horror

What’s Your Favorite Scary Story?

I’ve spent enough time working commissions that my phone autocorrects everything to scarf or mitten.

I will be pulling this blog out of retirement.

Including the horror and folklore content.

Tell me about your favorite scary stories bonus points for things that came out of 2016.

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American Horror Story and Universe Building

We’ve been talking about the boundaries of Murphy’s metaverse in relation to AHS. What we know exists: aliens, ghosts, Satan/demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, psychics [a la Cricket, who I have to tell you I adore], there’s hints that Cricket practices hoodoo what with the saint work, or a type of voodoo, the afterlife in a variety of forms, angels, vampires of a type, zombies both voodoo and Romero style, and apparently curses of a type.

What we haven’t really seen: cryptids, Big Foot, the fae, the Wild Hunt [which has been established in American horror-lore and folklore at this point], shapeshifters, Poltergeist-style cemetery desecration and after effects, Egyptology a la old school Universal mummy stuff, Baba Yaga [though he has established at least the loa which opens up the suggestion of deities and/or cultural spirits].

I wonder where his line for ‘this is too much, everything but that’ is.

Personally I would love to see him get his claws into the Wild Hunt and I think that the way that it’s been used by modern American horror writers makes it a really solid option for this season. I don’t think it’s going to happen [I have my own theories about this season including unreliable narrators and other such themes], but I would love to see it.

There’s also a whole range of subgenres that he seems to be ignoring, either deliberately or just due to stylistic oversight or blindness-now that we’re multiple weeks in I feel safe to say that I was actually really hoping he was going with a good Southern psych/gothic horror and wouldn’t be centering so much on supernatural methods. I love supernatural horror, but I would love to see what he could do with just people messing with other people.

I feel that Murphy is also going with a lot of old school horror tropes this season, which has me torn. On one hand I can’t necessarily get upset with him for using traditional horror structures when, you know, the point of the series, but I’m a little…disappointed? when I can tell you with some certainty who’s going to die first, have them actually die, and hope to hell that the reasoning isn’t what I fear it is. However while Murphy does tend to come in like a sledge hammer he does tend to have slightly more subtlety than that-and before anyone goes too flailing on me, he really is. I’ve written over the past few seasons about his work with the mother and the oddities (the beautiful, beautiful, necessary oddities) of his women. There’s generally more going on in AHS than a lot of people seem to be willing to give him credit for-I am not going to go so far as to say that his work is feminist [it’s not. Period.] or not flawed [in a lot of ways it is. Deeply] but he honestly lets his characters have a much deeper range of expression than a lot of series would otherwise allow them. Seriously, the sheer presence of fully developed female villains who aren’t necessarily being driven by being scorned by love interests or coming out at the end as just being ‘misunderstood’ is actually a positive development in on-screen gender expression. You mean women have the same range of motives as men do?

While I’m hoping that this season holds up to the same pattern and he’s actually going somewhere with these tropes, at the same time, he’s actually sort of due a surface level season that plays the tropes straight-this is after all a series created to do just that.

The Death of Addie Grey

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The Death of Addie Grey

Accessed as an Ebook

Amy Cross

237 pages

$0.99 at time of writing

 

I am always a little skeptical (okay, critical) going into a piece knowing that it depends on children to push the plot forward. Done well, children in horror can be terrifying. Done poorly, the results are a little hysterical and eye rolling.

While Addie Grey has a few eye rolling moments (I’m not a fan of over the top parents in horror-this led to an, uh, interesting thread on my Facebook wall about why parents in horror insist on referring to themselves in the third person), the book is actually pretty solid. Falling somewhere between true haunting and true possession horror, with something of a time travel (but not quite) thrown in, the story line manages to cover a lot of traditional ground with enough new ideas to keep the plot from seeming stale. However, if you’re looking for a ‘true’ bump in the night haunting novel or a ‘true’ demonic or possessed child plot, this is probably not the book for you.

The plot does have a few bumpy places-like I said, the characterization of the parents manages to come across as a little wooden (the mother cares just a little too much and the father cares just a touch too little). There’s a little too much resistance in the plot to the reality of their situation (which, admittedly, would probably slightly less interesting as a book if they were a little more willing to involve outside aid). And there’s a comment about how the reality of the thing hits home due to a change in vocabulary-but I’m not sure the entity that’s involved would be someone that would use that language either (there’s an issue with age, but I’m not sure the spirit involved would be of that age either).

Addie Grey is a child who, after a long period spent in a coma, comes back to consciousness…different. After a series of escalating events her parents are forced to accept that the spirit inhabiting her body may not be the child that they knew prior to her accident. When her mother finally accepts that her child is no longer her own-both she and Addie are forced to confront a series of challenges potentially larger than what they ever would have thought possible. By the end of the ordeal, her mother is convinced that everything has returned to normal-but the suggestion is made that the door has not been shut all the way.

The thing is, the novel is -good-. Not awesome, not amazing, not top of the pile for quality. But it is easy to read, the plot moves well, most of the characterization is solid. There’s a few plot twists that aren’t overused and even the ‘monsters’ such as they are are generally sympathetic (as in, you can understand why this is taking place on an emotional level). You can certainly read a lot worse in this genre. But it’s sort of the horror version of a beach read-this isn’t going to be a classic in genre but if you just want entertainment, you’ll find it.

Those Across the River

Those Across the River

Christopher Buehlman

368 pages

Accessed as an audiobook

When I started this book, I was working under the assumption that this would end up being a review for August-August is Ghost Month.

I am always excited when I completely misread a plot and end up somewhere else entirely. The way that Buehlman invokes Black Shuck should have said something to me, but it didn’t, and I love him for it. This is not a ghost story in the traditional sense.

Except that it almost is. I think that this is one of those gothic horror pieces where the meat of the plot, the whole of the details that make up the majority of the action but not necessarily the main push of the novel, are the best aspect of the book. This is definitely firmly in the realm of war horror-but from the angle of what war does to a man more than the war itself. Frank’s main battle is with himself and there are hints that it could easily become as dangerous and potentially fatal as whatever is going on outside of him. World War I never really ends for him, and everything that he does (and I do mean, everything) is tinted by his war experiences. He is as haunted by his own past as whatever it is he’s found in his new home.

There is a lot of folklore running through this piece-and it’s arguable that the symbolism here may be deliberate (maybe it’s not the pigs the town should have given up-maybe it’s Frank that should have given up the sacrifice of the people he left during the war). It doesn’t cross the line into full folkloric horror and it doesn’t stray too far into the realm of monster fiction. I have read reviews that argue the piece is Lovecraftian and I honestly have to say that I don’t see it-not that it’s a weakness to the book by any means.

It’s hard to give away too much of this plot, but at the same time maybe not-the book is heavily driven by the interpersonal politics in a small Southern town. Frank Nichols moves his partner Dora to the family homestead in Georgia with the intention of writing the history of his family-including the infamy of their slave ownership. There are rumors of something in the woods and Frank’s experiences makes him wonder if the rumors aren’t accurate. However, he couldn’t have possibly foreseen what is actually out there.

In terms of classic monster fiction, this is much more enjoyable if you fall on the Dog Soldiers end of the spectrum as opposed to the Universal Wolf Man. But I do love me some Dog Soldiers

The Unborn [2009]

Either The Unborn is a remake of a movie I’ve already seen, I’ve actually seen this already at some point, or this movie is just so driven by tropes that I might as well have already seen it. I honestly can’t tell.

In some cases, movies that run off of nothing but tropes can still be entertaining. They really have to subvert tropes to hit the ‘good’ level, but if you’ve been following along with this blog for any amount of time, I’m much more interested in entertainment value than structural quality. Because a movie can be perfect in construction and be a terrible bore; my favorite movies are the ones that I can pull the technical quality, sociological strength, and entertainment out of the piece. However, that being said, you can still have a movie that is enjoyable and a valid use of ‘self care’ destressing time and not be that awesome of a film otherwise.

I’m not sure that this one hits that level though. I feel like there’s a lot of plot elements that get a little convoluted and a little overly complicated compared to the rest of the film (how the protagonist finds out the main push of the tension seems a little clunkier than is necessary) and there’s a few points that seem to be slightly out of place for the rest of the film-the ghost, such as it is, seems to be out of sync with the rest of the movie (the clothing especially seems out of place). While this actually is linked to the rest of the plot, the fact that the protagonist never stops and goes ‘hey, why does this ghost not fit in with 2009?’ when she seems to be capable of latching onto every other aspect of the haunting bothers me a little. I know that it’s getting a little compulsive with the details, but it did bother me.

There are a few other points that don’t sit well with me, for quasi-social politics reasons. There is a subplot involving mental illness that plays out in ways that my non-neurotypical self is not entirely thrilled with. While it makes sense for the plot, “I would rather believe my mother was haunted than accept her mental illness” feels a little hysterical and not exactly healthy to me*. I also have issues with pregnancy in horror-it’s a weird way of Othering a state that is deeply connected to women in a way that rarely occurs to men and fatherhood. There’s a weird usage of pregnancy and by extension women/femininity as a vessel, doorway, or other liminal state and strip the humanity out of the woman in question. You are nothing but a means to an end! And then the emphasis gets shifted away from the woman who is endangered, to the unborn child, thus further dehumanizing the character…it just gets very awkward very quickly and it’s very rarely done well.

Do I have to state outright that I feel like it’s not done well here?

I feel like maybe I’m coming down too hard on a film that may be best viewed as a soda and popcorn film. I feel like perhaps I am being slightly harder on this movie than I would otherwise be…because it’s a movie that straddles the possession/haunting line and I sort of wish it were a stronger piece than it is, because there’s so much that could have been done, but the production team went with an established set of tropes instead of pushing envelopes. Even just strengthening the effects would have made this a better film. If you’re the type of person who likes films that play with world folklore [even if in this case it’s just taking out the word ‘ghost’ and replacing it with the word ‘dybbuk’], really likes to watch as much ghost and haunting related horror as you can, or if it’s just a slow, stormy afternoon, then why not watch it? But I’m not recommending seeing this one on the strength of the piece alone.

* I actually am not a reviewer that requires every image to be ‘perfect’, as in, I don’t need every piece to feel like it’s handled in the most accepting, representative way possible. At the end of it, we’re talking about horror. But it is possible to fall too far to the other side where the handling of a image or trait such as gender, race, sexuality, mental health, etc falls into category of a secondary monster in and of itself, where the trait is almost as undesirable as whatever is driving the plot. In some cases that’s a valid angle to portray, especially when it is an active motivation on the part of a character or is pivotal to the actions taken in place driving the story line [Psycho wouldn’t be Psycho if we were taking a loving, open stance on mental health], but if it’s just an added layer of interaction and therefore crosses the line into stigma, I have issue with the usage. While it might have made a weaker image, the fact that the character here is quicker to accept ‘possession’ than to accept ‘depression’ is a major issue in terms of mental health stigmatization.

 

Mexico Barbaro

Two things to remember before I get into the meat of this review: I enjoy international horror more almost as a rule above American horror, and I love folkloric horror with a passion-and have a much wider definition of what falls into that subgenre than I think a lot of reviewers are willing to work with.

I will admittedly give folkloric horror that plays with themes from outside the horror mainstream a lot more give than I do horror with more common themes, just for showing me something. New here is being used loosely, I’m just tired of seeing the same three movies being made in American horror over and over again, just with a new cast. But I digress.

Mexico Barbaro plays with a lot of themes and images, some of them probably more familiar than other. Ranging from ghosts into echoes of folk saints, all eight segments rework traditional folk stories. These are not just ‘dark’ fairy tales though, and this is -definitely-a horror movie, with a fair amount of violence, gore, bodily injury, and sexual content. However…I almost love it for that. I love seeing world folklore get down and dirty with its shadow side [not to sound like a cultural tourist. I’m just tired of Little Red Riding Hood being used as an example of how ‘dark’ folklore was and is.]

Is it a ‘good’ project thought? If you like projects like V/H/S you’ll like this film. But it has the same weaknesses-some of the segments feel forced, some are rushed, some are a little vague. Some feel like a study in gore with a slight attempt at a theme [I’m not a fan of the closing segment]. But it’s fun, in the way that a slasher can be fun. And some of the images linger impressively. So it’s not an instant classic, but it’s fun for the gore hounds.

The Halloween Host

The Halloween Host

S. M. Barrett

209 Pages

Accessed as an Ebook

$0.99 on Amazon at time of writing

I am actually annoyed with myself for not having written this review sooner, as I actually dearly loved this book and will gladly give it one of my strongest recommendations thus far on this blog.

This isn’t horror, though there are some eerie aspects to it and it falls a little too far into magic for true magical realism (I suppose then that the genre answer here is seasonal fantasy). This isn’t even fully creepy, though again, some of the imagery is a little dark. But truly just a little.

In all honesty this is probably one of the ‘lightest’ pieces of fiction I’ve covered on this blog, but it’s a beautiful book, especially if you’re a deep lover of Halloween. I am. Technically falling within the range of YA fiction the book is actually full of a dense, rich imagery of a type that a horror fan will find appealing-even if the imagery itself isn’t horrifying. One of the aspects of the book I do find most endearing is the use of traditional but often overlooked seasonal imagery, things that are most definitely Halloween appropriate but get overlooked in modern media in favor of gore and jump scares (and which does make this book older child safe-there is discussion of death but nothing graphic throughout the novel).

Arthur Brim has failed his son, and through failing his son, has failed the whole of Halloween. He one day finds a guest in his kitchen who informs him that he now holds a debt to the holiday, and will pay that debt off by hosting the October Senate, those beings most closely associated with the holiday. Brim slowly rekindles his love of the season-and heals his bond with his son-through hosting the senators and learning deep, though admittedly seasonally appropriate, life lessons from each of them.