Posts Tagged ‘ballet’

Praise to the King in Yellow! I’ve got my first acceptance of the year! Even better, it’s a story I was having trouble finding a home for!

So, you’re probably all excited to hear what the story is about and when and where it’ll come out. “The Dedication of the High Priestess” is a story I first wrote back in winter after I got back from my vacation. The story follows a young ballet student named Anastasia “Annie” Hummel. She dreams of being a famous ballerina, and being selected as a model for a famous artist’s latest series of paintings seems like a great boost to her fledgling career. However, what actually happens is that Annie is awakened to her true destiny. A destiny that will change the course of her life, and the world. forever.

If you read my post about elevated horror the other day, you might realize from the description and my opening shout of praise that this is the ballerina-meets-the-King-in-Yellow story I mentioned. And yes, I realize it got accepted right after I mentioned trying to find it a home. Not sure if that counts as irony, but it is funny.

And if you’re wondering what this King in Yellow thing is, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Sadly, I think The King in Yellow is even less well-known than HP Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos.* It’s a collection of short stories written in 1895 by Robert Chambers. Most (and the best) of the stories revolve not around the titular character, but around a play bearing the character’s name and which is said to be so twisted, reading the second act will drive you mad (or make you a servant of the King, depending on if you believe he’s a real entity).

The stories have proven influential, being beloved by Lovecraft and becoming partially integrated into the Cthulhu Mythos by later writers. If you would like to find out more, you can read my own blog post on the collection, which I wrote back when I first read the stories, or you can watch this awesome YouTube video on the collection. Or you can read the collection yourself, that’s a valid choice as well.

This is my copy of the collection. Seriously, you should check it out!

Anyway, my take on the stories and the character combines both elements from the collection, from what later writers have added, and adds ballet, because let’s face it, I’m a huge fan of ballet and I’m sad there aren’t more ballet-themed horror stories. As to how I use ballet in the story, you’ll have to wait till it’s out to discover that.

Speaking of which, “The Dedication of the High Priestess” will be published as an audio story by the horror podcast Tales to Terrify. This is a podcast where professional narrators read one or two short stories or short novelettes per episode, the goal of each story being to chill you silly. I listened to a couple of episodes a while back and thought it might be a good place for my story, so I sent it in. I’m so happy they agree.

As to when it comes out, all I can say at that point is that it’ll be some time in 2022. Yeah, that’s vague, but that’s just how it is sometimes. And anyway, the moment it is out, I’ll be sure to let you know so you can check it out yourself.

I want to thank Tales to Terrify for accepting my story and I can’t wait to hear what you guys do with it. I’m very proud of this one and I’m glad it was able to find an excellent home.

And that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got some other stuff cooking that I’ll be announcing soon, so keep an eye out for that. And I have dinner cooking, so I’ll keep an eye on that. Until next time, good night and pleasant nightmares.

*Which is a damn shame, because I think it’s better than Lovecraft in many ways, though I still like the stories the latter wrote.

Fairy tales have been on my mind a lot lately. Granted, that’s nothing new. When writing Toyland, I knew fairy tales and children’s stories were going to play a part in the story, since it was about a school haunted by a ghost obsessed with a children’s fairy tale. And yes, I still hope to get that book published.

But recently, I took a class offered by the Horror Writers Association on fairy tales, which got my imagination working. And then I watched a couple of TED talks on YouTube on the subject. And last week, I wrote my own twisted, dark fantasy version of Cinderella in just one sitting while everyone else was watching the Super Bowl. This was at the same time I spent two weeks coming up with an idea for a novel involving fairy tale elements, the idea finally crystallizing on Saturday before going to see Giselle. A ballet, by the way, that could be considered a fairy tale. It certainly has enough fairy tale elements to qualify as one.

All this has made me hyper-aware of just how much fairy tales have permeated our society. Not just as stories or elements of our favorite stories, but in advertising, fashion, music, art, and even our expressions (“Cinderella story,” anyone?). They are freaking everywhere, and used/enjoyed not just by children, but by teens and adults too.

“But wait,” you’re probably asking, “aren’t fairy tales just kid stuff?”

Not exactly. In fact, fairy tales were often for adults as much as children. Early written versions of Little Red Riding Hood were told as parables to warn young ladies about getting into bed with the wrong sort of man, or as metaphors about entering womanhood (especially if cannibalism is kept in the story). In fact, that is still the case in some places: in Ireland, many still believe in fairies and tell stories, or “tales,” about them and what places to avoid. And in parts of Scandinavia and Iceland, beliefs in trolls and elves are still popular. Many countries in Asia, especially in southeast Asia, still believe in many types of spirits (and according to the classical definition of fairies, just about any supernatural entity can be considered a fairy, so it counts), and use stories to warn new generations of the dangers of pissing them off.

This adaptation of “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” is a prime example of how fairy tales can be recontextualized for new eras.

But beyond warnings, fairy tales, like many other kind of stories, are reflections of how we look at our world. Hansel and Gretel, for example, was probably told in an age of famine, poverty and witch hunts, given its elements and the lessons imparted in it. Even better, fairy tales can be recontextualized for new ages. Cinderella tales are increasingly told to make the lead less passive and more in control of her own life, and the Studio Ghibli film The Tale of Princess Kaguya, based on the Japanese fairy tale The Story of the Bamboo Cutter, retells the story with the theme of how Kaguya wants none of the finery her foster parents gift her, only to be surrounded by people who love her. This feels relevant in an age with rising consumerism, online image-building, and social isolation.

And that’s the cool thing about fairy tales, too. You can retell them in so many different ways. Hell, you can even come up with new ones. Plenty of writers are creating their own fairy tales, such as Diana Wynne Jones did with Howl’s Moving Castle, Melissa Albert with The Hazel Wood and many more. And many stories today use elements of fairy tales. The inclusion of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” in Stephen King’s IT isn’t just a fun choice by King, after all: King originally started plotting that story as a modern interpretation of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

Makes you wonder what elements of fairy tales and legends you’re putting into your stories, doesn’t it?

And that’s the thing. Even you can make up your own original fairy tales or retellings. In fact, plenty of writers are, and will as the world changes. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get an updated version of Anansi and the introduction of stories to the world in the wake of so many states attempting to rewrite history or schools attempting to ban books. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this pandemic, or any of the major conflicts we’ve experienced in the past several years, make their way into a new or an old fairy tale. I’ve already come up with a few ideas for some, and might write one or two in the near future.

And I bet, no matter who’s telling the stories, they’ll continue to influence society for years to come. From the “Once upon a time” beginnings to the optional “they all lived happily ever after.”

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I spent most of President’s Day writing, so I’ll take the rest of the night off. I’ll be back soon, as I’m expecting to share some good news very soon. Until then, my Followers of Fear, good night, pleasant nightmares, and don’t try to wake me up with a kiss. I bite.

Also, here are some of the videos I watched while researching fairy tales. Give them a watch. They’re quite edifying:

Transforming our Understanding of Fairy Tales by Anne Dugan

Why We Absolutely Need Fairy Tales by Jason Link

Myths, Folklore & Legends: We Still Need Our Fairy Tales by Heidi Shamsuddin

Last month, I wrote a story that combined art and my love of ballet with the stories of the King in Yellow. This was after finally reading the stories earlier this year, which was after hearing about them and their titular subject for a few years. Recently, I edited that story and then submitted it to a publication that I think will like it. And after doing so, I just wanted to write a blog post about the King in Yellow, and see how many of the Followers of Fear are familiar with the character.

So, for those of you who don’t know, The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories published in 1895 by Robert Chambers. The first four stories revolve around the titular character. Or to be more precise, around a fictional play revolving around the titular character. This play has the uncanny ability to make those who read/see it lose their hold on reality. Or, in another sense, to put them under the sway of the King in Yellow.

If you would like a more in-depth analysis of the character, the play, and stories than I can give here, you can watch this video which goes in depth on the collection and the stories in question.

Not bad, huh? I find the Tale Foundry channel puts out some incredible work on all things writing and literature.

Anyway, The King in Yellow–the book, the play, and the character–have had quite an effect on horror literature. HP Lovecraft was actually heavily influenced by the book, and some of the themes in the book could be considered proto-Lovecraftian. Some writers have even included the King in the Cthulhu Mythos under the name of Hastur, a name from the original collection, as well as the half-brother of Cthulhu. And plenty of other writers have played in the sandbox of The King in Yellow, both in and out of the Cthulhu Mythos. He’s appeared in tabletop games, video games, all sorts of stories, and even was heavily referenced in the TV show True Detective.

Question is, why? What is it about these four stories and the King that has caused them to endure and slowly germinate into our popular culture?

Well, that’s the thing: it does germinate. Or the play does, anyway.

If you’ve read the stories or watched the video, you might have noticed that the King himself only appears once. Even then, you can’t be sure this isn’t the hallucination of a madman. Really, what we see in the stories is the effect of the play. It’s power to corrupt people, as well as the public outcry against it, has ensured that if someone hasn’t read it, they at least know of it and have seen the damage it’s caused.

Sounds like Twilight, but better and horrifying in the right ways, if you think about it. And it’s a great metaphor for how stories can spread through a populace and change people and culture, for better or worse. Not just fictional texts, like Harry Potter or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but non-fiction tomes like The Travels of Marco Polo and Herodotus’s Histories, and religious texts like the Bible. All of these had huge effects on the societies they spread through, changing cultures, beliefs, and minds in so many ways.

The metaphor is even more apt if you think of the play as a religious text for those who worship the King in Yellow.

Just one edition of the King in Yellow collection. There are as many as there are ways to tell a story with the character.

Add in that the stories are psychological works where a lot is left to the imagination, combined with some decent and eerie storytelling, as well as ideas that resonate with writers the way Lovecraft’s world would years later, and it’s no wonder people began playing with and adding to the concept of the King in Yellow. And this was happening even before the stories entered the public domain.

Is it any wonder the King has been partially absorbed into the Cthulhu Mythos now?

And like the Cthulhu Mythos, the King in Yellow is becoming more well-known and mainstream, albeit slower than the Mythos. Still, the fact that it showed up in True Detective says a lot. And I hope, should the story I wrote be published, that it’s considered a nice addition to the King’s legacy, as well as helps to spread awareness of the original stories.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend checking out the original King in Yellow short story collection. They’re really eerie and you probably won’t regret checking them out. At the very least, you’ll be able to see how another classic work of horror has influenced the genre as a whole.

Just don’t read beyond the first four stories. The ones afterward don’t really connect to the stories about the play and aren’t as good, making you wonder why Chambers included those stories. I heard that if you read the book in reverse, it reveals something, but I can think of a lot of other stuff I would rather do with my time.

Have you read The King in Yellow or come across works inspired by it? What do you think of the stories? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to make dinner, read a story a friend sent to me for feedback, and imagine putting together a King in Yellow costume. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and beware the Yellow Sign.


One more thing: the crowdfunding campaign for That Which Cannot Be Undone is at 29% funded! And we’ve added a whole bunch of new perks to the campaign, as well as a new author to the anthology!

If you’re unaware, I’m part of a small publishing press and we’re crowdfunding our first anthology, That Which Cannot Be Undone, which will highlight Ohio writers. It’s an exciting new venture, and we’re very excited for you to read the stories that will be included. I’ve already written one story that will be in the anthology, so I hope you’ll support us in making this anthology a reality.

If you’re interested, you can click on the link below and learn more about the anthology. I hope you’ll lend us your support! Thanks, and have a good night!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crackedskullproject1/that-which-cannot-be-undone-an-ohio-horror-anthology

This has been a very busy, crazy day. But so far, it’s been worth it. And this is one of the reasons why!

So, if you didn’t hear, my story “Cressida,” which follows a man who finds out his uncle is keeping a mermaid in his basement, was accepted for publication. It was to appear in the anthology “Into the Deep” from Jazz House Publishing, which is to release on July 20th. And unless you’re a time traveler and stuck in another period of time/space, today’s July 20th! Which mean “Into the Deep” is out!

First off, can we just admire that artwork? I mean, wow! That is so terrifying, that for a horror fan it’s kind of sexy. Kudos to the cover artist!

Second, this looks to be a great collection. There are ten other short stories and novelettes in the anthology, all of them focused on the ocean and the deep blue sea. One is an aquatic retelling of the ballet Giselle (being such a fan of ballet, I’m looking forward to reading it). Another involves a heist in the Marianas Trench. And there are more that I have yet to discover! I’m so excited to get my copy!

Speaking of which, if you want to read “Into the Deep,” I’m including the link below at the end of the post. At the time I’m writing this, only the ebook version is available. The paperback will be available later today, so keep checking back for that (I’ll post an update when that’s available as well). Please give it a read if you’re at all interested.

And if you do, please let us know what you think. Not just for my sake, but for the sake of all the authors and the publishing company. A lot of work by many different individuals went into this anthology, so letting them know what you think not only brings a boost to their moods, but let’s other readers know if they should check out the anthology.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy “Into the Deep,” and that you like “Cressida” when you read the story. I’m especially proud of that story and think it’s some of my best work. I hope you agree.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be back soon with more news and reviews and whatnot (whether you like it or not). Until next time, pleasant nightmares and ph’nglui mglw’nafh R’lyeh Cthulhu wgah’nagl fhtagn.

Into the Deep: Ebook


Just a reminder: there’s only eight days left to submit questions for the Ask Me Anything, or AMA, to celebrate my ten-year blogging anniversary. One lucky participant will receive a prize, so be sure to send your question to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com by 11:59 PM on July 28th. I look forward to reading your questions.

It’s hard to believe that two years have passed by since Rose was released. For one thing, 2020 felt like it was way longer than a year. And January 2021 felt like at least three months. Still, it’s been two years since Rose was released, and so I’m celebrating it with you today.

So if you’re unaware, Rose is a novel I wrote that was released June 20th, 2019 by Castrum Press, based in Belfast, North Ireland. The novel follows Rose Taggert, a young graduate student who wakes up in a greenhouse with no memory of the past two years. Suddenly, she undergoes a transformation into a plant/human hybrid! And then, as people around her react to her new form, particularly a young man who claims to be her boyfriend and to have saved her life, she realizes that not everyone can be trusted. Dark forces are swirling around her, and if she’s not careful, not only will her life be forfeit, but her loved ones as well.

Rose Trivia

I’ve heard that readers love behind-the-scenes trivia about books they’ve read or they’re considering reading. Especially if it comes from the original author. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d do some trivia for Rose’s anniversary today. Hopefully you find it interesting.

  • The original idea for this novel came to me in a science fiction class at school. Back in college, I was taking a Science Fiction & Fantasy literature course (yes, Ohio State taught that class, because Ohio State is awesome). I was just sitting in class, listening to the lecture, when the basic idea for Rose just popped into my head. I liked the idea, so I wrote it down in my idea notebook and set it aside for later.
    Later on, when it came time to do my senior thesis, I decided to write Rose and had that very same teacher from my Science Fiction class be one of my critics for the novel.
    So if anyone ever says a Liberal Arts degree doesn’t pay, point them my way. I benefited so much from one!
  • Rose took fifteen months to get edited for publication, and it was the most anxiety-producing time of my life. I’ve had an anxiety disorder for a few years now, and I’ve been pretty good about keeping it under control and not letting it interfere with my life. That being said, Rose was accepted during the time when I was just learning how to control that disorder, and all the edits and rewrites I had to do to get the book ready for publication just sent my anxiety into overdrive. It took a lot of work to calm me down, let alone get work done on the novel. I was just overwhelmed by it all. Figuring out how to rewrite the story, trying not to disappoint readers or the publisher or myself. Fearing that the story would be hated and then I would be hated because I was the writer. Even just general, irrational fear bothered me on a daily basis.
    It probably didn’t help that I had to rewrite two-thirds of the novel because one of those thirds was irrelevant flashbacks and the other third was dependent on those flashbacks.
    Thankfully, I was able to learn coping strategies and get inspiration on how to rewrite the story. The result was that I was able to put out Rose. And I’m happy to say that none of my anxieties have come to pass.
  • I got to use some of my ballet knowledge in this story. After college, I became a huge fan of ballet, to the point that I and my family actually buy subscription packages to our local company’s shows every year. And in the novel, Rose’s younger sister Maddie is a ballerina.
    In the first couple of drafts, Maddie was a very minor character and her dancing only got one or two mentions. However, when it became apparent that nearly two-thirds of the novel needed to be rewritten, I saw an opportunity to expand Maddie’s role in the story, and thus her career. I even got to teach my editor the word barre, which he thought was an error on my part but which is actually a technical term from the French.
    And since I’m a big ballet fan, you can expect it to appear in another story someday. Maybe even more prominently than it does in Rose. Only time will tell!

What the Readers Say

At the time I’m writing this, Rose has more reviews than any single one of my books. And I’m happy to say that the majority of people have really enjoyed the novel. Here’s what they had to say.

Loved the premise and all of the descriptions of turning into a plant creature, as well as several other body horror scenes, were disturbing in the best way. I also liked the psychological horror of the story and was often at the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.

My only criticisms were that sometimes the characters acted in ways I found unbelievable and some of the descriptions and explanations were a little too “on the nose” for me.

Overall, a solid horror story! I feel the strong beginning and surprising and intense ending made this a great horror experience and a book I would definitely recommend.

(Also, I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was superb!!)

Emma, United States

I didn’t know what to expect going into Rose, but I was intrigued first by the cover, and second by the description. Listening to Rose Taggert’s story as she tries to figure out what has happened to her and why she has no memory of the last two years was fascinating, especially as her boyfriend Paris’ version doesn’t really make sense the more she digs. She learns what obsession and power can do, as she is transformed into something not human, and those she loves are brought into danger. I enjoyed the book, and even though I saw what was coming, the way it came was unexpected. Sara Parlier’s narration was very good, and I look forward to hearing more from her.

Manakalita, Audible

In this work, Rami Ungar paints a captivating picture of Japanese folklore and magic, which serves as a backdrop for a story about captivity, manipulation, and possession! His narrative style also captures the dread and claustrophobia of being a captive, not to mention the twisted pathology of the captor! Scary stuff, and all the while you’re rooting for the bad guys to get their just desserts!

Matthew Williams, author of The Formist Trilogy, Canada

And this is just three of the many reviews Rose has acquired over the past two years. I’d guesstimate that there’s fifty individual reviews across the various websites and platforms. Maybe more.

Granted, not all of the reviews have been positive. I’ve had some one or two-stars here and there. One mixed review was published on a prominent website a month or two ago! Still, reviews like that make me want to work harder and show readers how much I can improve. Hopefully that shows in the stories I’ve written since then and which will be coming out later.

Do You Wanna Check the Book Out?

If any of this makes you interested in reading Rose, I’ll be including links below. I would love to hear what you have to say on the novel. And if you do end up reading Rose, let me know what you think. Positive or negative, I love reader feedback, and it helps me out in the long run. Not to mention it helps readers figure out whether Rose is for them or not.

The best way to do so is to leave a review on Amazon/Audible or Goodreads, but I’ll be happy with a mention anywhere.

And thanks again to Paul and the team at Castrum Press, as well as The Golden Quill who did the artwork. It was a great and edifying experience working with you, and I hope we can do so again someday.

Also, if you haven’t checked it out yet, Snake’s seven-year publishing anniversary occurred recently as well. The story follows a serial killer hunting members of a powerful Mafia family in New York City. If you haven’t checked that one out yet, either, I’ll include the links below.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope I get to hear what you think of Rose (or Snake) very soon. Until next time, good night and pleasant nightmares!

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Audible

Snake: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Barnes & Noble, iBooksSmashwords, and Kobo

You’d be surprised how many people would want to see a ballet with this guy.

Many of you already know that I’ve been a huge fan of ballet for the past several years. Those of you who didn’t, now you do (and can read this post for my full thoughts on the art form). Ballets and dancers sometimes appear in the stories I write, and I have even had a few ideas for ballets that I’m keeping in reserve.* And since this pandemic began, I’ve missed going to the ballet and seeing these amazing shows. I hope that when the pandemic ends, I can see them live again.

And I hope that some of those ballets might be based on or around horror stories.

Yeah, I know what some of you are thinking. Ballet based on horror stories? When it’s so beautiful and sophisticated? But hear me out, it’s not such a crazy idea. There actually have been ballets written around horror stories or dark subjects. Dracula has a famous ballet, after all, and Frankenstein, Sweeney Todd and The Tell-Tale Heart, among others, have been adapted for dance. Giselle‘s entire second act is a ghost story involving vengeful female spirits; La Syphide features a spirit called a sylph and a coven of witches; The Rite of Spring was literally designed to unnerve people with its music and choreography; Fall River Legend is a loose retelling of the Lizzie Borden murders; and The Cage is literally about insectile females who eat their male counterparts!

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Black Swan, which melded psychological thrills with ballet, albeit being very inaccurate about life in a company.

So clearly, there is already a history of horror in ballet. And I think it would be cool and perhaps even groundbreaking to write some new, darker ballets after the pandemic ends and companies have had a chance to get back to putting on shows.

Were you aware ballet could be so scary?

And before you say, “But lots of families go to the ballet. Won’t these stories traumatize them?” I do admit that’s possible. However, I’m sure plenty of kids have come out fine from seeing Giselle or Rite of Spring. Besides, kids are often more resilient than we give them credit for. And nobody seemed bothered enough to ask that question when they were making family films in the 1980s (*cough* Secret of NIMH, Return to Oz, The Witches *cough*).

And there are plenty of properties and stories to adapt from. Obviously, I’ve got a few stories up my sleeve.** But if you’re still unsure, here are some stories I think would make great ballets if a company were to try:

I really think The Shining could make a great ballet if given the chance.
  • The Shining. I know this one has already been made into a movie, a TV miniseries, and an opera, but I think The Shining could make a stunning ballet. Compared to King’s other works, it’s not very complicated, and the story is quite personal as well as scary. The Overlook Hotel would make for a great set piece. And besides Carrie, The Shining is the only story I can think of suited for dance (and Carrie already has a so-so musical already, so perhaps not).
  • Friday the 13th. I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. Friday the 13th has a passionate fanbase who will go mad for anything new in the franchise, including fan films. The films always feature a lot of action, which could easily translate to dance. And I’ve seen people bring up a Friday the 13th ballet on Twitter and get enthusiastic responses. Granted, when I did a poll on the subject, I only got two responses, but they both said they’d pay to see that kind of show, and the poll only went on for three hours. A longer poll might get more responses.
  • Something featuring a werewolf. As vicious beasts, as warriors against witches, and as tragic figures trying to understand their place in the world, werewolves are versatile creatures with an extensive mythology. It wouldn’t be too hard to come up with something involving them.
  • Something with cosmic horror. Again, I know what you’re thinking. But as I said in a previous post, cosmic horror is on the rise, and there are plenty of ways to tell an excellent story about great, indomitable entities without actually featuring them (or all of them). Like werewolves, it wouldn’t be too hard to come up with something. Just needs a little imagination.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Washington Irving’s tale lends itself well to adaptation, so I think having a ballet around it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
  • Carmilla. A vampire novel predating Dracula, it’s famous for its Gothic storyline and lesbian themes. I think with a few tweaks (not to the LGBT romance), it could make an enchanting story.

As ballet is a constantly evolving art form, I think there’s plenty of room to experiment with adding horror to a company’s repertoire. Sure, it might not be conventional, but it could be a lot of fun. And who knows? In addition to bringing in new fans, a ballet based around a horror story could become as big as Nutcracker or other famous ballets. You never know.

What do you think about having horror-themed ballets? Are there any stories or storytellers who would be well suited to the art form? Let’s discuss.

*BalletMet, or NYCB, or any company who might be interested. Give me a call or send me an email. I’m not only easy to work with, I don’t cost an arm and a leg.

**Seriously, just email and ask.

Pet Semetary is considered one of His Royal Scariness Stephen King’s most terrifying novels, and one King has said he’d take back if he could due to the subject matter of child death in the book. Both it and its 1989 movie adaptation are classics, so people were both intrigued and a little wary when it was announced that the movie would be getting a remake. Then we got trailers that intrigued us and then made our heads scratch. I don’t need to state spoilers here that the little girl dies instead of the little boy this time, right? Well, too bad. But King was okay with the change, so we had to wait and wonder what the movie would be like when it came out.

Based on King’s novel, Pet Semetary revolves around the Creed family, who move into a house in the Maine countryside when father Louis Creed gets a job at a university clinic. He soon finds out that there’s a cemetery for animals on his property, and beyond it another burial ground that has to bring back anything buried in it, including his daughter’s cat. However, sometimes they come back very wrong. When the Creeds are affected by a terrible tragedy, Louis uses the burial ground to reverse the tragedy. But it only leads to an even bigger, more terrifying disaster.

Um…I wasn’t scared.

There’s plenty to like about this movie. It looks the part of a modern Stephen King movie, and they manage to bring the spirit of the novel, especially the feeling of a domino effect at work with the characters, into it. And for once, Jason Clarke, who plays Louis Creed, actually connects with me as an actor. Normally I don’t like him when I see him in something, but this time I really felt it. Every bit of grief, relief, or horror, resonated with my core. And most of the other principal cast members are great in their roles. Jete Laurence (who’s name, by the way, is a dance move in ballet, which I find fitting given her character’s love of ballet in the film) makes a sympathetic protagonist in particular, and later makes a welcome addition to the pantheon of evil kids out to get us.

However, there’s much about this film that left me feeling less than impressed. For one thing, many of the scares were jump scares. And as I’ve become fond of saying lately, jump scares are the cheapest form of terror in horror films. Once they’re done, the fear seeps out of you and you’re okay again. Even after one really effective jump scare, I was okay a minute later.

And then there’s the change from the original story: Ellie Creed, the elder Creed child, dies instead of toddler Gage, and ends up being the one resurrected. Hey, I’m cool with it. If there are no surprises, why bother remaking a film? But that’s the only real change that’s worthy of talking about. Afterwards, the film adheres rather closely to the novel, and even where it doesn’t, it’s pretty predictable. I would’ve preferred it if after this change, they decided to make more changes to the story and send it in different directions. I mean, if you’re going to have an older child, rather than a toddler, the source of terror, why not take advantage of that (especially since older children are much better at planning and being devious)? Go where we won’t expect it and give us the terror of not knowing what will happen next!

That look, like a raised eyebrow. It says my whole opinion of the film and the decisions made with it in one look.

I mean, I had to rewrite two-thirds of my novel to make it publishable, and I went in some different directions to make it work. The result was a much better and far more unpredictable thrill ride. So I know what I’m talking about.*

Finally, I felt Jon Lithgow as neighbor Jud Krendall was underused. The character in this film only existed for exposition. In the original novel and the 1989 film, his friendship with Louis feels real. Here, it’s forced in so the character can explain stuff (sans flashbacks too, by the way. I liked the use of those in the original film, why couldn’t they be in this film?). Between this film and Velvet Buzzsaw, I feel sorry for the guy. He’s been in bad roles in two films this year, and neither of them make great horror films.

Oh, one more thing: you can tell that cat is a puppet at certain points! It’s painfully obvious! Makes me miss Goose the Cat, who I couldn’t tell was a puppet at several points in Captain Marvel.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving 2019’s Pet Semetary a 2 out of 5. Perhaps it’s trying to keep the film under two hours and not alienate Stephen King purists, but in all honesty, I would’ve preferred another twenty minutes or more and some new directions for the story. As it is, the film is going to serve a reminder that not all the adaptations in the current Stephen King renaissance will be gems.

*Speaking of which, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my upcoming novel Rose. The story, a fantasy-horror novel, follows a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is that you consider posting a review on or after the novel’s release date. If you or somebody you know is interested, just send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

Last week in my review of Us, I speculated Jordan Peele’s new horror movie was making a Friday the 13th reference through one of its characters. It’s been nearly a week since then, the film has made nearly six times its budget back at the box office since its release, and people are still finding reasons to talk about this film. So I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and further explain my own theory about the film, or to be more specific my theory regarding one specific character.

That being said, I’m going to be going in-depth with this film, so if you haven’t seen Us yet, THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING! STOP HERE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM YET AD GO SEE IT BEFORE CONTINUING!!

Still here? Good. Let’s begin.

My theory is that the character of Jason Wilson, the son character in the film’s protagonist family, is one big, possibly unintended, reference to the Friday the 13th films and their main antagonist, Jason Voorhees. Let me explain:

1. The character’s name is Jason, and he wears a mask throughout the film. These are small details, but they’re what turned me onto this. Jason Wilson wears a Chewbacca mask throughout the film, something never really explained beyond a statement by his sister Zora that he’s socially awkward. In the Friday the 13th films, Jason is famous for wearing a mask, most notably the iconic hockey mask. Additionally, both Jasons have two-syllable surnames, with the first letters of each surname right next to each other in the English alphabet.

Both Jason Wilson and Jason Voorhees wear masks and are named Jason. Is that a coincidence?

Okay, but that’s just a tiny detail. Is there anything else to back it up? Why yes, of course.

2. Their lives are forever changed around water. This is another small detail, but it’s also important. Jason Voorhees “drowned” in Crystal Lake, and afterwards hunted and killed around that lake. It was a turning point in his life, so to speak. In Us, Jason Wilson first meets the Tethered version of his family at his family’s vacation home, which is right on a lake. Later, his family travels to the Santa Cruz beach, where Jason kills his Tethered and is kidnapped by his mother’s double. Both of these events have a profound effect on Jason, psychologically scarring him, and will probably affect his life growing up. Just like Jason Voorhees when he drowned and when his mother was killed.

3. He and his Tethered. Both Jason and his Tethered, Pluto, share aspects of Jason Voorhees’s appearance and personality. Pluto is physically scarred, which is why he wears his mask. Jason W. is socially awkward, which may play into why he wears his mask. In the Friday the 13th films, Jason Voorhees is said to have been born with a condition that deformed his face, and made his interactions with other children difficult to say the least. You can make a connection between his physical and social problems to Jason W’s social issues and Pluto’s physical appearance.

And speaking of Pluto…

4. Pluto’s name. Pluto is the Roman god of the Underworld, and is one of the few beings who can come and go from that realm at will. Pluto from Us comes from an Underworld of his own. And even before Jason V became a supernatural being who could resurrect himself every few years, his relationship to death was tenuous at best, having died or appeared to have died twice before Tommy Jarvis actually gave him what appeared to be a permanent death in the fourth Friday the 13th film.

Speaking of Tommy…

5. How the killer dies. In Friday the 13th Part IV, young Tommy Jarvis shaves his head to make himself appear like Jason V as a boy, allowing him to eventually strike a fatal blow to Jason V. In Us, Jason W uses his connection to Pluto to compel his doppelganger to walk into a burning car, killing him.

6. The mothers. This is the detail that really made me think I had something with this theory. Both Adelaide Wilson and her Tethered Red are especially close with their sons, as we see through their interactions with them. This connection is so deep that, after Pluto is killed, Red takes Jason W into her underworld instead of killing him in revenge. It’s as if she couldn’t bear to lose her son and would accept his above-world counterpart rather than lose him entirely. Adelaide then follows Red into the tunnels to fight her, kill her, and take back her son, who is scarred forever from this event.

In addition, both women are not what they seem. “Adelaide” is revealed to have originally been a Tethered, and “Red” was from the surface world, motivated by revenge to destroy the above world she was taken from. When we first meet Pamela Voorhees in the original Friday the 13th film, we believe she’s an eleventh-hour Samaritan to the surviving counselor, only to be revealed as a crazed killer seeking revenge for her son–her world–who was taken from her.

At the end of Us, Jason W seems to know his mother is a Tethered, and his reactions seem to indicate he’s going to be watching her from now on, even though he loves her. And in the second Friday the 13th film, Jason V is revealed to be alive, having become an adult and starting his own reign of murder and terror. Which begs the question, if he was alive all these years, why didn’t he find his mother? Why didn’t he let her know he was alive? Perhaps did he know his mother was unhinged and decided to stay away from her because he couldn’t trust her?

Tell me Mr. Peele, did I stumble onto something?

 

Ultimately, this may just be me looking too deeply into one aspect of a film and drawing an entire theory from it. I’ve been known to do that before.* And I may be shouting into the wind with this blog post. But even if I’m totally off-base and making connections that weren’t meant to be there, it’s amazing how much is there to back up my crazy theory. And there’s a theory that the anime movie My Neighbor Totoro is a secret retelling of a murder-suicide in the 1960s. It got popular enough that Studio Ghibli came out and denied the theory.** Perhaps I can get enough people to believe in this theory to get a response from Jordan Peele. Anything’s possible.

But what do you think? Think I’m onto something? Am I crazy? Did I miss something that supports or tears down my theory? Let’s discuss.

And while you’re here, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my novel Rose. It’s the story of a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you would like to get an advanced electronic copy, please send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. All I ask is that you consider posting a review with your thoughts on or after the release date. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

*I kid you not, I once saw a ballet based on the Oz books, and came up with a whole time travel theory based on its ending scene. My mother said I was crazy. I say it’s the only way outside of a dream sequence the ballet makes sense, and this ballet didn’t treat Oz as a dreamland.

**No kidding, that’s a thing. Here’s an article that looks into the theory. And Studio Ghibli did have to come out and say it’s bogus. Which is only slightly weirder than the theory about Spirited Away that Ghibli did confirm was legit. The more you know.

Well first off, I did order a hard copy of The Complete Works of HP Lovecraft. That should arrive by Thursday. In the meantime, now that I’ve finished reading his entire body of work,* I thought I’d take a moment to list my favorite stories of his work. Why? Because A) I want to, and B) despite the overuse of 18th century language and enough racism to make me want to punch the guy, there are some good stories here worth reading. And if anyone ever wanted to try HP Lovecraft but didn’t know where to start, and if they trust my reviews at all, I think this would be helpful.

So starting from Number 8 and working our way up, let’s go over my Top 8 HP Lovecraft Stories.

#8: The Lurking Fear

You ever go hiking or driving through a mountain range at night and expect something like Jason Voorhees to pop out? I have, and it’s enough to make you really question your decision to ever set foot in those areas. Such is the force behind The Lurking Fear, about a reporter who goes into the Catskill mountains to investigate reports of monster attacks on local villages, and comes across something much more sinister. It’s a story that takes advantage of its setting and using a monster unseen to create the sense of horror. And while the twist might be slightly predictable, it still does add to the sense of horror you feel reading it. Fans of the movie The Descent should especially like this one.

 

#7: Pickman’s Model

Art can both exhilarate and terrify, move people to tears and to action. And in some cases, it can even haunt us forever. Pickman’s Model follows an artist who becomes friends with the titular Richard Upton Pickman, an artist whose work tends to lean more towards the horrific, and how that art seems to have an effect on both the men and their environment. This is a scary story with a fun twist at the end that shows just how the world and art can play with each other and change each other in unexpected ways.

Also, I think if anyone wanted to update the setting to a high school art club and Pickman as an angsty teen, it would make a great student film. Someone please make that happen!

 

#6: Cool Air

Written during Lovecraft’s brief stay in New York City and considered by some to be one of his best stories from that period, Cool Air tells the literally chilling tale of a young man who becomes friends with a doctor living in the apartment above him who always keeps his apartment cold. The twist at the end of this story is also kind of predictable, but it’s got a great atmosphere and is engaging from beginning to end. Plus it’s one of the few times Lovecraft depicts non-white people in a positive light, which makes it worthy of a read in and of itself. Remember to read with a warm blanket handy.

The Colour out of Space

#5: The Colour out of Space

One of Lovecraft’s most memorable and beloved stories, this story about a crashed meteor and the strange colorful substance inside it that affects a farming family that can’t leave their old homestead has terrified generations of readers. It’s especially memorable for the unsettling atmosphere it creates and for being a great early example of the sub-genre of science-horror. I’d consider it perfect reading for Halloween and you’re in the mood for something creeping, agoraphobia-inducing, and just slightly weird.

 

#4: The Temple

This early Lovecraft story isn’t as well-known as some of his other works, but it’s a favorite of mine. When a WWI German submarine sinks a British sub, they start experiencing strange phenomena that slowly drives the crew members to the brink of sanity, as well as a place only seen in nightmares. Claustrophobic and full of just enough strange elements to make you feel very creeped out by the inexplicable nature of it all, it tends to stick in your mind once you read it. I hope someday there’s a big budget adaptation of the story, or even a small budget that maximizes atmosphere without excessive CGI. That would be the shit!

Or maybe it would just be shit, but I can dream, can’t I?

 

#3: The Call of Cthulhu

I bet many of you were wondering where this one would be on the list. The most famous of his stories and the one where the entity Lovecraft’s mythos is named after, it follows a professor who becomes aware of a dangerous, worldwide cult while going through his late uncle’s effects. Weaving its story slowly to make you really consider that this cult and its horrible god may not only be dangerous but very real, it’s endured for a reason. I would recommend this one to anyone looking to get the essence of Lovecraft in one story, as well as to check out the silent film adaptation from 2005, modeled to look out it came out around the same time as the story was published (though much better than your average silent film).

And remember, Ph’nglui mglaw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn.

Spelled that correctly the first time around! Yeah baby!

Shunned House

#2: Shunned House

This Gothic horror story follows two professors who investigate a house where every previous occupant has come to an unfortunate end and discover a terrible entity within. While not as well known as his more cosmic-horror works, this story absolutely entranced and terrified me while on a car ride home from Detroit in the summer of 2016. Blending a setting whose rot you can practically smell with a welcome twist on an old monster (let’s just say, no sparkling here), Shunned House used to be my favorite story prior to the #1 choice, and I would recommend it to any horror fan out there.

Also, I have an idea for a ballet based on this story. Yes, you’ve read that right, a ballet. And I would help in any way I can to bring that to life. BalletMet (or any other ballet company) email me. Let’s talk and make it happen.

 

#1: The Shadow over Innsmouth

I only read this story last week, but it immediately became my favorite of his work. A young man makes a side trip to a small fishing village in New England, and discovers that the strange townsfolk all share a terrible secret. Gothic, unnerving and with more action than your average Lovecraft story, it’s a great story about how the desire for prosperity can lead to damning consequences for both you and your descendants. If you want Lovecraft at his best, this is the story I’d recommend above all others. Definitely check it out.

 

That’s my top 8 Lovecraft stories. And while, as I’ve said before, his works don’t really age that well, there’s plenty to pick up from these stories for even causal horror fans. And if you do, I hope you–holy crap, a portal from another world just opened up in my apartment. Excuse me while I go greet an entity from another universe and keep it from either eating all of humanity or impregnating everyone in my apartment building, I’m not sure which (I’m a little rusty on this universe’s language).

Until next time my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Have you read any of these stories? What did you think? What others would you put on this list?

*Well, the official canon, anyway. Lovecraft also did a lot of ghost-writing and collaborations that aren’t normally included in collections of his work. Considering Through the Gates of the Silver Key is one of them, I can see why.

As many of you are already aware, I’m a big fan of ballet, and a lot of characters who are dancers or are familiar with dance are peppered throughout my story ideas. With so many story ideas involving ballet and my latest story finished up, I thought it was high-time to write one. This has been my project since Tuesday, and today I finished “Pas de Deux,” my first story to feature ballet and dancers as a major component.

“Pas de Deux” is about two young dancers who decide to test a legend at their dance academy. The legend says that if anyone dances a pas de deux, or dance for two, in a certain studio, they’ll both die. When they dance together and also reveal their feelings for one another, things in their lives take a turn for the darker.

This was a fun and interesting story for me to work on. Besides writing it in five days, which is something unusual for me, but because for a while I wasn’t sure what genre it was. At times it walked a tightrope between dark fantasy and psychological horror, and it could’ve gone one way or the other based on creative and word choices. In the end, I ended up going with psychological horror, as I felt that would make the story better and more memorable.

Using dance in a story as a major component was also something else. I’ll probably devote a post just to this topic alone, but there’s a trick to writing dance movements in a prose story that I had to discover through lots of research of said movements and then writing them into the story. Interspersing both technical terms and descriptions of the terms along with the protagonist’s own beliefs and observations about ballet was both a challenge and a little educational. If ballet shows up in another story (and knowing me, it will), I can use this experience for any dance sequences I want to write into the story.

But for now, I’ll let this story be for awhile. At sixteen pages and 4,622 words, I think it could get published in most publications, assuming that the dance-heavy and flowery opening and the quick second half doesn’t turn some publishers off. Hopefully with the right beta readers, I can get some good feedback for the story and make whatever edits I need to make.

In the meantime, I have plenty of other stories I want to write, so I’ll think about which one I’d like to write next, and maybe put out that post about writing dance sequences in prose fiction. So until next time, my Followers of Fear, goodnight and pleasant nightmares. I’m off to watch a scary movie.