Movie Review: Men by Alex Garland

In the spirit of putting up a wordy movie review as promised prior, I have opted to review one of the films of all time, surely, which I definitely have a lot of thoughts about even if none of them are good.

Written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina and Annihilation), the film stars Jessie Buckley (I’m Thinking of Ending Things) and Rory Kinnear (Our Flag Means Death, Penny Dreadful). As a huge fan of Kinnear’s work, especially his turn as Frankenstein’s creation in the otherwise beautiful trainwreck that was Penny Dreadful, I was incredibly excited. The concept sounded intriguing too and steeped in folk horror: a young widow travels to the countryside to escape her old home after her husband’s death; there she becomes haunted and tormented by the strange men of the town.

As a fan of Jessie Buckey, Rory Kinnear, and the prior works of Alex Garland, I had high hopes for this movie. As reviews came out, those hopes dimmed somewhat, but hey, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve watched a movie that’s been panned and still enjoyed it. There are, in my estimation, a lot more “enjoyable movies” than there are “good films” out there anyway!

Men was neither enjoyable nor good. Alex Garland clearly wants to make works with feminist messages, yet this one is so overly hamfisted in showing the microaggressions faced by (white, cishet) women, that it made me physically cringe. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear are trying, but they clearly weren’t given a lot to go on–Kinnear is a powerhouse of an actor when given even mediocre material, and Buckley knocks it out of the park in other roles. In this though, Buckley is floundering with not much of a character to go on, and Kinnear is given archtypes to play rather than any sort of character himself.

That said, I could still give it a reluctantly generous three stars were it not for the ending. Before this film, I was one to scoff at “ending explained” videos for certain horror films, when the ending seemed clear as day to me. This was arrogance, because now after this film, I can genuinely say I have no damn clue what that ending was supposed to be.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

While I guessed from some set pieces that the Green Man figure of paganism would be a major plot point, possibly fueled by Kinnear’s various characters, there was no explanation of build up to this reveal in the slightest. The association of the Green Man with masculine energy exists of course, but isn’t even vaguely common parlance even for your fannish horror community. Even as someone who knows of it, it took me consideration long after the film to make it, and I’m still not sure I’m right. The blending of the binarist masculine and feminine in the body horror transformation is horrific and interestingly down via the effects team even as it is uncomfortable. But the ending just…makes no goddamn sense. I’m fairly sure this all connects back to her husband’s death? Dunno how but that seems to be the implication, which…is unfortunate given that the husband died in an abusive tear against Jessie Buckley’s character. Is her torture due to guilt? I sure hope not, but again, I have no clue what to make of this ending!

The effects were great in parts, which is why this is getting a reluctant 1.5 stars, when really it deserves maybe a half one. But I’m a sucker for good special effects, so there’s that.

Book Review: House of Leaves

“I still get nightmares. In fact, I get them so often I should be used to them by now. I’m not. No one ever really gets used to nightmares.”

― Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

This book is an undertaking. That’s not to say it’s too difficult for most, or that it’s too terrifying for most. I think reviews that oversell that do it a disservice and limit its audience. But, I will admit, it’s not an easy fall read to be breezed through in a few days. It’s a book you need to sit with as you read it, tracing the three different narratives and how they coalesce together.

To put it simply: Johnny discovers an older book–a film analysis of a movie that Johnny can’t find proof exists. The movie is a homemade documentary about a strange house owned by the Navidson family. The house seems to be bigger on the inside than the outside.

Seems simple enough, but in reality? It’s anything but. Don’t let that intimidate you.

This book is a masterpiece of post-modernist horror, taking you through a journey with it’s artistically printed page layouts, which only add to the terror somehow. The tension builds up slowly, but creeps in where you don’t expect it, everbuilding until it crescendos into multiple moments of terror.

If you’re intimidated by the footnotes, you can conceivably avoid the footnotes and B and C plotlines, following only the A plot of what the film contains. Then it becomes far easier to pursue the story down the rabbit hole, only missing some killer quotes and amazing thoughts on the nature of grief, but nothing that massively impacts the A plot.

Give this book, which reads as some of the most terrifying found footage ever discovered, a chance to haunt your dreams. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Just remember: This house is not for you.

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: 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!

Halloween (2018) and Generational Trauma

DISCLAIMER: This article also appeared on my now long dead WordPress blog. All of the writing, sans quotes, is original to me.

Trauma is a universal language. Like written and oral language, it is often passed down generation to generation. We all hear the stories, though we may not understand them. However, there is not–I would argue–any greater intergenerational trauma than the pain placed upon a person by an abuser or an attacker. Whether we are discussing institutionally crafted traumas such as genocide or slavery, more intimate yet pervasive issues such as long-term domestic abuse, or even single instance traumas which last a lifetime, the damage brought on by such pain is incredibly long lasting and indelible upon the psyche of a family or a people.

On May 23, 2016, John Carpenter announced to the world that he would be returning to the Halloween franchise as executive producer for a new foray into a reimagined nightmare. With the new film ignoring all of the previous Halloween canon save for the first installment, fans were excited but skeptical as to how Carpenter would pull off a Michael Myers story with both Michael and his protagonist counterpart Laurie being in their sixties. What fans wanted was a fantastic sequel to a beloved horror franchise; Carpenter certainly delivered on that. He also delivered something unexpected: a bold look into how trauma affects not just survivors, but their families as well. I would hope, by writing this, to not only justify the actions of Laurie Strode as a logical conclusion of severe trauma, but examine how that trauma passed itself down to both her daughter Karen and granddaughter Allyson within the confines of the Halloween (2018) universe. 

While further study is warranted, initial findings point to the heritability of trauma, particularly with regards as to how it affects the nurture bond between parent and child (Kaitz, et. al., 2009). Horror as a genre is not unfamiliar with depictions of intergenerational trauma, either. As Lowenstein (2005) questions: where would horror be without reliance upon reactionary terrors to historical and contemporary traumas? 

The historical trauma that the original Halloween movie franchise builds upon is women’s intergenerational trauma with regards to the male monster figure (Connelly, 2007). Michael Myers, or The Shape, is the prototypical figure of male violence within the slasher genre. Proceeded only by famous non-franchise slashers such as Psycho (1960), Black Christmas (1974) and The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976), Michael Myers became – mostly by default – the first and most defining figure for the slasher subgenre. With few exceptions, many slasher killers would begin to follow the model set by Michael: a mask, a slow looming walk, and a seeming immortality. Beyond even these characteristics, the genre also became defined by its victims–or rather its survivors. As the slasher movie shifts from the view of the hunter to the view of the hunted, it also shifts from the perspective of male to female.

Carol Clover (1993) originated the term Final Girl for this trope; the Final Girl survives the killer and is the last one left to tell the story. The Final Girl does this by setting herself apart from the average horror movie girl; not only is the Final Girl generally perceived as virginal, she is often perceived as tomboyish, though not tomboyish enough to be a credible threat to actual male power (Clover, 1996). While Clover derides Laurie in the original film somewhat as a more passive Final Girl who ultimately needs rescuing by the male Dr. Loomis, she does not deny that Laurie meets the model of the Final Girl for the time period. Laurie fights back against Michael, wounding him and confusing him at various points in the chase. It is only Michael’s functional immortality that keeps him alive past the climax of the movie. When Dr. Loomis arrives seemingly miraculously and manages to put a stop to Michael by somehow firing seven shots from a revolver, Laurie is saved and the movie seems to be over. Of course, a startling reveal of the empty ground where Michael should lie subverts this idea and makes room for multiple sequels. 

Of course, the sequels all became moot with the announcement of the new 2018 film. Denying such key original plot points as Michael being Laurie’s older brother, the film instead focuses on Laurie’s lasting reaction to trauma. Laurie, in her adulthood, became a recluse. Her marriage failed as she reacted to trauma by becoming a survivalist, a lifestyle she then attempts to force on her daughter until Karen is removed from her custody at age twelve. Her house is isolated; her backyard is a gun range. Laurie’s kitchen even has a secret secured entrance down to a hidden cellar, which becomes of great plot importance at the climax of the film.

In interviews prior to the 2018 film’s release, Jamie Lee Curtis spoke a great deal of Laurie’s initial denial of trauma, her feelings of freakishness, and her survivor’s guilt. Curtis went on to defend Laurie’s behavior as a reaction to untreated trauma. While she never justifies the trauma Laurie put her daughter Karen (and Karen’s daughter Allyson) in by proxy, the effect of untreated trauma in Laurie is not difficult to see manifested in her daily life. 

Like many people who suffer from an untreated trauma, Laurie ends up unintentionally passing down said trauma through the women in her family. This is most readily apparent in Karen, whose unhappy marriage and blasé denial of potential danger bely a past overshadowed by a survivalist education and emotional trauma. While Allyson is more distant from the trauma, it is obvious that Laurie’s pain impacts her a great deal.

This form of intergenerational trauma is one of the first of its kind within the horror genre. While movies like Hereditary certainly explore intergenerational trauma within a family (and Hereditary is likely my favorite film of all time), the way Halloween does so while brilliantly giving homage to its source material is unsurpassed in my opinion. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed things so far. Thank you for your patience while I got this out of my system.

13 Modern Horror Books That Should Be Adapted for Film

There’s been no better source for unique horror films than the gemstone mines of horror novels and novellas. From Dracula and Frankenstein to the litany of Stephen King adaptations (with his son Joe Hill already making ground in similar productivity and quality), horror literature has crafted some of the most startling and haunting source material for films. Tropes of the genre were born in the literary works of authors like Shelley, King, McDowell, and more, and the collective of incredible horror authors that continue to produce terrifying works of fiction only grows as the popularity of reading and book collecting also rises!

Indie horror and the concept of “elevated” horror is also having somewhat of a zeitgeist cultural moment, which gives excellent opportunities for literary adaptations of horror novels to succeed. Considering the chart topping successes of some of these novels, I’m almost 100% sure that we’ll see at least a few hit the big screens in coming years!

DISCLAIMER: I am only including books I have read in full for this list. There are plenty of other awesome horror books out there that might make great adaptations, even ones I have read that didn’t make my thirteen cut-off. Please include any additional adaptations you’d like to see by leaving a comment!

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia

The book follows Noemi Taboada as she journeys to a remote hacienda owned by her cousin’s new husband. The strange behavior of her cousin’s in-laws, coupled with the isolated and unfamiliar atmosphere already sets Noemi on edge; but as she experiences horrific, all-to-real dreams and uncovers the hacienda’s bloody history, she must find a way to flee the terrible fate met by all too many who’ve walked its halls.

By far one of the most popular horror books of this list, don’t let that mainstream success fool you. Trending doesn’t equal bland in the case of this stunning gothic horror story set in 1950s Mexico. While it is currently in development as a Hulu limited series, I could also see this book being successfully adapted for a theatrical release, particularly for a director with an eye for gothic sensibilities a la del Toro.

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

When the house makes an unearthly yowl during the walk-through, the realtor brushes it off as settling noises, and the desperate couple are all too willing to believe it. Julie and James soon try to fit themselves into the flow of small town living, determined to put the past they are fleeing behind them. However, as they try to adjust to how stifling this new life can be, the couple soon realizes that the walls closing in on them aren’t the suburban lifestyle; there is something horrifically wrong with their new home.

This book is what I have occasionally called (in a sense of love and respect to be clear) a “more accessible House of Leaves’ Navidson Record portion.” This wouldn’t be an adaptation for fans of gore or jumpscares–rather this is a horror built on atmosphere, suspense, and ambivalent unease. I feel this would be a return to the haunted house genre as seen in Robert Wise’s Haunting (which was itself based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson), departing from the modern sensibilities brought to the genre by major directors like James Wan.

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline meets the cosmic horror sensibilities of H.P. Lovecraft in T. Kingfisher’s genuinely scary, funny, and above all delightfully weird novel. Kara, nicknamed Carrot, returns to her old home with her Uncle Earl, following a divorce. This works out well for Earl, who can finally take time off from his job for knee surgery and the subsequent rehab. His job? Owner and curator of The Museum of Wonders, a quaint oddities museum that Carrot loves with her whole heart. Shortly after she makes friends with a local barista that results in him offering to help her fix a hole in the wall at the museum, however, Carrot discovers her beloved childhood paradise hides portals to strange and horrifying other worlds, filled with cosmic terrors she never could have imagined. The pair of friends must escape these hollow places without capturing the attention of the monsters within but….

These monsters can hear thoughts, and they feed on fear.

This book expertly balances effortless charm and humor with mindbogglingly creative terror and monstrosity. More than one reviewer on Goodreads categorized this book’s core concept as Narnia from Hell; in the right hands, this could make an incredible film or limited series. With as beloved as the book and author are, there would be a built in audience, sure to only grow as word spread!

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

This novel is made to be filmed–literally! One of the main narrative arcs of the story is key to the presence of a film crew. When 14 year old Marjorie begins experiencing symptoms of treatment-resistant schizophrenia at age 14, her vulnerable parents are preyed upon by an exorcist priest who wants to make a name for himself. He calls in the documentary crew to film the poor girl’s suffering for reality television, the desperate parents agreeing only to pay the avalanche of medical debt. Interspersed with the reality show narrative is a flash forward to a follow up show fifteen years after the finale, examining the controversial case through the eyes of Marjorie’s traumatized younger sister Merry, casting everything the public was shown into sickening clarity.

See what I mean about literally made to be filmed? Whether as a movie or limited series, this book would not only succeed in this format but absolutely flourish, giving an entry for even more of Paul Tremblay’s popular horror works to be adapted for a larger audience. With a director and editor team that knows the docu-horror style subgenre, this could be one of the most gripping adaptational horrors to go to screen in a long time.

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Mermaid horror might not sound like the most terrifying, but this is definitely more H. P. Lovecraft than Hans Christian Anderson. Seanan McGuire, writing as Mira Grant, takes a creature we usually associate with Lisa Frank aesthetics and Howard Ashman songs and dials the gore up to make a truly unique tale of high seas horror.

The tale follows an impressively large ensemble cast on a journey to the area around the Mariana Trench, tracking the possible trail of a long missing scientific documentary crew’s failed expedition. However, they soon discover the horrible truth behind the missing crew of the Atargatis; it’s up to them to fight to survive so that they all can avoid the same fate.

With the ensemble cast and build up, as well as the extra material generated by Grant’s prequel to this novel, a limited series would be an excellent way to adapt this work and possibly open the door for more of the author’s excellent bibliography of work.

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Another book which utilizes cameras as a story-telling element (and thereby making it somewhat readymade for adaptation), Hex is an eerie tale of a small isolated town living under quarantine due to a generations old curse. The borders of city limits are fenced and guarded and cameras track the every move of the Black Rock Witch who looms over children in the night. When a group of understandably stifled adolescents break free from the town’s wards, they accidentally kickstart far greater consequences than they could have anticipated, casting the town and Hudson River Valley into a medieval darkness.

Translated into 25 languages and a global bestseller in the genre, I wasn’t too shocked to read while researching for this article that a series is currently in development for TV by Gary Dauberman! I’m very excited to see what they come up with, as this novel is highly worthy of the attention and praise. Here’s hoping that they get an excellent practical effects makeup artist to work on the design of the Black Rock Witch–her book description alone gives chills and an iconic makeup look could launch her into the visual horror lexicon forever.

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Hear me out: yes, The Only Good Indians is likely Jones’ most famous horror novel at this time. Yes, My Heart Is a Chainsaw is a glorious love letter to the very genre of horror that would certainly earn itself fans as a movie or limited series. But there’s something so uniquely charming about Jones’ gorey tale of a nomadic family of werewolves that would make an amazing coming of age tale for the young narrator character.

The strength of Mongrels lies less in the horror and more in the rich worldbuilding, lending itself well to a limited series or a dark comedy film adaptation. Shockingly, none of Jones’ work has been optioned for film or series…yet. Mongrels would make an excellent jumping off point for adapting Jones’ significant bibliography of horror books, which nearly rivals Stephen King in numbers.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Film or limited event streaming on a platform like HBO Max would be the best bet for adapting the compact intense novel about the monstrosity of the KKK taken to its literal extremes. After secret sorcerer D.W. Griffith’s film Birth of a Nation casts a literal spell over the country, white racists fomented by the film transform into literal monsters via body horror sequences that might give either Cronenberg pause. A group of resistance fighters, lead by the fiery Maryse, must fight back and make a stand down in Macon, Georgia, if they and their families are all to survive this endemic which reveals “normal people” as monsters.

Written with a rich alternative history made alive by Clark (who is, in addition to noted novelist, also an academic historian specializing in comparative slavery and emancipation in the Atlantic world), Ring Shout could be the allegorical horror for our troubled times, utterly unafraid to hide anything too far behind the shroud of metaphor. Put an expert production team–such as the one behind the Watchmen limited event series–behind it, and you’re sure to have a recipe for success.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

To quote one of my favorite darkly comedic Reddit comments on the notoriously controversial horror author: “everybody gangsta till it’s time to call Lovecraft’s cat’s name.” Howard Phillips Lovecraft was not merely racist by the standards of his time period; he was so racist that even other racists looked at him and said “damn, dude, we don’t do that here.”

However, his influence on horror is undeniable and in the decades since his passing, hundreds of authors–many being people of color–have tackled themes of his work in meaningful ways. Lovecraft Country already made headway in a Lovecraftian literary adaptation focused on Black characters and narrative–it’s time for a direct adaptation of a Lovecraft work by a Black author to be adapted for screen.

The Ballad of Black Tom sees Lavalle take one of Lovecraft’s most horrendously and openly racist stories (The Horror at Red Hook) and recast it in a totally new light in his deft narrative capabilities. Given its slim page count, this book would make an excellent film adaptation, bringing a much needed, more intersectional view of cosmic horror to the masses.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Night Film is a giallo thriller movie put to the page, and it’s only a matter of time in my opinion before a smart enough studio negotiates the rights to it. A a clear murder ruled suicide myster? A dogged investigative reporter? A reclusive auteur horror director not seen by the public in decades? Pessl’s book is made for the technicolor brilliance of a late 1970s Argento film–or at least for a director who knows how to properly homage the same aesthetic the novel so clearly strives to emulate.

There are scenes in this book that made me full body cringe and pull my legs up under my chin, and I’m not quite that easy to unsettled–through the medium of writing at least. The mixed media approach of the novel also lends plenty of terrifying visual cues to the would-be production team. While Fincher is too overloaded to bring to this the same sensibilities of Se7en (and he needs to make another season of Mindhunter or I will cry), there are plenty of directors who would jump at the chance for an opportunity to adapt a book like this.

The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig

Another haunted house story? Oh no. No no, not that, that’s for sure. While the premise of “family moves into now-dead abusive patriarch’s old home and bad things begin to happen” certainly sounds like a set-up for a haunted house story this book is so, so much more than that. With a unique cast of characters, Wendig’s dark (and I do mean dark) sci-fi, horror novel takes its readers through twists and turns one never expects. It also gives us a neurodivergent protagonist, always a welcome bit of inclusion in my book.

This book isn’t hopeless, but it is an emotional gut-punch. Given his past two films, I would say an excellent director to helm an adaptation of The Book of Accidents would be the mind behind Hereditary and Midsommar–Ari Aster. No one captures the genuine devastation of trauma in modern horror quite like he has, in my estimation, and I would love (and hate! But also love!) to see an adaptation of this novel in his hands.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

As someone who cut their teeth on horror comedies as a kid just getting into the genre, I have an intense fondness for the works of Grady Hendrix. Given the massive uptick in 80s fueled nostalgia ( the leader of which right now is Stranger Things), I think the best possible choice of adaptations for one of Hendrix’s many bestselling works is My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Following a pair of besties as they enter the scary world of high school, during the height of the Satanic Panic, Abby notices something is “off” about Gretchen after she tries to contact a boy she met at summer camp. Abby and some other companions soon discover that the only way to save Gretchen is to defeat the power of the devil inside her. Does the group of kids have what it takes?

The vibes of this book are immaculate, blending humor and nostalgic charm with the very real horror of a child in mortal pain and peril. While the children fight back, often with a darkly comedic edge, there’s never any doubt: these are kids in over their head, doing the best they can. Not only would it make an excellent horror comedy adaptation, but also a coming of age film, making horror more accessible to new fans around the world.

Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

Okay so like, I am aware that the phrase “I read this when he first put it on reddit as a creepypasta before he was able to crowdfund enough to self-publish” might not be the most confidence inducing statement to unfamiliar readers, but Dathan Auerbach’s fictionalized epistolary horror tale of his childhood as a stalking victim is one of the hidden gems of self-published horror. It even launched a successful career in mainstream publishing for his acclaimed horror book Bad Man, which is being eyed for adaptation as well.

However, Penpal has something special about it, a rawness that would make it perfect fodder for something particularly dark. I could see it being deftly explored in a similar manner to films like The Poughkeepsie Tapes or Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon–gritty and terrifying for their cinema verite qualities. Even if you just pick up the slim book, you’re sure to feel chills for how all-too-real the story plays out.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare
The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova
The Taker by Alma Katsu
Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due
Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

What modern horror tales do you think should be adapted? Do you disagree with any of these choices? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

Top 13 Best Sci-fi Horror Books

Since Mary Shelley illuminated the literary world with a spark of life returned to dead flesh, horror and science fiction have been frequent bedfellows. Strange ones, by their nature, but also not–the foundations of science fiction are in horror and rarely fully escape any trace of it. However, there are certain books that have more than just traces–these books have large swathes of horror or are outright equally horror as sci-fi. The scariest books after all are the ones that burrow into the brain and stay there long after reading; what could be scarier than those that base themselves in the semi-known, yet oft mysterious world of the scientific? 

While some of these are genre fiction, and others are more literary horror, I have compiled a list of books which fit that bill. They either have multiple scenes that cross into horror throughout, or they share horror as just as much a genre as they do science or speculative fiction! 

The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep is a strange novel, more philosophical and deeply reflective than filled with alien jumpscares or the silent maw of space. It is also very intersectional with the lead being a queer transgender Indigenous woman. 

Set in a future where aliens have taken over earth to create a benevolent (if authoritarian) utopia, wives Trina and Deeba live happily until Deeba decides to use alien technology to relive her life and leave Trina behind in the process. Trina is devastated and through the technology begins exploring the nature of both consciousness and the aliens which they have allowed to control their lives. She decides to destroy the symbiotic Seep which controls them, even as it may mean destroying utopia in her grief.

This novel is a terrifying look into the what ifs not only of an alien future, but at how horror can be found in very human emotions: grief, anger, capitulation, obedience. All of these, as well as social issues such as race, class, and gender, are somewhat explored in the short but incredibly poignant and haunting standalone.

The Between by Ryan Leslie

Nerdy Paul and class clown Jay have been friends since childhood, never fully diverging as adults despite their many differences. When Paul discovers a trapdoor has appeared in his backyard, he is cajoled to enter by Jay. Suddenly, the pair find themselves thrust into the horrifying sci-fi world of their favorite dungeon explorer computer game from the early ’80s. Now stuck in the land of The Between game, the pair find themselves facing off not only against the big bad boss NPCs, but also each other and the demons that haunt their old friendship.

While not the best book on this list by far, it’s a very fun and entertaining read, crafted with far more care than the more successful (though gods know why) Ready Player One franchise of nostalgia bait. The Between injects real horror, genuine interpersonal drama, and creative use of tropes in with its manipulation of audience nostalgia. It does it well, even, and I very much recommend it more than RP1 and RP2, especially for those who like more edge to their sci-fi.

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

Area X is a beautiful place reclaimed by nature…or something like nature at least. All but the first expedition has died somehow either during their time in the containment area or soon after. The first book follows the twelfth, all-female expedition crew. As both the nature of Area X and of each crew member is revealed to the team, the journey into the unknown unravels and deals devastating consequences, which are addressed in book two. By book three, a final winter expedition makes its way into the now larger Area X, discovering terrifying truths at the heart of the tainted paradise.

In Lovecraft the terror comes from either the deep or the beyond, but VanderMeer masterfully crafted horror into the natural in a way that’s downright cosmic. It’s a shame the two other books won’t be adapted for film the way the first was.

The Collected Cthulhu Mythos by H. P. Lovecraft

Speak of the devil. While Lovecraft didn’t define the sci-fi/horror combination, he used it to create the genre of cosmic horror. While not all of Lovecraft’s stories are interconnected, the many stories of the Mythos are. They tie together Lovecraft’s stories of unfathomable cosmic deities, their demonic children, and their devilish occult followers and the havoc they wreak through indifferent madness or targeted chaos. While Cthulhu is the most famous of the Mythos gods and beings, there are many to torment and haunt the reader. And if those don’t, surely Lovecraft’s dated and horribly uncomfortable racist views will!

There is also a large expanded universe by many skilled and diverse authors that are very much worthy of investigating. I recommend Victor Lavalle, Cassandra Khaw, Matt Huff, John Hornor Jacobs, and of course, the inimitable Neil Gaiman (links to a free sample of his work).

Read these stories legally and online for free.

The Expanse Series by James S. A. Corey

Want a long sci-fi series with lots of amazing horror elements and page lengths that make each novel usable as a weapon? Then Corey’s Expanse series is perfectly suited to your needs. There are far too many books in the series to explain everything, but here’s the rundown: when some ice miners from Saturn and a detective hunting for a missing girl run into each other on an abandoned ship hiding a secret, they must find a narrow path to safety by avoiding the eyes of the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations that hold sway over all aspects of life. 

While the series certainly is sci-fi to the extreme, the elements and tropes of horror are threaded throughout, particularly with body horror–after all the reactions of a human body exposed to the dangers of space can result in torturous consequences. Beyond this, certain characters have personalities that lend themselves to inducing terror without more than a few words. Highly recommend the series for the characters if nothing else.

There is also an excellent, though canceled before concluding, television adaptation.

Remembrance of Earth’s Past Series by Liu Cixin

MILD SPOILERS

We base an awful lot of our existence on certain concepts–scientifically, religiously, philosophically. But what if all of them were wrong? What if they were not only wrong, but purposefully coordinated by outside forces to completely stunt our development?

This is the terrifying premise of the Three Body Problem and its two sequels. This book is hard sci-fi at its finest, incorporating many elements of cosmic terror throughout the books both from the very real Trisolaran species, and the incredible philosophical terror behind the main thesis of the books: what do you do when everything you know is built on orchestrated lies?

The books have some issues regarding sexism. There’s absolutely no way to sugarcoat that, just as there is no way to sugarcoat Lovecraft’s racism. There is one plot point that genuinely made me angry. But I do think these books are great and have a lot of value for fans of these genres who want deep speculation in their sci-fi and horror.

This series is currently in production at Netflix.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Another sci-fi horror which relies heavily on the speculative and philosophical, Solaris uses exploration of an alien planet to explore the intersections of memory and identity. How much of you is memory? The crew of the ship sent to explore Solaris must begin to wrestle with this question as their memories of days past are resurfacing in literal forms. Does anything sinister lurk behind the planet or its intent?

Adapted for film twice, once well by Steven Soderbergh who was reimagining the Russian masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky, the story lends itself to slow burn yet intensely heated drama and interpersonal and internal conflict. This is an alien story, yes, but not the explosive alien of Ridley Scott’s franchise–rather this one gets inside both character and reader in profoundly different ways. 

Who Goes There? Or The Thing by John W. Campbell

Originally a short story, The Thing got two film adaptations before the full novel version of the story (called Frozen Hell) was released by the Campbell estate. The novel follows an American crew whose research trip to McMurdo Antarctic Station becomes a shocking, bloodsoaked nightmare when they realize there is a shape-shifting alien hiding in the dog they rescued. As the novel goes on we’re left with questions about autonomy and identity, as well as who we can really trust.

The John Carpenter film is the most well known iteration of the story, which is very valid as it is an utterly incredible classic of both genres it represents. However, it’s very interesting to go back to the original source material to explore parallels and differences from the source material!

Read a free and legal copy from NYU here.

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

This one is less on the list due to its own strength and more its overwhelming influence on the genres. As the most famous and one of the first of alien invasion fiction, the story of an English countryside being overtaken by apocalyptic aliens in giant walking machines had been adapted many times over the more than a century old novel.

The most infamous of this is the highly apocryphal tale of Orson Welles’ radio show hoax wherein allegedly thousands of people were convinced the broadcast was due to a real alien invasion. Little proof supports this as more than a gimmick put forth by Welles after the fact, but the story did scare listeners–just in a typical way for a horror show. It was also adapted into a Tom Cruise vehicle picture which wasn’t terrible, and it inspired thousands of books, films, shows, comics, and games about invasion by aliens.

Read it online legally and for free here.

World War Z by Max Brooks

This epistolary novel told in an almost documentary style is, in my opinion, probably the best example of the writing style ever chosen for use in genre fiction. World War Z uses dry, report-like language, interspersed with gripping personal, interview-like chapters in such an effective way that it literally gave me nightmares, dwelling in my brain long long after I first read it. I normally do not like zombie media in the slightest, yet this is so much more than zombie media; it truly is a commentary on the nature of humanity. When I found out this writer of the most terrifying book I’d ever read was the son of comedy legend Mel Brooks I was both stunned and not: both men deeply understand human nature, they just display it in differing ways.

There was a middling action movie that wasn’t outright bad in any way, it just didn’t portray the book. At all. It was highly frustrating as a fan to see the departure even if the movie was a solid effort. Hopefully one day we will get a series that gives us a worthy showing of what this novel has to offer.

Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

Carrion Comfort is a hell of a book, but its influence on horror cannot be denied. When Saul Laski, a Jewish prisoner of war in the labor camps, escapes the Nazi monsters holding him captive, he begins a decades long journey towards discovering what sets these global atrocities in motion. He discovers a secret cabal of psionic vampires feeding on the suffering of humanity–the book follows him as he tries to upend the order. While it sounds goofy, it is very much an influential horror book. 

Much of The Strain by the phenomenal Guillermo del Toro and Paul Hogan can be traced to Carrion Comfort, as can the concept of fully psionic energy vampires. Since 1989, this book has been terrorizing new readers, giving us all ideas on how the intersections of genre and traditional tropes for storytelling can be stretched.

Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

The basis for the films The Village of the Damned (1960, 1994, 2022), Midwich Cuckoos takes place in a small town in which everyone passes out one day simultaneously. When they awake, all of the women of child-bearing age are pregnant and notably further along than they should be. After the scandal and accusations die down, it becomes understood that something supernatural has happened; this is reinforced when the children are born…odd. White hair, piercing eyes, and soon enough, psionic powers define the identities of the Midwich Cuckoo children.

The story is incredibly influential to horror, as the children became iconic progenitors of the “dangerous/scary children” subgenre of horror. It’s also a terrifying commentary on bodily autonomy for women, though few adaptations have fully explored this the way it should be.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

You all knew the progenitor of the genre and one of my favorite books of all time wouldn’t be missing from this list! Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley INVENTED the genre of science fiction and so seamlessly blended it with horror that it is inextricably linked to both genres. The language of the book is strong, with quotes that make my skin feel like an electric shock is running through it or like cold water is rushing down my spine. 

“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”

― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

The resonance of this and so many other moments from the creation are something I will expound upon in later articles, but for now, suffice to say my thoughts and feelings on this book and the various adaptations after it are plentiful. It is the mother of the genre, the intersection of two genres, and so many literary trope concepts that it would beggar belief to list them all. 

Read the full text legally online here.

And with that, my dears, we close another article! I hope you’re enjoying these, and that they give you some ideas. What would some of y’all like to see? Comment below with something you’d like for me to write!

Watching Cronenberg’s The Fly with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome

This is a (re)posting of an article I wrote for an entirely different blog, back in 2018. It has been edited for clarity, length, to add images, etc.

The idea for this post came on a whim, as most things do. I was intending to write about trauma, specifically intergenerational trauma and how it affects women. It’s portrayed beautifully and bloodily in Halloween 2018, but it’s something about which only a handful of bloggers have written [at time of writing]. Something about the concept began to frustrate me, however, which I can’t quite put my finger on, and I began to think about trauma as it relates to me personally.

Think of this as a secondary introduction post. Sort of a look into the way my experience as a horror fan is colored, beyond the already very specific lens of other identities. Disability as it relates to existence as a horror fan is…more delicate than people realize.

Disability in horror is something I will address more with time. Photo taken from A Quiet Place, 2018.

When I was a child, I was in a low growth percentile. Small, overly fragile, and horrendous internal problems that my poor parents barely knew how to mitigate. As I grew, I had mysterious growing pains, including–it seemed–in my ribs. I developed asthma, and my weight fluctuated violently between being too much to too little. I was too tall for my age, too skinny for my height (or too big for society, depending), and simultaneously too much and not enough of about a dozen different things.

Eventually I stopped growing.

The growing pains didn’t stop.

It wasn’t until college age, that a doctor entered the room with little fanfare and violently dislocated all of the fingers on my right hand without any sort of warning. He told me derisively to stop crying and that I had a rare disease called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. He left the room without telling me what that was. I was left to read Wikipedia with bouts of random panic.

Silver Bullet, 1985

Years later, a much kinder doctor would explain to me all of my symptoms and how they related to a genetic deformity on my collagen markers. You see, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is a connective tissue disorder, which systematically affects everything in your body with collagen, including your organs. As the years continued, I would have to have surgery to tie my stomach into a knot (my faulty tissue would reverse the surgery a mere three years later), I would be in and out of the ER with dislocated and micro-fractured joints, and my heart would start to rush so much I would pass out cold in the bathroom. There is no cure, there is barely any treatment aside from symptom management, and–despite what some doctors say–it is degenerative in the sense that you only get worse as you age.

As you might imagine, I have a strained relationship with the concept of body horror.

This brings me to David Cronenberg. Cronenberg may not be the progenitor of body horror–that honor would most commonly and likely go to author Franz Kafka–, but he is certainly the director most famous for its portrayal on screen. With films like The Brood, Videodrome, Crimes of Futures Past, and probably most notably, The Fly, it’s no wonder he was given such a venerable title within the horror genre. His films have frightened people for decades, and with good cause.

After all, what is more terrifying than the betrayal of your own body?

The Fly, 1986

I watched the Fly during one of the worst parts of my illness. I recall throwing up at least twice, not out of fear or disgust necessarily, but out of the degenerating path my own body was taking. At the time, my stomach was over-producing so much stomach acid, it was wearing away holes in my esophagus and the lining of my stomach. It was resistant to most medications at the time. I often would compare myself to the Xenomorph Queen in that everytime I would get sick, I’d spit up acid, and I would be throwing up acid at least three times a day. After seeing The Fly, I would say that I was just digesting a bit early and externally.

No one found my gallows humor quite as funny as I did.

I related strongly to the plight of Seth Brundle in the film. Though my body wasn’t changing out of my own jealous hubris, it was changing nonetheless into something I didn’t recognize. That said, I don’t believe Cronenberg necessarily intended for The Fly to be a chronic illness metaphor. A terminal illness metaphor, most definitely; perhaps it was even an unintentional treatise on the horrors and betrayals of aging. However, I doubt it was meant for someone whose illness would keep them alive for an indeterminate amount of time.

The Fly, 1986

Just as Kafka’s metaphor of the cockroach for physical disability could also be read as a metaphor for depression, however, so did my viewing of The Fly. Through no fault of my own had I become freakish and in pain, likely destined to die before reaching a very old age, and having a strong chance of passing the monstrosity I possessed down to any children I may have had had I not learned about my condition’s hereditary nature first.

With that said, my view of body horror is inherently tainted. It’s also, at the same time, painfully intimate. Much like Seth’s transformation into the Brundlefly, talking about it is difficult at the best of times. However, I hope that by writing this post, I have given someone the words to relate to horror in a way they hadn’t realized before.