History Lessons: “Holiday Horror” (Episode 3.5)

Let’s celebrate the wise and witty words spoken on the pre-Halloween episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror

 

Eli Roth: Holidays are usually the time we get together with our families–for better or for worse. But even if you get along with your relatives, holidays can be stressful. Passive-aggressive behavior, forced cheerfulness, heavy drinking: they’re typical parts of the holiday experience. All that tension needs to be released. Enter the holiday horror film, bringing our wildest homicidal horror fantasies to life.

 

Ryan Turek: What made the first film scary, what made Michael Myers scary–you didn’t know who he was. All you knew is he killed his sister; you didn’t know why. You know, let’s go back [in 2018’s Halloween] to that pure dread that came with Halloween [1978], and let’s go back to that singular strong final girl that took him on, and let’s see what she’s like forty years later, and she’s, you know, she’s–she’s kinda messed up.

 

Nathaniel Thompson: And [Black Christmas] is one of the first great examples of the subjective camera in a slasher movie. But it’s something that critics jumped on later on; in Friday the 13th they really attacked it, because they’re saying “Oh, it’s putting you in the killer’s point of view, it’s attacking women, and it’s misogynist.” No, at least in the beginning, that’s not the point. The point is, you never see the face–that’s what’s so scary. You have no idea what this guy looks like; all you see is his eye.

 

Heidi Honeycutt: Because her boyfriend was not the killer, and the cops are wrong, and they didn’t get him, and now she’s probably going to die because of their incompetence. And [Black Christmas] is written that way deliberately to infuriate us. We’re supposed to see how society leaves this woman vulnerable.

 

Quentin Tarantino: People who don’t understand the concept of slasher movies, to them it’s all violent porno as far as they’re concerned, because they just don’t get it. And most of the films that they made a big deal about, I wish they were closer to what they think they were. I wish they were that strong. [But] Silent Night, Deadly Night is fucked up for a horror film fan.

 

Michael Dougherty[Krampus] is a very personal statement for myself, just how hard it is to maintain optimism and a belief in the goodness of human beings when you’re confronted with the opposite every time you wake up in the morning and turn on the news.

 

Christopher Landon: These woman [in Mother’s Day] actively said, “We’re gonna go back, and we’re gonna hunt these people down, and we’re gonna kill them and get revenge for what they did to our friend.” That was badass. There was a certain feminist element to it that I really appreciate, that was unusual for a film of that time.

 

Jessica Rothe: I love the message that [Happy Death Day] has when it comes to grief and loss, and how you have to, kind of, confront it and really go through it, and spend some real time with that loss and not run away from it, because I think Tree’s been running for a really, really long time.

 

Joe Hill: Good horror is all about uncomfortable juxtapositions. It’s about taking something like Christmas, something we love and find comforting, and then ruining it for everyone forever. It is in the nature of horror fiction, horror cinema, to be a little bit like punk rock. If you fail to piss anyone off, you’re probably doing it wrong!

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#2

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

2. “The Iron Dead” (2010)

Imagine if Dashiell Hammett wrote for Weird Tales rather than Black Mask, and you’ll have a good sense of the sensibility of this retro-pulp novella. In middle-of-nowhere Montana, a bootlegging run is interrupted by a “hell machine”–a vampiric cyborg hybrid of flesh and blood and metal and wire. This Satan-serving monstrosity seeks not just sustenance but also fresh recruits for its nightmare army: it builds new soldiers out of “scavenged engine parts and organs harvested from the bodies of murdered men and women.” With such a diabolical scheme unfolding, it’s fortunate that a wandering hero is drawn to the carnage; the drifter Chaney has a mechanical hand, a black satchel full of weapons, and a score to settle. The plot plays out like Night of the Iron Dead, as gangsters, lawmen, and Chaney hole up in a jailhouse under siege from the hell machine’s minions. Escaping, the unlikely band of confederates advance on the hell machine’s workshop of infernal creation (a cemetery-adjacent gas station/machine shop) during a driving rainstorm. A harrowing adventure narrative on overdrive, featuring an extensive cast of human heroes and villains and an assortment of exotic monsters that make Clive Barker’s Cenobites look like a bunch of Tinker Toys, “The Iron Dead” is surely cinematic in scope. No one does hard-boiled horror better than Partridge, and this knockout novella forms his premiere example of such genre mash-up.

 

Poe Abodes

AP Photo/File; Stefano Giovannini

Ahh, the macabre is in the air! One of my favorite parts of the Halloween season (other than the dark, autumnal charm of the High Holiday itself) is the appearance of articles such as this. Allison Hope’s New York Post piece, “Inside Edgar Allan Poe’s Hellish–and Relatable–NYC Housing Hunt,” is an unexpected treat that showed up in my phone’s feed this evening. It’s a terrific read, offering a quick journalistic tour of Poe’s Gotham living spaces and Gothic literary endeavors. Poe fans, and October lovers, are sure to enjoy Hope’s work here.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#3

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

3. “The Jack o’ Lantern: A Dark Harvest Tale” (2010)

This publication was a tremendous treat for Partridge fans, as the tale returned to the world of the author’s instant-classic Halloween novel Dark Harvest. The narrative, set a generation before the events of the novel, functions as a prequel, but the ever-inventive Partridge doesn’t just serve up a mere rehash. Yes, it’s a Halloween night, and another angry mob of teenage boys wielding pitchforks, ballbats, and machetes is attempting to halt the advance of the so-called “scarecrow monster,” the October Boy. But the jack o’ lantern of the title doesn’t refer to Ol’ Hacksaw Face’s grisly gourd, and there is violent mayhem afoot unrelated to the annual Run through the midwestern town. While the narrative here is self-contained, it also connects perfectly with Dark Harvest, forming the origin story for one of the novel’s main characters. “The Jack o’ Lantern,” with its shift to a prior year’s Halloween ritual, also demonstrates that there is room for further expansion of the Dark Harvest universe. Imagine a shared-world anthology (similar to what Lords of the Razor did for Joe R. Lansdale’s legendary character, the God of the Razor) featuring different Runs of the October Boy throughout the town’s shady history. Or better yet: how about a collaboration between Lansdale and Partridge in which the God of the Razor and Sawtooth Jack face off against one another? Now that would be one crackling yarn…

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#4

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

4. “The Big Man” (2000; expanded 2010)

Partridge’s fondness for Atomic Age genre films is writ large here, as bomb testing in the Southwestern desert produces an array of giant, radiated monsters: spiders, scorpions, bats, and one forty-foot-tall man. The giant of the title sports “teeth like polished marble tombstones” and drinks beer from kegs using “a car bumper for a can opener”; when injured, he leaves “huge red blood droplets that had dried like Navajo sand-paintings on the red earth.” This playing with scale, though, isn’t in the interest of echoing the fantastic satire of Swift or Rabelais, or even the suspenseful thrills of 50’s drive-in fare. The narrative, which reads like a dark, (Tim) Burtonesque fairy tale, is concerned most with its viewpoint character: a young boy physically and verbally abused by his foster father, Mr. Harstead (whose bar room the boy sweeps up, and sleeps on its pool table at night). When Harstead attempts to capitalize on his grenade attack (by tracking down the grievously wounded behemoth and procuring a skull trophy), the boy ardently hopes that the giant will triumph over the wicked pseudo-parent. But in this tale, wishes don’t come facilely true (at least not quite like imagined), and actions prove more powerful than words. “The Big Man” has an oversized heart, and its emotional story beats make this Partridge’s most moving work of short fiction.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#5

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

5. “The Hollow Man” (1991)

This story’s antagonist (and narrator)–a carnivorous entity reminiscent of the Wendigo–constitutes one of Partridge’s most fiendish creations. Inside a cabin (whose interior decorator could have been Ed Gein) in the snowy hills, the creature not only feasts on the titular victim but also turns the poor guy into a macabre, half-dead meat puppet yanked around by “the metal rings pinned into its neck.” As if having talons jabbed into “blackened muscles” wasn’t bad enough, the hollow man also has his thoughts controlled by the invasive presence. The narrator’s devious manipulations are on full display when a quartet of hunters show up outside the door seeking refuge (thinking the cabin is solely human-occupied). After having the hollow man shoot his rifle at the arrivals, the creature slips up the chimney and wings slyly over to the hunters’ camp; then, after digging down to discover one sleeping man’s darkest nightmare, the narrator executes a divide-and-conquer tactic by orchestrating a scene of necrophilia. Partridge’s narrative probes the taboo, including the resort to cannibalism (the desperate measures stemming from wintertime starvation no doubt lie at the root of the Wendigo myth). A short but haunting tale that has kept its claws sunk into this reader for a long, long time, “The Hollow Man” is positively stuffed with body horror and supernatural dread.

 

Lore Report: “Falling to Pieces” (Episode 184)

Some people have never been satisfied with accumulating Happy Meal toys or rare coins. They’re drawn to something different, something darker. And their collections across history have demonstrated one truth that’s difficult for many of us to swallow: if there’s one thing humans have always been good at collecting, it’s ourselves.

The concluding October installment of the Lore podcast features a ghoulish topic: the collection of human body parts. Host Aaron Mahnke opens by discussing holy relics (from the Christian Cult of the Saints to the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth) and trophies whose power resided in their manner of obtainment (here Mahnke reveals the practical consideration that led to the practice of scalping). A good chunk of the narrative is devoted to infamous killers (Jack the Ripper, H.H. Holmes, Ed Gein) who took “their hunger for human remains to a dark, horrific place.” Then there’s the strange tale of a month-old corpse who had his body fat stolen from the grave in 1858 Ireland (a forewarning: you’ll never think of the process of butter-making the same way again.). Throw in a closing story that connects an executed Scottish witch and an American captain of industry, and “Falling to Pieces” forms one impressive body of grim lore.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#6

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

6. “Vampire Lake” (2011)

Not your average Crew of Light: a stoic, gun-slinging “bounty killer” (“hunter” doesn’t do justice to this man’s relentlessness), a burly German blacksmith, a Mexican dynamite-man, a profane preacher, and the narrator–a scorched, disfigured wretch who managed to escape from a scene of nightmarish captivity. Their dark destination: the eponymous pool, located in a sepulchral underground cave, and the home of a vampire queen and other bloodsuckers cursed long ago during a search for Indian gold. Vampire Lake is one of the greatest settings Partridge has ever created, and the heroes’ journey down to it is marked by stunning descriptive passages (e.g. “The place was like a throat filled up with whispers, and they washed over the big stone gullet and hushed past us on their way to the narrow grave of a mouth above. Thanks to Indio’s dynamite, the iron gate that corralled the vampires’ corner of the world was now a twisted mess. That gate had once been a hell of a sight, scored with chains the blacksmith could never have cut, and spikes set with dead men’s skulls and tattered human hides that flapped like scarecrow warnings in the subterranean breeze.”). The narrative takes several intriguing turns: the bounty killer is haunted by his past slaughters in a most unusual (and visceral) manner, and the spectacular climactic battle with the vampire queen and her undead attendants (as albino alligators in the lake are stirred into a feeding frenzy by the carnage) presents a surprising, but extremely satisfying, twist. As the Top 31 Countdown has demonstrated time and again, Partridge has a special talent for penning unique vampire tales and weird westerns, and this deft combination of the two constitutes a double-barreled blaze of storytelling glory.

 

Bronze Macabre

Photo Credit: Peter D. Kramer/USA Today Network New York State Team

I came across an online item this afternoon, and thought it makes a fine companion piece to my “Beyond Sleepy Hollow” post yesterday. Peter D. Kramer’s USA Today article “Sleepy Hollow’s Lesser Known Ghost Story: The Curse of the Bronze Lady in New York” proves that Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman isn’t the sole source of spookiness associated with Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The Bronze Lady is a purportedly cursed sculpture, a funereal memorial that has captured the imagination of locals and graveyard visitors. Various superstitions have been attached to her, a collection of unsettling narratives that would render the Bronze Lady the perfect subject of a Lore podcast episode. Kramer’s article is an informative and enjoyable read, and well-suited to the late-October mood.