Book Review: Fear Street!….sort of

Nostalgia is powerful, and as Fear Street has been adapted for a successful direct-to-streaming movie franchise, it may be time to take a dive into the series! RL Stine, known for his middle grade and young adult horror writing, is sometimes called the Stephen King of kid lit, and it’s not difficult to see why. While many are written with assistance, the man has over 1,100 titles to his name, almost all of the horror directed at a younger audience.

I personally recall loving book fair days, as that meant having new RL Stine books in stock that weren’t in the library. Whether it was Goosebumps or Fear Street, I was immediately drawn to the garish colors, the oozing slimy font or scary spiky type, and the promise of a safe scare.

As times change too, so did the books, and Fear Street the films have become iconic for representing queer youth, which I love to see even as I sorta missed out due to age!

My favorite Fear Street book will surprise no one who knows me: the 45th entry, Cats. 

Marty is both allergic to and afraid of cats. He despises the companion animal in all forms, especially the feral stray that lives on the basketball court he and his friends practice on. Still…its death was an accident, happening when Marty tries to keep it from attacking him and his friends again. However, cats don’t take such things lightly. Marty finds himself followed, discovering he’s been cursed by the colony of feral cats that the aggressive stray was from.

He also becomes the target of bullying and disdain for the accidental death. The Student Court even conspires to put him to trial, and in a middle grade version of Kafka, we get an idea of the ridiculousness of a trial driven by public mob justice.

While not the best of Fear Street, it’s a solid entry which I remember enjoying a lot as a young person! If you can get hold of old Fear Street books after the popularity resurgence, I highly recommend you be on the lookout for grab Cats!

What’s your favorite horror film, tv show, or book that involves evil animals? Or do you avoid the subgenre all together because seeing our innocent friends in danger hurts, even when they are fake props for storytelling? Let us know in the comments below!

Parasitical Horror: Where do we go in post-Roe America?

There’s something inside you that you didn’t want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.

You’re watching Alien, of course. Or The Thing. Or Slither, or The Bay, or Viral, or Malignant, or–

….where does parasitical horror stand now, really in a post-Roe America? Because while of course, a human fetus isn’t a parasite in the scientific or traditional sense, it’s still an intrusion into the body that not everyone wants there or is happy about, let alone safe with.

My state has now banned abortion even in the cases of situations such as ectopic or molar pregnancy. For anyone unfamiliar with these terms: a molar pregnancy is when the fetus becomes a tumor. Not a potential child, to be entirely and crystalline clear: a tumor. And an ectopic pregnancy is in which the fetus develops outside the womb. Neither are viable. Both will kill the pregnant parent. 

When Roe was overturned, I flashed back to the scene in Prometheus where Noomi Rapace’s character had to have the alien parasite removed. She sat in the medical machine, demanding an abortion for the inhuman creature which had taken residence in her uterus.

But just like the system which she found herself in, our system was also not designed for women and others with uteruses. It took reifying the situation to one a cis man might face for her to receive treatment. It’s not the most delicate metaphor in Prometheus, nor the most impactful at the time, but…now in the shadow of the SCOTUS decision and various trigger laws going into effect throughout the states? It’s horrifyingly real, in ways we thought were behind us.

Allow me to get a bit personal.

I grew up a fan of horror. I always get looks outside the South or even in the South by the younger crowd when I tell them the first movie I remember wanting to watch over and over with childish glee wasn’t a Disney film, but was Ernest Scared Stupid. And as I grew up and consumed more horror media, I noticed it, like all media, reflected a lot of what society had to say about itself. It’s very telling really.

Alien. The Fly. The Exorcist. Rosemary’s Baby.

There’s something inside you that you didn’t (necessarily) want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.

Even in horror, the scariest thing we can all imagine, even cis men, is the loss of autonomy of our own bodies.

This isn’t to discount the countless valid stories of parents of wanted pregnancies, who lose what would have become a beloved child to tragedy beyond their circumstances–who are then victimized more by a system that holds no grounds for nuance. I cannot imagine the pain, the suffering that causes, the sheer mental fortitude and bravery required to go on. I remember the far off pained look and the quiet embarrassment of my mother telling me about her miscarriages quietly during my adolescence, as if speaking of them as more than a whisper would be enough to invite more shame. 

But that isn’t my story and I feel it might ring hollow or disingenuous, even though I want to stand and scream for them as well.

So here’s my story:

I was born in the late 80s in Nashville to a biological mother who already had teenage children, and a biological father who already had a different wife and possibly children of their own. From what little I know, they knew each other from work. He had a position of power over her, which he abused. We won’t go into more detail–no more is known by me, and no more is needed. My biological mother made the choice, or was perhaps cajoled, I truly do not know, into giving me up for adoption through a Christian adoption agency.

I was adopted by a couple in rural TN, who–for all our fussing and fighting at times–do love me very much. I can’t fault them there. And due to this I grew up, like one might imagine, thinking the only choice–adoption–was as clear and easy as day.

And then I started getting sick. As I got older I got sicker. Needed surgery in my late teens to fix problems usually relegated to 50+ year old alcoholics even though I never drank more than a glass of white wine my whole life up till that point. Took till my twenties to figure out I had a genetic disorder that affects every system of my body–reproductive included.

I’d wanted to be a parent, up to that point, even though pregnancy sounded kinda scary. I’d realized by that age that not evrything was black and white, and I was nominally pro-choice, but still somehow in my mind, I guess I thought abortions were for other people. And I’d done everything “right”–never acted on being bi, and never questioned why the label “girl or woman” had chafed my whole life.

But then the doctor was saying words like “rupture” and “hemorrhage.” “Growth restriction” and “collapse.”

“Fifty percent chance of heritability.”

I remembered dislocated ribs on the playground. Fainting just standing up after a long lecture because my veins are too fragile to regulate blood pressure some days. Throwing up pure stomach acid before tests, not because of anxiety, but because my esophagus won’t function properly on the bad days.

There’s something inside you that isn’t you. You didn’t invite it in. It might kill you.

And I knew that even despite what I’d thought I wanted most of my life, I couldn’t let it kill anyone else either. I knew in that moment, if birth control failed, I’d get an abortion without hesitating. And in that moment, I knew whatever little judgment I may have held onto for others didn’t have a leg to stand on.

No one’s judgment really does.

Because they know it’s a horrifying situation to be in. Frankly I’m tired of pretending they don’t. Art reflects life, and since the dawn of the genre of horror, its many male authors have known the same thing:

The horror isn’t the whispers in the woods at night. Not always.

Much much more often, it’s the loss of autonomy. The loss of feeling full personhood. The gaslighting by society telling you you’re crazy for not being happy about it. The complete and total lack of help by anyone around you capable of giving any significant aid.

It’s interesting to think of where horror might go from this point in regards to parasitical elements. Even prior to the overturn of Roe, directors of such films did seem to have an inkling of what such horror reflected in our culture and how it might be received differently by roughly half the populace. With the advent of a new more socially aware generation of horror directors and films thereof, it seems impossible to avoid as a subject going forward.

There’s something inside you that you didn’t want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.

Don’t let them make excuses. Don’t believe the lies. They’ve told us this whole time they know.

We don’t have to make them know.

We have to make them afraid too, somehow.

Afraid to be voted out, afraid to be the bad guys of history, afraid to lose every ounce of the credibility that they’ve tried to make for themselves.

They are the monsters of these stories. It’s time we fight back. 

There’s something outside you that isn’t you. You didn’t invite it in, but it’s trying to take your choices. 

Don’t you dare let it.

Book Review: Tomie by Junji Ito

Between the line of the literary terror of horror books and the visual horror of scary movies lies an important but oft overlooked genre: the horror graphic novel, comic, manga, etc. The foundational works of many great artist and writer teams of the horror comic community–Wrightson, Wein, Mignola, McKean, Niles, Templesmith–have crafted incredible works of literary-visual terror.

But none are quite the master craftsman of the art combined with storytelling like Junji Ito.

While we will surely eventually discuss some of his one shots works, which pack terror into less than 200 pages, his series work is what he’s most famous for: Uzumaki in particular but also the subject of today’s review: Tomie.

The manga centers on the titular character: a mysterious, beautiful woman named Tomie Kawakami, identified by her sleek black hair and a beauty mark below her left eye.

Tomie acts like a succubus, possessing an undisclosed power to make any man fall in love with her. Through her mere presence, or through psychological and emotional manipulation, she drives these people into jealous rages that often lead to brutal acts of violence. Men kill each other over her, and women are driven to insanity as well — though there are some who are strong enough to resist her. Tomie is inevitably killed time and time again, only to regenerate and spread her curse to other victims, making her effectively immortal, not unlike Sadako, Kayako, or even American horror icons. And how can one defeat something permanently when one can never truly die?

The art of Tomie is in Ito’s distinctive early style, combining a sense of eerie not-quite-right-looking humans with the outright body horror of many of his more monstrous beings. Nowhere are these combined quite as well as Tomie who takes many spine-chilling (and cracking!) forms throughout the manga–as well as the decently spooky Japanese film adaptations of the volumes. 

To put it simply, Tomie is one of Ito’s most iconic works for a reason. The splash pages alone are astounding and stomach-churning, but the level of detail he puts into all of his work is more than most. It is also helped instead of hindered by it unlike many types of art. Images of Tomie are second most popular on Ito merchandise after images from Uzumaki, though quite frankly I find much of Tomie more striking.

TRIGGER WARNING:

 Tomie does deal with sexist violence and femicide, as well as gross out and body horror. Please be aware of this before picking up the book.

That said, it’s a set of books I adore. If you think you can handle it based on warnings and summaries, give it a shot! Just don’t catch Tomie’s gaze.

Book Review: Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess

We often associate the cosmic aspect of cosmic horror with outer space or even the ocean depths, but that’s not quite always the case. Sometimes, the most terrifying aspect of horror in the Lovecraftian spirit is the unexplainable nature of chaos. In Tony Burgess’s novel “Pontypool Changes Everything”, the terror lies in gradually discovering what little the protagonists can without any resolution as to the cause behind it. 

A new kind of virus that spreads through an unknown vector appears in the small Ontario town of Pontypool. Victims lose the ability to make sense of language, driving them into bouts of madness and animalistic rage. A radio DJ and his crew hole up in their station as the hoards fight to get in to destroy them, and they have no clue as to the vector or what possibly caused it. While they eventually do discover the trigger for the virus and the rage behind it, the cause of it occurring is never explained, leaving the terror lingering in an effective chill after reading.

The adaptation of the novel into the 2008 Canadian film simply called Pontypool was incredible, shockingly being one of the few films to improve upon the original written work. But the characters, ideas, and execution remain the same, even if they are simplified for a wider screen audience. 

Both film and novel ask an interesting question: what do we know about the nature of humanity? What if something we value as intrinsic to our very day to day existence begins destroying us? How would we adapt or how quickly would we succumb? These questions haunt both reader and watcher long after the last bit of the story ends.

Overall, this is a deeply effective story that can be said to call within the genre of Lovecraftian fiction without any of the iconic Mythos creatures–a feat of skill that many authors in the genre don’t even attempt. I highly recommend both the book (which, while part of a series, can be read alone) or the standalone film, which is currently streaming on Prime, Roku, and SlingTV.

Book Review: Imajica by Clive Barker

Representation matters even in horror. There’s something to be said for seeing yourself in a role other than an emotionally-flat monster or a bit-part side character. There’s a reason for the trope “the Black guy dies first” in such films. Growing up, the only time I saw queer character in horror was as flat-villains or villain-fodder. We rarely got complexity. We never got to survive.

And then, I started reading horror.

Then, I picked up Clive Barker.

While today, the efforts of a white cis-gay British man might not seem revolutionary on the surface, they truly were and are even in a contemporary sense. Clive dealt in what was seen as deviant, not only via queer sexualities and genders, but also in their expressions. The Hellbound Heart and Candyman are his most famous works–both dealt with the horrors of hyperrealities, with the first dealing with the concept of fear of “deviant” sexuality and the other of revenge over past racial wrongs in the United States.

But the one I want to speak on today is Barker’s weird horror-fantasy and lesser known work–Imajica. At its heart lies the sensualist and master art forger, Gentle, whose life unravels when he encounters Judith Odell, whose power to influence the destinies of men is vaster than she knows, and Pie ‘oh’ pah, an alien assassin who comes from a hidden dimension.

That dimension is one of five in the great system called Imajica. They are worlds that are utterly unlike our own, but are ruled, peopled, and haunted by species whose lives are intricately connected with ours. As Gentle, Judith, and Pie ‘oh’ pah travel the Imajica, they uncover a trail of crimes and intimate betrayals, leading them to a revelation so startling that it changes reality forever.

Complicated? Yes. And the revelation is magnificent and I won’t spoil…well, I won’t spoil all of it. But I will say when they revealed who Pie’oh’pah was, really was….

It was the first time as a young adult in the early 2000s that I saw a non-binary character. It was the first time I knew what being nonbinary <i>was</i>. I know these blogs are meant to be mildly more in character than this, but only until you’ve been in the position of finding yourself in the pages of a book, can you understand how important this is.

Pie is also not morally pure. While they aren’t evil, they are flawed and make evil decisions, and it is so so important to see realistic, contradictory, utterly <i>real</p> people in diverse characters and not just cardboard cutouts of perfect morality as an author’s voice piece or attempt at brownie points.

Representation matters, even in horror, and Clive Barker’s work has been formative for so many queer and Black young readers. Just remember, if you feel you have a story in you, but fear that who you are and who your characters are will turn people away…

Try anyway. Write your Imajica. We’ll be there to read it.

What book was the most formative experience for you as a young teen or adult? What book changed your life for the better, if you’ve found it? And if you haven’t, what are you looking for, so we can help you along?

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom

Lovecraft is a man known for the legacy of horror and hatred he left in his wake. While his views softened before his early and untimely death, he was still unequivocally xenophobic in a way that can be seen pervading his works. However, this doesn’t mean that many authors who followed his legacy, including authors of color and queer authors, couldn’t find something worthwhile within his bibliography.

One of these notable authors is Victor Lavalle, one of horror’s greatest working Black authors along with the likes of Dr. Tananarive Due and Helen Oyeyemi. Lavalle more than just dabbled passively in writing a Mythos story with “The Ballad of Black Tom”; he confronted and dismantled one of Lovecraft’s most notably prejudiced stories, and did so in a short but punchy novella.

“The Horror at Red Hook” became infamous in Lovecraft’s stories for being particularly xenophobic. Red Hook was a notably diverse town, and while HPL’s story reflects that, the majority of the antagonists (if not all) are not white, while the Irish-American protagonist is the bastion of moral goodness–or heroic behavior at least.

In 2016, Lavalle’s novella tackled the infamous story with one notable difference–the protagonist of Ballad is a Black man. Tommy is a street musician in 1924, and his busking brings him in contact with the same mysterious Middle Eastern millionaire of the original tale. While his misadventures still bring him into contact with a cult of the Great Old Ones, his particular set of skills and knowledge from his unique experience make him a much more capable protagonist than the typical Lovecraftian hero. This doesn’t take away from the fear of the book, but it does make it a lot more interesting.

A quick, compelling read, this is a novella I would recommend to anyone who wants to get free of some of the traditional Mythos’ more confining choices! Lavalle’s other work is also intense and unique, and I will be covering some more of it later.

For now, send in your thoughts in the comments! What do YOU think about modern Mythos authors deconstructing the views of Lovecraft in their work? What’s YOUR favorite extended universe story? Let me know!

The Apostates: A Queer Gothic Horror Podcast

A zip drive arrives at the FBI. On the drive is video of dozen of graphic murders and an implication: the scions of a wealthy family are more monstrous than anyone might guess. THE FBI agents and Georgia AG’s office intends to bury them, but evidence is scarce and facts aren’t lining up. What’s more, one of the agents keeps having a feeling that something is going on beyond murder for revenge or profit–something occult. With everything already seeming too circimstantial for their liking, it’s not as if they can pursue what amounts to an X-File, but Agent Baylor is… He’s having strange dreams. Nightmares. As the trial and a verdict looms ever closer, it’ll be up to the FBI agents to make sure to close the case on the seven young adults who seem to have the whole world fooled.

Hey y’all! Those of you who know me, know that I have been working awhile on a narrative fiction podcast project. Thanks to my supportive friend-based team, we now have social media for the podcast! Give us some follows at the following links to see progress, videos, art, and updates!

TikTok (we just posted a full set of videos!)

Twitter

Tumblr

Instagram

We will also eventually be launching a Kofi and Patreon for anyone interested, but for now, just give us some interaction on the art and videos we’re working on! I’d genuinely appreciate it so much.

And if you’d like to help, contact me and we can work something out! We’re still looking for a lot of our male VA cast.

Slight Blog Hiatus

I had a car wreck! I’ll be okay as it’s passed at time of writing this and I let the queue go a bit too. Unsurprisingly though, this got me behind, so this is just an alert that there will be about a week or two of no posts while I build my queue back up!

Pics of my poor Prius :sob:

We were rear-ended into this lady, so we weren’t at fault to be clear!!

Hopefully, gonna be back at my dark doings soon enough!

Moral Manias #002: Gender and Orientation in the Satanic Panic

As discussed before, the anxieties and delusions driven into the societal mainstream during the era of Satanic Panic were largely reactionary to the contemporary gains made by feminism and queer rights. Michelle Remembers placed the blame of abuse on her mother for leaving her in the care of others–a parallel for the soon to occur daycare abuse allegations made during the era. In fact, one may look beyond Michelle Remembers to other mass media paperbacks of the time to see this reactionary blowback.

As documented thoroughly by Alison Nastasi in her essay “The Unholy Passion: Sex and Gender Anxiety in Russ Martin’s Satanic Erotic Horror Paperbacks,” publishers began aping on the success of stories like William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (as well as so-called “non-fiction” accounts like Michelle Remembers) by releasing their own original stories steeped in the societal fear and fascination of Satanism. The books often focused on female possession victims, painted luridly on the covers in compromising positions. At the forefront of this movement was Russ Martin, an erotica writer who spent 1978-1988 penning novels of “unholy passions” with the Devil. 

Credit to the authors and editors for much of the source material I have cited

Martin’s and similar books were reflective of the growing complexity of gender relations. According to Nastasi, these books “equated fears of feminism with the moral panic that spread through the decade.” Like many erotica novels, they followed a certain script: women are stripped of their agencies and become sex slaves to dark forces. Martin’s books focus on physical and psychological domination of women, women in perpetual victimhood, and eventual outright physical enslavement. Some of the women were queer, yet were stripped of their orientation and identities via these demonic incursions. 

Playboy heralded his work as feminist, since the stories took place from the women’s perspective. 

No comment.

During the Reagan era, many of the former disciples of free-love turned their backs on their previous beliefs and became even more strongly convicted by conservative dogma and Christian morality. However, this new cultural Crusade did not align so well with more secular cultural morality. More women than ever were working outside the home, and–while feminists themselves were divided on the concept–sex positivity was coming forward as a leading movement, including sex positivity for queer cis women. 

The Moral Majority Report and many other religious conservative think-tanks would come out of private Christian universities.

Martin’s books, and books similar to them, were bringing forth a new type of horror to the conservative American household. The devil was truly real, and he was luring American women and children to the dark side. In Nastasi’s words: “Martin’s books brought these fears to light, exposing fantasies about control (or lack thereof) and fear of the changing social tide, encouraging a queasy relationship between the reader and female subjects–one where they are both turned on and punished at the same time.” These stories are a vehicle by which women are told their sexualities are of the devil; in such a worldview, enjoyment and punishment must be one and the same. Martin also makes sure to punish trans women in his narratives, as well; in The Destruction of Susan Browning (one of his more famous works), the trans woman in the story is a seductress, forcing the main character’s husband to leave her and sell his soul to the devil. While Playboy was championing women’s right to contraception and abortion, they were (unsurprisingly) simultaneously publishing these stories.

No type of woman–trans or cis, straight or queer–may win in Martin’s world: they exist only as victims or villainesses. And that was the brush with which women became painted in during the Satanic Panic, both then and now.

In 2009, the world watched in a mix of emotions as Amanda Knox was placed on trial for the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher. Both women studied in Italy, and the Italian courts were dead set on using Amanda’s strange trauma and the date of the murder being All Saint’s Day as evidence that the murder was Satanic ritual abuse. Despite DNA evidence pointing to another person (who was eventually convicted), the trial dragged on, painting Knox and her boyfriend as satanic deviants. There were also plenty of accusations of Amanda being the person who sexually assaulted Meredith, painting the former in the trope of “psychotic bisexual.” She was acquitted, reconvicted, re-acquitted, and fully exonerated by 2015; understandably, she refuses to return to Europe as those who still believe her to be some Satanic deviously queer murderer have a strong presence

From the Netflix documentary regarding the case.

This ties again to the fact that the modern Satanic Panic is largely affecting queer (or perceived to be queer) Americans as opposed to more liberated cishet women alone. In “Why Satanic Panic never really ended” by Aja Romano of Vox Media, they discuss the history of the Satanic Panic and how we are now seeing it tie heavily to queer identity. Even beyond the supposed ending of the phenomenon in the early 90s, the panic persisted on for queer people.

“In 1997, four lesbian women who became known as the San Antonio Four were targeted and wrongfully convicted for child molestation claims. Their trial played out against a resurgence of Satanic Panic tied to homophobia in a conservative state, and their fight for justice lasted nearly two decades. All four women spent 15 years in prison before having their convictions overturned in 2015 and ultimately expunged in 2018.” [Romano, 2021] 

With the recent decisions by the SCOTUS to dismantle privacy laws, it’s no wonder we of the queer community are sitting by in quiet desperation and worry.

Lil Nas X in the video for Montero (Call Me By Your Name), 2021

Recently, the infamous music video for Montero by Lil Nas X, in which the rapper gives a lurid lap dance to Satan, may be seen as edgy fun to one group; however, to those who follow evangelical and QAnon movements, it was proof of queer ties to Satanic cabals that secretly wish to control and chage the bodies of children to “aberrant sexualities and genders.” Even in the arts, where queer people have typically found more freedom throughout history, we are unsafe from these accusations of satanic ritual abuse merely through acts of self-expression.

In an odd tie back to literature, nowhere is the public seeing this more clearly now than the protests against and shuttering of many libraries, particularly smaller libraries in rural areas. The American Library Association has faced more book challenges than in decades, mainly for books that contain elements of social progress, queer existence, or discuss racism. The most-challenged book of 2021 was Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer, which was challenged, banned or restricted because of LGBTQ content.

Photo credit: NBC15 Madison, WI

The connection of any sexuality outside of Christian patriarchal norms has been a driving force throughout the Satanic Panic, showing up again now in full force. It chants about groomers and throws rocks at drag queen story hours and burns books that contain any deviation from white cishetero hegemony. 

For queer people and even some cishet women who deviate from patriarchal expectation, the danger is inside the house, trying to corner us into a closet where it can finally strike like Michael Myers to Laurie Strode.

Let’s Final Girl this shit once and for all.

In the next installments we will talk about how the Satanic Panic hit the nerd community, specifically cultures surrounding goths, metalheads, horror fans, and D&D players.

Janisse, K.-L., Corupe, P., & Nastasi, A. (2019). The Unholy Passion: Sex and Gender Anxiety in Russ Martin’s Satanic Erotic Horror Paperbacks. In Satanic panic: Pop-cultural paranoia in the 1980s. essay, FAB Press Ltd. 

Romano, A. (2021, March 31). Why satanic panic never really ended. Vox. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from https://www.vox.com/culture/22358153/satanic-panic-ritual-abuse-history-conspiracy-theories-explained&nbsp;