Horror Hot List

The 2018 Summer Reader Poll conducted by NPR asked fans to vote for their five favorite horror novels or stories. Regrettably, I missed the voting deadline, but would like to offer my scary quintet here at Dispatches from the Macabre Republic. The nights might be getting shorter, but these works will guarantee a summer that is long on frights.

 

1.Stephen King’s IT

The fact that I was practically the same age as the adolescent protagonists when I first read King’s monstrous opus back in 1986 made the book seem especially nightmarish. It didn’t hurt, either, that King sent a virtual all-star team of terrifying creatures out onto (and under) Derry’s field of play.

 

2.Jack Ketchum’s Off Season

Night of the Living Dead meets Straw Dogs in this controversial and unabashedly violent tale of modern-day cannibals in coastal Maine. The dining habits of this feral clan make Hannibal Lecter’s diet seem positively benign. It’s not for nothing that Stephen King dubbed Jack Ketchum “the scariest guy in America.” 

 

3.Clive Barker’s Books of Blood

These six volumes comprise the greatest story collection the horror genre has ever produced. In tale after tale, Barker manages to both terrify and excite, via prose that is at once profound, provocative, and wickedly witty. These books marked me in so many ways; for example, to this day I can’t venture down into the New York subway without thinking of “The Midnight Meat Train.”

 

4.Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

McCarthy’s novels have always exhibited a Gothic bent, but none more than this post-apocalyptic gut-wrencher. The Road is incredibly affecting, as trauma and tragedy play out on both a personal and global level. What ultimately makes this book so haunting, though, is its utter plausibility.

 

5.Dan Simmons’s The Terror

This Arctic epic delivers big-time on its titular promise. The novel is relentlessly terrifying, replete with unforgettable set-pieces (the extended scene in which the Tuunbaq doggedly stalks ice master Thomas Blanky forms a master class in the creation of heart-pounding horror). Readers won’t have to worry about turning on the air conditioning this summer, because this book is perfectly chilling.

Inspiring Frankenstein

The story is almost as famous as the book itself: on a stormy mid-June night 202 years ago, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and Dr. John Polidori are gathered within the Villa Diodati, and decide to pass the time by engaging in a ghost story competition. This proposed writing contest, and a subsequent nightmare suffered by Mary, spark the creation of Frankenstein, the now-classic novel concerning a Promethean transgressor and a pitiable creature driven to vengeance.

Just as Frankenstein itself has grown into a pop-culture phenomenon, with countless iterations in various mediums, the novel’s origin story has inspired a host of literary and cinematic efforts. Writers such as Brian W. Aldiss (Frankenstein Unbound), Tim Powers (The Stress of Her Regard), and Chuck Palahniuk (Haunted) have hearkened back to the Villa Diodati, as have films such as The Bride of FrankensteinGothic, and Haunted Summer. The most recent entry to this list is the 2018 biopic Mary Shelley, featuring an outstanding Elle Fanning in the title role.

Mary Shelley proceeds nearly two-thirds of the way through its run time before arriving at the seminal scene, which is presented in restrained fashion (yes, there are plenty of flickering candles, and thundercracks without, and Fuseli’s The Nightmare looms over one room, but matters don’t get anywhere near as Gothic as in Ken Russell’s Gothic). This is not to say that the events at the Villa are underplayed; what the film does so well is to take the time to establish the import of everything leading up this particular scene. Not simply the product of a single rainy night, Frankenstein is shown here as developing from the author’s lifelong experiences of loss, death, and betrayal. Marked by feelings of “desperate loneliness” and abandonment (mostly stemming from her relationship with Percy Shelley), Mary clearly identifies with the creature that takes shape on the pages of her manuscript.

Overall, this is a finely realized period drama, filled with impressive performances. The film allows its feminist themes to unfold in a natural, non-preachy fashion that makes the narrative all the more moving. Wonderfully entertaining, Mary Shelley is well worth checking out, on this historic night or any other.

Sins of the Mother: A Review of Hereditary

Hereditary, the most-anticipated horror release of 2018, has enjoyed months-long (film-festival-generated) buzz, and recently debuted to widespread critical acclaim. After finally watching the movie myself, I have to add: I just don’t see what all the fuss is about.

The film centers on a nuclear family aggrieved by a secretive, eccentric (i.e. dark-arts-and-crafts-loving) grandmother who becomes an even greater burden after she’s dead and buried. A promising enough premise, but Hereditary quickly proceeds to underwhelm. For starters, the main performers prove guilty of rampant overacting. The Oscar-touted Toni Collette as mournful mom Annie Graham vacillates between shrieking hysterically and shrilly hectoring her loved ones; Alex Wolff as the increasingly-petrified stoner teen Peter demonstrates acting chops no less hammy. Meanwhile Gabriel Byrne as patriarch Steve is presented as a laid-back foil to his overwrought family, but Byrne practically sleepwalks through the role.

Hereditary also threatens to make a misnomer of run time, as the film (its first hour in particular) unfolds with torturous slowness. A major twist about two-thirds of the way in is anything but unexpected: one character couldn’t have more clearly announced herself as a Duplicitous Assister Straight Out of Rosemary’s Baby if she were wearing a sandwich board. Likewise, the occult-conspiracy climax plays out all too familiarly for genre fans.

I can appreciate that first-time director Ari Aster aims to build a lush Gothic atmosphere rather than rely on cheap jump-scares. For sure, there are some creepy and disturbing moments here (too many, though, that were spoiled by the film’s trailer), but Hereditary never really terrifies. It failed to scare me at least, mostly because I just didn’t care enough about the characters and their predicament.

Much like The Witch (an infinitely superior effort), this film seems destined to create a broad divide in its audience. And much like Robert Eggers’s Puritanical chiller, Aster’s cinematic premiere will no doubt benefit from repeat viewing (not just to appreciate its more nuanced aspects, but simply to get a closer, at-home view of the small print that appears onscreen on several occasions and is a struggle to read for hardly-eagle-eyed theatergoers such as myself). My lofty expectations having been grounded, though, I can’t say that I am looking forward to a reunion with the Graham family anytime soon. More histrionic than horrific, Hereditary passes along too many negative traits.

The Gothicism of American Gothic: Episodes 13-17

Note: The following is an import from my old Macabre Republic blog: in a series of posts, I covered the 22 installments of the 1995 CBS series American Gothic. More than mere episode guides, the posts explored the American Gothic qualities exhibited by the show.

Episode 13: “Resurrector”

Local shock jock Mel Kirby approaches the influential Sheriff Buck for help in moving from radio into television work, but when Lucas refuses to get involved, Mel vows to get even with him. An opportunity presents itself when the sheriff’s deputy, Ben, shoots Lance Biggs after the man fired on the postal carrier who was delivering bills to his home. Turns out that Biggs had owed Lucas money, so Mel uses his radio platform to (in Lucas’s words) “put a dark spin on this morning’s events.”

But give the devil his due: Lucas is not to be outdone when it comes to dirty dealing. With the help of his seductive sidekick Selena, Lucas convinces Mel that a brighter future awaits him: he can make a break into television, but only as a solo act. Mel will have to dump (i.e. kill off) his radio co-host wife Gloria. With that in mind, Mel takes Gloria out for a boat ride on Jackson Lake (only on American Gothic does a nighttime foray onto an eerie, fog-shrouded lake fit the notion of a romantic date). Unbeknownst to Mel, though, Gloria has already been warned by Lucas of her husband’s dishonorable intentions.

Meanwhile, Caleb–troubled by the lingering afterlife of his sister Merlyn–takes steps to release her from her earthly hauntings. Miss Holt, who runs the boarding house where Caleb lives, has a family scrapbook that contains the instructions for holding a “second funeral”–a “going-away party for the dead.” Caleb enlists the aid of his friend Boone, and when the former insists that they follow the directions exactly so as to adhere to old customs, the latter offers a distinctly Gothic counterpoint: “Burning people at the stake was an old custom, too.”

But the best line in the episode belongs to Lucas. When Mel realizes he’s been duped, he moans that he had only come to the sheriff for help. In response, Lucas flashes some of the grim wit that makes him such a wonderful hero-villain: “Step into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”

 

Episode 14: “Inhumanitas”

American Gothic certainly justifies its show title with this fourteenth episode. “Inhumanitas” opens with Sheriff Lucas Buck and Father Tilden sitting in a church confessional. Lucas, though, isn’t there to articulate his various transgressions but to learn of the secret sins of Trinity’s populace. Father Tilden dishes the dirt on the townspeople, citing incidents of petty theft, unwanted pregnancy, and marital infidelity.  Lucas seeks “something [he] can use” in his personal dealings with the locals, and gets a surprisingly juicy tidbit when Tilden confides that Barbara Hudson puts nails in the street to keep cars from speeding by her house.

Corrupt religious figures are a familiar character type in Gothic narratives, and Tilden ties in to that tradition based on the bargain he has made with the devilish Lucas. In return for snitching on the penitent, Tilden gets the assurance that no harm will come to his church (which, as the sheriff recounts during the conversation in the confessional, has been “miraculously” spared from damage by a wildfire that ravaged the rest of the buildings on that block).

Macabre rendition of religious icons is another hallmark of the Gothic, and in this opening scene viewers watch a church statue come to life and take on the visage of Merlyn Temple. Merlyn has turned avenging angel in the hopes of saving her brother Caleb’s soul from Lucas.

Later in the episode, Lucas snuffs the life out of a Scripture-spouting Tilden by squeezing the crucifix from a set of the priest’s rosary beads in his fist. Tilden’s desperate prayer and the lack of protection provided by Christianity’s primary symbol recall the scene from the televised version of Salem’s Lot where Father Callahan is thwarted by the vampire Barlow.

Echoes of Psycho: as part of Merlyn’s terror campaign against the sheriff, she turns the water in his lover Selena’s shower bloody (the image of the dark fluid circling down the drain is unmistakably Hitchcockian).

As Lucas works his latest scheme against Barbara’s husband Brian, he remarks (perhaps only half-jokingly) that the man could remove an unwanted tenant on his land by dismembering his body and burying him in the cellar–a course of action with which the narrators of certain Edgar Allan Poe stories would no doubt approve.

The episode’s most ominous note, though, is struck during the climactic confrontation between Lucas and Merlyn. The sheriff boasts of the dark power latent in his son Caleb, and warns that if he (Lucas) is killed, his evil spirit will flow straight inside the boy. “The child becomes the man,” and the Gothic theme of terrible inheritance is accordingly given a frightening twist.

 

Episode 15: “The Plague Sower”

In this episode, American Gothic hearkens back to the work of Charles Brockden Brown, by setting its story against a backdrop of terrible plague. A mysterious illness has been leveling the people of Trinity, who end up bleeding out from their mouth, eyes, and ears. Naturally, panic is burgeoning in the as-yet-uninfected, but Sheriff Lucas Buck tries to calm down the nervous masses by discounting the reports of bloody demise.
“In a small town,” he tells reporters and concerned citizens, “rumors can act like a cancer.”

Meantime, Lucas is using the situation to his advantage. When local hardware store owner A.E. Tippett comes to him complaining of bloody visions, Lucas offers to help the desperate man out–but only if Tippett will frame his own brother for the crime of vehicular homicide. Later, in a wonderfully ghoulish scene, Lucas moves to steal a plasma bag from a would-be transfusion recipient lying on a gurney in the hospital, just because the man had refused to do “business” with the sheriff in the past.

“The Plague Sower” is ripe with disturbing images, none more so than when Tippett falls victim to the bloodshed. A basic act of bathroom hygiene transforms into an uncanny incident:as Tippett brushes his teeth, the froth in his mouth is suddenly stained crimson, and what he ends up spitting into the sink looks like the product of the most gruesome case of gingivitis ever.

he source of all this Old-Testament-type unpleasantness? Merlyn Temple, in the role of avenging angel. Determined to protect the righteous and punish the wicked, she preys on anyone who has fallen in with the devilish Lucas (including her own lust-filled cousin Gail).

One minor but memorable moment from the episode perfectly captures the eponymous Gothicism of the series. Dr. Billy Peele, an investigator of the plague sent to Trinity from the CDC, goes door to door questioning the townspeople. When he asks one of the local yokels if he has noticed anything odd about his neighbors, the man’s superficially innocuous response rings with suggestiveness: “No, no more than usual.”

 

Episode 16: “Doctor Death Takes a Holiday”

“This is kind of a strange town, you know?”

These words from Dr. Billy Peele–a recent arrival in Trinity–perfectly capture the vibe of American Gothic. There’s no shortage of intrigue and lurking horror to be found in the bucolic Southern town, as evidenced by the episode “Doctor Death Takes a Holiday.”  When Judge Streeter declines to get involved in Lucas Buck’s latest scheme against Dr. Matt Crower (who has been digging up past nastiness by investigating Merlyn Temple’s death), the sheriff responds by using his devilish gifts to prey upon the gambling addiction of Streeter’s spouse, Charlotte. The desperate housewife (driven to attempt suicide) is discovered lying in a bloody bathtub by the judge after she loses big in a Lucas-influenced poker game.

Meanwhile, a mysterious woman named Angela has come to town, claiming to be Lucas’s mother (she’s actually a jilted ex-lover) and aiming to assassinate the sheriff. When Dr. Matt jumps in to prevent the shooting, Angela is undeterred, working to manipulate the doctor into carrying out the deed himself. She argues that Lucas is “pure, otherworldly evil,” a supernatural equivalent of Hitler who needs to be snuffed out before he causes widespread suffering. The moralistic Dr. Matt is slowly convinced that Angela is right, but when his attempt to shoot down the sheriff fails, he earns himself an extended stay in a staple Gothic setting–an insane asylum.

Angela is dying of brain cancer, and has been admitted to a room in the local hospital. Conveniently enough, it’s the same room where Caleb Temple’s mom resided during the final days of her pregnancy. Room 105 is “cursed” (as the nurse Sarah tells Dr. Matt), plagued by inexplicable cold spots and presumably haunted by Mrs. Temple’s ghost. The nurse also relates that just prior to giving birth to Caleb, the distraught woman raved that someone was trying to take her baby away. Paging Ira Levin

The episode also makes reference to one of the founding fathers of American Gothic fiction, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Sitting with a book in hand in the boarding house parlor, Miss Holt tells Dr. Matt that she has chosen this particular author because reading Hawthorne is “like reading the human heart.”  No doubt there’s plenty of sin (secret, if not unpardonable) bound up in the hearts of Trinity’s constituents, and nowhere more voluminously than in the town’s duplicitous, corrupt(ing) law man.

 

Episode 17: “Learning to Crawl”

Despite being set primarily in a weathered cabin in the woods, “Learning to Crawl” is hardly the most Gothic installment of American Gothic. The episode does begin, though, with an instance of the sudden eruption of horror within everyday life, when Caleb is accidentally electrocuted and nearly killed while doing mundane chores down at the Sheriff’s Station.

Once Caleb survives the scare, Sheriff Lucas Buck takes the boy on a bass-fishing trip.  On the drive to the isolated cabin (located on the outskirts of a “ghost town”), Lucas entertains Caleb with a spook story about a monstrous cat haunting the Simpsonville woods. According to the yarning sheriff, the beast has never been seen, and is known only by the savage claw marks it has scored into trees.

The father-and-son team, however, run across a more natural nemesis upon arrival.  The cabin has been occupied by a trio of Capote-esque criminals who are holding a tobacco-company executive for ransom (and who end up killing the hostage in cold blood). These are ruthless folks, for sure, but they meet more than their match in Lucas, who calmly employs his devilish skills to manipulate the situation.

At one point during the standoff with the criminals, Lucas teaches Caleb a “visualization” technique. Caleb proceeds to imagine an outcome in which Jeri reunites with her brother-in-law Ted (with whom she’s been having an affair), but when the adulteress moves to embrace her lover she ends up kissing the bloody-mouthed corpse of her late husband Cody (whom she has recently gunned down). Subsequently, in an attempt to prey on Jeri’s fears, Caleb uses his nascent powers to terrorize her with the approach of the cat-monster from Lucas’s story. A scene of eerily lit woods (that seems to hearken back to the 1989 film Pet Sematary) ends with Jeri’s cheek clawed gorily open.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of “Learning to Crawl” is that the episode dramatizes the deepening bond between Lucas and Caleb and shows the former’s increasing tutelage of the latter. As the season-long run of American Gothic draws to a close, the storyline has started arcing towards what portends to be a dark climax.

Back to Haddonfield

It’s only early June, but Halloween is already in the air–or on the Web, at least. The trailer for Michael Myers’s next nightmarish assault debuted today, leading legions of fans to start dreaming of October. Forty years in the making, the latest installment hearkens back directly to the 1978 original, nullifying the storylines of the innumerable sequels and Rob Zombie remakes. The revision of the Myers mythology alone makes this forthcoming endeavor intriguing; the look of the film–the glimpses of holiday scenery and festivity–also creates cause for excitement.

Here in the Macabre Republic, every autumn is always eagerly anticipated, but this trailer points to one big reason why Halloween 2018 can’t come soon enough.

The Gothicism of American Gothic: Episodes 7-12

Note: The following is an import from my old Macabre Republic blog: in a series of posts, I covered the 22 installments of the 1995 CBS series American Gothic. More than mere episode guides, the posts explored the American Gothic qualities exhibited by the show.

Episode 7: “Meet the Beetles”

The Gothicism of this episode is evident right from the opening, as Caleb and his friend Boone visit the ruins of the Temple house one foggy evening. When Caleb falls through a rotted floorboard, his foot gets caught inside the ribcage of a skeleton that seems to clutch at him as he thrashes.

“Meet the Beetles” also features several graveyard scenes. Caleb is perplexed by the discovery of a tombstone bearing his name (he dreams of digging up the grave, only to have his own undead self leap out at him). What’s actually buried here, though, is $30,000–a cash offering from Sheriff Buck to help get the orphaned Caleb started in life. Buck further tempts Caleb with the vision of building a “big old estate home” where the Temples’ house once stood (Buck now owns the land). The picture the sheriff paints–of luxuriating in a hammock while being weighed on by servants–calls to mind Thomas Sutpen’s obsession in the classic Faulkner novel Absalom, Absalom!.

A good old Southern Gothic murder mystery forms the dark heart of the episode. Married men with rumored connections to Selena keep ending up dead, their corpses (though only days old) curiously stripped of skin and flesh. When the investigating Lt. Jack Drey (guest star Bruce Campbell) finds himself chained inside a makeshift coffin and covered with carnivorous beetles, his gruesome predicament firmly establishes “Meet the Beetles” as the most horrifying of American Gothic‘s first seven installments.

 

Episode 8: “Strong Arm of the Law”

The eighth episode of American Gothic opens with Caleb and his sidekick Boone sneaking up onto a porch at night to catch glimpse of a naked woman. The would-be voyeurs, though, are shocked to discover no bathing beauty but rather a group of pig-masked figures busy drowning a man in a tub.

Will Hawkins, the victim, had recently endorsed a rival candidate for the position of town sheriff, leading Deputy Ben to doubt that Hawkins’s death was a mere accident. Further suspicion falls on Lucas Buck when a band of lawless brothers arrive in Trinity and begin shaking down local business owners (under the flimsy pretense that they are collecting for charities such as the “Sheriff’s Retirement Home”). But Buck is not responsible for the presence of the criminal quartet, who have chosen the wrong Southern town to stir up trouble in. The Sheriff’s qualities as a Gothic hero-villain are never more evident than when he first smooth-talks the brothers (leading them to believe that he approves of their misbehavior), and then methodically takes vengeance against them. Justice is is chillingly dispensed: one brother, in Poe-esque fashion, ends up buried alive alongside Will Hawkins in the latter’s coffin. And the episode’s climax offers a scenario that prefigures the traps of the Saw films: Buck handcuffs two of the brothers together (one has been trapped inside a wrecked, overturned car), sticks a burning road flare inside the gas tank, then tosses the captives a knife and proposes that they try to free themselves by cutting off a hand at the wrist.

An exploding gas tank soon decides the matter for the hoodlums. Prior to meeting this grisly fate, the brothers had also run afoul of Caleb. Midway through the episode, they sneak into Caleb’s room in the boarding house, accosting him for making off with their suitcase full of stolen goods. The tables are turned, though, and Caleb ends up putting a scare into his visitors by unleashing a beastly roar. Caleb credits his (unseen) sister Merlyn with the supernatural assistance, but one can’t help but wonder if the boy (dubbed a “demon child” by one of the spooked brothers) is really infused with Buck’s ungodly powers.

 

Episode 9: “To Hell and Back”

The dashing Dr. Matt is forced to face the ugliness from his past when a drunken-driving accident involving a married couple in Trinity stirs the memory of the doctor’s tragic loss of his own wife and daughter. Naturally, the supernatural sheriff of Trinity, Lucas Buck, is the driving force behind the recent accident–part of a fiendish plot to send the doctor on a terrible guilt trip. The ever-tempting Buck then tries to detour Matt (a recovering alcoholic) from the road of sobriety by proffering a bottle and promising him “oblivion.”

Meanwhile, young Caleb fixates on his creepy neighbor Mr. Emmett (shades of Boo Radley), who is spied digging a conspicuously rectangular hole in his yard and howling the name “Omar” at the moon. To the impressionable Caleb (just returned from watching a horror movie), Mr. Emmett seems to be burying a dead body in his pumpkin patch. Caleb ultimately is proven right, but Mr. Emmett is not the nefarious figure he seems, as the episode emphasizes the gap between appearance and reality. This American Gothic theme is further sounded when Caleb’s cousin Gail tutors him about gardening: a plant with a sinister-sounding name like “snakeroot” isn’t actually poisonous, whereas “the ones with the pretty names, they can kill you.”

“To Hell and Back” ends on a seemingly heartwarming, all-dogs-go-to-heaven note, but Mr. Emmett’s love for, and loyalty toward, his deceased pet is overshadowed by the act of small-town malice that caused the canine’s death in the first place: someone put lye in Omar’s food!

Once again, the small details form a large part of American Gothic‘s allure: as Dr. Matt experiences a ghostly flashback to the scene of his family’s car accident, the audience is given a close-up of a Massachusetts license plate lined with the phrase “The Spirit of America.” Of course, in the context of this television series, that slogan connotes much more than patriotic pride.

 

Episode 10: “The Beast Within”

This tenth episode (in terms of narrative sequence, not air date) of American Gothic opens and closes with an eerie dream scene. Caleb moves down a long corridor lined with cells (arms stretch ghoulishly through the bars). The boy is drawn by a shirtless prisoner’s cries of “Father!” Caleb’s path to the prisoner is cut off by the sudden appearance of a shadowy figure (whom the viewer readily suspects is Sheriff Lucas Buck). This figure flashes a razor blade that is then passed to the prisoner, who promptly uses it to make a bloody incision in his own belly. Such events no doubt are the stuff of nightmare, but the setting here is what proves most striking to me: the Dark Tunnel has long been a topos of Gothic literature (cf. the catacombs in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” and the site of Hannibal Lector’s imprisonment in The Silence of the Lambs).

The plot of the episode centers on a hostage crisis that lands Caleb, his cousin Gail, Lucas, and Dr. Matt in hospital room with a gun-wielding escapee from the psych ward of a nearby military base. Complicating matters further is the fact that this man Artie (the prisoner from Caleb’s dream) also happens to be Deputy Ben’s brother. The horrors of warfare seem to have left Artie mentally unbalanced, but in true Gothic fashion, the man is also haunted by an incident from his distant past. While on a hunting trip as a child, he accidentally shot and killed his father.

In its very title, this episode conjures a lycanthropic image and brings to mind the Gothic theme of split identity that traces back to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On the most obvious level, the hidden beast here is the makeshift bomb that the munitions expert Artie has sewn inside his stomach. But “beast” also has infernal overtones, and thus the episode title can be seen to point to Lucas’s devilish presence inside the hospital room (we soon discover that the sheriff has orchestrated the entire hostage drama for his own nefarious purposes). At one point during the crisis Lucas admits to never carrying a gun (because shooting wouldn’t give the lawman a chance to impart a lesson to his antagonist), causing a sarcastic Gail to inquire if his demeanor should be perceived as an act of pacifism. “No ma’am,” Lucas bluntly replies. “You should view it as an act of seduction.” Never has the sheriff given stronger clue to his sinister nature; Lucas also marks his own dangerous duality as a Gothic hero-villain, hinting at the harm that’s always lurking behind his charm.

 

Episode 11: “Rebirth”

Initially, the premise of “Rebirth” makes it seem like an episode of The Ghost Whisperer rather than the grim fare the audience has come to expect from American Gothic. Tired of her angelic afterlife–of her inability to touch or feel anything when she makes her visitations to her brother Caleb–Merlyn works to take on corporeal form once again. She manages to reincarnate, assumes a new identity (“Halle Monroe”), revels in the joys of earthly existence, and even experiences love for the first time.

But all is not as saccharine as this synopsis might make seem. Early in the episode, Caleb is shown to be a lonesome object of derision, as a group of teens taunt him about his ignominious family history. Caleb has been tainted by the scandal surrounding the Temples, and observing his mistreatment, Merlyn appears to him lamenting that “It’s the sins of the Father, and it ain’t right.” This notion of generational plague is a recurrent theme in Gothic narratives.

Other Gothic trappings are also evident in “Rebirth”–literally, Ray (the motorcycle-riding local with whom Merlyn falls in love) is entrapped in a police cruiser when Sheriff Buck uses his powers to lock the innocent young man inside the vehicle on a suffocatingly hot afternoon. The episode also offers a bit of Poe-esque grotesquerie when Buck forces Ray to dig up Merlyn’s grave and discover that his dearly beloved girl has already departed. We are only given brief glimpse of Merlyn in decomposing repose, but it is no doubt a haunting image.

Buck, seeing through the “Halle” disguise,” eventually confronts Merlyn. He doesn’t seek to banish her, though. Instead, he encourages her to continue on frolicking in fleshly form. But Merlyn knows enough about Buck to recognize devilish temptation: she has returned to life by borrowing the spirit of a pregnant woman’s child, and if she doesn’t return that vital force to its rightful owner, the child will die before it has a chance to be born (perhaps killing the mother in the process). Rather than committing “the ultimate sin,” and losing Caleb’s faith in her in the process, Merlyn chooses to take a suicide dive off the side of a bridge. And so for the second time in the first half-season of the series, Merlyn suffers a shocking death.

 

Episode 12: “Ring of Fire”

The title of this episode might echo that of a Johnny Cash song, but on American Gothic Sheriff Lucas Buck is the ultimate Man in Black.

“Ring of Fire” (which never aired during the series’ single-season run) focuses on Gail’s quest to solve the mystery surrounding her parents’ deaths years earlier in a fire at their newspaper office. Suspecting none other than Lucas Buck (whom Gail’s parents had been investigating at the time) to be the fatal firebug, Gail breaks into the sheriff’s home. Hoping to dig up some dirt, she finds a remarkably clean and modernly furnished residence, albeit one with some bits of macabre decor thrown into into the mix: a gargoyle squatting over the front doorway, a dark stone statue in the foyer, a stuffed raven and an occult tome on a table.

As Gail grows more preoccupied by her search for answers, she suffers a nightmare that makes the shocking final scene from Carrie seem tame by comparison. She envisions herself visiting her parents’ grave site on a bright, sunny day, only to have the pair of moldering corpses suddenly rip through the ground and demand that she avenge their murder.

Effusing his trademark seductive charm, Lucas offers to lead Gail to the truth (provided that she agree to welcome his future sexual advances). Gail grudgingly agrees, and quickly regrets the decision. The sheriff forewarned her that “no one’s exactly who they appear to be,” but Gail learns that lesson the hard way. She discovers (via Lucas-facilitated flashbacks) that the childhood she recalls as idyllic was actually anything but. Her father was guilty of both spousal abuse and sadistic violence towards his own daughter (apparently Gail had repressed the memory of how she got that burn mark on her arm). Even more sordid details emerge: at the time of her death Gail’s mother was pregnant with a child conceived during an extramarital affair with Gage Temple (father of Gail’s cousin Caleb!). Gage was also the arsonist who ended up killing both Christine and Peter Emory (not realizing that his lover was still inside the office with her wretch of a husband when he set fire to it).

At the start of “Ring of Fire,” a librarian tells Gail that “the secret history of the South is hidden in blood. Genealogy. Family.” It’s a distinctly Faulknerian sentiment, one that bookends with a comment Lucas makes later in the episode. In absolute echo of Absalom, Absalom!, Lucas observes: “The past isn’t dead. Hell, it isn’t even the past.” His words strike at one of the most central themes of the Gothic: the haunting and harrying impingement of prior history on the present moment.

Fright Lines

Recently my phone, attuned to my horror-browsing interests, alerted me to the online article “11 Creepy Lines From Horror Books That Are Honestly Terrifying.” It’s hard to argue against Emma Flynn’s choices for “the spookiest sentences in literature,” but her exercise did get me thinking about what fictional lines I would cite. After perusing my bookshelves, I fixed upon a dozen disturbing utterances:

 

There is no delight the equal of dread.
–Clive Barker, “Dread”

 

He went forward, chivvied by unseen devils who whispered obscenities in his ear and caressed him with pincers and stinging tendrils, who dripped acid on the back of his neck and laughed as he screamed and thrashed int he amniotic soup, the quaking entrails.
–Laird Barron, “The Broadsword”

 

Deep down in the subterranean fissures of his body, the minute, unbelievable noises; little smackings and twistings and little dry chippings and grindings and nuzzling sounds–like a tiny hungry mouse down in the red-blooded dimness, gnawing ever so earnestly and expertly at what might have been, but was not, a submerged timber…
–Ray Bradbury, “The Skeleton”

 

One of us lifted something from [the pillow], and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair.
–William Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily”

 

we will ride at nightfall we will ride to the hole i am dead you will die anyone who gets too close will be infected with the death on you us we are infected together we will be in the death hole together and the grave dirt will fall in on top of us lalala the dead pull the living down if anyone tries to help you i us we will pull them down and step on them and no one climbs out because the hole is too deep and the dirt falls too fast and everyone who hears your voice will know it is true jude is dead and i am dead and you will die you will hear my voice and we will ride together on the night road to the place the final place where the wind cries for you for us we will walk to the edge of the hole we will fall in holding each other we will fall sing for us sing at our at your grave sing lalala
–Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box

 

“God God,” Eleanor said, flinging herself out of bed and across the room to stand shuddering in a corner, “God God–whose hand was I holding?”
–Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

 

She lay peaceful in the silence waiting for him knowing that he would not lie to her, wondering if he’d read her now in the days and weeks to come, feeling that probably would for how could he not be curious to give the work a try after this, thinking this as suddenly glass shattered glass was everywhere, she felt it spray across her breasts and stomach, her face and hair and felt hands close hard over her wrists and pull her roughly across the broken windowpane raking her backbone, the broken shards of glass cutting deep and then she was out in the cool night air exactly as it should be, exactly as she’d written, and the end of her night began.
–Jack Ketchum, “The Work”

 

It’s probably wrong to believe that there can be any limit to the horror which the human mind can experience. On the contrary, it seems that some exponential effect begins to obtain as deeper and deeper darkness falls–as little as one may like to admit it, human experience tends, in a good many ways, to support the idea that when the nightmare grows black enough, horror spawns horror, one coincidental evil begets other, often more deliberate evils, until finally blackness seems to cover everything.
Stephen King, Pet Sematary

 

She looked at them watching her and knife in hand screamed at them, What have you done to his eyes?”
–Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby

 

Nor did it belong to any other world that could be named, unless it was to that realm which is suggested to us by an autumn night when fields lay ragged in moonlight and some wild spirit has entered into things, a great aberration sprouting forth from a chasm of moist and fertile shadows, a hollow-eyed howling malignity rising to present itself to the cold emptiness of space and the pale gaze of the moon.
–Thomas Ligotti, “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World”

 

Everyone listened, and everyone was listening still when It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway into the tainted outside air of that poison city of madness.
–H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

 

For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold–then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.
–Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”

The Gothicism of American Gothic: Episodes 1-6

Note: The following is an import from my old Macabre Republic blog: in a series of posts, I covered the 22 installments of the 1995 CBS series American Gothic. More than mere episode guides, the posts explored the American Gothic qualities exhibited by the show.

Episode 1: (Pilot)

The opening-credits sequence features a voiceover from Sheriff Lucas Buck (Gary Cole). Even as he discourses about the American Dream, Buck strikes an ominous note: “For those who follow my lead, life can be a paradise.  But for those who don’t, it can be a mighty rough road.” Apparently this sheriff wields plenty of influence in the small town of Trinity, South Carolina, and has no qualms about abusing his power.

In the first scene (set in an isolated rural home), protagonist Caleb Temple is trying to celebrate his tenth birthday, but his father Gage spoils the paltry party. Incensed by his daughter Merlyn’s ceaseless chanting (“Someone’s at the door”), he proceeds to attack her with a shovel. The 16-year-old Merlyn has been traumatized into an autistic-type state by something she witnessed a decade earlier (and which is revealed at episode’s end: the rape of her mother by Buck).

Gage is obviously not in his right mind, and later claims that his violent actions were somehow directed by the nefarious sheriff. Perhaps the accusation is not that far-fetched, considering that Buck is the one who finishes off the wounded Merlyn by breaking her neck. Mercy killing or sinister murder? The ambiguity here points to the duality of the Buck’s character. At once charming and chilling, he is the quintessential Gothic hero-villain.

Duplicity is a trait displayed by other characters as well. By day, Selena Coombs is a sweet-seeming grade school teacher; by night, she’s a cunning nympho in cahoots with Lucas Buck.

American Gothic sports a heap of dead relatives and skeletons in the proverbial closet. Dr. Crower, an alcoholic, has lost his wife and daughter in a car accident. Caleb’s cousin Gail was orphaned when a fire (deliberately set?) claimed the lives of both her parents. And Caleb’s mother ostensibly committed suicide ten years earlier by jumping out a window (or was she pushed by Buck, who was there at the time?).

The most memorable moment from the first episode finds Buck whistling the theme music to The Andy Griffith Show while approaching Gage’s jail cell (where he then tries to force the man to sign documents granting the sheriff legal custody of Caleb). The parodic whistling serves as the perfect indicator that Trinity is no bucolic Southern town–it’s Mayberry with a very dark underbelly.

 

Episode 2: “A Tree Grows in Trinity”

The second episode of the series draws on a pair of Gothic hallmarks: fearful flight and cruel imprisonment. “A Tree Grows in Trinity” picks up where the series premiere left off: with Caleb on the run from Sheriff Lucas Buck (after setting his own house on fire to escape him). Caleb’s desperate exodus leads him first into a cornfield, where he almost collides with a decidedly devilish scarecrow.

Eventually Caleb hides out in an abandoned hunting lodge, but is shocked to find that the place is already occupied. What at first seems a monstrous figure is actually a tied-up, traumatized man. As the episode unfolds, viewers learn that this is Rafael Santo, a Miami reporter who has been missing for months after coming to Trinity to investigate the “Bermuda Triangle of tourism.” He is now held captive in the lodge after running afoul of Lucas. Perhaps even worse, he serves as the personal sex slave for the sheriff’s lascivious sidekick Selena.

Coroner Curtis Webb is engaged by Lucas to perform a rudimentary autopsy of Caleb’s sister Merlyn (and to ignore the evidence that the girl died at the sheriff’s hand). The ghostly Merlyn, though, opposes such machinations, dubbing Webb’s tape recordings with the message “Someone’s at the door.” She also freaks out the coroner when her corpse’s head (now wide-eyed and turned to the side) somehow appears out from under the sheet that had been covering it. Merlyn’s final touch is the bloody injunction scrawled on the autopsy room door: “Don’t bury the truth.”

Buck later expresses his displeasure with the coroner’s handling of the autopsy by leaving the severed head of Webb’s pet goat Eli inside the refrigerator stationed on the front porch of the family home–a sinister riff on a memorable scene from The Godfather.

The episode, though, best lives up to the show’s title in the scene where Caleb spies a pair of cemetery caretakers arranging the wooden markers at the graves of his father and sister. Teapot and her daddy Harlan are quintessential hicks, in both costume and demeanor. Harlan jokes about the adjacent burials (“Just because he killed her don’t mean they can’t share the same worms”), and the chortling, overalls-wearing Teapot teases her daddy about his misspelling on Gage’s grave marker (“REST IN PEASE”). American Gothic seems quite conscious of its art-world namesake here, as the figures of Teapot and Harlan could have stepped right out of a Grant Wood painting. All that’s missing from the scene is the iconic hay-fork, and it would be no real surprise (based on the way the series has developed thus far) to see such a tool used pointedly in a future episode.

 

Episode 3: “Eye of the Beholder”

In the third episode of the series, Lucas shows just what a devilish Buck he is, going to ungodly lengths to make sure he is appointed Caleb’s legal guardian. First, the sheriff tries to discredit Dr. Crower (with whom Caleb wants to stay) by causing a patient to have an epileptic seizure while on the operating table for a simple gall-bladder procedure. Then Lucas coerces anesthesiologist Dan Truelane to speak against Crower at the upcoming custody hearing by acknowledging the doctor’s past drinking problems.

The two-faced Lucas sends an ostensible wedding present to Dan and his recent bride Cheryl, but the ornate looking glass he gifts them with has some supernatural qualities. Cheryl ends up enthralled by her reflection, and turns uncharacteristically libidinous. The sheriff assures Dan that he will get his old wife back if he does he part to support Lucas’s case at the hearing. Unable to bear Cheryl’s strange behavior, though, Dan destroys the mirror in a fit of fury–and Cheryl’s own face is somehow simultaneously disfigured (shades of Dorian Gray).

Having also worked his charm with Judge Halpern, Lucas figures the custody hearing is guaranteed to be decided in his favor. But the judge throws him a curveball by decreeing that Caleb will go live at Loris Holt’s boarding house (a multi-storied manse that happens to built on an old graveyard). Incensed by this turn of events, Lucas warns of retribution. Soon thereafter, Halpern drops dead after spotting a raven peering in his window. This judge will be presiding in Trinity nevermore.

“Eye of the Beholder” captures one of the essential elements of the American Gothic: the disparity between public persona and private nature, between surface appearance and ulterior motive. Lucas might strike a good ol’ boy pose, but he’s really bad news for the townspeople. And his determination to bring Caleb under his wing hardly stems from altruism; he’s carrying out a personal agenda rather than performing a civic duty. God help Caleb if he ever ends up raised in the sheriff’s sinister image.

 

Episode 4: “Damned if You Don’t”

In this fourth episode (with a fatalistic title pointing to the no-win situations that Sheriff Buck presents to the townspeople of Trinity), American Gothic once again proves that is well aware of its literary heritage. The episode introduces “Wash Sutpen,” whose first and last names harken back to the characters of Wash Jones and Thomas Sutpen in Absalom, Absalom!. The echoing of Faulkner’s novel continues with the revelation that Wash Sutpen murdered the “fellow who was taking liberties” with his teenage daughter–recalling Wash Jones’s scything of Thomas Sutpen after the latter insults the honor of Jones’s daughter Milly. Actually, though, Wash Sutpen has gunned down the wrong man; the real culprit was his employee Carter Bowen, who takes over Sutpen’s junkyard business when the latter is sent to jail (how’s that for small-town intrigue?). At the time of Wash Sutpen’s violent outburst, Sheriff Buck helped cover up Carter’s lechery; now he expects a favor in return (he wants to hire Carter’s sexy 15-year-old daughter as a personal assistant). When Carter refuses,the Machiavellian Buck reintroduces (the allegedly paroled) Wash Sutpen to Carter’s family.

The Bowen junkyard is like an automotive graveyard, with rusted hulks (including, fittingly, a hearse) littering the grounds. While visiting the place, Gail Emory stumbles upon the Gothic ruin once driven by her late parents. Ever since returning to Trinity, Gail–a reporter by trade–has been determined to look into the circumstances surrounding her folks’ deaths years earlier, and when she proceeds here to search the abandoned vehicle, she discovers a mysterious key inside a magnetized box adhered beneath the glove compartment.

The battle between good and evil is one of the show’s most overt themes, but American Gothic also makes its points in more subtle ways.  In the cleverly-arranged closing scene of “Damned If You Don’t,” Sheriff Buck stands in the junkyard orchestrating his latest devilish deal. A derelict bus looms over his shoulder in the background, and the one-word sign above the back window makes clear the type of service this vehicle once provided. This was once a “CHURCH” bus, but its days of transporting the faithful throughout Trinity have long since passed.

 

Episode 5: “Dead to the World”

The fifth episode of the series presents three different storylines. First, Caleb prepares to enter an archery competition at a local carnival. As always, Sheriff Buck insinuates himself in Caleb’s affairs, buying him a state-of-the-art bow & arrow and instructing him about the use of psychological warfare. “It’s not who you are, it’s who people think you are,” the sheriff tells the boy. He’s lecturing about having swagger, but Buck also sounds the American Gothic theme of duplicity–the gap between appearance and reality, public persona and inner character. Meanwhile, Buck’s lover Selena prevents Boone Mackenzie (Caleb’s best friend and chief rival in the competition) from practicing his archery by keeping him after school under the pretense that he needs to work on his penmanship. You know matters have really gotten sordid when even your grade-school teacher has a hidden agenda.

In the second storyline, Deputy Ben deals with some domestic strife involving his ex-wife and young son. Barbara Joy is physically abused by her current husband Waylon Flood, who also bullies his stepson. Ben tries to deal with the tyrant man-to-man, but Sheriff Buck tilts the playing field by using his powers to force the cabinet maker to fall onto his own table saw.

The main thrust of the episode, though, comes from Gail’s investigation of the seeming murder of her former childhood friend Holly Gallagher by Buck. The flashback scene opening the episode shows Buck deliberately driving Holly’s car off a bridge after she threatens to expose his “dirty little secret”–the fact that he is Caleb’s real father (Holly works at the hospital where Caleb’s mom died, and she assists her boyfriend Buck by stealing the file containing Caleb’s birth record). But as Gail digs up the ten-year-old dirt (and literally has Holly’s rusted vehicle dredged up from the river bottom), she discovers that Holly didn’t die in the accident. Having suffered brain damage from oxygen deprivation when the car went underwater, Holly has been hidden away in a sanitarium for the past decade. Her mother Janice, a cosmetics saleswoman, has quite a gift for concealment. Unwilling to accept that her “perfect little girl” is now an invalid, Janice (with Buck’s help) leads the townspeople of Trinity to believe that Holly died tragically. Talk about dirty little secrets…

 

Episode 6: “Potato Boy”

This episode of American Gothic actually never aired during the show’s 1995 run, perhaps because it is rife with sexual innuendo (a lonesome Selena gets frisky with ten-year-old Caleb during an after-school lesson in her apartment). Also, religion is debased throughout: a dead bug floats belly-up in a basin of holy water; a church looks like the setting for a splatter movie after a priest spills blood-red wine all over during communion; Sheriff Buck (providing voiceover) also wonders if one the prim and proper churchgoers is “a screamer or a squealer.” Yet anyone who has read The Monk knows that the negative portrayal of religion is a traditional feature of the Gothic.

The Potato Boy of the episode’s title is a Boo Radley-type bogey that has captured the imagination of Trinity’s children. Rumor has it that the boy is the bastard child of creepy Old Man Warren and the young woman he imprisoned and impregnated. She died delivering him, since the boy allegedly weighed 30 pounds at birth  He was also wretchedly deformed (no eyes; giant claws for hands) and thus has been kept locked away in the moldering Warren house ever since. Turns out, the Potato Boy is inside, and he is disfigured, but he has a beautiful soul. In another example of the episode’s coupling of religion and the grotesque, the Potato Boy is given an angelic voice (which he uses to belt out church hymns).

The episode shows that Trinity is populated with secret sinners. The school teacher is a harlot; the local psychiatrist is a pedophile; the priest is a dope fiend (who doesn’t practice what he preaches when it comes to Christian forgiveness: he’s disowned his wanton daughter, Selena, banishing her from his church [how a priest has come to have a daughter is a question the episode skirts]). And of course, the sheriff is the most duplicitous figure of all. But give the devil his due: Lucas Buck makes a good point when he advises Caleb, “Be careful what you see in a man’s eyes. It might not be the truth.” In Trinity, South Carolina, the windows to the soul tend to be darkly shaded.

Precursors to Terror: Seven Influences on Dan Simmons’s Arctic Gothic Novel

Dan Simmons is one of the most literate and culturally-astute writers of genre fiction, and in his 2007 novel The Terror (a supernatural recasting of the fate of the Franklin Expedition), he proves as allusive as ever. Here are seven examples that can be dug out of the ice:

1.“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)
The icebound plight of The Terror parallels the dead calm plaguing the ship in Coleridge’s poem (which the crew believes to be a supernatural entrapment by an angry Spirit from the Antarctic “land of mist and snow”). Also, just as the ancient mariner’s troubles traces back to his sacrilegious slaying of an albatross, the Franklin Expedition perhaps curses itself by slaughtering polar bears as it makes its transgressive foray into the Arctic. Late in the novel, Simmons reveals that shamans have promised the God Who Walks Like a Man (i.e. the Tuunbaq, who has adopted/adapted the shape of the white northern bear) that “they would honour it by never fishing or hunting within its kingdom without the monster-creature’s permission.”

2.Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
Shelley’s frame story (often abridged in film versions) intriguingly features an icebound ship stalled in its quest to discover the Northwest Passage. Captain Walton’s predicament reinforces the theme of Promethean overreaching, and the advice he receives from a dying Victor Frankenstein (“Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries”) applies just as readily to Sir John Franklin in Simmons’s novel.  Frankenstein‘s tale of the reckless creation of a hulking monstrosity that rebounds troublingly on the creator also aligns with the mythological backstory of the Tuunbaq that Simmons sketches towards the end of The Terror.

3.”The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)
Poe’s story is worked overtly into the plot of Simmons’s novel: crewmember Richard Aylmore, having read it in Graham’s Magazine five years earlier, uses it as the basis for the color-coded apartments he sets up during the Second Grand Venetian Carnivale. Alas, just as the ghastly embodiment of the Red Death crashes Prince Prospero’s festivities, the mauling Tuunbaq adds some dire fireworks to the New Year’s Eve celebration. Both Poe and Simmons furnish haunting reminders that ultimately there is no refuge from terror.

4.Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
Simmons immediately invokes Melville by employing a passage from Moby-Dick as the epigraph to The Terror: “This elusive quality it is, which causes the thought of whiteness, when divorced from more kindly associations, and coupled with any object terrible in itself, to heighten that terror to the furthest bounds. Witness the white bear of the poles, and the white shark of the tropics; what but their smooth, flaky whiteness makes them the transcendent horrors that they are? That ghastly whiteness it is which imparts such an abhorrent mildness even more loathsome than terrific, to the dumb gloating of their aspect. So not the fierce-fanged tiger in his heraldic coat can so stagger courage as the white-shrouded bear or shark.” Moby-Dick also swims into the narrative itself, such as the scene when Sir John Franklin (a vainglorious captain bent on career redemption rather than revenge) entices the crew with the Ahab-like promise of golden reward for the killing of their adversary. Much like the captain of the Pequod, Franklin dooms his ship’s crew (save for a sole survivor) with a series of bad decisions. Surely it’s no coincidence, either, that in his death scene, Franklin suffers an injury that doubles Ahab’s unmasting by the whale: he has his legs torn off by the Tuunbaq. Side note: Simmons (perhaps unwittingly expressing an anxiety of influence) has written an essay in which at once admits to rereading Moby-Dick while writing The Terror and vociferously distances himself from Melville’s novel.

5.Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902)
Simmons’s treacherous, renegade caulker’s mate, Cornelius Hickey, compares with the Conradian antagonist Kurtz. Just as Kurtz notoriously supported the Suppression of Savage Customs–“Exterminate all the brutes!”–Hickey orchestrates a fiendish massacre of friendly Esquimaux. Hickey also sounds echoes of Heart of Darkness in his descent into madness and presumed rise to godhood, and his “terrified” final pronouncement recalls Kurtz’s dying cry of “The horror! The horror!”

6.Nosferatu (1922)
Simmons closes his novel with a curious scene: Captain Crozier returns to The Terror, only to find it inhabited by an ostensibly dead figure with rat-like teeth and “long brown gingers and too-long yellow nails.” Both in appearance and situation, this seeming vampire suggests Count Orlok (who, after decimating the crew, forms the solitary occupant of the “death-ship”) in the influential German horror film. Simmons’s notion of a supernatural evil drawn to haunt a bad place also calls to mind Stephen King’sSalem’s Lot (whose film version offers a vampire that is a clear Nosferatu-homage).

7.The Thing from Another World (1951)
The Terror “is dedicated, with love and many thanks for the indelible Arctic memories, to Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, Dewey Martin, William self, George Fennerman, Dmitri Tiomkin, Charles Lederer, Christain Nyby, Howard Hawkes, and James Arness”–respectively, the cast, screenwriter, director, producer, and title character of the classic science fiction/horror film The Thing from Another World (based on John W. Campbell, Jr.’s 1938 novella “Who Goes There?”). “The thing on the ice” (as it is repeatedly referred to within Simmons’s novel) hails from the Spirit-World rather than another planet, yet lays a similarly nightmarish siege on the protagonists’ base of operations. (In a recent interview, Simmons offered further comment on the personal appeal of The Thing.)