Greetings from the Macabre Republic…

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…Home of the red, black, and blue; where there’s a darkness not just on the edge of town, but all along Main Street; and where the heartland lies deep within October Country.

This site is an outgrowth of the blog Macabre Republic (constituted in 2010), which was devoted to the celebration and appreciation of the Gothic in American literature and culture. My goal here is not merely to construct a platform for my own written work, but to build a community of fellow aficionados–all those who feel right at home on the nightside.

Think you might fit in nicely? Here’s a quick citizenship test:

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Come Climb Up into the Treehouse of Trivia

The baseball playoffs have pushed this year’s Treehouse of Horror episode until November 1st, but that doesn’t mean that The Simpsons has been bumped from the Halloween season. In honor of the upcoming Treehouse of Horror XXXI, I will be posting a Treehouse of Trivia quiz here to this blog on Saturday, October 31st. The quiz will contain 31 questions, and cover material from the first 30 Halloween specials. I hope to challenge even the most devoted of Treehouse fans. Here are the types of question you can expect:

*True or False? Kang, Kodos, and the Leprechaun have made cameo appearances on every single Treehouse of Horror episode to date.

*Complete the quote (from the ToH III segment “Clown Without Pity”): When Homer runs naked through the kitchen (after being chased from the bathtub by the evil Krusty doll), Patty announces to her sisters, “There goes the last __________________.”

*For the Halloween specials, the Gracie Films logo at the end of Simpsons episodes is changed to feature ominous organ music and a shrill scream. Name at least one other change made to the logo presentation over the course of the Treehouse series.

*Which of the following is NOT one of the alterations to the future caused by Homer’s time traveling in the ToH V segment “Time and Punishment”?
A) Ned Flanders becomes unquestioned lord and master of the world
B) Bart and Lisa appear giant-sized and try to crush Homer
C) Marge is married to Artie Ziff instead of Homer
D) No one knows what donuts are
E) The Simpsons have reptilian tongues

 

Stumped by these? A perfect reason to do some Treehouse of Horror bingeing on Disney+ this week. Have fun boning up, and good luck with the Treehouse of Trivia quiz this Halloween!

History Lessons: “Body Horror” (Episode 2.3)

Some juicy nuggets from last night’s body-horror-themed episode of the docuseries Eli Roth’s History of Horror

 

Joe Hill: So in Hellraiser, who’s the monster, what is the menace? I think the menace is really obsession, you know, much more than the demons. You go with the demons when you can’t rise above your obsessions, your own fixation with the puzzle box. When you’ve turned away from your wife and into that unhealthy fixation.

 

Mick Garris: [David Cronenberg] had lost his mother to cancer and was experienced with seeing the decline of the human body from within, a revolt from within. And so much of his work is about a body in revolt, and changing, and turning septic and almost evil.

 

Dana Gould: Body horror is a meditation on the transitory nature of the human form. We all get old, we all decay. That’s true horror to people.

 

Katherine Isabelle: Walking around in a female body is terrifying. You’re a target, you’re an object, and I think that part of the reason why we have all these walls, is obviously to protect us.

 

Eli Roth: And that’s what the disease becomes in Cabin Fever. You’re with your best friends, but you’ve got to isolate them, or you’ve got to kill them, because whatever is inside them could get inside you. And suddenly you’re not seen as a human anymore. And I think there’s something very real about that. You know, when lepers have leprosy, what do we do, we isolate them. When SARS happened, when this disease you don’t understand–tent them off. People want to get out–too bad: epidemic, population control, can’t let them get out. There’s something really, really scary about that.

 

Eliza Skinner [on Society]: Obviously, it’s like all a metaphor about propriety and fitting in, and also capitalism, and having the upper class act as though they’ve got access to much finer things, when really, they have access to much more upsetting and debased things.

 

Eli Roth [closing commentary]: Sometimes disgusting, often disturbing, but always powerful, body horror films make us question our prejudices about physical difference, our attitudes about sex and gender, our fear of disease and contamination, and how much our appearance determines who we are. They confront us with the beauty and horror of being human.

Horseman Hymns

While doing research for my new book, I was really surprised at the number of songs that the Headless Horseman has inspired (in an host of musical genres, but especially heavy metal). Here’s a Sleepy Hollow Playlist of some of the standouts:

🎃 Bing Crosby: “The Headless Horseman”

 

🎃 Joe Satriani: “The Headless Horseman”

 

🎃 Marcel Bontempi: “The Headless Horseman”

 

🎃 The Polecats: “Headless Horseman”

 

🎃 They Might Be Giants: “Headless”

 

🎃 Pigmy Love Circus: “Headless Horseman”

 

🎃 Attic: “The Headless Horseman”

 

🎃 Last Pharaoh: “The Headless Horseman”

 

🎃 Pegazus: “The Headless Horseman”

 

🎃 Deathless Legacy: “Headless Horseman”

 

🎃 William Allen Jones: “Here in the Hollow”

 

🎃 William Allen Jones: “Headless Horseman”

 

🎃 William Allen Jones: “The Galloping Hessian Rides”

 

New Book Release for the Halloween Season

I am thrilled to announce the publication of my new book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Ultimate Annotated Edition (available now as a Kindle eBook). This one has been years in the making, and I did massive amounts of reading and research for it, so it is a great feeling to see the project finally completed.

Amazon is still in the process of activating the “Look Inside” feature for my book, but in the meantime you can read the book’s description on the product page. You can also check out the Preface and an excerpt from the Bonus Essay (“Eerie Rider: The Headless Horseman’s Forays into Pop Culture”) on the dedicated page here on my website.

Hope you all enjoy the new book. Happy Halloween Season!

A Laird and a King (Who Goes By Hill)

Just finished watching the livestream for this month’s edition of the Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series (hosted by Matthew Kressel and Ellen Datlow). Tonight’s event featured two of my favorite writers (and two absolute giants of genre fiction): Laird Barron and Joe Hill. They each gave a spirited reading of their work: Barron of a creepy story in progress called “Lorn”, and Hill of an excerpt from his mind-blowing novella Faun. The readings are bracketed by an opening chat with the hosts and a concluding Q&A segment (the authors address such topics as their favorite read of the year, their favorite villain, their recommended horror film for Halloween-time viewing). Barron and Hill definitely have different personalities (the former being more laid back, and the latter an unabashed cut-up), but made for a great pairing; both shared wonderful insights about the horror genre. Two hours of pure entertainment that seemed way too short. I could listen to these guys talk 24/7.

Don’t fret if you missed the live event; here’s the video (which has already been posted to YouTube):

Grand Entrance

Today is the launch date of the new, limited-run podcast, Aaron Mahnke’s 13 Days of Halloween. After listening to the premiere episode, “The Entrance,” I am already firmly hooked.

The podcast might be best described as a combination of old-time radio drama and anthology series. It is set in the fictional Hawthorne Manor–an “architectural anomaly” designed by a madman, and a quintessential Gothic abode featuring (as “The Entrance” teases) a legendary hidden doorway. The place now stands as a remote hotel populated by strange guests, one of whom is introduced each night by the creepy, narrative-framing Caretaker (affectedly voiced by Keegan-Michael Key). The episodes are recorded in 3-D binaural audio, so the listener (cast as a new arrival at the manor) enjoys an immersive experience, complete with hissing rain and howling wind in the background. When the Caretaker introduces you to the storyteller, who recounts his dark tale (in dramatic monologue style) with you supposedly sitting in the same room, the proceedings take on the air of dreadful confessional. Today’s guest/speaker, Soren, shares a narrative of paranoid doomsday-prepping and family dysfunction, one that has a sinister twist.

So many of the traditional Halloween rituals are likely to be spoiled this year by the COVID-19 pandemic, but this clever podcast promises to make the holiday season enjoyable nonetheless. For the rest of October, listeners can relish staying home, as they put on a pair of headphones, dim the lights, and soak up some wonderful autumn atmosphere.

 

History Lessons: “Monsters” (Episode 2.2)

Some quotable quotes from last night’s monster-focused episode of the AMC docuseries Eli Roth’s History of Horror:

Joe Dante: When you’re a kid, you want monsters, and the more monsters the better. And if they got zippers up their backs it doesn’t matter, as long as they’re monsters. Later, you get a little bit more discerning, and you start to realize that maybe the less you see the monster, the scarier he might be.

 

Eli Roth: Alien‘s dark view of labor relations was a challenge to the status quo. As was the film’s disturbing production design, which powerfully associated sex with death. H.R. Giger’s biomechanical designs played on the audience’s deepest sexual anxieties.

 

Tananarive Due: [A Quiet Place is] such an immersive film, that even as an audience member, what you’re drawn in with is that you can’t make a sound. Even the people eating popcorn next to you are making you jump.

 

Quentin Tarantino: The true auteur of King Kong is Willis O’Brien. Because if you look at the original posters of King Kong, Kong is far more a monster. And he has teeth, almost like a saber-toothed tiger. Willis got rid of all the monstrous touches, and the whole idea was to make him as human as possible. And so we responded to Kong not as a monster, but as a true character.

 

David J. Skal: The atomic bomb brought World War II to an end, but on one level, it didn’t. It was just the beginning of new anxieties and new fears and the prospect of an even more terrifying war to come. This was where the very new and original fright films of the 1950’s came from. Atomic anxieties.

 

Andre Øverdal: As a filmmaker, as a storyteller, a writer, or whatever it is, you will be fed with emotions of the world you live in at the time. And it will come out somehow credibly. Definitely horror movies in general, and possibly also monsters more specifically, are a product of their world.

 

Dana Gould: [In the blood-test scene in The Thing] They are seeing who’s the monster. And that’s a beautiful analogy of, you know, life, the banality of evil. The monster could be sitting right here. Ted Bundy looked like a normal guy.

 

Barbara Muschietti: That’s what both It movies are: it’s about people living in fear and the horrible things we do as human beings. Pennywise is a representation of fear. That’s why we make movies. We want people to see those movies and try to understand that that’s the worst thing we can do, live in fear.

 

Lore Report: “Adding It Up” (Episode 154)

 

But while the folklore surrounding lucky coins is all about attracting good things, the vast majority of superstitions out there are different. They are beliefs designed to repel danger and suffering, either by watching for ominous signs or by actively tripping up the evil forces that might deliver the worst that life has to offer. Many of these superstitions have been with us for a very long time, and while they can be a bit divisive, splitting communities into those who believe and those who don’t, it’s undeniable that they hold a certain kind of power of us–a power that has driven some people to the very edge of madness. And if history is any indication, there’s a good reason why.

Knock on wood; never walk beneath a ladder; a broken mirror means seven years of bad luck; toss spilt salt over your left shoulder. Aaron Mahnke delves into the origins of these common superstitions in the latest episode of his Lore podcast. Somewhat surprisingly, many of these fears that still have lingering effect on people’s behavior today actually link back to ancient times. Mahnke lets the roots of such superstitions show, explaining in delightfully enlightening manner the various theories of their initial development. Along the way, he also ties cultural artifacts into the narrative, as when he invokes Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

The bulk of the episode, though, is devoted to the fear of numbers, and it is interesting to learn of the negative connotation that Asian cultures give to the numbers 4 and 9. Add those two digits, and you arrive at the most number of all: Mahnke unpacks the origins of the superstitious dread of the number 13 and the date Friday the 13th (with nary a mention of slasher movies). Turning to the world of classical music, he details how composer Arnold Schoenberg’s triskaidekaphobia became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and how Gustav Mahler’s attempt to circumvent the “curse of the ninth” (the belief that a ninth symphony will be the last for a composer, who will die before completing the 10th) apparently backfired. In summation, “Adding It Up” equals another terrific episode of the podcast.

Note: not coincidentally, Episode 154 (with its discussion of the number 13) ties into a new project set to launch on the 19th: Aaron Mahnke’s 13 Days of Halloween. So there’s even more to look forward to this October than weekly Lore installments.