Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Tyranny of Faith, Infinity Pool, Malenka, and More

Things that brought me delight in February, 2024:

Richard Swan, The Tyranny of Faith

I read Richard Swan's The Justice of Kings last month and was so enamored with it that I immediately ordered The Tyranny of Faith as soon as I had finished it. The Tyranny of Faith does not disappoint. Told from the perspective of Helena Sedanka, Sir Konrad Vonvalt's clerk and apprentice Justice, we get a view of the unfolding threat to the Empire of the Wolf. And theremany moving parts involved in the intrigue: the Emperor's grandson is kidnapped, someone is arming insurgents with gunpowder, the church has stolen the secrets of ancient magic, and Konrad Vonvalt, the Empire's best hope, has been cursed with a life-ending demonic hex. But beyond all the momentous events converging, The Tyranny of Faith is still a very human tale: despite his acuity, power, and remit, it's Vonvalt's fallibilities that lead to the most tragedy in the novel.

Infinity Pool

I love a speculative movie that is a total feels-bad experience. Infinity Pool takes place in and around an elite resort in the fictional country of Li Tolqa. When a chance accident takes the life of a native, the Western tourists involved learn firsthand the strange legal workings of the nation: to avoid death, the wrongdoer is allowed to pay an exorbitant amount to be cloned so the copy can be executed in their stead. What follows these events is hedonism, commentary on exploitation of the developing world, and a heady cocktail of sex, violence, loss of personal identity, and betrayal.


Malenka, aka Fangs of the Living Dead, is a late-60s horror movie that might be have the distinction of being the first Spanish vampire film. And it's a doozy. A beautiful young model, played by Anita Ekberg, discovers that she has inherited a title and a castle...and perhaps the curse of vampirism as well. Or has she? It could all be a be honest, it could be anything because the tacked-on ending goes a long way toward contradicting everything else in the film. It hardly matters; you go into Malenka for Gothic nonsense, not a rational film that makes sense, and it provides Gothic nonsense in spades.

Stephen King, The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands

While waiting for the third book in Richard Swan's dark fantasy trilogy to make its way to me, I decided to pick up the third volume of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series to make a little headway in my very lackadaisical re-read of the saga. This is the one with the very fun encounter with the giant cyborg bear and the riddle-loving insane AI train. I read this six-hundred page beast over three days, which more than anything illustrates that when King is on his game he is extremely readable and fun.

Shudder #1, 2, 3, 12, 15 and Vampiress Carmilla #5, 6, 17, 18, 19

Anyone who listens to Bad Books for Bad People will already know of my affection for the Shudder and Vampiress Carmilla comics. I delved into the back issues as well as catching the latest issues on the rack. Issue #15 of Shudder is a great standalone illustration of why I love these titles and a fantastic place to start if you want to hop on this train. This issue has all the good stuff. In just one issue you get witches, vampires, grave robbers, seaside tales, cowboys, a Poe homage, and the Devil's own nightclub. And that cover! Look at that cover! If that doesn't speak to you, I don't want to know you.


Hellbender is less a straightforward horror flick and more of a bildungsroman with horror elements. A mother and daughter live in seclusion on their forested mountain, happily making metal music (???) and going on hikes, until the daughter encounters another teenager and begins to pine for the life she's been sequestered away from. What follows is a discovery of her familiar connection to witchcraft and a strange generational contest between mother and daughter that is part and parcel of her growth into maturity. What's really fascinating about this film is that it was a family project (it was directed and stars a married couple and their children) made during the pandemic lookdown in their Catskills home. It's low-budget for sure, but the rough-and-ready nature of it adds to its truly unique charm.

Mike Mignola, Angela Slatter, Valeria Burzo, Michelle Madsen, Castle Full of Blackbirds

I'm going to have to be completely honest here: you can probably skip Castle Full of Blackbirds if you aren't already immersed in the Hellboy-verse. I wasn't aware that this comic slotted into Mignola's wider world when I bought it, but the story of a young runaway possessing strange powers ending up in a fiendish school for witches is pretty easy to parse even if all the connections don't necessarily mean anything to you. To be even more honest, the art here didn't thrill me, but I suspect that this is more of an issue with the colors than the inkwork. That said, the covers from the individual issues (here used as chapter breaks in the collection) by Wylie Beckert are phenomenal. 

Kaori Yuki, Fairy Cube Vols. 1-3

I have to admit, even as a big fan of Kaori Yuki's manga I didn't think Fairy Cube was going to be a series for me. The cover makes this manga seem like it's very much Not My Thing. As it turns out, however, this is actually a pretty sinister series! A kid with the ability to see fairies ("Cottingley fairies" style) gets mixed up in a fey plot to overthrow humanity when his "evil double" possesses his father and has his dad knife him to death. When he comes back, his spirit now inhabiting the corpse of a young boy, he finds that his double has taken over his body and is now courting the girl he loves. Although this doesn't rank up there with my favorite Kaori Yuki manga, Fairy Cube has some really interesting and provocative ideas to it that I wasn't expecting. 

Dr. Frankenstein's House of 3-D

I found this 3-D comic from the early 90s in one of our trips to the antique market. The interiors are the blue-and-red line art you'd expect, and the 3-D glasses are still unpunched! The content basically takes one of two forms: pin-up art of Frankenstein's monster (much of it by cover artist and monster aficionado XNO) or an origin story comic for the creature by Dick Briefer. Both ends of the spectrum are done up in underground comix-style art. Although I bought this as something of a novelty, it's actually really well done with some great art I hadn't seen before. I'm calling this one a win for the "random treasure acquired for a few dollars" pile.

Chelsea Wolfe, She Reaches Out to She Reaches Out to She

It's probably reductive to think of She Reaches Out to She Reaches Out to She as Chelsea Wolfe's "Bjork" album, but I can't shake that feeling. Of course, Wolfe's cold industrial backdrop is more menacing than most Bjork tracks, but the delicacy, effortlessness, and bravura vocal work are what render the similarities here for me. This is a record that easily slips into a kind of conjured soundscape, but it's worth clearing your head of the haze to take in all the particulars. 

Essie Fox, The Fascination

Essie's Fox's The Fascination starts off with two narrative strands. In the first, a young man is booted from his grandfather's estate when the old tyrant suddenly marries and produces an heir of his own. Meanwhile, a pair of twin sisters (one who develops normally and one who is stuck at a child-like size) are forced to accompany their shyster father as he shucks a snake oil remedy at fairs. The narrative paths cross at a chance meeting, then diverge: the young man comes to work at a London museum of oddities, while the sisters find themselves "adopted" to a house of "freaks." The threads converge again when a pleasure cult of depraved aristocrats abducts the diminutive sister for their own sinister purposes. I was looking forward to reading The Fascination for quite some time (I had to wait for a US release of this one, which was pure torture) and let me tell you: it was completely worth the wait. The Fascination is Dickensian Gothic grotesque at its finest.


Now that I've watched it, I regret not seeing Men in the theater. There are so many things I love about it that I didn't realize were present at the time: I didn't know Jessie Buckley, who I loved in Taboo, stars in it; I didn't know that Rory Kinnear, who of course was great in Penny Dreadful, plays multiple characters in it; I had no idea it was one of the better modern folk horror movies out there. 

The premise is simple: a woman decides to spend time on her own in a rented cottage as she deals with the trauma and guilt of her estranged husband's possible suicide. But from there, her encounters with various men of the village take increasingly ominous turns until the whole thing climaxes know what, you need to see it to believe it.

Richard Swan, The Trials of Empire

Now that I've finished The Trials of Empire, the last book in Richard Swan's The Empire of the Wolf trilogy, I can heartily recommend the series to anyone with the stomach to make it through a dark fantasy trilogy of somewhat chunky books. (The second and third books weigh in at over five-hundred pages apiece, for fair warning.) If you do possess that kind of stamina, I think you'll find a lot to love in the entire series, from the first to the last. As an endpoint, The Trials of Empire avoids a lot of cliches, even some hinted at in previous books, and it's the rare series that culminates in a legal trial after the dust has settled from the big, horrible, gritty battle scenes, and manages to actually make the trial pretty entertaining.

Norman Partridge, Dark Harvest

Part of me wishes I had saved Norman Partridge's Dark Harvest for the Halloween season, as it would be a perfect read for October. (You may want to buy a copy now and tuck it away in anticipation.) Dark Harvest concerns a small town with a strange contest held every Halloween: boys aged sixteen to nineteen are forced out of their homes to hunt, and BE HUNTED BY, the October Boy--a pumpkin-headed scarecrow that's out for blood. Dark Harvest is a fun, and surprising, short novel that really captures the madness of Halloween, the small-town experience, and a particularly American flavor of folk horror.

D. Alexander Ward and Gina Scapellato (eds.), Strange Echoes

Strange Echoes is an anthology of short fiction, and like most anthologies it is a mixed bag. The oddest thing about Strange Echoes is that the stories within it don't really feel united by style, theme, or fictional mode; it was a little difficult to see why these particular tales live under the same roof. That said, while none of the stories are poor quality, to my mind there are three standouts. Things start strong with Pamela Durgin's "Canyon Country," which is more of a mood piece about a particular hell-blasted landscape and they very broken young woman moving through it; the mood is pretty rancid, which I mean in a positive way. I also thought Kristin Peterson's story about conjoined twins and the uncanny life they share was excellent. Now, I may be biased as Mattie is a friend who plays in my game group, but I think Matilda Lewis's "Honey, Blood, and Hellfire" is the real stand-out in the collection. This one's a treat, like Hawthorne unencumbered by his era and allowed to be horny on main.


Admittedly, my expectations were pretty low going into it, but Marrowbone was a pleasant surprise. This Gothic drama is about a British family who has fled their monstrous, abusive, serial killer father for their mother's childhood home in Maine. As they attempt to start over under a new name, they grow insular--only allowing a farmgirl living nearby into their inner circle. Of course, they've been pursued by their father--or are haunted by his ghost--but the truth of things is far more wicked. Marrowbone has a bit of a VC Andrews feel to it, which is an uncommon flavor that works nicely with this kind of film. Even though I saw the gimmick coming a mile away, Marrowbone really gave me the kind of Gothic nonsense I like.

Becky Cloonan and Tula Lotay, Somna: A Bedtime Story, Books One and Two

You can tell that I was excited for Somna, a new erotic horror comic from Becky Cloonan and Tula Lotay, because I broke down and started buying the single issues--something I rarely do. My expectations were quite high for this book and against all odds it met if not exceeded my hopes for it. Somna is the story of a woman married to her town's bailiff, a position that is changing into that of a witchfinder. But as he is hunting the darkness, her dreams are plagued with sinful, demonic erotic reveries that push against the repression she faces in public and at home. Add to this that her best friend is involved in an illicit affair with a handsome young man (and widower of an executed witch), and that her friend's husband is mysterious found murdered, and things are heating up on all fronts. I can't believe I have to wait until the end of March to see how Somna concludes. Sometimes life is cruel.

Lisa Frankenstein

Lisa Frankenstein doesn't seem to be getting much in the way of positive reviews, but I had a great time watching it! It really does do a good job of capturing the tone of an 80s teen comedy, and I have to admit that I laughed out loud quite a bit seeing this in the theater. Also, I always love a story about outsiders being outsiders and remaining outsiders even at the end of things--no Breakfast Club style makeover here in Lisa Frankenstein and none of the reconciling with the status quo either. Oddly, this teen movie probably won't mean much to modern teens; this one is probably aimed at people who can actually remember the 80s.

The Long Hair of Death

The Long Hair of Death has become something of a comfort movie for me, and I genuinely consider it to be a classic of the black and white European Gothic genre. It's got witches back from the dead, rapacious noblemen, scheming seductresses, and a creaky old castle complete with hidden passages and eerie tombs. If that wasn't enough, you get the incomparably beautiful Barbara Steele and a truly horrific looking corpse crawling with worms. The comeuppance in the ending scene of The Long Hair of Death feels sadistically satisfying to boot. If you ever want to do a double-feature of great Euro Gothics, considering pairing The Long Hair of Death with Black Sunday for a Barbara Steele-fueled one-two punch.

Alexis Henderson, House of Hunger

In Alexis Henderson's House of Hunger, a young worker from an industrial slum leaves her life of poverty behind to become the "bloodmaid" of a "night lord" named...Liveta Bathory. Although the novel never uses the v-word, Bathory and her fellow night lords employ young women to provide them with the blood that keeps them healthy. House of Hunger attaches many themes to its central idea; it touches on labor exploitation, classism, and above all the pain and turmoil of obsessive love. I enjoyed Henderson's previous novel, The Year of the Witching, but House of Hunger fires on all cylinders. More than anything, I appreciated that House of Hunger confounded my expectations and wasn't afraid to get a bit grimy. 

T. Kingfisher, What Feasts at Night

I gave T. Kingfisher another shot after being distinctly underwhelmed with A House With Good Bones, which is decent read but far too light for my particular tastes, and picked up What Feasts at Night in February. What Feasts at Night is the sequel to What Moves the Dead, Kingfisher's riff on Poe's "Th Fall of the House of Usher," so it's interesting to see what she does without an allusion to another author's work to fall back on. This one has a slow start, but once it gets off its ass and starts moving in the final third, it work pretty well. There's some surprisingly horrific imagery--especially since I thought she soft-peddled the horrors in A House With Good Bones--though I still wouldn't necessarily call the work "horror" as a whole.

Peter Milligan, Piotr Kowalski, Brad Simpson, Simon Bowland, God of Tremors

God of Tremors is a one-shot comic I can heartily recommend to fans of both Victorian horror and folk horror. The comic has the same form factor as the recent books I've been enjoying from DSTLRY, such as Somna, which is quickly becoming my format of choice for these deluxe-feeling single issues. God of Tremors is the story of a young man stricken with epilepsy, though his zealous and hypocritical vicar father interprets the ailment as demonic possession. His father's attempts to purge the demons through brutal beatings and exorcisms have no effect, of course. And then the boy finds a strange stone idol in the woods that could offer him freedom from his father's tyranny...

Justin D. Hill, Pilgrims of Fire

Sometimes I just need my 40k novel fix, so I turned to Justin D. Hill's Pilgrims of Fire. There is a lot of nuance to the battle between heretics and Sisters of Battle trying to protect the relics of a saint in the early bits of this surprisingly complicated novel. There's a conflict between duty and a bloodthirstiness that covers itself under religious zeal, a willingness to sacrifice common people to protect what are essentially just symbols of the faith, and also something clever going on with the use of conscripted prisoners as soldiers. One of my favorite bits: the Imperium tries to send a war ship into the warp and it immediately comes back; it's clearly fucked up, no signs of life, and then they realize that a huge alien life form is wearing it like a fucking hermit crab. I wish I had thought of that.

Hung, Drawn and Executed and Nightmare on One Sheet

I picked up two art books showcasing the horror art of Graham Humphreys in February. Both feature a great selection of his work, from movie posters, commissioned art, book covers, etc. If you keep an eye out for deluxe Blu Ray reissues of classic horror flicks, then you've definitely seen his work. It's awesome having so much of it in bound form. An embarrassment of riches, really.