Things that brought me delight in October, 2023:
Colin Harker, The Feast of the Innocents
The Feast of the Innocents heralds the return of an earlier era in the history of the Gothic novel. Deeply steeped in the Gothic tradition, Colin Harker has a good ear for era-appropriate language and a solid understanding of how to repurpose and refashion the literary conventions that define texts such as William Godwin's Caleb Williams and Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer. There are many examples of Ye Olde Gothique Pastiche out there, and while they are fine on their own merits, there is something uniquely thrilling about encountering a book like The Feast of the Innocents that feels like a lost pre-Victorian book that has just been unearthed from some dusty library archive or, indeed, from the attic of a moldering abbey.
I have been excited for a new series of Castlevania on Netflix, but I also had a degree of trepidation about it; I loved the first batch so much, would Nocturne be able to capture the magic?
And yeah, I'd say it does. Semi-adapting the Rondo of Blood game, Nocturne starts with a larger initial cast: we've got a Belmont wielding the Vampire Killer, Annette re-visioned as someone who wields the might of the orisha, Maria and her menagerie, and an opera singer who inspires revolution. Speaking of revolution, the French Revolution setting works really well--it really underlines the tension between modern ideas of liberty and the moribund systems that vampires represent.
I am loving these books collecting Topps' wilder trading card sets. I looked at the Garbage Pail Kids book a while back, but in October I cracked the spine on something even nearer and dearer to my heart: Mars Attacks. For those who are unfamiliar, the Mars Attacks cards detailed a violent Martian invasion of Earth and then the inevitable invasion of Mars by the triumphant forces of Earth. Besides collecting all the art from the arts, the book drops some fascinating details about the set's production: I had no idea that it was never distributed nationally or about the amount of censorship imposed on the artists by Topps itself--which is pretty staggering.
Blackbriar, A Dark Euphony
On A Dark Euphony, Blackbriar is bubbling up from the underground into the big time witch their first Nuclear Blast release. Blackbriar deliver gothy symphonic metal, but their music has a distinct "fairytale" feel to it that sets it apart a bit from other acts in the genre. A Dark Euphony is their strongest release to date, which means it's great on its own but also it makes you wonder where they'll go next.
Stephen Graham Jones, Don't Fear the Reaper
A good portion of what appealed to me about Stephen Graham Jones's My Heart is a Chainsaw was the "voice" of the main character. She's the main character of Don't Fear the Reaper, but she's older and changed by the experiences she had in the previous book--which has the effect of portraying her as more distant and somewhat muted. I get why that is, but I did miss the younger version of this character!
Flashes of her earlier persona come back about halfway through, as she needs something of that slasher-obsessed teenage misfit to survive against the killers who are stalking Proofrock. Of course, things are complicated--an escaped serial killer is on the loose, but that's only scratching the surface.
True Widow, Circumambulation and Avvolgere
I am notoriously difficult to give musical recommendations, but Tenebrous Kate's suggestions are right on the money more often than not. One of her recent recommendations is True Widow, a band that answers the question, "What if Sonic Youth were a droning, doom-inspired band and not annoying?" Though their tempo never really raises above "plodding," both Circumambulation and Avvolgere have some real earworms on them.
The Elvira Show
The Elvira Show was supposed to be a sitcom starring everyone's favorite horror hostess and "Queen of Halloween," but unfortunately it didn't get greenlit. That said, you can find the pilot episode on YouTube! I'm generally allergic to sitcoms, and I'm not sure I could have bought in to an entire season of the show, but the pilot episode is pretty fun. In retrospect, I'm not surprised that this didn't get picked up: I'd estimate that at least 85% of the jokes are tit-based.
House of 1000 Corpses re-release
Oh my God, how can it be twenty years since House of 1000 Corpses debuted in theaters? Well, thankfully, for the anniversary it was brought back to the big screen for a few limited engagements, and I was able to make it to one of them! Man, I still love this movie with every fiber of my rotten being. It was also a nice touch that Rob Zombie filmed a little off-the-cuff introduction to the re-release. In a way, House of 1000 Corpses is a movie that could easily have been forgotten, but as he points out, it really is the fans who have kept it alive over the years. (Also pretty interesting to learn that the theatrical cut is probably the only version of the movie that we'll ever have, as nobody knows where the cut footage ended up--if it even still exists!)
Robert Morasco, Burnt Offerings
I was a latecomer to the Burnt Offerings movie, but when I finally saw it--well, it blew my damn mind. Tenebrous Kate and I kicked around the idea of featuring Robert Morasco's novel on the podcast, but it fell off the master list; however, when I found a hardcover copy at an antique store for two bucks, I couldn't resist! The book really is just as good as film (which is faithful to the text). If anything, after reading it you can see how the novel was a clear influence on Stephen King; sure, there's no alcoholic writer in this, but the growing sense of middle-class doom feels familiar. That said, Morasco gets it done without any Baby Boomer asides and has it put to bed in under 250 pages.
Wolves in the Throne Room, Crypt of Ancestral Knowledge
Crypt of Ancestral Knowledge is a new, four-track EP by Wolves in the Throne Room. Now that I've stopped hearing the phrase "Transcendental Black Black," I feel safe saying that the first two songs on the EP exemplify why Wolves in the Throne Room are the rightful heirs of Emperor. The third and fourth tracks are a different story; on those tracks, things take a turn toward Dead Can Dance and dark ambient.
Anne Heltzel, Just Like Mother
Just Like Mother starts with a strong premise: a woman who grew up in a cult reconnects with her cousin, who also grew up in the cult compound, as an adult. The cousin is a lifestyle and tech mogul who has been working on a realistic baby doll AI meant to teach expectant parents how to parent or for use in the grieving process by parents who have lost a child. Something is clearly not right here. Just Like Mother is a book the reader will figure out way before its protagonist does. You will do a lot of horror movie-style "Girl, don't go to that house" and "Don't go on a date with that guy" shaking of your head, but the ride is pretty fun.
Carnifex, Necromanteum and World War X
Sometimes I just want something brutal and a little knuckle-headed. Admittedly, Carnifex do dress up their deathcore assault with occasional orchestral elements that add a nice horror movie vibe. No mercy here on their new one, Necromanteum. Be forewarned, though: this album is quite LOUD. Favorite tracks on Necromanteum: "The Pathless Forest" and "How the Knife Gets Twisted." I also dipped back into World War X, which feels both leaner and meaner.
Samantha Hunt, Mr. Splitfoot
Samantha Hunt's Mr. Splitfoot is set in update NY, and it has as good a description of the area as I've ever seen: "This part of the state is haunted by businesses and marriages that didn't work." Mixing cult religious weirdness with the broken-down desperation of post-industrial upstate, Mr. Splitfoot's got con men aplenty, seances, and a whole lot of walking. I think the folks who know update NY would get them most out of it, but if anybody is looking for something that's a little spooky, but not really full on horror, I'd definitely recommend this novel.
Dynamite's Elvira comics: Timescream, Elvira's Inferno, The Shape of Elvira
After our double feature podcast episode on Elvira and Vampira, I decided I needed more Elvira in my life. Turning to the comics put out by Dynamite, I stated with Timescream, in which the Queen of Halloween travels through time--meeting Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Bram Stoker, while trying to avoid the murderous attentions of Vlad the Impaler. Elvira's Inferno is a direct sequal to Timescream in which Elvira works her way through Hell. The Shape of Elvira is a The Shape of Water riff, but with a twist. Minor stuff, but pretty fun. Weirdly, though, sometimes the depiction of Elvira doesn't really look like the woman--you'd think she'd be too iconic for that to happen.
Lord Vampyr, The Vampire's Legacy and Death Comes Under the Sign of the Cross
Confession: I thought I was a pretty big fan of Theatres des Vampyres, but I had no idea that the former singer had been recording and releasing records under the name Lord Vampyr. Lord Vampyr is essentially a melting pot, mixing elements of Gothic metal, death metal, black metal, and traditional heavy metal. There's something about the Lord Vampyr sound that makes me think it would be right at home blasting out a dirtbag's window in a film about wayward teenagers. I mean that as a compliment, by the way. Both albums I checked out are good, but Death Comes Under the Sign of the Cross does have one fatal flaw: the intro and lengthy outro tracks are just sounds of sword-on-sword battle. Cut that fucking filler; I'll skip that shit every time, dude.
Dead Light & Other Dark Turns
Dead Light & Other Dark Turns is a slim book containing two scenarios for Call of Cthulhu. Both scenarios are based on chance encounters on the road from point A to point B, so they're especially well-suited to one-shots or an interlude between other scenarios. I ran Dead Light for my group on Friday the 13th and it went really well; it felt like a good thematic choice as the characters are pursued by a monster that is like Jason if he were a glowing, otherworldly, unrelenting, luminous cloud of mercury. I haven't run the other adventure in the book, but it looks fun too.
NEPA Horror Fest
NEPA Horror Fest was very fun. The punk rock flea market was, of course, a mixed bag of junk, cool art, and interesting crafts. No zines though, which was disappointing; maybe the rain kept the zinesters away. The "Halloween cast reunion" had maybe the saddest tabling set up I've ever seen. It wasn't obvious who the actors were or why these people were sitting at tables, so people were more interested in buying coffee than the meet-n-greet. Honestly? The highlight might have been the "Philly cheese steak eggrolls" we got. Fucking amazing stuff, far exceeded our expectations.
Land of the Dead
Land of the Dead came out during a real "Golden Summer" of movie-going for me, but it had been quite some time since I had seen it so I put it on the re-watch list for October. I still have an incredible fondness for Land of the Dead, even though I know it doesn't really come close to equally the hard-hitting Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, or Day of the Dead. Still, there's something I find undeniably fun about Land of the Dead. At its heart, it's a very PMF film, as it presents the zombie apocalypse as more of an action flick than a horror movie. It has some great ideas, though: rich people sequestered in a ritzy mall high-rise, zombies versus prostitute gladiatorial games; big, honkin' zombie-killin' truck!
Bastien Lecouffe Deharme, BL8D
BL8D is an utterly massive and beautiful collection of Bastien Lecouffe Deharme's art. After flipping through its pages, I feel confident in asserting one thing: Bastien Lecouffe Deharme loves imperious beauties bearing swords. You might already know his art from the recent edition of the KULT rpg or you might know him from the cards he's done for Magic: The Gathering, but you probably haven't seen all of his stuff in one place--which is what makes BL8D indispensable. I was especially happy to see the covers he did for the paperback reissues of several of Tanith Lee's novels included in their own chapter.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse
Werewolf: The Apocalypse came out when I was in the deep-end of being an rpg player in high school, but no one in my group had any interest in it at the time. (We tried to play Vampire: The Masquerade and failed miserably, so maybe that colored things.) I leafed through the new edition of Werewolf: The Apocalypse in a store and decided I needed to give it a more thorough read-through. It far more interesting than I would have guessed, but it's going to take me some time to wrap my brand around werewolves-as-spiritual-environmental warriors. There's a lot here, and it's a big book, so this one is going to take some time to digest.
Interview with the Vampire
AMC's Interview with the Vampire was lauded by everyone I know who has seen it. As a longtime fan of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, I was really looking forward to it so when it finally landed on a streaming platform I have access to we made the time to watch it in October. I can definitely recommend Interview with the Vampire, especially to people who view the Vampire Chronicles as a gay vampire soap opera. (To be clear, that is a totally valid way to perceive the source material.) It's less a horror tale and more a story about a relationship that goes horribly, gothically wrong. To my mind, the time shift to the Jazz Age worked well, and some of the deviations from Rice's novel actually made for interesting additions to the story.
Cassandra Khaw, The Salt Grows Heavy
Although it's a something of riff on The Little Mermaid, Cassandra Khaw's The Salt Grows Heavy stands apart from the deluge of modern re-told fairy tales by virtue of being as visceral as a gore movie. No simple feminist retelling here; rather, we have an inhuman mermaid traveling through an apocalyptic-feeling kingdom with a plague doctor until they encounter a trio of surgeon-saints that are straight out of a Cronenbergian fever fantasy. Although The Salt Grows Heavy is a slight book, it packs a lot of body horror and ruminations on the power of devotion in its sparse pages. Definitely not a bedtime story.
The Lovecraft Investigations: The Shadow Over Innsmouth
When the newest series of The Lovecraft Investigations dropped, it reminded me that I never finished the third series. The Shadow Over Innsmouth is great stuff as expected, and I especially like the way that managed to weave a modernized version of Lovecraft's story with the Somerton Man! Now I just gotta finish Haunter in the Dark.
Darcy Coates, House of Shadows
I've been meaning to read a Darcy Coates novel for a while, so I settled on House of Shadows as my starting point. To be honest, it's a fairly average Victorian-esque Gothic novel, with a fairly well-worn premise: a young woman is quickly married off to a wealthy stranger when her father nearly brings the family to financial ruin; she's then shipped off to her new husband's ancestral mansion where his family prove to be menacing weirdos; there's a red door she's forbidden to open, and it seems like leaving the house is an impossibility. In such a standard-issue Gothic novel, the devil is truly in the details; unfortunately, the details are a bit lacking in this one. Everything feels like like surface detail, with nothing underneath, and Coates doesn't really nail the Victorian era too well. I'll probably read the sequel to House of Shadows, but I suspect that might be where I call it quits.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Like House of 1000 Corpses, The Nightmare Before Christmas was re-released in theaters in October. I was in high school when the movie originally came out. Back when I worked at a video store I was infamous for playing The Nightmare Before Christmas at least once every shift. So, you'd think I'd be burned out on the movie, but it was great to see it on the big screen again. If anything, seeing it in a theater really underlines how incredibly detailed the movie is. There are so many little things that get lost on screen, but with the big view the movie feels like such a labor of love--particularly as it's all stop-motion from well before the age of lifeless CG animation.
Myrkur has proven to be a more chimeric project than I would have ever guessed. When Amelie Braun first burst onto the scene with an album of controversial black metal, I think I assumed that all of Myrkur's releases would more or less follow that conceit. Instead, the idea of what Myrkur can be has changed drastically over the years, until we arrive at Spine--the project's most varied album yet. There are still elements of extreme metal here, but they've become part of the palette instead of a defining element. More than anything, Spine aspires toward beauty in no uncertain terms.
Since vampires are so often associated with the allure of eternal life, they often focus on the monstrosity of youth, but Jakob's Wife tries a different avenue. The film explores what happens when the middle-aged wife of a pious minister encounters a nosferatu and discovers a potential way out from the diminishment of her life in her husband's shadow. Jakob's Wife clearly isn't a massive-budget blockbuster, but it does a lot with what it has. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the movie's central character is played by the always-cool Barbara Crampton.
Let's Scare Jessica to Death
Scratched another movie I've been meaning to watch off my list by sitting down in front of Let's Scare Jessica to Death in October. This one definitely lived up to the hype. Let's Scare Jessica to Death is more of an atmospheric piece about a young woman, just recently discharged from a mental institution, who is whisked by her husband to a rural retreat so she can continue to rest and recover. But, as it turns out, they've gone to the wrong long-abandoned house for some relaxation, as it's a storied home that was once the setting for a tragic drowning. Things start to get weird when they discover that the house is already inhabited by a free-spirited redhead, and they only get weirder from there.
Cobweb probably falls into the "kinderhorror" subgenre, as it's about a bullied kid who scarcely has it better at home due to his creepy, neurotic, and controlling parents. Oh, and he's troubled by the voice of an unknown sister who seems to be trapped in the walls of the family home. I feel confident recommending Cobweb to anyone looking for a short movie that isn't too intense. Pretty cool monster design in this one, although the director made the wise choice not to let the audience see it too early or too directly.
Polly Hall, The Taxidermist's Lover
For some reason, I was expecting Polly Hall's The Taxidermist's Lover to be more of a horror novel, but really it's more like an extremely macabre romance. Not the Fabio-on-the-cover kind of romance, but I suspect you understand what I mean anyway. The book follows two people--an older taxidermist working on wondrous animal hybrids and his younger, troubled wife--who more or less live hermetically sealed within their a strange codependent isolation that is by turns comforting and suffocating. There are secrets, bitter sensuality, lyrical writing, and one of hell of an uncanny ending to The Taxidermist's Lover.
On Thorns I Lay, self-titled
I bought the new self-titled On Thorns I Lay album without knowing much about them, but I had the idea that their name would likely land them in the death-doom subgenre I love...and I was right. This album is super solid; big crushing riffs, guttural growled vocals, melancholic atmosphere, etc. Recommended to fans of My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost--you'll dig this stuff too.
Catriona Ward, The Last House on Needless Street
There's a lot happening in Catriona Ward's The Last House on Needless Street: a young girl goes missing; her sister becomes obsessed with tracking down the person who abducted her; a very strange man seems to be up to something even more strange with his "daughter" and his "cat" in a ramshackle house on Needless Street. I actually feel a little guilty about The Last House on Needless Street as I figured out the "big twist" very early on; it's still worth finishing, of course, but I imagine that being floored with the revelations at the end would be pretty satisfying if you make it that far without realizing what's going on in Needless Street.
Emily Carroll, A Guest in the House
The arrival of a new Emily Carroll comic should be accompanied by a mournful fanfare. I was quite excited for A Guest in the House since I saw it first announced, and it definitely lived up to my own anticipation. A dentist's second wife is trying to settle into her role as stepmother and homemaker, but she's reminded at every turn of the wife and mother that used to be in the house. This is like an unglamorous Rebecca, except in the case of A Guest in the House, the tide of jealousy and resentment is flowing from a very different source. Beautiful art, as always; the contrast between the muted grays of mundanity and the splashes of otherworldly color are particularly effective.
Sadie "Mother Horror" Hartmann, 101 Horror Books to Read Before You're Murdered
My early thoughts from reading the intro of Sadie Hartmann's 101 Horror Books to Read Before You're Murdered:
1) Hartmann's tone is goofy. It can get a little annoying, a little too "I am on the internet," but I also find it a somewhat welcome relief from all the people who talk about horror fiction with deadly seriousness, like they're Lovecraftian antiquarians.
2) This book only covers modern horror. In many cases, this means extremely recent publications. Again, a wise move. We don't need Dracula recommended to us again.
3) Hartmann dismisses the idea that a book needs to be "scary" to be considered horror. Good on her; that's always been an imbecilic argument.
4) House of Leaves isn't in here because she doesn't think it's very good. I'm doing the sicko Yes, YES thing at that.
Outside of all that, this is a great handbook of modern horror recommendations. Each book gets a nice write up, as well as a standardized sidebar detailing the themes, setting, publication info, etc. There's definitely a few books I hadn't heard of before reading it that I absolutely have to check out now.
I got to share Spider Baby, one of my favorite weird little horror movies, with my girlfriend in October. Spider Baby begins as a charming throwback to the horror movies of yesteryear, drawing us into the lives of siblings who are regressing in mental age due to a familial malady, but things get genuinely disturbing real quick. By the the last reel, things are actually pretty shocking. All that, Carol Ohmart, and an ominous, downbeat ending? Spider Baby is a strange movie that more people should be aware of.
Vaesan: The Lost Mountain Saga
For years, I've had a campaign idea that I would really like to run, but I've struggled to find the system to put in back of it. Vaesan might be the thing I need to get it done, so with that in mind I've been scooping up the supplements as they've been coming out. The Lost Mountain Saga is a five-scenario campaign for Vaesan that has a pretty interesting genesis: apparently it started life as a podcast and then was ported over to Vaesan as a campaign. Written by a Swede living in America as a way of expressing elements of her culture to friends who didn't grow up with it firsthand, there's a lot of flavor baked into The Lost Mountain Saga that you aren't likely to get elsewhere.
I've been holding the third season of Ash vs. Evil Dead in reserve for the Halloween season. Over the course of its three seasons, Ash vs Evil Dead has had some of the most insane, grotesque set-piece scene to ever appear on television; it really deserves more credit for that. Sure, the main characters kinda come back from the dead with alarming regularity, but you should just be along for the ride. I knew going into the third season that Ash vs Evil Dead didn't really get a conclusive ending, but damn if things didn't look like they were going in a fun direction. Alas, I'll just have to ponder what would have come next as a PLANET MOTHERFUCKER adventure.
My girlfriend wanted to watch Freaks (first time for her) this year, and I'll never say no to Freaks. I still remember bringing it home for the first time from the video store; I was expecting something a little slow and retrained, like Browning's Dracula is, and being totally unprepared for what Freaks actually brings to the table. Of course, it's a shame that a film as good as Freaks damaged Browning's career, and frankly I don't understand how anyone can watch the film without coming away thinking that it's actually a pretty sensitive movie.
An Angel for Satan
An Angel for Satan was one of the few Barbara Steele-helmed horror movies I hadn't see yet; I was saving it for a rainy day, and it turned out that this Halloween was the proverbial (and literal) rainy day in question. This one is great. Steele plays a young woman recently returned from school in England to assume control of her ancestral house. Of course, as soon as she arrives murders begin to happen and it seems like she is possessed by violent spirits linked to a recently recovered "cursed" statue. Super fun Italian Gothic stuff.
Curse of the Demon
An adaptation of M.R. James's "Casting the Runes," Curse of the Demon is an absolute classic, in my opinion. But keep in mind that to me Jacques Tourneur can do wrong. I usually watch the Night of the Demon version, but this year I went with the shorter American cut; to be honest, I couldn't really tell you where the cuts were made--which I guess means I should try to watch Night of the Demon soon to really get a handle on that. You know what? I still think the demon special effect really works in this.
Island of Lost Souls
We capped off Halloween night with Island of Lost Souls, which I couldn't remember if I had seen before or not. (Turns out, I think I had seen it, but it must have been a very long time ago.) Anyway, Island of Lost Souls goes HARD. I was expecting something mild from that era, like Dracula, but fuck it really has some intense moments. Now that I've watched it, I'm thinking I might need to pick up a copy of Island of Lost Souls to add to the permanent collection--I could definitely see myself wanting to revisit this one in the future.