Posts Tagged ‘Gothic horror’

 

I made a little design for this year. It’s how you can tell I’m serious.

Recently I announced the subject of my next novel/my NaNoWriMo project, Toyland. And with November 1st fast approaching, I thought I’d go into the novel a bit more before I start posting once a week about my progress. Plus, I’ve had two reviews in the past week and possibly two tomorrow, depending on how close to my territory Joker lands. Gotta break things up with some variety or I just don’t feel right.

First, let’s go a bit more into what Toyland is actually about. As I said before, Toyland is a Gothic horror novel taking place in a boarding school in southern Ohio. The protagonist’s name is Mason Prather, a teenager who enjoys anime, wants to be a lawyer someday, and is the stepson of the boarding school’s headmistress. However, the autumn semester of his sophomore year proves challenging in many ways, and not just academically. Odd occurrences keep popping up at school, and people are either getting hurt or in danger of getting hurt. All this seems to emanate from a strange girl with dark hair seen around campus by Mason and his friends, as well as from a children’s book Mason finds in the school library.

I’ll give you three guesses what the name of that book is, and the first two don’t count.

Next, let’s talk about researching this novel, because that was a lot of fun. Looking back, I’m not sue when I first settled on doing this book, let alone for NaNoWriMo (curse you, slippery memory!), but I’ve definitely been becoming more familiar with Gothic fiction and its trappings for at least a year. Some of you may remember my post from last summer on what Gothic fiction is, and I’ve continued reading Gothic stories since then, including The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Hell House by Richard Matheson, and rereading The Shining by Stephen King this past winter.

Yeah, lots of fun research that felt more like play at times. But once I decided to work on Toyland next, I started taking in a different kind of media: anime. To be specific, I watched the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Princess Tutu, and Ringing Bell (I also tried to get Made in Abyss, but it’s not streaming anywhere, and I didn’t want to shell out for the Blu-Ray). There are two reasons why I chose to watch these anime as research, but I can only go into one without giving away spoilers. Now these anime, especially the first two, are known for their dark and surreal imagery (especially Madoka). Imagery that’s supposed to be pleasant to the eye but instead comes off as dark, strange and surreal are going to be big parts of Toyland, so I felt watching these shows would be good research.

That, and you can’t go wrong with watching these anime. They’re popular and have even won awards.

They’ll probably show up in an anime recommendation post at some point.

And now that I’ve watched all those series, as well as researched different styles of architecture for the school (I’m going with Queen Anne revival) and have watched a film I will never watch again or let my kids watch, I think I’m ready for November.

Well, almost ready. The other night after reviewing the outline and posting on Facebook and Twitter that I hadn’t “found any plot holes,” I may have found a plot hole. And I’m not sure how to fix it. I hate plot holes in my stories. I spend hours making sure my stories don’t have any (or many). So I’m at the drawing board, looking for fixes or work-arounds. Hopefully before November, something pops up.

Well, if you need me, I’ll be sleeping off my exhaustion from the past few days. Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

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I did say I would announce this when we got a bit closer to November. And my intuition, which is right about eighty percent of the time when it comes to this sort of thing, says now is the time to make the announcement.

As many of you know, I’ve been planning to take part in National Novel Writing Month for the first time since college, or about seven years. For those of you who are unaware, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a yearly challenge where authors try to write a novel of fifty-thousand words or more, just under seventeen-hundred words a day. This challenge is usually held in November, though sometimes authors will attempt to do it in another month when it’s more convenient for them (in which case, it’s known as Camp NaNoWriMo). I’ve been wanting to take a crack at it again for years, but college got busy, and things never quite added up in the years 2015-2018 for me to do it.

But since last November, just a few days after finishing a novel called River of Wrath at three in the morning on October 30th, I’ve been considering it. I even picked a novel out to write about. Since around early summer, I’ve been doing light research for this story. And in a little over a month, I’l be taking a bit of time off from work so I can devote as much time as possible to writing (and maybe de-stressing a bit while I’m at home). So without further ado, let me announce my next novel, a story I like to call Toyland.

Don’t let the name fool you, Toyland isn’t whimsical or cute at all. It’s a Gothic horror novel following students at a boarding school in southern Ohio. They start noticing some weird going-ons during their fall semester. A girl with dark hair, as well as strange creatures, are seen around the school. Several odd injuries, some close to fatal, fall upon students and even faculty. There even seems to be a world within the school, one in which the laws of reality have no say whatsoever. All of it seems to trace back to a children’s book discovered in the school’s library. A children’s book called Toyland.

How’s that for a setup? Granted, there’s a good chance it’ll veer away from Gothic fiction and straight into weird territory (trust me, I outlined the whole thing back at the beginning of the summer and have done subsequent drafts since). But I tend to enjoy writing stories that stray into weird territory, so it works for me.

Anyway, I’ve just about finished up the research for the book. I’ve even watched the 1961 Disney film Babes in Toyland just so I could make a comparison between that film and the kid’s book in the story.* All that’s left is to write it. And while I doubt I’ll get anywhere near the fifty-thousand word mark (I’m many things, but not a miracle worker), I do think when the first draft done, it’ll at least be a decent first draft. Maybe something worth publishing one day.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. There’s a bed calling me in the next room, and I so desperately want to sink into it for a few hours. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not? Whatever you’re doing, what sort of story are you writing?

*By the way, that was my first time watching that film, and I didn’t like it at all. Yeah, the setting looked spectacular and the villains and side characters were enjoyable, but the plot was really unfocused and the main characters were really boring. Hell, you can see the boredom on Annette Funicello’s face as she plays the female lead! She’s like “Oh my God, someone get me out of here so I can go make beach party movies. Anything would be better than this shiny lack-of-substance.”

Also, one or two of the songs feel kind of sexist nearly fifty years after the movie’s release. Especially the one where Annette complains about being unable to do her finances. Yeah, there’s a song like that. It’s kind of cringey.

And no, I won’t watch any of the other movie or television adaptations of the Babes in Toyland operetta. I won’t even watch the operetta! I suffered enough watching the most famous adaptation, thank you very much!

Someone on Twitter mentioned this film and I thought it sounded interesting. That’s it. I have nothing else to add, beyond the wait at the library took way longer than I expected. Oh well. Let’s get into it.

The Witch in the Window¬†follows a man and his son who go to Vermont to flip an old farmhouse. However, they’re not long before they find out the house is already occupied. And this occupant is very intent on them staying. Whether they want to or not.

Well, this was a surprisingly decent Gothic horror film with a lot of heart.

The best part of this film is the relationship between dad Simon and his son Finn. The filmmakers could’ve gone with some generic story about a moody kid and his dad coming together through adversity, but instead we get a relationship that’s touching and feels organic. You get the sense that they see this trip as getting away from all the toxic influences in their lives and are reconnecting in a way that would make many parents and kids jealous. It’s this relationship that drives the film, and makes you want to root for the characters.

I also like the story for the most part. While there is a jump scare or two, there’s a lot more importance placed on atmosphere and disturbing imagery. There are a number of scenes that make your skin crawl, all without any cringy CGI or loud noises. One scene when Finn wakes up had me in awe because of how clever and creepy it was. Coupled with a plot that goes in unexpected directions, it makes the movie difficult to look away from. You just want to see where it goes and what will happen next.

That being said, the third act does feel rushed, which made the ending feel slightly hollow rather than psychologically terrifying but ultimately sweet. If maybe another ten to twenty minutes had been added to the film, it would’ve been much scarier and maybe the ending might have a more emotional punch.

All told, The Witch in the Window is an engaging and different kind of horror film than what we’re used to. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. Pop it in if you get a chance because, like the characters, you’ll be staying for a while.

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.

If you’ve been with me a while, you remember a few years ago I read this awesome horror manga called Uzumaki by Junji Ito (and if you don’t or weren’t around then, here’s the link) Since then I managed to get my hands on the movie adaptation of Uzumaki (you can read that review here), read plenty more of his works (his stories can be hit or miss, but generally I like them), and watched a couple episodes of an anime adaptation of his various short stories (which, by the way, sucked. I didn’t even bother to review it, it was sooo bad). And most recently, Ito’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was released in the United States, along with eight previously untranslated short stories, six of which are interconnected. All in one big volume.

How could I not read and review that?

Obviously Frankenstein is based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, the tale of one scientist’s journey to create a living being through science and the disastrous series of events that follows, along with elements from some of the movie adaptations out there.* And honestly, Ito’s art is perfect for this story. I’ve heard he spends upwards of ten hours on illustrating a single page or frame, using ink and shadow, as well as his disinterest in making his art pretty or visually appealing in the normal sense of the phrase. I mean, look at the reveal of the Monster.

Um, yikes!

Seriously, this guy has to do more Gothic horror. His style is a natural for it. And it’s a natural fit here, really allowing you to feel the horror that early audiences felt of the original novel, especially in bringing the monster to life. There’s also some decent changes from the original text in order to make the story more compelling for the style of manga, such as when it comes to the creation of the Monster’s Bride.

Still, there are some things that could’ve been improved. A couple of Ito’s changes do make the story a bit slower near the end, and the translated text might be a little too close to the actual novel for a modern audience (if I wanted old-timey speak like that, I’d read Lovecraft). And honestly, I would’ve liked to see Ito take more liberties with the story, make it his own. His stories can be really unnerving, and I’d love to see him bring more of his style to the Frankenstein story.

The short stories added to bulk up the book (because of course they are) are decent, for the most part. Six of them follow Toru Oshikiri, a teenager living in a giant mansion by himself who starts to have a strange series of experiences, gradually leading to him making a shocking discovery about his home. Some of these stories work really well, but sometimes the build-up in them seems to lead to a letdown.

The real problems though are the unconnected stories. They don’t really add anything, and one of them is definitely from the bottom of Ito’s portfolio.

By itself, I give Ito’s adaptation of Frankenstein a 4 out of 5. If you want a really creepy visual adaptation of the original Frankenstein story, this is definitely worth a read. With the addition of the other stories, I’d give it a 3.5. Not what I’d recommend for anyone coming to Ito’s work for the first time (for that, I’d point to Uzumaki or his collection Shiver, which came out in December 2017), but for anyone familiar with his work already, this collection is probably worth checking out.

Speaking of which, Ito’s got another collection, Smashed, coming out in April. I might have to check that one out and give that a review as well. Hopefully his stories Hellstar Remina and The Bully are included. I hear those are reeeeally freaky.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If I don’t post anything within the next couple of days, then I’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. May Cthulhu bless us, every one (because of course I would go there). Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Highly recommend the 1994 adaptation with Kenneth Branagh. It’s not just the most faithful adaptation of the original novel, it’s got the best “bringing-the-monster-to-life” scene I’ve ever seen.

You know, sometimes you come across movies in the weirdest ways. Sometimes they’re just on while flipping channels, or someone makes a reference to it and you want to know the interest. I heard about Down a Dark Hall because I heard AnnaSophia Robb (aka the kid from Because of Winn-Dixie) was in it. I remember she used to slay in anything I saw her in (especially The Reaping, another horror film she was in), and the fact that this was a horror film got me interested. I asked my local library to order it, they said yes, and I picked it up this weekend, not sure what I was going to get but looking forward to finding out.

This turned out to be a decent example of modern Gothic horror.

Based on the Gothic YA novel by Lois Duncan, Down a Dark Hall follows Kit, a troubled teenager whose mother sends her to an elite academy with the hopes of straightening her out. There with only four other similarly-troubled girls, Kit finds that the school’s very unique and focused program starts to have results. Weird results. Results that devolve into obsession, addiction, neurosis and trauma. On top of that, Kit has been seeing things in the hallways and in the dark. Faces, people, movement. All this collides to lead Kit to a terrifying realization about the school, and what its staff is doing to the students.

For starters, the actors in this film all do a very good job in their roles. AnnaSophia Robb as Kit slays again, inhabiting this very angry girl who slowly finds herself actually liking the school and then distrusting it as things get weird like a second skin or as if she’s done this a hundred times before. The same goes for Victoria Moroles as Veronica, who hides her own tragedies in a badass attitude. And Uma Thurman does a great job as the aristocratic and charismatic Madame Duret.

The film’s story is also very compelling. It checks all four of the boxes I mention in my article on Gothic fiction, all in a very pretty set, and you definitely find yourself caught up in the mystery of the story. Some of the most disturbing moments of the film are when you see these girls falling under the spell of the school, becoming obsessed with math or music or painting or whatever and how badly it affects them. And the special effects aren’t half bad either, more subtle than garish or distracting.

However, the film isn’t without its issues. I never felt very scared, and there wasn’t much of an atmosphere or sense of threat. Outside of the moments of obsession, that is. In addition, a few things in the film felt a little extraneous. There was a certain bald-headed and scarred ghost that really didn’t serve any purpose beyond a few extra scares, and the romantic tension between Kit and her music teacher was inserted, but nothing was really done with it. Seriously, the question of how to portray those relationships in fiction aside, either use it or cut it out and just show them as close student and teacher!

Finally, I also thought that the ending was wrapped up in too sweet a bow and maybe a few minutes too long. In some ways, it felt a little too hopeful compared to the rest of the film, which jars the viewer and takes away from the experience.

Still, Down a Dark Hall was a good Gothic horror film. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. It’s no Kill Creek (which I highly recommend by the way, check out my review as to why), but if you turn off the lights in your living room and put this on the Blu-Ray player, you probably won’t regret it. Check it out and see for yourself.

Saturday night usually means popcorn and a movie for me. This evening I decided to check out the new Netflix movie Malevolent. I figured it would be a good way to round out a day busy with cleaning, grocery shopping, home decor projects, and sacrificing teenagers* to an ancient deity so I could set in motion a series of terrifying events unlike the world has ever seen before this October.

Malevolent is set in 1986 Scotland and follows Angela, a university student who, along with her brother, fakes being a medium in order to make money for her brother’s debts. When they get called to an old manor that was the sight of several grisly murders however, they start finding that the afterlife they’d conned people over is very much alive, and can be very…well, malevolent.

This film’s got a decent, if rather overcrowded, first half. It sets up Angela’s worries about her life and her mental health, due to her mother committing suicide. It shows her brother Jackson as an opportunistic asshole who’s willing to take advantage of anyone just to pay off his loan sharks. And it sets up a decent Gothic location for the main action of the film. There’s also some good jump scares and a creepy atmosphere at times during this half. The best part is probably during the initial walkthrough of the house, when Angela is starting to realize this house may really be haunted. It’s visually powerful and puts you on edge.

However, the second half has a lot of problems. For one thing, it feels pretty rushed. Usually there’s a slow build up to the climax, but in this film it just goes from zero to sixty, and not in a good way. If they maybe added twenty minutes to half an hour more, I wouldn’t feel so whiplashed. Also, the tone during the second half is a little inconsistent. Like it can’t decide if it wants to be a Gothic ghost story or a thriller story about serial killers. Along with a twist introduced in the last twenty minutes that seems more shoved in than clever, it just takes me really out of the film.

Also, why was this film set in the 1980s? I know that’s like the popular trend these days, to put your story in the 1980s, but there’s no reason at all to do it in this film like in Stranger Things or another 80s-set show or movie. You could do this in the present, and you’d get the same effect. In fact, I think it might be better if it were set in the present. It would feel less gimmicky if they used GoPros instead of big, bulky video cameras.

Overall, Malevolent can’t capitalize on the interesting setup it promises. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m going to give this film a 2.5. Frankly Followers of Fear, there are better Netflix horror films to peruse. I suggest you go and find some if you want some pleasant nightmares.

*Don’t worry, the teenagers were unharmed. The sacrifices were symbolic. The deity, however, was very much real. I’ve got a bandage on my left thumb as proof.