Please excuse my continual neurodivergent burnout. Have some arts.
Nope and the Psychology of Trauma On-screen
“The depth at which we take in the preceding generations astonishes me. There is likely an epigenetic component to this as well as transmission through the internalizations that get passed down through the generations. Whole cultures are carried forward that way, so it makes sense that family legacies might be transmitted that way as well.”
― Bonnie Badenoch, The Heart of Trauma: Healing the Embodied Brain in the Context of Relationships
I finally got a chance to watch a film that’s been on mine and everyone else’s radar for quite awhile: Nope, the newest entry into horror by Jordan Peele. I have several reasons for not having seen it until recently, but simply excuse my lateness. And blame COVID tbh.
However, my friend Sky wanted me to finally see and write about it, and y’all I’m glad she did motivate me on this. This movie hit me hard in all the right ways.
I went in fairly blind to any information (save for this wonderful blog entry by Lemon at The Writing Lich, which I highly recommend reading for an alternative look at what I will be discussing further). I often feel that’s the best way to watch horror films these days, as trailers do give away quite a bit–but praise to Nope for its vague trailers keeping my interest without giving anything away!
Spoilers ahead for Nope.
The trailers, posters, and advertising make it very clear: this is a movie about alien(s). At least on the surface. But like all of Peele’s films, this film has a deep social context and meaning.
Nope, to put it quite simply, is about trauma and the reaction to it. At least from my reading.
Much like the film itself, I’d appreciate your humoring me by going through named sections regarding each character of note that I’ll be exploring.
We start with Ricky “Jupe” Park, the former child star turned theme park owner played brilliantly by Steven Yeun. Yeun is a powerhouse of an actor who rarely gets the chance to show the breadth of his abilities in American film–he is still most known here in the US for his beloved turn as Glen in The Walking Dead. A great series of performances to be sure, but nothing comparable in my opinion to his work in Minari and Burning. He’s an expert in micro expressional acting–making even the most subtle of motions carry huge weight. I found a lot of that here in Nope, which pleased me a lot as a fan. Huge shout out, as well, to Jacob Kim who did a wonderful job playing child Ricky Park in flashback scenes.
Ricky as a character is hugely complex. The trauma of being a child star is well documented in our culture particularly through the predatory scum sites like TMZ and predecessors. Add into this Ricky’s frequent experience as being the only person of color on set–something that was emphasized in Ricky playing the “adopted Asian child” in the Gordy flashbacks–and you have a recipe for the subtleties of trauma as it relates to cultural isolation. We never ever hear about Ricky’s parents or biological family of origin. While we do see he grows up to have a wife and children, with whom he shares a wonderful relationship, I think the casting choice of Wrenn Schmidt for April Park was also intentional beyond her being good for the role.
We only ever see Ricky in his relationship to whiteness and things associated with it. Despite the reality of cowboys and the old west being overwhelmingly Black, Latine, Asian, and Indigenous, culturally the Western theme park Ricky owns and operates is a celebration of the Wild West as focused through the lens of John Wayne whiteness, with the only representations of BIPOC presence being the icons of Ricky himself and the complexity of Asian presence (via slavery) in the Wild West being completely sanitized through this.
However, this ultimately brings us to what is undoubtedly Ricky’s biggest source of trauma: the Gordy incident, an animal massacre on the set of a television show in Ricky’s past. Ricky secretly enshrines the massacre in a hidden area of his office, arguably for the money and notoriety with what he tells the Haywood siblings, but ultimately also as an expression of attempting to control his own trauma by caging it within walls he controls.
This makes his arc all the more tragic. We often talk about the repetitive nature of self-destruction via traumatic experience, and I think that is heavily reflected in Ricky’s story. What is more fitting if tragic for the boy who witnessed the utter destruction of his pseudo-family via trying to control a wild animal, than his unintentionally causing the destruction of himself, his wife and children, and his gathered friends and guests, via the same methods?
Ricky ultimately has internalized his trauma inside his own internal hidden chambers that it eventually explodes and takes him and everything he cares about with him. While the reading of Nope as commentary on trauma is subtle but visible in the Haywoods, I believe Ricky and the fate of the Parks and company is the ultimately explosive answer to the question of what happens when we internalize trauma in an unhealthy way without confronting it and attempting the painful road to genuine healing.
While the scene which makes it explicit text was cut, Emerald Haywood is a messy queer and I am absolutely here for her. She fights, flirts, cusses, and cries, and does it all with a bombast that makes this a near explosive performance compared to the more staid and thoughtful performance of Daniel Kaluuya. Keke Palmer makes the character vivid and imperfect and relatable, and I adore her for that. I will fight for more messy women, messy queers, and messy characters of color on screen that are still celebrated and loved by the text.
This brings me to the character of Em Haywood, whose in-character trauma, I believe, is that she was never quite celebrated enough. At least, not in the ways she needed. There’s a subtlety to the way both Em and OJ voice their own tensions surrounding their father–who was textually a good man, but no parent is perfect.
Em describes, in the scene regarding the original Jean Jacket, a horse she was promised for her own, a sort of unintentional disregard for her by her father. While both Em and OJ seem to understand that it was upsetting for Em to lose the opportunity to train Jean Jacket, at no point did the narrative state (to my memory) that Otis Sr. attempted to make it up to Em via another horse or even via giving the horse to her belatedly post filming-wrap. The fact that she names the alien creature Jean Jacket indicates that even after all this time, it was a negatively impacting event for her.
We do not know explicitly how Em’s father reacted to her queerness, and while I won’t condemn the character via speculation, I think her actions bely as much tension between father and daughter as the tension that OJ holds in his entirely being belies that same ambiguity between father and son. While the narrative never states Otis was a bad man, it does imply there were aspects of his fatherhood that weren’t without fault, and it would be dismissive to say even well-intentioned parenting cannot leave scars. I will not discuss the complex intersections present regarding queer Black female sexuality as I am wholly unqualified, but I’m certain it would play a part in their relationship dynamic.
We still see a lot of love for legacy in Em though, even though it’s portrayed as harried and erratic. Her late entry to the rehearsal combined with her plug for her own career undermine it a bit, but Emerald’s speech regarding the Haywood Ranch’s historical significance is one that clearly is well practiced and loved. This makes the narrative all the more triumphant when her own healing can be seen through the Muybridge inspired series of photos she takes of the alien Jean Jacket with the park’s photo booth attraction. She’s come full circle with reconciling her family’s legacy, while symbolically destroying the thing to come between her and her late father through the destruction of the cosmic creature which tried to take away her remaining family.
This becomes particularly strong thematically as we assume OJ has sacrificed himself in trying to lure the creature away so Emerald can safely get the photographs. Even as she gets the shots, you can still see the incredible emoting of Keke Palmer–she is theoretically triumphant but at the cost of everything that held real value to her.
And then the camera cuts to the entrance and the dust clears….
And y’all I BAWLED I’m sorry to break the authorial voice, but I was SOBBING.
Speaking of OJ…
OTIS “OJ” HAYWOOD, JR.
From the moment he’s introduced as a named character and the white actress questions the safety of having a Black man named OJ around a movie set, we understand that OJ’s trauma is intrinsically linked not only with familial legacy but with how that complexity interweaves with Blackness (and likely colorism as well). He is highly capable with what he does, but we sense and see an intense anxiety with interacting with those outside of a close knit circle.
I don’t necessarily think or know if this was the intention on Peele and Kaluuya’s part but as someone on the spectrum, I sensed a neurodivergent vibe from OJ (and Emerald at times, but less so). Do with that what you will, but it also informs my interpretation of OJ as a character from henceforth.
OJ relied a lot on his father, while at the same time being smothered by the strength of legacy. This can be incredibly traumatic even with the best of intentions on the part of the parents, but it was shown in their interactions that their dynamic wasn’t always the easiest, even if it wasn’t outright abusive. After the death of a figure like that in anyone’s life, but especially a neurodivergent person’s, it becomes incredibly difficult to break the known patterns. OJ’s patterns were following what his father told him to the best of his abilities without breaking from the pattern unless absolutely necessary for survival (via selling the horses to Ricky to keep the main farm and stables, i.e. establishing new situational patterns while maintaining the overarching pattern).
This pattern only starts to break when Em returns, and the alien animal begins forcing them to confront reality. Em drags OJ into something potentially life changing, but OJ doesn’t seem enthusiastic. His spark only truly starts occurring when the horses, the home, and Em are in danger respectively–he is finding that which is truly important to him beyond that establishment of patterns left to him by his father.
It is eventually his special skill that saves his sister and untold amounts of lives via stunt riding. In this not only does he reinforce his own power, skill, and agency, but reinforces (while also reifying) his family’s legacy of Black horsemen. Even as much as I was upset and angry at the film when it was implied that OJ was dead, it made the triumph of his return greater than any ending twist in any traditional Western film I have ever seen.
Like I said, I bawled.
Overall I think Nope was a fantastic film on the surface of it, despite the mixed reviews it received. I think those mixed reviews too may have come from a place of not quite understanding how the layers tie together–it’s always admittedly difficult for even the best directors such as Peele to find the balance between showing enough to the audience for most to understand and absolutely hand-holding the lowest common denominator.
However, I feel the film not only works as an action-sci-fi-horror film along the lines of Alien, The Thing, and many other predecessors, I find it has a lot more to say that’s hidden behind the beautiful photography, acting and character design.
…also I did a little snort everytime someone in the movie said “nope.”
Well played, Mr. Peele.
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.
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.
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!