Category Archives: Horror

Drood

Drood by Dan Simmons

This is not a review because I have not read it. I was doing my monthly trip to Half-Priced Books and ran across this tome. I loved Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos series. So after an hour of browsing and coming up empty I was heading for the door when I passed this:

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I had to have it. First, it is obvious what the reference is with the misty image of the man in the top hat and the name Drood. It had something to do with Charles Dicken’s last, unfinished, work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Knowing a little of Dicken’s life and the fact that it is told by Dan Simmons, how could you not buy it?

Coming in at 771 pages, it will be the longest book I have read in quite some time. I can’t even remember the last one that clocked in over 500. Although if I consider science fiction trilogies (which are really 900 page books broken into pieces for marketability) then I read such lengths all the time. If I consider that many novels I’ve read over the years are six part series, then I read 1500 to 2100 page novels all the time.

I also want to read Simmons’ Carrion Comfort  which I have seen make it onto many a top horror novels of all-time lists and Stephen King listed it as one of the great horror novels of the 20th century (or so I’ve heard). I haven’t sunk my teeth into a new horror in quite some time.

One thing you’ll notice if you look up some of Simmons’ work is the one star reviews. Nearly every one of which decries the length of the work in question. Sometimes a book is too long, just like a movie that just doesn’t end when it should. But I get the impression that many of these complaints are not due to the author being long winded, but to the readers being a little too modern. There is something to be said for a work that goes for longer than 500 pages. There is a further immersion into that world. You stay just a little longer. If it is done right, you partly live in that world for a time while walking around in the regular one.

Regular one. Heh, and how regular is that?


Some Thoughts on Horror

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I can’t remember who I read it from, it may have been Stephen King in Dense Macabre, that horror and comedy were two of the hardest genres to write in. You were in constant danger of the one becoming the other. Of inept horror becoming comedy, or comedy becoming the horror of embarrassing ineptness.

No one minds seeing a poorly executed horror movie with bad acting, it is its own genre. I used to love USA’s Up All Night with Gilbert Gottfried and his commentary of some astoundingly bad films. No one wants to see a failed comedy, we get angry at having wasted our time.

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A horror writer (one that is attempting to shock or frighten) does not want laughter when he wants a scream. And a comedy writer doesn’t want a moan when there should be a chuckle.

I have flirted with trying my hand at horror before. I would probably be a little mild for people’s tastes nowadays. I don’t mind gore, actually quite numb to it, it just doesn’t interest me, it is not horrifying. I think far deeper horror is below the surface of the skin, below even the subcutaneous layer. It is not the doctor dismembering an infant in some dank basement that is the horror – not the deepest horror, but what is it in the doctor that makes the action possible. And how do you make that as difficult as possible for the reader.

Him just being a crazy is boring. He has to be made human, he has to be your father, he has to be you… or someone very close to you. That is why I find those profiler murder porn shows (the fictional or reality-based ones) to be so dull. There is a certain horror to the existence of a John Wayne Gacy or a Dahmer, but only so much because they are so much not us. We tend, as if instinctively, to disassociate ourselves from such individuals. And I don’t think it is an irrational distancing. Although many of the processes by which one becomes a sociopathic killer are the same processes by which many of us also become what we are, there are many distinctive characteristics that makes them wholly separate. To name but one, such killers display an almost complete lack of impulse control – that is how they first start indulging in dark fantasies.

As adults, if you are not already one of them, you are not going to become one of them. Not the lone serial killer type. Now you could possess the make-up to be an Angel of Death in a totalitarian dictatorship.

I think many more of us have that potential than we would care to admit.

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Going back to the original comment about horror and comedy I find that it is obvious why these two genres would be so difficult. They are specifically defined by the eliciting of a specific emotion or reaction, horror in the former and laughter in the latter. It is true that all art seeks to elicit some sort of reaction in the participant. Mystery seeks to build suspense (who did it?). Although I think mystery achieves its aim more by a mechanical means of plot structure.

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Horror and comedy seek to produce all the elements that any other genre attempts to produce, plus a standing order to produce certain specific reactions that define itself as that genre.

That’s pretty demanding.


Christopher Lee and American Horror Story

Christopher Lee

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Sadly, actor Christopher Lee passed away last week at 93. Most people now probably remember him from either the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Star Wars prequels. Growing up in the 70’s I remember him also as Dracula and about a dozen other bad men.

One thing I didn’t know about him was his heavy metal music career in his late 80’s to the time of his death. Heavy metal? Really? Yep. That’s gotta mark you as some sort of badass. Of course he’s not wailing high falsettos because he was more a bass voice. But I sampled some of his album Charlemagne: The Omens of Death, it’s… different, and certainly different as Lee comes on sounding like what you’d imagine Charlemagne to sound like.

If he sang in English, that is.

He also supplanted Tony Bennett as the oldest living performer to enter the music charts with his song Jingle Hell.

I laugh. That’s great. 91 and half years old and he makes it to #22 on the charts with a heavy metal song called Jingle Hell.

American Horror Story

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I have always been a big fan of horror. Unfortunately horror is a very difficult genre to produce, in any medium, so most of it is garbage. Most of it nowadays I don’t even try to sample. But it is a genre that will always have a place in the dark recesses of my blackened soul, mwehahaha!

When I was growing up I had this friend named Pat who had a truly creepy house in mid-state Michigan. It was a two story house by a river and there was a fenced in barn opposite the house that always had a night light that shined dimly on the door. His bedroom was a small, cramped thing with only room enough for a bed, a television and the usual piles of children’s junk. But his bed was built into one of the walls of the bedroom and adjacent to it was the closet. When you entered the closet on the floor was a little hole in the wall that went under the bed. It was creepy.

We would stay up half the night watching the horror movie run on whatever channel did that in the 70’s. And then take dares to solo journeys either to the barn or under the bed. Or into the woods… across the river… under a pale moonlight.

And I was scared shitless by the whole Amityville Horror for many years. I think it was the news magazine exposes about it that really scared me.

Of course Stephen King managed to scare the shit out of me a couple of times in the 80’s. But the movies never did it for me after that. Slasher fests seemed to be the order of the day.

Now I’m a little old to be scared that same way again, but I still enjoy the genre. So I was delighted when my wife turned me on (pause for your discomfort…) to American Horror Story. It gives me three things horror can still give me: horripilation, suspense, genuine uneasiness.

First, the acting in this series is fantastic. You have Jessica Lange, that alone is probably worth the price of admission. Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates is in for seasons 3 & 4 so far, Angela Bassett, and many other familiar faces.

The younger cast members are some real talent. Even Peters is in every season and is one of the best young actors I’ve seen in awhile although he did spend most of season 3 as a mute corpse… And Taissa Farmiga is also very good.

Zachary Quinto (most famous for taking over the role of Spock in the Star Trek revamp timeline movies) is absolutely stone cold as a sadistic psychopath. Some of the scenes with him and Sarah Paulson in season two were quite disturbing.

Each season is around 13 episodes with each one getting the characters into deeper and deeper trouble. Season two is definitely the strongest of the ones I’ve seen. It takes place in a psych ward run by nuns… and a former Nazi experimental doctor.

The only drawback to the show is they do an excellent job of building the tension and the story up to episode 8 or 9, and it seems right then that you can’t go any further and it has to break at that point – how are they going to do 4 or 5 more episodes? Well, they can’t so they have to segue into something or stretch it out. The ending of season three was noticeable for this problem. I think the problem is not the writing, which is excellent, the season is simply a little too long.

As the genre it is, you can’t have “slumber” episodes that are meant as filler. You can’t have a family in a haunted house and then have a few episodes where they have some yucks at Knott’s Berry Farm. Or have a psych ward run by nuns and then have a few episodes where some of the nuns take off for a Pope tour or something. Unless he’s the antiPope…

Horror in that way is very restricted to plot line. You can have scenes that relieve the tension for a moment, but you can’t go off the grid and cut it off entirely.

That knife, the psychopath, Dracula has to always be, possibly, right around the corner ready to strike.