The Haunting, Season 3? Three Prospective Source Texts

In a recent conversation with Entertainment Weekly to promote his new Netflix series Midnight Mass, Mike Flanagan reiterated that (alas) there are no current plans for a third season of The Haunting. The EW piece, though, did shed some insight onto Flanagan’s criteria for selecting a ghost-centric literary property to bring to the small screen. If a third season of The Haunting ever is considered, here are three books that I think would make excellent candidates for adaptation.

 

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons

Flanagan has proven himself a master of the Stephen King adaptation, so Simmons’s IT-inspired horror epic would be right up his dark alley. This novel about a haunted school spreading evil throughout the town of Elm Haven, Illinois, features both quiet dread (other-worldly voices intoning on a radio) and spectacular ghoulishness (you thought you had some awful teachers growing up!). Simmons’s sequel A Winter Haunting (which centers on the ghostly encounters of one of the protagonists from Summer of Night, who returns to Elm Haven as an adult) would also furnish material for a terrific coda to a stretch of episodes. A big-screen version has been long-rumored, but in the absence of such a film, Netflix could provide an ideal home for Summer of Night.

 

Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story by Clive Barker

This ambitious and arguably under-appreciated novel mixes dark fantasy (the Wild Hunt is brought to California) and supernatural horror (the predations by a former film vamp) into a biting satire of the modern movie industry. The secluded Old Hollywood mansion where much of the action takes place can loom sinisterly right alongside Shirley Jackson’s Hill House (Season 1 of The Haunting) and Henry James’s Bly Manor (Season 2). Barker’s specters here have a particularly carnal bent, which would bring a much edgier element and more carnivalesque air to the typical ghostly proceedings on The Haunting.

 

Haunted: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk

Palahniuk’s unabashedly macabre novel/linked-collection riffs on (and references) the famous spook-story-telling sessions of Mary Shelley, her husband Percy, Lord Byron, and John Polidori at the Villa Diodati in 1816.  Here a group of aspiring modern-day artists discover that their writers’ retreat is actually a site of nightmarish entrapment (inside an abandoned theater). The book’s structure–characters’ recited works interpolated within the ongoing, ever-darkening captivity narrative–would lend itself perfectly to episodic televisual format. Yes, the ghosts that Palahniuk scares up might not be of the traditional variety, but as the novel’s title portends, there is plenty of haunting experience in store.

Lore Report: “Confidence” (Episode 179)

 

For as long as humans have been around, there have been people gullible enough to believe anything, and others who are willing to take advantage of that.  And while modern con artists tend to focus on fraud of some kind, their predecessors sometimes leaned heavily into a different world altogether.  A world where anything was possible, and an understanding of what made people tick included understanding what made them feel fear: the world of folklore.

The game’s afoot in the latest episode of the Lore podcast, as host Aaron Mahnke travels the crossroads of con artistry and folklore. The bulk of the narrative is devoted to the story of Joseph Brown, a savvy, superstition-exploiting scammer in early 19th Century England who could have inspired countless Scooby-Doo villains. Mahnke also details Brown’s orchestration of schemes involving the practices of porch watching and fortune telling, but the tale steadily veers away from the folkloric into base criminality and legal-system machination. Matters pick up again in the closing segment, concerning the so-called “Yorkshire Witch” Mary Bateman, an opportunistic thief and fraud whose hoaxes included “The Prophet Hen of Leeds” (wait until you get a load of what this allegedly magic chicken lays). Mary’s eventual execution brings the narrative full circle, and ties the episode together nicely. While relatively light on folklore, “Confidence” is a bold foray into the sordid world of dark crime.

“Statuesque” (original poem)

A sword-and-sorcery fantasy poem (sporting an allegorical base):

 

Statuesque

By Joe Nazare

 

The barbarian’s regimen borders on the religious
In its tireless devotion to hypertrophy.
From morn to moonglow Arod tests his physical limits,
Adrenalized by an unrelenting hatred.

His muscles drawn taut as the towing rope,
Arod hauls uphill a massive marble pillar–
A scavenged memento from the sacked civilization of his people,
Who’d refused to be taxed by an avaricious despot.

Next he seizes and envelops the thick, yellowed skull
Once shouldered by notorious brawler Durrell the Obdurate,
Squeezing until his own cranium seems apt to shatter from the strain,
All the while imagining it’s King Giles subjected to such crushing grip.

He cuts wide crescents in the riverside silt with his broadsword,
A training maneuver that eventually manages to stir up a dragling.
Always ready to intensify, Arod impales the vermicular scourge,
Lofts and swings its writhing form in torso-scorching arcs.

Lining up before the stoutest tanium tree he can find,
He launches determined, alternating blows with his spiked club,
Chopping, chopping away, swelling the muscles of his arms
As well as the mound of woodchips at his feet.

With the audacity of a madman, he tracks down a ‘warebear
And baits the behemoth into hand-to-paw battle.
A gory victory over his grisly opponent achieved,
Arod feasts on its roasted, protein-rich flesh as reward.

His daily labors earn him a fantastic physique,
Make him the envy of every underdeveloped man,
Cause him to impurify the thoughts of the chastest maiden,
Yet incredibly, he deems his own gains insufficient.

In Arod’s embittered mind, such growth is still
Not enough to embody his prodigious wrath.
So he locates the cave of the banished court-sorcerer Anabola
And solicits the concoction of a special enhancement elixir.

When questioned about the results that can be expected,
Anabola promises the barbarian that he’ll become rock-hardened.
Though no doubt misleading, the wizard’s claim proves true:
Overnight, Arod turns absolutely–not positively–granitic.

A dozen guardsmen are then summoned to deliver his sculpted bulk
To Giles’s stronghold, to serve as a cautionary figure,
A stony trophy unceremoniously entered into
The king’s ever-growing Hall of Thwarted Warriors.

 

Lore Report: “Opportunity” (Episode 178)

We have this uncanny knack of seeing opportunity and doing whatever we can to benefit from it. It’s a skill that mixes being in the right place at the right time with quick thinking and a lot of risk. If it’s pulled off right it can alter lives forever. But not every opportunity is golden. In fact, many of them represent trips into uncharted territory, where a myriad of dangers wait to shatter our dreams. So grab your warmest coat, pack your bags, and follow me on a journey into the folklore of one of the last great frontiers. We’re headed to Alaska.

Episode 178 of the Lore podcast basks in the (land of the) Midnight Sun. After dropping some familiar nuggets from geography and history class (the Bering Strait; Seward’s Folly), host Aaron Mahnke takes the narrative in more unexpected directions. Natural disaster combines with supernatural aura, as Mahnke relates tales of demonic attack, vanishing tombstones, haunted saloons, and a shipwreck averted by the intervention of a seemingly ghostly figure. The episode’s titular theme is well woven throughout, and Mahnke’s final thought concerning the opportunistic nature of folklore makes for a poignant conclusion. Lengthy but fast moving, and filled with a mother lode of northern lore, “Opportunity” is an episode that listeners should seize upon the very first chance they get.

Slasher Antho Anniversary

I can’t believe the Dark Scribe Press volume, Butcher Knives & Body Counts: Essays on the Formula, Frights, and Fun of the Slasher Film, is now ten years old. A decade later, I still count it as a great thrill to have placed my essay “Music to Our Fears” (which traces Sweeney Todd as a slasher film) alongside the work of so many horror genre luminaries (including one of my literary idols, Jack Ketchum).

Weighing in at nearly 500 pages and featuring over 90 entries, the book is an absolute treasure trove for anyone interested in the subgenre. Unfortunately, it is now out of print, and used copies are hard to come by. For certain, it deserves a reissue (and even an eBook edition).

Some sort of sequel volume (covering the years 2011-2021) would be highly welcome as well. The past decade has been a strong one for the slasher, in films (You’re Next, Happy Death Day, Halloween, Freaky), on TV (Scream, Scream Queens, AHS: 1984)and in fiction (about which I’ll have more to post in the coming weeks). Plenty of select material to essay upon!

As any fan knows, slashers don’t stay down the first time. So here’s hoping to a higher Body Count…

Dead Again

Some thoughts on last night’s premiere episode of Season 11 of The Walking Dead

“Acheron, Part 1” opens with an extended sequence in which the show’s heroes descend into a former military installment to scavenge a precious cache of MRE pouches. Naturally, the mission goes sideways just prior to successful completion, and the soldier zombies rise and attack. For the next several minutes, they are systematically levelled, with the heroes emerging unscathed (not even a spear-carrier character gets bitten!). This 10-minute opening sequence felt both familiar and like filler. The decimation of the undead threat points to a grim reality in the show’s current, post-Whisperer moment: the walkers are little more than macabre fodder once again, background figures propped up to provide cheap action beats.

In the episode’s main plotline, the Alexandrians team up with Maggie and her cohorts and set out to take back Maggie’s old community, Meridian, from the Reapers. A torrential downpour drives the group underground, where they seek to carry out their time-sensitive mission by proceeding through a subway tunnel. Besides fulfilling the underworldly suggestion of the episode’s title, the subway sojourn makes for a creepy and claustrophobic set piece. That mass grave site (filled with plastic-shrouded, throat-slit walkers) the heroes encounter also struck a strong note of dark intrigue.

The episode’s B-story follows Eugene/Ezekiel/Yumiko/Princess as they are “processed” (i.e. interrogated) by members of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth regime is being established as the Big Bad of the show’s concluding season, but so far I am having a hard time getting invested in this storyline. The Commonwealth’s ostensible (and still anonymous) leader looks like an Idris Elba wannabe in orange Stormtrooper getup, and does little more than smolder here.

Easily, the highlight of the season premiere is the antagonism between Maggie and Negan, which steadily builds during the underground mission. Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan both give strong performances, particularly during a tense stand-off scene. You know The Walking Dead is going to milk such conflict for all its worth this season, and just seeing how it finally plays out makes the show a must-watch here towards the end of its long and accomplished run.

 

Lore Report: “Strings” (Episode 177)

It seems that music has always been a controversial topic. From the halls of Athens to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, music has been seen by some as art, and by others as a threat. But few arguments have lasted as one in particular, a claim that has been used for centuries to strike fear in the hearts of good people and to hold back progress in a field that has given us so much beauty. Some music, it seems, belongs to the devil.

Episode 177 of the Lore podcast, “Strings,” draws the listener in right from the opening moment, as host Aaron Mahnke references a secret code embedded in Plato’s writing (every twelfth line has a reference to music). From there, Mahnke goes on to discuss the role music played in the witchcraft panic of centuries past (a time when the phrase “dance with the devil” had an ominous significance). The curious careers of Giuseppe Tartini and Niccolo Paganini, a pair of Italian violinists alleged to have experienced a fiendish influence, are considered. Appropriately enough (although this reviewer wishes Mahnke had ended by delving into the Satanic Panic surrounding 80’s heavy metal), the episode concludes with the story of the legendary Robert Johnson, whose meteoric rise to blues guitar mastery conveyed quite a whiff of brimstone. Fans might be wary about playing this devil-dealing episode backwards, but I’m betting that they won’t hesitate to listen to such a finely haunting arrangement more than once.

 

Mob Scene: Love at First Bite

In my last Dracula Extrapolated post, I noted Love at First Bite‘s splendid spoof of the Universal vampire film. The George Hamilton-starring comedy also treats viewers to a classic send-up of that staple of Universal horror movies: the angry mob scene.

Given an eviction notice by the Communist government, Dracula decides to find a new home in America. Before the undead Count can depart, though, he discovers a crowd of locals gathered outside his castle. Viewing the torchbearers and pitchfork-wielders outside, Dracula marvels: “So they’ve come to pay their respects, have they?” The prompt sound of a rock crashing through a castle window bespeaks a much different motive for the mob.

The laughs come rapid-fire as Dracula attempts to make his way to his carriage through the crowd of rough-justice-seeking rustics. While a violin-player serenades the passing vampire with suspenseful music, an opportunistic hawker chants offscreen: “Get your wolfsbane!” The bumbling sidekick Renfield does the exact opposite of quenching the mob’s ire when he tries to defend his master: “What do you want from him–blood?” One of the “yokels” accosts the Count: “You dirty bat, you bit my mother!” Suave but snarky, Dracula clarifies: “No, Alexei, I bit your mother and your grandmother.” Dracula’s parting words arguably pack the most bite, as the Count warns his harassers: “Have your fun, but remember this. Without me, Transylvania will be as exciting as Bucharest on  a Monday night.”

This early scene provides a perfect setup for the rest of the film. It establishes Dracula as a formidable yet admirable character, someone who can handle a dire situation with a cool head and a witty tongue. The playful restaging of the familiar angry-villager scene also points to the satiric skewering of vampire conventions that the remainder of Love at First Bite so entertainingly presents.

 

Dracula Extrapolated: Love at First Bite

Exploring various instances of the novel Dracula‘s undying afterlife, considering specific examples in literature and visual media of the rewriting (e.g. sequels, prequels, alternate histories, shifted narrative perspectives, supporting character foregroundings) and development (elaborations/variations on the vampiric-invasion “plot”) of Bram Stoker’s source text.

What if Dracula emigrated to New York City?

Central to the plot of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the Count’s decision to abandon his castle in Transylvania and set his deadly sights on England. Such horrific relocation has provided a template for many subsequent vampire works, but not all of them are concerned with a specifically British invasion. The American comedy film Love at First Bite (1979) imagines a transatlantic Dracula. When the Count, along with his loyal if bumbling manservant Renfield, is evicted from his Gothic abode by the Communist government of Romania (so gymnasts such as Nadia Comaneci can use the place as a training facility), he chooses to become an expatriate exsanguinator. The eviction gives him the impetus to travel to America and pursue New York fashion model Cindy Sondheim, whom he has identified as the reincarnation of his beloved Mina Harker.

Since Love at First Bite is a vampire comedy, Dracula’s coming to America leads to some hilarious developments. After a baggage claim mix-up at the airport, the Count’s casket lands in the middle of a black funeral ceremony. His bat-flight into the apartment of a poor, starving Latino family quickly goes awry when the New Yorkers deem the intruder a “black chicken” and hungrily chase after him. When Dracula has to resort instead to taking a nip from a stereotypical wino, he gets terrifically tipsy, and ends up with a queasy stomach and bloodshot eyes (lamenting his nightcap, Dracula says the soused donor tasted “like the Volga River at low tide”).

In Stoker’s novel, Dracula plans his move to England with fiendish precision, but here in Love at First Bite he engages in a romantic lark. Accordingly, he is quite unprepared for what he encounters in the new world. This fish-out-of-water (bat-out-of-sky?) element propels much of the film’s plot, and because the Count is presented as more debonair than debased, he forms a sympathetic lead, not the frightful foreigner of Stoker tradition. Dracula is just an exaggerated version of any disoriented visitor to Manhattan, overwhelmed by the course of life in the big city.

Love at First Bite spoofs the Universal film Dracula more than Stoker’s book, as star George Hamilton affects the attire and accent of Bela Lugosi. The film’s transplanting of a classic storyline also works as a sendup of American modernity, by drawing extensively on the popular image of late 70’s New York City. The Big Apple is represented as an urban jungle, rife with street crime (in an early scene, Dracula makes like a nonlethal, nosferatu Charles Bronson when accosted by a group of hoodlums in Harlem) and subject to sudden outbreaks of chaos (the mass looting that transpires during the borough-wide blackout that forms the backdrop to the film’s climax). It’s a city of illicit subway trysts and discotheque glitz; narcissism and hedonism abound. Casual drug use is depicted, and inspires one of the film’s best lines. When Cindy offers Dracula some booze and a marijuana joint, enthusing that the latter is “really heavy shit,” Dracula evocatively responds: “I do not drink…wine. And I do not smoke…shit.”

This film proves that not all Dracula stories need be dire retellings. Hamilton is delightful as the undead Count, a dashing figure who dashes off a slew of deadpan jokes. Arte Johnson (who has the Dwight Frye cackle down pat) is hysterical as the insect-dieting, scene-chewing Renfield, and Richard Benjamin provides supreme silliness as the obsessive offspring of Van Helsing, Dr. Jeffrey Rosenberg. From I Am Legend to Salem’s Lot and The Strain and the film/TV adaptations thereof, there have been plenty of (American-set) extrapolations of a vampire plague–the very epidemic of terror that Stoker’s heroes risked their lives to avert. Love at First Bite‘s Dracula Abroad storyline takes a decidedly more laughing approach, and remains quite enjoyable four decades after its cinematic release.

 

Lore Report: “Rooted” (Episode 176)

Around the world, countless cultures have viewed the forest as a place of darkness and danger. From the foot of Mt. Fuji to the depths of Germany, people all throughout history have looked at the shadows between the trees as the home of something to be avoided at all costs. The woods have always been a place that demands respect; whether the true danger comes from ancient forest deities, or the inherent risk of entering the wilderness unprepared, the best course of action might just be to never set foot inside at all. Because if we do, we might not come back out.

In episode 176 of the Lore podcast, host Aaron Mahnke leads an excursion into the woods, and they are unlovely, dark, and deep. “Rooted” covers a lot of forested territory, ranging through Roman, Hindu, and Norse mythology, Grimm fairy tales, Arthurian legend, and Scandinavian folklore. The second half of Mahnke’s narrative is devoted to the “Witch Woods” outside Salem (accused practitioner Giles Corey is said to have hid out there at one time). Mahnke relates Caroline Howard King’s mid-18th Century encounter with an uncanny farmhouse in a clearing in the woods (an event that King would later record in her memoir When I Lived in Salem). The episode’s Gothic trails all converge into a concluding promo for Mahnke’s latest venture, the audio fiction podcast Bridgewater (which premieres on August 6th). Before traveling on to Bridgewater, though, loyal listeners will easily get lost in the strange sylvan spaces visited in this highly enjoyable installment of Lore.