Posts Tagged ‘Junji Ito’

I always look forward to a Junji Ito collection. Whether I like it or not, I know I’m in for an experience. One with great artwork and a weird but most likely intriguing story. And Lovesickness is no exception.

The bulk of this collection is the titular six-chapter saga, taking place in a town under a perpetual fog. In this town, there’s a popular fortune-telling tradition where you wait at an intersection and ask the first passerby to tell their fortune. However, this tradition has bad memories for a young middle schooler who is returning to town for the first time in nearly a decade. And his own trauma is exacerbated by events in the town. A mysterious young man in black is giving fortune-seeking girls prophecies of doom, driving them to suicide. This leads to a series of events that will affect everyone in the town, and destroy more than a few lives in the process.

Except for maybe the last chapter, this story is pretty solid. The backgrounds are often pretty dark, except when the fog is particularly thick, which lends it this creepy atmosphere al a Silent Hill. And the protagonist is pretty believable as a young man with serious PTSD. While the antagonist is always drawn with this sort of mist-like smudging, which lends him this otherworldly aura. Add in some creepy ghost imagery that would make most zombie graphic novels ashamed, plenty of downward spirals into madness, and it’s one hell of a horror story.

The other highlights of the collection are the short stories The Mansion of Phantom Pain and The Rib Woman. Both of them have very weird and interesting concepts, though the latter pulls its concept off a lot better.

On the other hand, two of the related stories in the collection, which follow a strange family of siblings, aren’t that good. I think it might have been Ito’s attempt at a new horror-comedy series, but I couldn’t get into it. Like The Addams Family without the charm.

And there’s a story in the back called “Memories of Real Poop,” which I think is a vignette from Ito’s childhood. Anyway, it’s a weird addition to the collection and kind of stupid. Don’t know why Ito spent his time drawing it unless he needed to pad out a collection or two.

And as I said, the last chapter of the titular story didn’t sit well with me. Honestly, it felt tacked on just to give a bit more resolution to the story.

Still, it’s a good collection. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Lovesickness by Junji Ito a 3.8 out of 5. Most of the stories are rather scary and worth a read. Just be sure not to read the main story on a foggy night. You don’t know what you’ll see when you look up from the book and out the window.


Just a quick note, my Followers of Fear: Indie Author Book Expo Aurora, or IABE Aurora, has been moved from August 7th, 2021 to September 11th, 2021. As far as I know, this is the last date change. All other details, such as taking place at the Prisco Community Center in Aurora, Illinois. Hope that doesn’t impact anyone’s travel plans. Anyway, I hope to see you there. At the very least, you’ll get a much better fortune from my Tarot cards than you would from the fortune telling method in Lovesickness.

Anyway, you can find out more about the convention here.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

I would like to thank my friend Kat Impossible for tagging me for this (especially since I was in the mood to blog something other than an “Agoraphobia” update, just didn’t know what). Go check out her answers on her blog.

Now, I don’t know how much I’ve talked about my alcohol preferences on this blog (though I’m sure it’s come up once or twice). But while I do like beer, I also enjoy wine every now and then (in fact, Brothers Drake honey wine, better known as mead, is what I use to celebrate finishing novels or getting them published). I’m especially fond of sweet wines, like Moscato, Japanese plum wine, or the abovementioned mead. That’s why I’m kind of excited to do this tag, even if it involves wines I don’t normally drink. So, without further ado, let’s begin.

BOX WINE–a book that people will judge you for liking but you like it anyway!

I can think of only one book that could possibly fit this category, and believe it or not, it’s a Stephen King novella! The Library Policeman, which you can find in his collection Four Past Midnight. The story involves a real estate agent who runs afoul of a creature masquerading as a librarian and which intends to use the agent for its own nefarious purposes. While it’s good and extremely unnerving, there’s a pretty graphic scene in the story that’s essential to the story, and it’s one of the first things people think of when they think of the novella.

It’s also why people might judge you if you say you like the story, or if you want to see an adaptation of The Library Policeman. Which, honestly, given the subject matter, would be a hard sell. Still, if you either approached the problematic scene in the right way or rewrote it in a way that preserves the impact…anyway, that’s my choice. Don’t judge me too harshly now!

ORGANIC WINE–a book that doesn’t have any added crap in it and is just written perfectly.

I was going to put one novel here, but I’m saving it for later, so I’ll put this one here. The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. *shiver!* That book is famous for how traumatizing it is. And considering that the events it’s based on aren’t too different from what’s in the book, that somehow makes it even more terrifying. But that kind of lends itself to winning this category, as none of what’s depicted in the novel is technically gratuitous or unnecessary. It’s just a reflection of real events.

Not only that, but if Ketchum wasn’t such a talented writer, he couldn’t write the novel the way it is and make it so terrifying. In another person’s hands, they may have added all sorts of melodrama or other unnecessary elements. But in his hands, and with his willingness to push boundaries, it’s a masterpiece!

That being said, anyone going in for the first time should prepare for a ton of anxiety and maybe some nausea. You’ve been warned.

Accurate representation of many first-time readers of The Girl Next Door.

GLUEHWEIN–a spicy, wintry read.

Never heard of that wine. Also, what do you mean “spicy?” Like, sex scenes? Whatever, I’m going with The Shuddering by Ania Ahlborn. It takes place in winter, in ski country, and there are a lot of romantic subplots in the story, so I think that works. Plus, it’s scary. For those unfamiliar, it’s kind of a cross between a creature feature and a good, old-fashioned splatterpunk slasher story. I enjoyed it immensely. Why haven’t they made a movie out of it yet? Keep the monsters in the shadows but keep the focus on the survival instinct and it’ll be great!

SAUVIGNON BLANC–a really sharp and aggressive read that you couldn’t put down!

I actually had to look back through my reviews to find a book that works for this one. In the end, I found one that fits “sharp and aggressive,” and that’s The Five by Hallie Rubenhold. This book takes a look at the Canonical Five, the five confirmed victims of the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, and uses historical records and an understanding of Victorian social mores and beliefs to reexamine their lives. Doing so, the author Ms. Rubenhold strips away every belief we’ve had on the victims, and therefore the Ripper, till we’re forced to look at the case in an entirely new light.

This book was an eye-opener for me, and I found the author’s argument highly convincing. In fact, I even referred back to The Five while writing The Pure World Comes, where the Ripper is an important aspect of the story. And if you read the book, you’ll understand why I place The Five in this category.

Click here for my full review of the book.

PINOT NOIR–a book you didn’t expect much from but ended up getting blown away.

It’s easier to pick a movie than to pick a book for this one. Still, if I go back far enough, there’s one book that I can think of. The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. I was a huge Potterhead when I was younger, so my mom suggested it to me while we were shopping in a Barnes & Noble one day. At first, I was dismissive, but eventually I was convinced to try it out. And then I read it.

Hoo-boy. The lead characters are awesome and easy to relate to, Bartimaeus himself is hysterical, and the world building was quite an eye opener after reading nothing but Harry Potter for ages. Add in some political intrigue, a plot with twists and turns, and excellent writing, and I was hooked. I was really sad when the series ended, because it was just so good (there was a prequel, but without certain characters, it just wasn’t the same).

Still mad that they haven’t made a movie franchise or TV series off of these books. Supposedly, a movie adaptation is in the works, but until I see some actual progress, I’m not getting too excited.

CHARDONNAY–a good summer read that was super zesty.

What does that even mean, super zesty? Does the story have to have melted cheese with a sharp taste on it or something?

Oh well, I’m going with Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. I mainly associate it with summer reading, and while not covered in cheese, it’s an exciting thrill ride that really engrosses you as you get into the story. So, I guess that makes it super zesty. In any case, this book was the first book in the battle royale genre (which is why it gets away with using the name) and does it better than anything since, especially Hunger Games.

Click here for my review of the book, old as it is.

ROSE–a book that has a little bit of everything in it.

Why, that’s easy. It’s my novel Rose! Just kidding. I’m not that kind of guy.

No, I’m going with the Kieli novels by Yukako Kabei. The series follows an orphan girl who can see ghosts and other spiritual beings. Who befriends/falls in love with an undead soldier with an attitude problem. They travel the world together, which has a dystopian, steampunk aesthetic. Most of the planet is also ruled by a tyrannical church. And the planet is an exoplanet that was colonized by spacefaring humans centuries prior to the book’s storyline. And on this planet, they deal with monsters, ghosts, dangerous church figures, criminals, and so much more. All the while trying to wrestle with their feelings for each other.

See, it has a little of everything in it! And I’m honestly sad not more people have read the books, even among fans of Japanese light novels (novels with the occasional illustration thrown in). If, however, the above description sounds interesting to you, I suggest reading it. I loved it in my teens and early college years, and I’m sure you would too.

Click here for my review of the series.

How I describe the Kieli books.

SHIRAZ–a full-bodied book that is dark and juicy.

By “full-bodied,” do you mean doorstopper thick? If so, I’m going with Needful Things by Stephen King. Not only does it have one of King’s best antagonists, but it makes fun of and delves deeply into human materialism and greed. How much will you go to keep something you desperately want? To own something, or to be right, or to get answers and/or revenge? While a lot of what occurs in the book seems silly, it also feels like some of this stuff could really happen.

I especially love the audio book, which King narrates himself. He has a much better speaking voice than I do, and he gives each of the characters a distinctive voice. You have to listen to it to believe it.

Also, it’s a damn shame that the only adaptation of this book was a movie, and a really bad one at that. I think a comic book adaptation would work very well. Not only could the artists actually depict some of the darker, weirder, or smuttier stuff without constraint like in a movie, it would just be fun to read and see how they depict some scenes or situations (*cough* two middle-aged ladies who think they’re having sexual affairs with Elvis Presley *cough*).

MERLOT–a smooth, easy read with a soft finish.

Ooh, tough choice. I guess I’ll go with Remina by Junji Ito. For those unaware, it’s a manga about a mysterious planet that appears in the night sky and is named after its discoverer’s daughter. As the planet starts approaching Earth, however, other planets start to disappear, leading to trouble for both its discoverer, and young Remina as well.

I love this book. It’s a great story that you can finish in just one sitting, but it has quite the impact that leaves you satisfied. The last few pages especially leave you with this strong feeling that there is no other way the author could have finished the manga without sacrificing the quality. Yeah, some elements are a little hard to believe, but who cares? It’s still an excellent science-horror story that shows how humans react in the face of annihilation, and how attributing blame to the wrong person can ruin lives.

Still waiting for a movie based on this. The fact that nobody has yet bewilders me. Get on that, Hollywood!

Click here for my full review.

CHAMPAGNE–Your favorite book!

That’s an easy one, it’s Kill Creek by Scott Thomas. Still my favorite novel these days. Four famous horror writers go to a reputedly haunted house for a publicity event, but end up awakening something powerful and dark. Something that takes control of their lives and twists them for its own use. And if they’re not careful, they will die because of it.

This novel was a revelation for me. It basically lists the qualities of Gothic novels in the early chapters and then uses those qualities to great effect. Plus, the characters all feel like real people and you really come to love them, especially the four writers (TC Moore, you are the bomb!).Hell, it’s so good I bought my own copy after listening to the audio book fifty thousand times, and I sent a copy to a friend who did me a big favor recently as a thank you.

If you’re a horror fan but haven’t read this one yet, at the very least put it on your TBR list. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Click here for my full review.


Those are picks. What did you think? Have you read any of them? Are there any you want to read? What would you pick? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

And if you like this tag and think you’d like to try it, THEN CONSIDER YOURSELF TAGGED!!! I hope you enjoy doing the tag and maybe you’ll link back to me so I can see your answers.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to be back for another post very soon. Until next time, I’m off to enjoy a beer (I’m saving the wine for Passover, because that’s really the only alcohol you can drink during that holiday) and do a late-night writing session. Pleasant nightmares and watch out for “Agoraphobia” coming out in just over nine days (links below!).

Agoraphobia:Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

I looked for a cosmic horror GIF, and this was my favorite.

Cosmic horror is everywhere these days. Since HP Lovecraft first kicked off the subgenre in the early half of the 20th century, it’s spread from pulp magazines to all corners of horror literature, to table-top roleplaying games and video games. And while cosmic horror has been in the movies and on TV sporadically since the 1960s, in the past couple of years we’ve seen a glut of it on those mediums: Annihilation, Stranger Things, The Color Out of Space, Underwater, Lovecraft Country (which I’ll be watching soon now that I have HBO Max), The Endless, and most recently, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s fourth season (though not very well).

And there are more on the way. Just today, I heard about a new film called Sacrifice coming out next month that has Lovecraftian themes (click here to check out the trailer). Sometime this year, the long-awaited anime adaptation of Uzumaki by Junji Ito is supposed to air. Richard Stanley, the director of Color Out of Space, hopes to do a trilogy of films based off Lovecraft’s work.

And there’s a lot more that I probably don’t know about. Plus new games, novels and short stories, comics, manga and anime, poems and art! Cosmic horror is kinda going mainstream right now. Or as mainstream as horror can get.

Color Out of Space was awesome. And we may have more like it in the future.

The question is, why now? Why is this particular subgenre only now just getting mainstream acceptance? Why the sudden enthusiasm?

I think there are a few reasons. One is time and a devoted fanbase. Cosmic horror, as I said, originally came from pulp magazines with very small circulation. However, the fans who enjoyed the stories of Lovecraft and those who played in his world–what would later be known as the Cthulhu Mythos–preserved and kept the stories going even after the deaths of the magazines and of Lovecraft. Through hard work and advocacy, more fans found cosmic horror and found themselves drawn to the stories. Then as now, fans would then tell other fans, or create their own work based on these stories, which has a looping effect of creating more fans through exposure. So, it may have taken time, but cosmic horror has been able to spread with patience and the love of many who follow it.

Almost sounds like cosmic horror is an eldritch deity in and of itself, doesn’t it? I find that hilariously appropriate.

Another factor at play, I believe, is that modern audiences are more receptive to that kind of horror than they have been in the past. Like I said, it’s taken time for cosmic horror to penetrate the public consciousness, and so for many people, cosmic horror may be a nice change of pace from the usual horror fare. We’ve seen plenty of haunted house stories, slashers, and sequels and ripoffs of possession or ghost stories. Those elements are not normally part of cosmic horror. In fact, it could be a breath of fresh air for audiences.

And finally, while cosmic horror normally deals with ancient, otherworldly gods and terrible secrets, it’s a great place to talk about modern issues. Granted, horror has always been a place to explore our everyday fears and anxieties, but cosmic horror, through the perspectives and interactions of its human characters against these terrors, can do it in a unique way. Lovecraft Country uses cosmic horror to explore racism, which both was part of the genre’s start and which is a current problem today.

Is it too much too hope that one of those works might be a kickass, terrifying adaptation of Hellstar Remina by Junji Ito?

And I wrote a novella, What Errour Awoke, that combined elements of cosmic horror with the current pandemic to explore the fear with the latter. And yes, I still hope to get that published.

So, with all these factors, can we expect more cosmic horror in the near future? I think so. Maybe not in huge numbers from the movie industry, as cosmic horror tends to have a spotty track record there.* But certainly in other mediums. Horror-themed TV has been booming, so we’ll likely see plenty of shows exploring those themes in the future. Comics and manga have always loved cosmic horror. And, of course, we’ll likely see many, many new books or short stories in that vein.**

So long as they’re made with lots of love, both for the subgenre and for the projects themselves, rather than for the money, I look forward to it.

Are you a fan of cosmic horror? Are you enjoying the wave of new works in the subgenre? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

*While they were well-received by critics and moviegoers, Annihilation and Underwater underperformed at the box office, and Color Out of Space only had a limited theater release.

**Hopefully, I’ll be able to add to this. I’ve a few cosmic horror ideas waiting to be written. I’d love to share them with you all someday.

My copy of Remina from the library.

I’ve been looking forward to this book getting an official translation and release here in the US for quite some time. And I was so excited when it arrived at the library, I stopped by yesterday afternoon to pick it up rather than wait till Friday. As you can guess, I stayed up late reading it, hoping the story within would give me some pleasant nightmares.

Known as Hellstar Remina in Japan, Remina kicks off with the discovery of a new planet that seemingly appeared from a wormhole several lightyears away. The discovery is hailed as the greatest development in astrophysics ever, and its discoverer, Dr. Oguro, names the new planet after his beloved, beautiful but shy daughter Remina, causing her own star to rise alongside the planet bearing her name. However, planet Remina is moving through space in ways that defy physics and sense. Planets and stars disappear in its wake. And it soon becomes clear that not only is this planet headed to our solar system, but it spells doom for all on the Earth. Especially the young woman who shares a name with it.

Oh man, I don’t think I’ve loved something from Ito this much since Uzumaki!

First off, the concept is well-executed. Ito takes this idea of a planet flying through space towards us, threatening everything we found our worldviews on as well as our lives and our planet, and turns it into this strange, dread-inducing story that somehow manages to ramp up more and more with every page. The planet itself is rather terrifying. There’s so many unknowns about it, and the more you learn and see of Remina, the more questions you have and the more you learn to fear it. It really puts the “cosmic” into cosmic horror.

I was also impressed with the human characters. Remina Oguro, the planet’s namesake, is easy to like. She’s shy and humble, and really only becomes an entertainer because she’s suddenly famous, so she might as well use it to get through life more easily. Which makes the hardship she goes through later so heart wrenching. As the planet bears down on the Earth and no solution seems to work, people begin to wonder if the Oguros, particularly Remina herself, have some hand in bringing the planet to them. In their terror, many abandon reason and decide the only way to save humanity is to kill Remina Oguro herself.

It’s not only an excellent example of cosmic horror–of humans dealing/reacting to their insignificance in the universe in the only ways they know how–as well as making you feel for Remina, but it feels really relevant to our current predicaments. Whether it be COVID-19 or the national election, you see people embracing the most insane conspiracy theories rather than accept an obvious reality. That is illustrated so well in Remina, and I felt a chill reading that.

This shot encapsulates so much of what makes Remina great.

Other aspects of the story worked as well. Ito’s art is amazing, as always. Earth in this manga is portrayed as being a few decades ahead of us a la The Jetsons, flying cars included, and it’s cool to see Ito give Earth this futuristic look. The characters are well-drawn, with our protagonists given a more realistic look while those driven mad by fear or anger are hyper-exaggerated to best portray their emotions. But the best illustrations are the spreads taking two full pages. They portray that cosmic dread so well, I spent quite a bit of time looking at them.

And as for the science aspect of the story, while more pseudoscientific than based in reality, it seems plausible enough to believe in for the moment.

The one aspect I disliked was just how quickly things escalated in the first chapter. Within about thirty or forty pages, things go from excitement and new promises to gloom-and-doom and psychotic, murderous behavior. I would’ve preferred things to move a bit more gradually before getting to that level.

All in all, Remina by Junji Ito earns itself a splendid 4.5 out of 5. It’s terrifying in both its cosmic and human aspects and will be hard to put down for any reader. Pick it up, settle in for a terrifying ride, and never name anything Remina.

Also, someone please adapt this story into a movie or miniseries! Live action or animated, this would be a great spectacle to see on screens. Just lay off the CGI except when absolutely necessary and it could be awesome.

One thing I can always count on with a Junji Ito collection. The artwork is always fantastic. And this latest collection of short stories, Venus in the Blind Spot, is full of some of his best work.

Now if you’re unfamiliar with Junji Ito, he’s a manga artist who specializes in horror, and is well known for illustrations that terrify and creep the hell out of readers. Hell, sometimes I don’t feel comfortable leaving his books on the night stand beside my bed without something to cover them, the illustrations are that terrifying. I’ve read quite a bit of his work, and I’ve reviewed some of those stories and collections here on the blog, such as his adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his masterpiece Uzumaki (click here and here for those reviews).

His latest publication in North America is Venus in the Blind Spot, and I loved just about every story within. The majority of the stories revolve around obsession, especially romantic or sexual obsession. The titular story follows the members of a UFO society as their obsession with the founder’s daughter becomes skewed after they lose the ability to see her. There’s also the fan-favorite The Enigma at Amigara Fault,  which I’ve read before but was excited to find again. It revolves around finding something strange that’s just right for you, and the insanity of not claiming it, of not finding out its secret. Even if by doing so, you potentially doom yourself.

My favorite stories were Billions Alone, a creepy body horror story about people being found sewn together that’s perfect for the current pandemic, and The Licking Woman, a weird story about a wild woman whose monstrous tongue contains a poison that kills all whom it licks.

And like I said, the artwork is fantastic. Ito-sensei’s work is never concerned with looking visually appealing like other visual artists. Rather, he wants to provoke a reaction. Fear, disgust, horror, unease. He wants to disturb your inner Zen. You can see this especially with three of the stories which are adaptations of works by other authors. Yes, they’re not his stories, but he puts his all into making sure his art brings out all the terror contained within the words.

Famous image from “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” which is some of Ito’s work at its best.

That being said, the collection isn’t perfect. While there are colored pages and colored panels, they show up inconsistently, and it’s a little annoying. Sometimes I can’t even tell they’re colored, as I’m red-green colorblind and the panels use colors I can’t always see. One of the stories, The Principal Post, is one I’ve never really liked nor understood why it was published. And there’s a story about Ito-sensei himself and the influence of another artist, Kazuo Umezu,* on his work that I liked, but which might annoy fans seeking another scary story.

But all in all, Venus in the Blind Spot is an awesome, freaky and unsettling collection. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give it a 4.5. If you want to see a Junji Ito collection at its best, you can’t go wrong here. Open it up and get ready to experience the madness.

Are you a fan of Ito-sensei’s work? Did you read this collection? Are you excited for all the adaptations of his work in production? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to work on my own stories and see if I can’t disturb someone else’s inner Zen. Until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares and why is there a woman with a giant tongue outside my building?

*Highly recommend his series The Drifting Classroom. It’s like a sci-fi version of Lord of the Flies, and just as brutal.

The Colour Out of Space (yes, with a “u” in Colour), is my fifth favorite HP Lovecraft story (click here for my Top 8 Lovecraft stories). There have been a couple of adaptations of the film over the years, but they’re either foreign films that are hard to come by, or are really bad for one reason or another. So when word popped up in late 2018 that Nicholas Cage was going to star in a new adaptation of the film, directed Richard Stanley in his first major outing since the 1990s, fans of Lovecraft, horror and/or film in general were piqued. We only got more excited as news from the film trickled back to us. When the trailer came out, I immediately knew I had to see this film.

I got back from seeing it a little while ago, and I’m happy to report, it was well worth the wait. This film is freaking terrifying!

Color Out of Space follows the Gardner family, who are living on the family farm and have converted it into an alpaca farm.* One night, a meteor lands on their property, giving off a strange, colorful light. Soon after, lightning strikes the meteor several times during a storm, the meteor disappears, and then things get weirder from there. The animal and plant-life start changing shape and color, technology goes haywire, and the family starts acting unhinged. All of it can be traced to a mysterious light. An entity. A color. From out of space.

If you’ve seen the film Hereditary, Color is a lot like that. It’s a slow, excruciating build with the characters going through a downward spiral, punctuated by moments of strong terror that left me petrified in my seat. The use of CGI is sparing, used only when practical effects in the style of The Thing aren’t possible. And by the way, those practical effects are amazing! They create some truly horrifying visuals, and Richard Stanley knows when–or even if–to truly reveal the mutated monster. There are also a lot of excruciating scenes involving bodily harm that left everyone in the theater freaked out, including me (not easy to do), and they added to the film in the best way.

As for the actors, they all do an excellent job. This might be the first time I’ve actually enjoyed Nicholas Cage in a movie, as they managed to balance his noncommittal acting style with his crazy acting style in a way that works. It’s funny to see him go from “normal” to acting like a bitchy teenager, but it’s also horrifying because you see how it’s connected to whatever’s affecting the family. The rest of the actors are great, embracing their roles and really convincing you they’re going through this tragic event.

Did I mention that Colin Stetson, who did the music for Hereditary and will be doing the music for the upcoming anime adaptation of Uzumaki by Junji Ito, did the score for the film? Will, he did and it works really well. Sound plays as much a big role in this film as visuals, and Stetson’s score adds the perfect touch to the atmosphere.

First time I’ve actually liked Nick Cage in a movie. How about that?

My only criticisms are that there’s a scene involving the Necronomicon (yeah, there are quite a few Lovecraft Easter eggs in this film) that I feel wasn’t given the best payoff. That, and the character of Ezra, played by Tommy Chong of Cheech & Chong fame, felt kind of extraneous. If you cut him out of the film and have one of the Gardners say some of his lines, it wouldn’t change much.

All in all though, this is not only an excellent adaptation of Lovecraft’s work, it’s a great horror film that’s both faithful to the spirit and text of the original story and terrifying to watch. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Color Out of Space a 4.8 out of 5. Any fan of Lovecraft, or of horror in general, should come away satisfied (or freaked), so buy a ticket and get ready to see the first great horror film of 2020.

(I already plan to buy the Blu-Ray when it comes out. And I really hope the disc is more colors than just blue, if you get my meaning.)

*Yes, it’s an alpaca farm. And it’s that kind of farm for more than just laughs. Also, the family “dog” is a wolf-dog. Trust me, I researched it. What kind of family owns alpacas for farming and a well-behaved wolf-dog used for herding, I don’t know. It would make for a great reality show, but I digress.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been reading The Best Horror of the Year, Volume VIII, an anthology of horror short stories and novelettes compiled by one of horror’s premier editors, Ellen Datlow (I’ll be taking a break from it to read The Institute by Stephen King, though). As you’d expect from any anthology, some you like, some you don’t, and some you just don’t get. But of those that I like, I’ve been noticing a trend that I’m not sure I’ve noticed before.

These stories are not outright terrifying in a way that’ll leave you screaming or having nightmares for a week or so. But they do make you feel uneasy. Like a voice in the back of your mind is whispering, “Imagine if this scenario were real,” or “Imagine if this happened to you.” And then you shiver at the thought of what is occurring in the story occurring in real life. In your life.

That feeling upsets the zen in your soul, and can put you off your day. It can make you afraid to think of certain places or names because you associate them with something evil and horrible. It leaves you afraid to be in dark places, or alone, or with people, or even in well-lit areas. Because who knows what’s hidden in your blind spot? Who knows what evil is bubbling in your coworker’s heart?

What you are feeling is disquiet. And that feeling drives a lot of shorter horror stories. Understandable: short stories and novelettes don’t have the word-counts to build epic worlds or have intricate plots involving five or six mind-blowing revelations. They’re short for a reason, and meant to be digestible as a way to save time and money. Or to quote Stephen King, “A short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.”

I actually know what that’s like (don’t ask), and I’m not really surprised that King does, either. So I kind of get it: what the story does to you should be unexpected, but leave a powerful impression. The kind of impression where you look back years later and you’re like, “Wait, did that actually happen?” And in short stories, with horror, you do it with fear. You do it with disquiet.

So how does one create disquiet in their story? Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can answer that. It’s like how do you put horror in a story? You already know a monster is necessary, but what more is there? Not an easy question to answer. In fact, I’ve been writing horror since I was a tween, or trying to, and I’m still trying to figure it out. It doesn’t help that I’m better at novels and short stories are still something I’m figuring out how to do well (ironic, considering how many short story ideas I have lying around).

junji Ito will shake you every time.

In the end, all I can recommend is the old writer adage: read a lot and write a lot. In this case, read a ton of shorter works by a variety of different horror authors. Note how they make the story memorable, punchy, disturbing. Is it a specific twist? Is it in the scenario they set up? How do they set it up? Is it in a particular sentence or a paragraph? An element they included? The ending? Then try writing your own works and incorporating what you learned.

It seems obvious, but I guess we reiterate it for a reason.

Anyway, if you’re looking for recommendations, any of the volumes in the Best Horror of the Year series should work, as well as collections by most horror writers. I also recommend story collections from manga artist Junji Ito, if you want a more visual medium. And while it’s not literary, The Twilight Zone is usually pretty good at telling disquieting stories (or so I’ve heard. I really have to get on watching that show).

But tell me, how do you make your short stories memorable and disquieting? What are your thoughts on the subject? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Happy Friday the 13th, and if you see  guy wearing an old-fashioned goalie mask, RUN THE OTHER FUCKING WAY!!!

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.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how Hollywood is coming to see big horror films are, and that they are looking into making more. It’s even been compared to the explosion of superhero films that came about after the Dark Knight trilogy and Iron Man showed how popular and profitable superhero films could be. Since I am a horror fan in addition to a horror writer, I thought I’d weigh in on the subject.

First off, this explosion in horror is not exactly out of the blue. Studios have been making horror films since the early days of film, and they keep making them every year. There’s obviously always been an interest and a profit to be made in horror. It’s just lately we’ve had a slew of horror films that have shown studios and audiences that horror can be extremely profitable, mainstream, and even deeply thematic. We actually first started seeing this trend years ago with films like the Paranormal Activity series, which kicked off a huge fad of found-footage horror films, and with Blumhouse Productions, which proved you can make horror films cheaply and still have critical and box office success. This is especially so with their Conjuring film series, which in itself is a cinematic universe.

But late 2016 and 2017 brought on a slew of horror films that really brought these points home. Split, with its surprise ending technically making it a superhero film, and Get Out, with its commentary on race on par with some Oscar-nominated films, brought horror into the mainstream in new ways. Later in 2017, Annabelle: Creation and It proved massively successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and in 2018, films like A Quiet Place are raking in the dough and proving how powerful horror can be in creating terrifying atmospheres and emotional narratives.

And this is just scratching the surface: Stephen King stories are being optioned at record rates (where’s my adaptation of The Library Policeman?); some of Netflix’s biggest recent original films have been horror movies; and studios are developing more horror movies than ever before. It: Chapter Two starts filming this summer, and a new Halloween film is getting released this year. So while I may say yes, horror is kind of the new superhero film, it’s not because they suddenly became profitable. The potential has always been there, it just took some very specific successes with deeper cultural resonance to really bring that potential to the attention of studio heads.

Remember, don’t do what The Mummy did. Not if you want your horror movie to actually be successful, let alone spawn a franchise.

So yes, the horror genre may be the new superhero film, with every studio wanting its own successful films, film series, or film universe. But to steal a superhero film quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So while I have no pretensions that studio heads or directors or writers or whatever will see this post, let alone take its message to heart, I thought I’d offer some advice advice on getting into this horror boom. After all, as a horror fan and a creator, I want the horror boom to continue. The more good horror out there, the better. So here are some of my ideas for ways to make sure the boom doesn’t fizzle out:

  • Focus on telling a good scary story. This seems obvious, but some companies get so caught up in having a successful film or franchise, they forget to make a good horror film. Remember last year’s The Mummy? That film was convoluted, packed to the brim, and not at all scary. Not a good start for a film that was supposed to be the launching point for an entire cinematic horror universe. Which was the problem: Universal was so concerned with getting their franchise off the ground, they forgot what let Iron Man get the MCU off the ground: a good film in and of itself. If Iron Man had not led to the MCU, it still would’ve been an excellent superhero film. The Mummy should’ve been made that way, but unfortunately, it wasn’t, and now the Dark Universe is sunk.
    So remember kids, focus on a good story first, franchise a distant second. At least said franchise is up and running, of course.
  • Take chances on new/indie directors and stories. A lot of great horror films have come from the indie scene and/or from new/emerging directors. It Follows and Babadook were both very successful horror films from directors with less than three films under their belts, and the former was from the indie scene. Get Out was from Jordan Peele, who had never done a horror film before in his life.
    And all these stories are original plots. In an age where every other movie is a sequel, remake, or some variation on a familiar story or trend, adding something new to the horror canon has the ability to draw in a diverse audience, rather than just the smaller audience of devoted fans and some possible new ones.
    So take a few risks. It could lead to some big returns.
  • Adapt more than just Stephen King. Yeah, I’m happy for the many Stephen King adaptations being made (Library Policeman movie, please?). But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Even his Royal Scariness: I got sick of him back in high school because I read too much King and had to take a break for a few years. I still make sure to space out my dives into his stories nowadays. And if that could happen to me with his books, imagine what it could do to audiences with too many of his movies.
    The point is, there are a number of horror writers out there whose works should be adapted. Scott Thomas’s Kill Creek is one of the best novels I’ve read so far this year; Ania Ahlborn’s Within These Walls would make a great Blumhouse movie; Junji Ito has plenty of stories that could make great films; and as I noted in a previous post, HP Lovecraft is in the public domain and would make for great cinema. It’s something to consider.
    And before you ask, “What about your works, Rami?” I would be flattered if someone showed interest in adapting one of my stories. However, I don’t think that’s a possibility at this stage of my career, so I’m not going to get my hopes up. Still, I’d be flattered.

Horror is finally being given the attention it deserves from Hollywood, and I couldn’t be happier for it. However, it’s going to take a lot of work, and a lot of good stories, for horror to continue to thrive. I hope that filmmakers old and new are up to the task.

Think of every childhood monster you thought might be in your closet or under your bed or anywhere else a monster might hide during the day. What did your child-self know about the monster? Probably only that it was big, that it only came out at night and wanted to eat/kill you, and that maybe only the nightlight kept it away. Perhaps there were certain details, like fur or scales or whatever, but that was the extent of it. You didn’t know if the monster had any weaknesses, or where it came from, or why it chose your closet/bed/whatever. The monster just was, it wanted you, and you were only able to keep it away during the day. And it terrified you.

Now perhaps as a young child, you simply weren’t capable of thinking that any of that other stuff might exist for your monster. But if you confronted a creature like that as an adult, a monster where all you knew about it was its location, its active period, and its diet of humans, but nothing else, you’d be freaked. Because a monster is scary, but a monster that you don’t know how to fight is even scarier.

And that can be applied to nearly any antagonist in horror. The less is revealed about it, the scarier it is.

Case in point: vampires. When I first learned about vampires, my knowledge of what they were was limited to that they came out at night and didn’t like the sun, that they drank human blood (which could sometimes create other vampires), and that they could turn into bats. For a few years, that was all I knew about vampires, and they terrified me. If I ever came upon one, the only recourse I had was to try and survive till daylight, or I was dead! But when I found out that vampires were susceptible to stakes, garlic, crosses, and required invitations into private residences, they became a little less scary. Why? Because they were easier to deal with, and things that are easy to deal with are less terrifying than those that aren’t easy to deal with.

Contrast that with many of the works of the manga artist Junji Ito. I’ve had the opportunity to look at a bunch more of his work since reading his masterpiece Uzumaki (read my review of the manga here, as well as my review of the film adaptation here), and his works rarely tell us the hidden history or how to deal with the monsters featured within. He only gives us enough of a look to get the modus operandi of the monster, and then weaves the story around that. One of his works, Tomie, revolves around an immortal girl whose beauty often drives people to murder her/for her, and who keeps coming back to life no matter how much you kill her. We never get a full explanation of how she is able to do that. Is she some sort of genetic aberration? An undead creature brought back by a grudge? Ito doesn’t tell us, and forces the reader to wonder at the possibilities, as well as how much is being kept from us about these mysterious monsters.

Tomie, one of Junji Ito’s signature characters.

And that is terrifying. And Ito is well aware of that. He knows that the less you know about an antagonist, the more possibilities there are, and that makes the horror more effective. And not just Ito: HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, Adan Ranie, and other horror authors, including me, are well aware that adding a bit more mystery to our horror stories, and not letting the readers see beneath the proverbial hood of the monster, heightens the fear the reader will feel.

And this is the main reason why I was disappointed with Alien: Covenant this past weekend, as well as the catalyst for this post. Granted, that movie had a number of problems, but one thing that Covenant and its predecessor Prometheus both do is try to give an origin story to the films’ real stars, the Xenomorphs. When it comes to antagonists in horror getting origin stories, it’s on a case-by-case basis, and in the case of the Xenomorphs, I’ve actually come to dislike the idea of giving them an origin story. Part of their power is that, even for man-eating monsters, they’re so divorced from what humans perceive as normal. In fact, the name Xenomorph means “strange form,” and it’s that strangeness that makes them so terrifying and iconic.

So when Prometheus and Covenant try to explain them to us in origin stories, they put them in contexts that we can understand, robbing Xenomorphs of what makes them so amazing. Granted, it’s a question everyone who’s seen the original films has asked at some point: “Where do the Xenomorphs come from?” But it’s not a question that has to be answered. The fact that they had such a shady origin to them was part of their mystique, causing our minds to wander and wonder if maybe, somewhere in that until origin story, there’s a dark truth out there waiting to make us wet our pants. And now, that sense of wonder is gone, because these movies have given us an origin that, rather than being dark and terrifying, is at times confusing and at other times lame.

What I’m trying to get at is that sometimes–not all the time, but a significant portion of the time–you don’t need to reveal everything about your monster. Sometimes, keeping some mystery around adds more to the story, and keeps the source of our terror effective. And in a horror story, keeping things terrifying is one of the most important aspects of horror storytelling.