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.

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.

 

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabid

Last week’s two-part premiere of the anthology series American Horror Stories proved somewhat underwhelming in its recurrence to the Murder House and its innumerable, inexplicably physical ghosts. Tonight’s third episode, though, represents a marked improvement. “Drive In” concerns a banned horror film, Rabbit, Rabbit, that is reputedly cursed: watching it is said to turn viewers into homicidal maniacs.

The episode definitely has a “meta” quality, exploring the nature and purpose of fright films. The film’s deranged director claims to have created “a horror movie where the horror isn’t on screen, it’s in the audience.” Rabbit, Rabbit‘s bloody history naturally turns out to be much more than an an urban legend, as a night at the drive-in erupts into Dawn of the Dead.

The characters in “Drive In” obviously know their horror. Not only are Dread Central and Fangoria magazine invoked; dialogue references are made to William Castle’s The Tingler, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and (most integrally to the plot) William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. The episode evinces a strong pedigree: it’s directed by Eduardo Sanchez of Blair Witch Project fame, and features a cast of horror veterans (Adrienne Barbeau) and American Horror Story alums (Naomi Grossman and John Carroll Lynch).

In an episode in which all hell breaks loose at a drive in, the scenes of carnage are not unexpected. Yet it is a quick flashback (to a film cutter who gets overzealous in her work) that provides the most memorably grisly moment here. “Drive In” never lets all the gory bury the story, and concludes with a wickedly clever plot twist.

Satisfyingly seasonal, this third installment of Americans Horror Stories offers a refreshing slice of summer fear fare.

 

The Five Best Creepshow Stories So Far

The Creepshow series recently finished another frightfully fun season on Shudder. Below are my choices for the five (in honor of the number of segments in the original anthology film) best stories that have streamed so far. (Note: the contents–“Survivor Type” and “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead”–of last Halloween’s fully-animated holiday special have been excluded from consideration here, partly because they would dominate the list.)

No small part of the Creepshow charm, though, is its throwback pulp packaging, so I am going to preface my list with another pair of five-packs.

 

The Five Best (Corpse-)Cold Opens

1. Episode 1.1: The Creep kicks the series off by cracking open a crate (a replica of the one in the 1982 film) that doesn’t contain the carnivorous Fluffy, but rather a horde of Creepshow issues.

2. Episode 1.3: The Creep creates a remarkably grotesque jack-o’-lantern–or what he’d probably call a “hack-o’-lantern”–after dispatching some obnoxious trick-or-treaters.

3. Episode 1.6: The Creep goes fishing, and judging by the moldering corpses around him, he’s about to reel in something real scary.

4. Episode 2.4: The Creep cackles delightedly after his macabre mug gets filled with some disgusting sludge.

5. Episode 2.5: The Creep dons some VR goggles and immerses himself in a first-ghoul-shooter version of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

 

The Creep’s Five Most Insidious Intros

1. …And now my rabid readers, this fancy fable of fear follows Clark Wilson on a midnight stroll….Little does he know that his future holds a fantastic find, a devilish digital that I like to call…”The Finger” (Episode 1.2)

2. …And now, boils and ghouls, a real barn-burner of a tale about a boy’s newfound, heh-heh, com-pain-yon! One that’s sure not to die on the vine! Unless you’re too much of a scaredy-crow that is!–“The Companion” (Episode 1.4)

3. …Back for more? This poisonous tale will be sure to have you bug-eyed and squirming in your seats! So strap in for this perilous parable that I like to call…”Pesticide” (Episode 2.2)

4. Welcome, dear fiends! Back for more, I see….Come join me on a voyage of fear, betrayal, and extraterrestrial terror! By the end I guarantee you’ll be gasping for air. So strap in and let’s see if you have what it takes for this otherworldly tale I like to call…”The Right Snuff” (Episode 2.3)

5. Have I got a special treat for all you ghoul gourmets. There will be hell toupee if the plumber doesn’t get to the slimy center of this monstrous mystery. This sludge-filled story will wrap you in its scum-covered strands in…”Pipe Screams” (Episode 2.4)

 

The Five Best Stories So Far

1. “All Hallows Eve” (Episode 1.3). Halloween iconography and lore are finely invoked in this story of a group of trick-or-treaters who are not all that they’re dressed up to be. The classic Creepshow motif of comeuppance combines with a discernible Trick ‘r Treat vibe.

2. “Night of the Paw” (Episode 1.5). This retelling of “The Monkey’s Paw” proves more than a wishful rehash (the climactic plot twist definitely ups the ante on W.W. Jacobs’s original tale). The eponymous appendage is strikingly realistic, and ultra-unnerving as it curls its own fingers down upon dire fulfillment of a person’s requests.

3. “Skincrawlers” (Episode 1.6). The body-sculpting industry is revolutionized by the discovery of an exotic South American leech that feeds on human fat tissue. Naturally, this seeming quick fix for the overweight causes terrible affliction, leading to scenes of spectacularly gruesome, Cronenbergian body horror, and the emergence of a tentacular monster that might have escaped from the set of Carpenter’s The Thing.

4. “Model Kid” (Episode 2.1). The figure of the “monster kid” is canonical to Creepshow (cf. young Joe Hill in the frame story of the original film), and this story clearly offers loving homage. Classic horror (e.g., Universal monster films, Aurora model kits) gets perfect Creepshow treatment.

5. “Public Television of the Dead” (Episode 2.1). This satiric and gloriously gonzo story combined with “Model Kid” to make the second season premiere the show’s most outstanding episode to date. Plenty of laughs (and scares) await anyone who ever wanted to see a Bob-Ross-type painter battle demons from the Necronomicon.

 

Hemingway: The (Tormented) Man Behind the Myth

All stories, if continued far enough, end in death.
–Ernest Hemingway

Ken Burns adds significantly to his already-impressive body of documentary work with his (and Lynn Novick’s) new three-part PBS film Hemingway. The project presents an in-depth and anything-but-hagiographic look at one of America’s most renowned writers, accounting for the man’s greatness as well as the various warts on his (adulterous, abusive, backstabbing, and sometimes downright racist) character. Indeed, what develops over the course of nearly six hours is a portrait of a virtuoso with plenty of vices.

Finely constructed, Hemingway astounds on a technical level. The documentary features incredible voicework, starting with the captivating narration provided by Peter Coyote (this guy could read a phone book aloud and make it sound interesting) and also including Jeff Daniels as the eponymous figure (the actor recites pieces of Hemingway’s work and excerpts from his letters). The accompanying visuals (archival footage; countless scene-setting photos) transport the viewer back through history and into Hemingway’s time. Fellow authors (from Tobias Wolff to Mario Vargas Llosa, Edna O’Brien to Tim O’Brien) and literary scholars furnish cogent commentary and precise analysis.

As a man who engaged in a series of tempestuous relationships with women, and a writer who lived a supremely adventurous life, Hemingway makes for a fascinating subject. His biography also contains no shortage of surprises. For all his legendary machismo, Hemingway is revealed here as a man haunted by fears (e.g. he dreaded sleeping alone or without a nightlight shining). His life is marked by darkness, the exposure to death and violence on both a personal (family tragedy; traumatic injury) and global (the mass atrocity of warfare) level. Hemingway builds to a heartbreaking conclusion, as it shows how a combination of alcoholism, depression, and the deleterious effects of repeated head injuries precipitates a tragic slide into pronounced mental illness and eventual suicide.

The film convincingly demonstrates how Hemingway’s life, like his work, speaks to all the joy and sorrow, the beauty and horror, endemic to the human condition. While establishing the unique nature of the man’s literary genius, Hemingway also evinces the basic traits (positive and negative) that connect Papa to us all.

 

Vintage Creepshow

Stephen King’s and George Romero’s Creepshow was a determinedly referential endeavor–a concerted effort to recreate the horror sensibility of E.C.-style comics. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Shudder spin-off series, which faithfully adheres to the aesthetic of the original movie, also nods knowingly at horror history. Nowhere is this more evident than in Creepshow‘s second-season premiere.

“Monster Kid,” the episode’s opening segment, is a love letter to utter monstrophilia. Joe Aurora is a Dracula-dressing, Bela-Lugosi-quoting, model-kit-obsessed horror hound. His bedroom is a treasure trove of monster memorabilia. The segment (which begins with a black-and-white scene fantasized by Joe) invokes the Universal monsters in the form of the Gill-Man, the Mummy, and Frankenstein’s Monster (at one point, Joe also watches Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). There’s a clip of a horror host addressing “boils and ghouls”–a pun that surely resonates with fans of Tales from the Crypt. With its voodoo-doll plot element, “Monster Kid” even recalls the frame story of the Creepshow film. Despite striking a sweet note in its invocation of Monster Culture, the segment does not shy away from the typical dramatization of grim comeuppance, as Kevin Dillon’s obnoxious character ultimately gets transformed into Johnny Trauma.

Substituting the satiric for the nostalgic, the second segment (“Public Television of the Damned”) is a gonzo homage to the Evil Dead franchise coupled with a send-up of public television programming. All hell threatens to break loose when Ted Raimi shows up on “The Appraiser’s Road Trip” with a copy of the Necronomicon; a PBS-esque pledge drive turns into a demonic demand for a pledge of human souls to the book. Gleefully over-the-top (a Bob Ross knockoff forms a badass hero here), the adult-humored segment features scenes of wild violence that would make Sam Raimi proud. The marvelously macabre makeup (courtesy of Creepshow producer Greg Nicotero’s KNB EFX Group) also expertly evokes the Evil Dead.

With its commitment to vintage horror, the season 2 premiere forms a modern classic. If the same level of reverent retrospection is maintained throughout, viewers have a lot to look forward to this season.

 

Countdown: Film/TV Adaptations of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood Tales

I’m going to close out my recent coverage of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood collection with a quick countdown of the films and TV works directly adapted from the author’s six-volume masterpiece. So here’s the list, running from worst to best:

 

9. “The Yattering and Jack” (1987)

Really, all anyone needs to know about this Tales from the Darkside episode is that the yattering is represented as a red-painted little person in a dog collar. Barker’s blackly humorous story gets reduced to slapstick (and the infamous turkey scene is poorly translated from the page).

 

8. Quicksilver Highway (1997)

Mick Garris’s made-for-TV anthology film adapts Barker’s classic story “The Body Politic” (along with Stephen King’s “Chattery Teeth”), providing convincing visual proof that some of the ideas in Barker’s fiction don’t lend themselves to the small screen. The army of disembodied hands comes across as a bunch of outcasts from The Addams Family, looking like Thing and squeaking like Cousin Itt. On a positive note, Matt Frewer’s performance offers arguably the best physical comedy by a horror actor not named Bruce Campbell.

 

7. Book of Blood (2009)

Muted and maudlin, this adaptation seems to lose the eyeball kicks of the source text. The pacing also lags at times (“The Book of Blood” prologue is one of the shortest pieces in Barker’s story collection, so significant stretching of its material is required onscreen). A fairly-faithful version of the collection’s “On Jerusalem Street” epilogue, though, does make for an effective ending to the film.

 

6. Dread (2009)

Anthony DiBlasi’s film often feels like it wants to be another Fight Club, with the antagonist Quaid cutting a figure from the Tyler Durden mold. As with the preceding entry on this countdown, Dread suffers from definite pacing issues (it would have been much better suited as a Masters of Horror episode). But also like Book of Blood, it features a terrific ending, one that gives a wickedly clever twist to the dread experiments in Barker’s story.

 

5. Lord of Illusions (1995)

One of the most disappointing adaptations, considering that Barker directed it himself, and that “The Last Illusion” is one of the strongest pieces in the story collection. Pedestrian actor Scott Bakula is spectacularly miscast as occult detective Harry D’Amour. Worse, the menagerie of demonic monsters in the original narrative get jettisoned here, in favor of the lamely wisecracking cult leader Nix. I would love to see Barker take a another shot at this with a remake that adheres more strictly to the plot and cast of “The Last Illusion.”

 

4. Books of Blood (2020)

Surprisingly, this Hulu anthology film is filled largely with material not taken from Barker’s collection (it’s not like the adaptational possibilities have been exhausted already). The non-canonical material is entertaining, though, and I’ve grown to appreciate the Trick ‘r Treat-style intertwining of the individual tales. This film is worth watching just for the jaw-dropping scene in which the slimy Simon is torturously inscribed by the revenants from the highway of the dead.

 

3. Rawhead Rex (1986)

Yes, the acting is terrible (Ronan Wilmot hams it up as the hysterical Declan O’Brien) and the special effects are laughable (Rawhead Rex is depicted via a Halloween mask with cheap light-up eyes, and overall looks like a refugee from a Twisted Sister video). But still, there is genuine entertainment to be found in the film’s ancient-monster-on-a-modern-rampage storyline. This one (which took the top spot on my ranking of Barker’s Books of Blood tales) absolutely deserves a big-budget remake.

 

2. The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

Director Ryuhei Kitamura’s film vehicle is stocked with inventively-lensed scenes of stunning gore, but for me it’s the quieter moments (e.g. Mahogany slicing the cancerous buboes from his own torso) that are the most horrifying. Bradley Cooper gives a middling performance as Leon Kauffman, but Vinnie Jones is impressively imposing as the mute, mallet-wielding Mahogany. My main critique is that the carnivorous city fathers are criminally undersold by the film version, yet even that fact does not ruin the climax–the protracted battle between Leon and Mahogany in a subway car abattoir.

 

1. Candyman (1992)

The film presents an inspired shift in locale, as the choice of Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green housing project as main setting adds a strong racial element to the socioeconomic commentary in Barker’s (England-based) story. At once eloquent and menacing, Tony Todd elevates the hook-handed, walking-beehive bogey of the title into an iconic movie monster. The mirror summoning is a bit derivative (borrowing from Bloody Mary lore), but however the Candyman might arrive, he does so with undeniable mythic grandeur. A classic horror film (unfortunately, the pair of sequels fail to recapture its dark magic), one that the forthcoming remake/reimagining will be hard-pressed to equal.

 

Super Bowl Burton

Meet Edgar Scissorhands…

Airing during tonight’s Super Bowl, Cadillac’s “Scissorhands 2” commercial features the handy son of Winona Ryder’s Kim Boggs character. The 90-second ad packs in a lot of witty gags in the vein of the classic film. Tim Burton fans are big winners tonight!

 

The Night Stalker at 49

On this date in 1972, The Night Stalker premiered as the ABC Movie of the Week (garnering the highest ratings for any made-for-TV film up to that time). The movie introduced the world to that bloodhound of an investigative reporter, Carl Kolchak, here tracking the story of a series of killings in Las Vegas in which the female victims have been drained of vital fluids via a bite to the neck. Nearly a half-century now after the initial airing, it’s no terrible plot spoiler to note that the perpetrator proves to be not some psychopath with a Dracula kink, but the real supernatural deal.

The Night Stalker forms an indisputable landmark of televisual American Gothic. With Darren McGavin playing a wisecracking, working class Van Helsing, the film imports Bram Stoker’s classic vampire narrative, reworks it and roots it in a modern urban setting. Stephen King has praised the film in his study Danse Macabre (poignantly dubbing Kolchak “more Lew Archer than Clark Kent”), and The Night Stalker can be detected as an influence on the author’ own fiction (e.g., Salem’s Lot, “The Night Flier”). This hard-boiled/horror hybrid has also proven seminal to the paranormal-investigation subgenre, most notably in the case of The X-Files.

With its fine pedigree (Richard Matheson furnished the script for producer Dan Curtis), The Night Stalker unsurprisingly became an instant hit with audiences. The film also holds up remarkably well to a 2021 viewing. Barry Atwater is a frightful, and decidedly physical, menace as the vampiric antagonist Janos Skorzeny. The film’s protracted climax, in which Kolchak searches the vampire’s Gothic household lair (where Skorzeny’s latest victim is held captive as his personal blood bank), is the quintessence of thrilling suspense.

Thanks to the success of the film, the Kolchak character would develop into a pop cultural icon, appearing in a subsequent made-for-TV movie, a short-running but long-revered TV series, and countless works of fiction. Forty-nine years later, though, it is still The Night Stalker that represents the height of Kolchak’s story-hunting, monster-encountering glory.