Few films can get away with creating entire sets, villains, plot beats, and characters out of cardboard. Then again, few films in recent years have conjured the playful, metaphysical spirit that infuses Bill Watterson’s Dave Made a Maze. This purely independent and fully realized vision was one of the greatest joys of this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival lineup.
We study history in order to understand the past, particularly its traumas, so we will not perpetuate them; yet how can we avoid our mistakes when we hardly acknowledge the impact of the ones we have already made?
The grotesque appeal of carnivals, their inherent and attractive darkness, are long-established motifs of horror. Sideshow acts are full of the lurid and uncanny—humans whose appearances or movements aren’t “normal,” showcased behind heavy curtains or glass as objects of hideous wonder. Few can capture this fascination better than Ray Bradbury, who, along with Tod Browning and Diane Arbus, has solidified these images into our public consciousness.
The greatest of all Hallmark holidays, the day of St. Valentine is constructed to make couples feel obligated to go out on expensive and over-anticipated dates, while unnecessarily reminding single people of their status. Candy hearts and roses are meant to celebrate monogamy and “normal” love; but the origins of the holiday go back to Roman culture and involved whips, wolf skins and fertility orgies. Sound more your speed? Then these decidedly non-romantic books may be the right tonic for this holiday:
It is a pet peeve of mine when people argue that a work of artistic cinema or literature cannot be placed in the horror genre. Horror is a spectrum—on one end we have cheesy, exploitative entertainment; on the other, tales that evoke harrowing combinations of repulsion, disgust, and despair. Though some may disagree, I believe Cormac McCarthy’s mind-meltingly disturbing Blood Meridian belongs on the latter end of the horror scale, and for insidious reasons.
Authors and filmmakers have explored alien invasions since the birth of science fiction. The most common incarnation of this story features the aliens seeking domination over the Earth, with the humans uniting and fighting back. At their cores, these tales are optimistic, and their power pales in comparison to the horrifying allegory at the heart of Octavia Butler’s Dawn. [For those who have not read this and want to, be warned—this article contains a few spoilers.]
Few filmmakers have accomplished what Lucio Fulci has by turning gorefest pulp into a demented form of art. For the uninitiated, it may be impossible to get past the incomprehensible dubbing, inhuman acting, and nonexistent plots in some of Fulci’s films. Once used to these elements, though, one can see the way his films feel like nightmares, a series of impressionistic images that inspire dread. While I won’t claim that Fulci’s films are high art, I can perceive something important going on beneath the smears of gore. He has more on his mind than creative kills.
December 25th is internationally marketed as a day of cheer, togetherness, and bright lights during one of the darkest nights of the year. But, there are those of us who want to indulge in that darkness. There is a wealth of terror to be found in winter nights, and the following stories are perfect fodder for that breed of dread. Curl up by the fire, turn the lights off, and read... if you dare.
The holiday season has descended—darker nights, colder mornings, and an excess of cheeriness all set the mood for ghost stories. Many Victorian families would spend their Christmas evenings huddled around their fire, relating tales of ghouls and specters in an attempt to out-spook their relatives. This era of literature saw a surge in ghost stories, which established tropes that have been parodied endlessly in modern culture. One such trope is that of a spirit clad in bedclothes, clanking chains down dark halls.
The term “mundane gothic” is an immediate oxymoron. Gothic art and architecture are defined by their elaborate construction, excessive style, and often grotesque elements. There is nothing mundane about the construction of Notre Dame, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, or the films of Mario Bava. But, Joyce Carol Oates proves that the terms do, somehow, fit together. Throughout her prolific career, Oates has returned many times to the Gothic horror genre, even creating her own Gothic saga (featuring Mysteries of Winterthurn and Bellefleur, amongst others); but her version of the genre is distinct, because it is rooted in reality.
The question “why horror?” has been answered again and again. Studies have shown that, for willing participants, the voluntary release of fear is a healthy thing. What I have to say will not apply to everyone, then, because not everyone wants to be frightened. Many of us have recently been frightened, in a new, giant, eclipsing way. Those of us who love horror, then, have a greater need for it now.
Who are we? Why are we here? And what exists beyond what we see—beyond the limits of this conscious life? These are questions that philosophers and authors of fantastic fiction have asked for centuries—from Leibniz to Schopenhauer, Machen to Lovecraft. The short stories of Thomas Ligotti, beginning with his recently republished collections Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, explore the same themes as these authors. Yet something about Ligotti is incomprehensible—some chimerical makeup that creates a singular, uncanny, and utterly haunting experience.
There are few horror tropes that have tired themselves out more quickly than “don’t go into the woods.” We’ve seen it in cinema since the ’60s, reaching its short peak in the ’80s with films that even chose the trope as their titles. From slashers to creature flicks, horror has always made surface stabs at the innate fear of the woods, utilizing it only as a location in which horrors occur. Whether the church of Satan or the stalking grounds of a killer, the woods themselves rarely take action. Not in film, at least.
“Gore” is a term that seems to split horror fans in half. On one side are the gorehounds who love viscera and splatter above all else; and on the other, the purists, who want all of that splashing off-screen. I find myself split between these two, especially in recent years.