger-than-life, yet charismatic populist candidate who relies heavily on fear-based rhetoric. He’s also an emotionally unstable narcissist who is destined to obliterate a large part of the human race in a nuclear war. Given Donald Trump’s cavalier remarks about the use of nuclear weapons, it’s easy to make comparisons to King’s character.

In the novel and the film adaptation, there ultimately is no assassination, because Stillson creates his own demise through actions so terrible that he cannot recover as a viable candidate. Only time will tell, but perhaps Trump has finally created his own “Dead Zone Moment” though his “pussygate” remarks to Billy Bush and any number of other offensive televised comments.

Despite the delay in the release, you can still pre-order a copy of The Dead Zone through Audible or Amazon.

Book Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill


Joe Hill’s work has matured greatly since early novels such as Heart-Shaped Box and even Horns: A Novel, both of which provoked a love-hate response in me. Both were clever, but wallowed self-consciously in their own cleverness. Heart-Shaped Box utilized every horror genre trope and cliche before inverting them, setting readers up for a multitude of “gotcha” moments. (For instance, a spirit uses a Ouija board to incessantly question the living protagonist.) In all fairness, Hill’s fiction is inevitably compared to his father Stephen King’s work, rather than appreciated exclusively for its own merits.

Then came NOS4A2: A Novel, which one could argue was Hill’s breakout work (and will be reviewed here later). NOS 4A2 was in many respects more nuanced and complex than his earlier novels, with greater character depth. This novel made some bold references to Stephen King’s fictional universe, and can easily stand alongside many of King’s novels.

The Fireman: A Novel continues the positive trends of NOS 4A2, and the central conceit of a contagious disease that causes the infected to spontaneously combust is deliriously creepy. However, this isn’t the novel’s scariest aspect. (Here’s where I warn for mild spoilers ahead.) The most disturbing scenes involve dysfunctional group dynamics, particularly those involving social control. The tribal mentality isn’t merely drawn along the lines of the infected vs. the uninfected, but even within the group of infected survivors who are already vulnerable to attacks from “cremation crews” as well as their own illness.

Here we have a story about an isolated and marginalized group that devolves into a murderous cult. The process is familiar to anyone who has read about real-life tragedies such as Jonestown and so many other cults. In The Fireman, an initially likable character creates an environment of of hope and trust, anchored to her own brand of religion. As the characters become more isolated from the outside world, the tone shifts to paranoia, and she grabs as much power and authority as possible. As with real life cases, it’s frustrating that so few characters call her out on her bullshit or hold her accountable. Naturally, the few dissenters are demonized through character assassination, and in some cases, subjected to physical abuse. And naturally, the followers are so desperate to maintain their in-group status that they blindly believe their leader’s lies. The protagonist’s character development arc is satisfying (even if I could have lived with fewer Mary Poppins references), because her previous relationship with  her gaslighting and manipulative ex-husband immunizes her to the cult members’ manipulation. Hill creates a believable transition from passive spouse to assertive hero. Another strength of the novel is how seamlessly Hill provides a biological explanation for the toxic group dynamics that dovetails with the mechanics of the disease itself.

 

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=myhorlif0f-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=0062200631&asins=0062200631&linkId=c748444dad95e28304738cf0559203bb&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff