Macabre Accolades

Admittedly, New Year’s Eve is one of my least favorite holidays, but the best part about the close of December is the prevalence of year-end retrospectives.  Here’s a compilation of links to different websites honoring the horror genre’s best offerings of 2022:

BookRiot: “The 10 Best Horror Books of 2022”

CrimeReads: “The Best Horror Fiction of 2022”

Paste Magazine: “The Best Horror Books of 2022”

Vulture: “The Best Horror Novels of 2022”

LitReactor: “The Must Read Horror Graphic Novels of 2022”

Esquire: “The 23 Best Horror Films of 2022 (So Far)”  [posted in October]

Rolling Stone: “10 Best Horror Movie of 2022”

Collider: “10 Horror Movie Protagonists Who Made Smart Decisions in 2022”

Dread Central: “Top 10 Horror Movies of 2022”

But when it comes to this kind of stuff, nobody does it better than:

Bloody Disgusting: “Top 15 Best Horror Movies of 2022”; “The Top Ten Scariest Scenes in 2022 Horror Movies”; “The 10 Best Kills in 2022’s Horror Movies”; “12 Best International Horror Films of 2022”; “The Year of Unforgettable Horror Monologues”; “The 8 Funniest Horror Movie Moments of 2022”; “10 Best Horror TV Series of 2022”; “2022: The Year Jenna Ortega and Mia Goth Dominated the Horror Scene”

Any other sites I missed, and which you would recommend checking out? Let me know!

***

Finally, I’ll weigh in here by citing my favorite pieces of horror-related media from 2022 (note that I say “favorite” rather than “best,” because I still have a big list of items to read/watch):

Favorite TV Series: “Wednesday” (reviewed here)

Tim Burton, The Addams Family, Jenna Ortega, and Edgar Allan Poe? Count me in(vested wholeheartedly).

 

Favorite Horror Film: “X”

This clever twist on the slasher formula had it all: a gripping story, stellar performances by the ensemble cast (led by Mia Goth in a dual role), crazy kills, and stunning visuals (both beautiful and grotesque)

 

Favorite Anthology: Classic Monsters Unleashed

Dracula and Frankenstein Monster and Dr. Moreau; Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, and the Headless Horseman: oh my, what an entertaining collection of new stories paying homage to legendary horror figures.

 

Favorite Novel: Reluctant Immortals

A clever and terrifically entertaining updating/reimagining of Dracula and Jane EyreI’ll have a lot more to say about this book shortly here at Dispatches from the Macabre Republic, in the next installment of Dracula Extrapolated.

Wednesday: Woe Joking

In the Addams Family films of the 90’s, Christina Ricci’s Wednesday was a shining fount of black humor (check out this past post for a survey of her finest deadpan deliveries). Jenna Ortega more than lives up to such mordant tradition in the new Netflix series centered on the Addams goth-daughter. Here are thirteen prime examples of the character’s snappy dialogue:

 

Wednesday: [My visions] come on without warning, and feel like electroshock therapy, but without the satisfying afterburn.
–Ch. I, “Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe”

 

Morticia: That boy’s family was going to file attempted murder charges. How would that have looked on your record?
Wednesday: Terrible. Everybody would know I failed to get the job done.
–Ch. I, “Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe”

 

Wednesday: It takes a special kind of stupid to devote an entire theme park to zealots responsible for mass genocide.
Lucas: My dad owns Pilgrim World. Who you calling stupid?
Wednesday: If the buckled shoe fits…
–Ch. I, “Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe”

 

Enid: Want to take a stab at being social?
Wednesday: I do like stabbing. The social part not so much.
–Ch. II, “Woe is the Loneliest Number”

 

Wednesday: Let’s assess, shall we? Bag over my head for optimal disorientation, wrists tied tight enough to cut off circulation, and no idea if I’m going to live or die. It’s definitely my kind of party.
Ch. III, “Friend or Woe”

 

[After the sheriff leaves, Thing opens the door of the morgue drawer where Wednesday has hid herself]
Wednesday: 
Five more minutes. I was just getting comfortable.
–Ch. IV, “Woe What a Night”

 

Wednesday [about to enter the suspected lair of the Hyde monster]: If you hear me screaming bloody murder, there’s a good chance I’m enjoying myself.
–Ch. IV, “Woe What a Night”

 

Lucas: Wednesday, I come in peace.
Wednesday: That’s a shame. I brought my pocket mace. The medieval kind.
–Ch IV, “Woe What a Night”

 

Wednesday [unhappy to see her family arrive at Nevermore for Parents Weekend]: I knew I should have worn my plague mask.
Ch. V, “You Reap What You Woe”

 

Tyler: Is that Enid’s gift?
Wednesday: It’s perfect if you’re fleeing a war-torn country on foot.
Ch. VI, “Quid Pro Woe”

 

Enid: Oh, we should wear our snoods!
Wednesday: Oh, I…I believe I left mine at fencing.
Enid: Actually, you left yours at the Weathervane. Luckily, Bianca brought it back.
Wednesday: Like a monkey’s paw.
–Ch. VI, “Quid Pro Woe”

 

Wednesday: Of course, the first boy I kiss would turn out to be a psychotic, serial-killing monster. I guess I have a type.
–Ch. VII, “If You Don’t Woe Me By Now”

 

Wednesday: Typically, I have great admiration for well-executed revenge plots. But yours was a bit extreme, even for my high standards.
–Ch. VIII, “A Murder of Woes”

 

Beyond Sleepy Hollow: “Christmas Dinner”

It’s posted a couple of days later than intended, but here’s the latest installment of “Beyond Sleepy Hollow,” which explores further Washington Irving works of ghosts, goblins, and the Gothic.

 

Before Washington Irving fired the autumnal imagination of Americans with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” he helped script Christmas celebration into existence in our Macabre Republic. In early January 1820, Irving published a series of Christmas-related pieces in The Sketch-Book that clearly anticipate “The Legend” (which appeared in the next installment of the book three months later). Within the linked Christmas sketches, Irving’s narrating stand-in, Geoffrey Crayon, is invited by an old traveling companion to come spend the holidays at his family’s mansion in the English countryside. Bracebridge Hall is a bastion of old-time custom, located in “a sequestered part of the country” (just as the unmodernized Sleepy Hollow is removed from the metropolitan bustle of Manhattan). Master Simon Bracebridge (as I discuss in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Ultimate Annotated Edition) is an Ichabod-esque figure, a busybody bachelor exuding self-importance, and who is satirized by Irving in terms strikingly similar to Sleepy Hollow’s hapless schoolmaster.

“Christmas Dinner” constitutes the last of the Bracebridge-centered sketches (Irving would return to the family a few years later in the more expansive collection Bracebridge Hall). After dining on traditional fare (e.g., a boar’s head; peacock pie) and happily imbibing from the circulating Wassail bowl, the gathered celebrants break off into groups. The younger members of the family engage in a game of “blindman’s buff,” while the adults retire to the drawing room. There the village parson begins “dealing out strange accounts of the popular superstitions and legends of the surrounding country.” His yarning focuses on the “family hero” of his hosts, a Bracebridge ancestor said to have fought in the Crusades, and whose portrait and purported armor decorate the Hall’s dining room. As Crayon relates:

[The parson] gave us several anecdotes of the fancies of the neighboring peasantry, concerning the effigy of the crusader, which lay on the tomb by the church altar. As it was the only monument of its kind in that part of the country, it had always been regarded with feelings of superstition by the good wives of the village. It was said to get up from the tomb and walk the rounds of the churchyard in stormy nights, particularly when it thundered; and one old woman, whose cottage bordered on the churchyard, had seen it through the windows of the church, when the moon shone, slowly pacing up and down the aisles. It was the belief that some wrong had been left unredressed by the deceased, or some treasure hidden which kept the spirit in a state of trouble and restlessness. Some talked of gold and jewels buried in the tomb, over which the specter kept watch; and there was a story current of a sexton in old times, who endeavored to break his way to the coffin at night, but, just as he reached it, received a violent blow from the marble hand of the effigy, which stretched him senseless on the pavement. These tales were often laughed at by some of the sturdier among the rustics, yet, when night came on, there were many of the stoutest unbelievers that were shy of venturing alone in the footpath that led across the churchyard.

These fireside spook tales shared by the parson, which have quite an unnerving effect on certain listeners, prefigure the events of/following the Van Tassel quilting frolic in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Just as the galloping Hessian forms the “favorite specter” of the credulous inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow, the crusader in “Christmas Dinner” appears “to be the favorite hero of ghost stories throughout the vicinity.” And just as Brom Bones follows old Brouwer’s tale of a run-in with the Headless Horseman with an even more marvelous account, the old porter’s wife in “Christmas Dinner” picks up from the parson and adds to the lore of the crusader: she affirms “that in her young days she had often heard say that on Midsummer Eve, when it was well known all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad, the crusader used to mount his horse, come down from his picture, ride about the house, down the avenue, and so to the church to visit the tomb.”

But no attendee of the Christmas dinner encounters the crusader later that December evening, let alone finds himself spirited away by the supernatural rider. The eerie atmosphere pervading the drawing room of Bracebridge Hall is soon dissipated when Master Simon and other costumed revelers burst in to perform an impromptu “Christmas mummery.” This intriguing “Legend” precursor sketched by Irving ultimately places more emphasis on “wild-eyed frolic and warmhearted hospitality breaking out from among the chills and glooms of winter”; the creation of frisson, though, will prove integral to the more sustained Gothic narrative that conveys “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

 

In Praise of Wednesday

The Addams Family and Tim Burton is a match made in merry hell. The runaway-hit Netflix series Wednesday conjoins the macabre humor of Charles Addams’s original creation with Burton’s gloriously Gothic sensibility. Throw in a compelling central mystery and a dazzling lead performance, and the result is the best new series of 2022.

Darkly beautiful to behold, Burton’s Wednesday is a feast for the eyes (starting with that lofty dorm room in a gargoyle-adorned Queen-Anne-style mansion). The show’s setting features murky woods and cobwebbed ruins, hidden passageways and secret underground chambers. Wednesday also clearly works within Burton’s American Gothic wheelhouse, with its depiction of neighboring town of Jericho–a modern-day village whose quaint appearance cannot cover up its sinister roots that stretch all the way back to Puritan times.

There’s a classic slasher element to the first season’s storyline, as a shapeshifting beast dubbed the Hyde preys on a sequence of cast members (while Wednesday, an aspiring dark-crime writer, works to “unmask” the killer). Along the way, references to Poe abound (the author’s tales in general, but also–via the series’ Nevermore Academy locale–to his ever-popular poem “The Raven”). Stephen King fans will delight in a midseason scene of an ill-fated school formal (a bloody brilliant homage that has been overshadowed by a certain dance routine gone viral). If the overall proceedings tend toward the formulaic, as the show recalls other Netflix ventures such as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (with its plunges into paranormal romance) and Stranger Things (with Wednesday standing in for Eleven, as the heroic leader of a band of “outcasts”), at least it is a winning formula that is copied.

Admittedly, the casting does feel a bit uneven; Wednesday’s parents, in particular, disappoint. Catherine Zeta-Jones gives a wooden performance as Morticia (one unworthy of predecessors Carloyn Jones and Anjelica Huston), and Luis Guzman (Gomez Addams) delivers his lines as if he’s in a perennial state of gastric distress. But the statuesque Gwendoline Christie is the embodiment of glamor and British charm as Principal Weems, and Emma Myers is delightful as Wednesday’s perpetually-bubbly, would-be-werewolf roommate Enid. Let’s give a well-deserved hand, too, to the prestidigitator Victor Dorobantu, who steals scenes throughout as a convincing, more-than-just-digital-fx Thing.

Of course, the success of the series hinges upon Jenna Ortega’s turn in the title role. Anyone who watched her in X knows that Ortega possesses an incredibly expressive face; I was concerned heading in that the strictures of the Wednesday character would prevent the actress from demonstrating her dramatic range. But Ortega manages to channel the stoic snarkiness of Christina Ricci in the 90’s films while also presenting a more rounded figure. Wednesday’s ongoing series format (vs. the episodic nature of a sitcom) necessitates a character arc, and over the course of the first season the teenage Addams grows increasingly less standoffish and more human in her interactions. No easy task to come off at once as sneering and endearing, but this Wednesday makes it look easy. Already a star in the making, Ortega establishes herself here as the most talented young actress currently practicing her craft.

Ultimately, the series evinces a lot of heart–and not just the tell-tale kind. Wednesday’s child might be full of woe (according to the nursery rhyme line that inspired Morticia and Gomez’s christening of their daughter), but Burton’s brainchild Wednesday is full of wonderful entertainment. I’d be kooky not to give it two enthusiastic two-snaps.

 

Night in the Shadowy November

In his new short story, “Out of the Mirror, Darkness,” Garth Nix revisits the protagonists of 2020’s “Many Mouths to Make a Meal”: Jordan Harper, the hard-boiled “studio fixer” for Pharos Pictures, and his even more capable companion, the fountain-of-arcane knowledge Mrs. Hope. This time around, the duo deals with the strange case of deep sleep and photosensitivity involving a lead actress and her canine costar. The weird mystery traces to an ancient evil–the “Gnawer of Shadows”–that has escaped from the titular artifact unwittingly employed as a set prop. Hope and Harper have to combine brains and bravery to save the film production (and perhaps the world) by vanquishing the supernatural threat. Nix’s smart, seamless splicing of old Hollywood history and dark fantasy is terrifically entertaining, and sure to appeal of fans of Kim Newman’s Something More than Night (which I reviewed here last year). Currently available as a free download for Amazon Prime subscribers, this tale of harrowing shadows makes for a perfect close to the month of Noirvember in the Macabre Republic.

 

 

Finally, the Finale

[No spoilers below]

It’s been quite a haul for The Walking Dead (eleven seasons, over twelve years). The series finale has seemed a long time coming, partly because of Season 11’s split into triple eight-episode segments spaced out over fifteen months, and partly because there was a two-week wait (for those who normally got to watch the episodes early on AMC+) after the penultimate installment. But on Sunday night the curtain dropped on the show at last, with episode #177, “Rest in Peace.”

The episode wraps up the central Commonwealth storyline–none to soon, in my opinion. The final season felt like it teetered on the precipice of the ridiculous with the focus on this nouveau bastion of civilization and its ice-cream-eating, zoo-animal-petting citizens. Episodes framed as noir mystery and courtroom drama suggested that the series, much like its eponymous rotters, had lingered on past its prime. Commonwealth governor Pamela Milton was the least of the Big Bads the show has featured (Alpha would have picked her teeth with this hypocritical politician), so her eventual comeuppance doesn’t make for very compelling viewing.

This climactic confrontation between Milton’s forces and the show’s protagonists takes place amidst a zombie invasion of the Commonwealth. Can’t forget about the walkers, right? This plot complication struck me as somewhat illogical (would a massive horde even exist at this stage of the post-apocalypse, and if so, wouldn’t the Commonwealth army have used its military might to decimate any threat that remotely threatened its borders?), facile in its attempt to raise stakes, and tiresome (because it feels like we’ve witnessed such scene several times before over the years). The finale also doesn’t do much with the plot point concerning the walkers’ weird evolutionary leap–their newfound ability to climb barriers and wield handheld tools.

What “Rest in Peace” does best is provide the show’s heroes one last chance to  demonstrate their noble qualities. Actor defections in recent seasons have elevated minor characters into roles arguably larger than they deserved, but these figures all reach a satisfying end to their character arcs. And the resolution (at least until the “Dead City” spinoff starts) of the Maggie-Negan conflict is handled particularly well, a worthy payoff to all the screen time invested in the storyline this season (in a scene that hearkens back to Negan’s notorious first appearance on the show).

Unsurprisingly, the show’s writers do not miss the opportunity to jerk some tears here. My biggest critique of end-stage TWD is that the show deviated from the formula that made it such a riveting watch, mitigating the emotional investment in characters placed in a constant state of peril (and who could perish at any point). It’s hard to fear a grim fate for characters (Daryl, Maggie, Negan) already slated to appear in spinoff series. And those cast members still eligible for elimination also appeared to have grown bite- and bulletproof during Season 11. Heading into the finale, I couldn’t recall the last time a significant character was killed off, but “Rest in Peace” does justify its title with a moving sendoff for one of its most beloved heroes. The episode also does a fine job just before closing of invoking the memory of all those protagonists who died during the show’s long run.

The Walking Dead perhaps staggered to the finish line in its final season, but created an overall body of work that was undeniably groundbreaking, and which will rise to the forefront of any future consideration of 21st Century television history.

 

The Losers’ Club Climbs Up into the Treehouse

Here it is almost two weeks into November, and I’m still catching up on Halloween season items. But no matter: most readers of this blog probably join me in adopting the Alice Cooper mantra of keeping Halloween alive 365.

I just had a chance to listen to recent episode of The Losers’ Club podcast. In “The Simpsons‘ ‘Not It’: Stephen King in Springfield,” the hosts survey King’s intersection with the animated series over the years. After discussing the Treehouse of Horror specials in general, they then zero in to dissect “Not It” (the first of two Treehouse offering by The Simpsons this season). As usual, the group does not hesitate to voice strong critiques, which is fine (better that than being shameless shills). My two common issues with the podcast, though, prove glaringly evident here. First, the Losers are not as funny as they fancy themselves to be, and once again spend too much time dispensing ostensible wit rather than genuine wisdom (the rant in this episode about the state of contemporary humor also seemed brash in its bashing). Secondly, they have a tendency to be incompletely prepared: I can’t believe, given the topic of this particular podcast episode, that no mention was made of The Simpsons‘ previous invocation of Pennywise (in the 2018 episode “Fears of a Clown”). But I’m not here to throw rocks at the Losers, simply to mention that fans of the Fox series and/or King will find the episode a provocative listen.

 

 

Comparing Countdowns

In a previous post, I covered Shudder’s The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time. Now that the Halloween-season-spanning, eight-episode series is complete, let’s compare its rankings to those in the similar countdown specials that preceded it on the Bravo channel.

Abbreviations:
B100= Bravo’s The 100 Scariest Movie Moments [2004]
B30= Bravo’s 30 Even Scarier Movie Moments [2006]
B13= Bravo’s 13 Scarier Movie Moments [2009] 

 

The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time

Episode 1
101. It Follows (2014)
100. The Orphanage (2007)
99. ‘Salem’s Lot (1979)
98. Horror of Dracula (1958)
97. Black Sabbath (1963)
96. Pulse (2001)
95. The Strangers (2008) [B13: #13] 
94. The Wolf-Man (1941) [B100: #62] 
93. Cat People (1942) [B100: #97] 
92. The Birds (1963) [B100: #96] 
91. Mulholland Drive (2001)
90. Child’s Play (1988) [B100: #93] 
89. An American Werewolf in London (1981) [B100: #42] 

Episode 2
88. Us (2019)
87. The Witch (2015)
86. Zombi 2 (1979) [B100: #98] 
85. The Changeling (1980) [B100: #54] 
84. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) [B100: #52] 
83. The Brood (1979) [B100: #78] 
82. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
81. Demons (1985) [B100: #53] 
80. Doctor Sleep (2019)
79. Candyman (1992) [B100: #75] 
78. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
77. The Evil Dead (1981) [B100: #76] 
76. Dawn of the Dead (2004) [B30: #13] 

Episode 3
75. Annihilation (2018)
74. Cujo (1983) [B100: #58] 
73. The Fly (1986) [B100: #33] 
72. The Wicker Man (1973) [B100: #45] 
71. Nosferatu (1922) [B100: #47]
70. The Night House (2020)
69. Aliens (1986) [B100: #35] 
68. The Babadook (2014)
67. The Last House on the Left (1972) [B100: #50] 
66. Terrified [Aterrados] (2017)
65. Friday the 13th (1980) [B100: #31] 
64. Dawn of the Dead (1978) [B100: #39] 
63. Peeping Tom (1960) [B100: #38] 

Episode 4
62. A Quiet Place (2018)
61.The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
60. Phantasm (1979) [B100: #25] 
59. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
58. When a Stranger Calls (1979) [B100: #28] 
57. Black Christmas (1974) [B100: #87]
56. Jacob’s Ladder (1990) [B100: #21] 
55. Threads (1984)
54. The Howling (1981) [B100: #81]
53. Gerald’s Game (2017)
52. Misery (1990) [B100: #12] 
51. Frankenstein (1931) [B100: #27] 
50. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) [B100: #17] 

Episode 5
49. A Bay of Blood (1971)
48. The Conjuring (2013)
47. Get Out (2017)
46. Twin Peaks: Part 8 (2017)
45. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
44. Rosemary’s Babysitter (1968) [B100: #23] 
43. Inside (2007)
42. Se7en (1995) [B100: #26] 
41. Zodiac (2007) [B13: #4] 
40. 28 Days Later (2002) [B100: #100] 
39. 30 Days of Night (2007)
38. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) [B100: #7]
37. Suspiria (1977) [B100: #24] 

Episode 6
36. The Blair Witch Project (1999) [B100: #30]
35. Paranormal Activity (2007)
34. The Sixth Sense (1999) [B100: #71]
33. Let the Right One In (2008)
32. The Invisible Man (2020)
31. Wait Until Dark (1967) [B100: #10] 
30. Don’t Breathe (2016)
29. Hostel (2005) [B30: #1] 
28. Lake Mungo (2008)
27. The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
26. It: Chapter One (2017)
25. I Saw the Devil (2010)
24. Hellraiser (1987) [B100: #19]

Episode 7
23. The Descent (2005) [B13: #1] 
22. Saw (2004) [B30: #3] 
21. Scanners (1981) [B30: #14]
20. [REC] (2007)
19. Carrie (1976) [B100: #8] 
18. The Omen (1976) [B100: #16]
17. Night of the Living Dead (1968) [B100: #9]
16. The Exorcist III (1990)
15. Final Destination (2000)
14. Jaws (1975) [B100: #1]
13. Scream (1996) [B100: #13]
12. Halloween (1978) [B100: #14]
11. Alien (1979) [B100: #2] 

Episode 8
10. Ringu (1995)
9. Train to Busan (2016)
8. Sinister (2012)
7. The Exorcist (1973) [B100: #3]
6. The Shining (1980) [B100: #6]
5. Psycho (1960) [B100: #4]
4. Audition (1999) [B100: #11]
3. Hereditary (2018)
2. The Thing (1982) [B100: #48] 
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) [B100: #5]

 

Some Thoughts:

*This 2022 list makes a conscious effort to be more culturally inclusive; a quarter of the list is comprised of non-North-American films.

*Freaks is the highest-ranked film from the B100 list (#15) to not make the Shudder list. The Haunting (B100: #19) is perhaps the most surprising omission, though (here, the film  is supplanted by the Netflix series).

*The Thing [B100: #48] makes the largest jump from the original Bravo list–a testament to how the film’s reputation has continued to grow over the years.

*The Silence of the Lambs is the Top 10 film from the original Bravo list (#7) to have the biggest drop here. It’s somewhat surprising, too, that the #1 film from the original Bravo list, Jaws, falls all the way to #14 here.

*Dawn of the Dead is the only film listed twice here–the 1978 original and the 2004 remake.

*Frankenstein and The Wolf-Man make this list but their Universal Monster cohort Dracula doesn’t. The top-ranked Universal Monster film on the list: the 2020 remake of The Invisible Man.

*The Shining is the top-ranked Stephen King film adaptation on both this list and the original Bravo list. Despite King’s vocal denunciations of the film, Stanley Kubrick clearly struck a horrifying chord with audiences.

*Twenty-two of the entries here were released after 2009, and so were not even available for consideration for any of the Bravo lists. The top-ranked film here that was eligible but didn’t make the Bravo lists was Ringu (but B100 did rank the American remake of the film at #20).

 

The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time was a wonderful treat this Halloween season. The series brimmed with stunning clips and astute commentary. Mike Flanagan’s closing remarks are so good, I have to quote them in full here:

One of the neat things about the genre is that, yes, we love to be startled, and yes, we love to be frightened, and sometimes we love to root for the killers. We can pour all of our kind of base instincts into sympathizing with the slasher. It lets us do so many different things. It’s cathartic in so many different ways. But it also, in all of its expressions, is just an invitation. For us to be a little bit braver in processing what we go through as people, whether that’s dealing with loss, trauma, violent fantasies, universal fears, fear of the unknown, fear of death itself, or just fear of what we are capable of doing to each other. All of those expressions of the genre all invite us to try to be honest about that, and to try to be a little bit courageous. Just brave enough to make it through the scene, just brave enough to make it through the movie, just brave enough to make it through the episode. And we collectively get that little bit braver.

 

Halloween Ubiquity II

Here’s a follow-up to last week’s pre-Halloween post. Along with Heidi Klum’s costume-party-conquering worm (or supersized spiral ham, depending on your taste) pictured above, these are some superlative seasonal items:

 

Cinema Blend: Jason Wiese revisits a modern classic in his pieceTrick ‘R Treat: 11 Thoughts I Had Rewatching the Halloween-Set anthology Movie.”

 

Crime Reads: Not ready yet to transition into Noirvember? Then check out Olivia Rutigliano’s spotlighting of “The 11 Best Halloween Scenes in Non-Genre (Crime) Movies.”

 

Lit Hub: The compendium “31 Spooky, Eerie, and Uncanny Books to Read for Halloween” will keep your TBR list well-stocked for months to come.

 

First Things: James Matthew Wilson’s post “The Poetry of Autumn” offers a fine survey of seasonal verse throughout American literary history.

 

Tor Nightfire: Ally Russell’s “Good Gourd! On Our Fascination with Pumpkins” is a light-hearted personal essay about the fruit that lights up the fall season.

 

The Skeleton Key: For a decade now, this wonderful blog has presented countless informative, offbeat, and picturesque posts about Halloween. Plenty of material here for those refusing to give in to October’s-over letdown.

 

The Lovecraft eZine Annual Halloween Podcast: This podcast is always a fun listen/watch, but the annual Halloween episode (in which host Mike Davis and his usual panel members are joined by authors Jeffrey and Scott Thomas) is a special treat.

 

Grimm Life Collective: This vlogged walkthrough (day and evening) of Haunted Overload in New Hampshire serves as a reminder of why a visit to the awesome attraction tops my Halloween bucket list.

 

The Veil Thins, The Plot Thickens: A Review of Halloween Beyond

 

Halloween Beyond: Piercing the Veil (Crystal Lake Publishing, 2022)

I can’t think of a more appropriate October Overflow post than a review of a book called Halloween Beyond.

The title of this collection of three thematically-linked novellas refers to a seasonal store that pops up across the country (a la Spirit Halloween). This is no ordinary franchise, though, and the store clerk–a mysterious beauty named Maeve–conducts business with an interest in more than commercial retail. She executes various secret schemes, for purposes that cannot be reduced to the simply sinister (a trite female rewrite of Leland Gaunt Maeve isn’t).

With its Piercing the Veil subtitle, the book forecasts crossings back and forth between the earthly realm and supernatural otherworlds. Yet the book defies expectations thanks to the strikingly varidirectional approaches the three authors take. In the leadoff piece, Lisa Morton’s “The Talking Board,” protagonist Kayla attempts to reach and rescue her sister Hailey who disappeared in the reputedly haunted “Ghost Woods” outside of town the previous Halloween night. Lucy Snyder’s “New Blood” floats the idea of a shady seaside town (which hosts a less-than-innocent Halloween party for local children) and plunges into the deep waters of Lovecraftian horror. Finally, Kate Maruyama’s “A Gentleman’s Suit” presents a yard-haunt prop (a boat-piloting Charon animatronic) that opens an uncanny portal into the afterlife.

Perhaps because of the gender of the respective contributors, there’s a certain commonality to the viewpoint characters of each novella (although Maruyama’s employment of a nonbinary narrator whose identity is integral to the plot provides a welcome variation). The most important characteristics the selections share, though, are richly atmospheric prose and intriguing plots. Fans of Al Sarrantonio’s Orangefield Cycle are sure to relish this book’s combination of the autumnal and the mythic.

Starting with a terrific premise and then impressively developing it, Halloween Beyond makes for a quite satisfying holiday treat. There also seems to be a lot more space left on the curious shop’s shelves for other authors to stock with darkly imaginative items, so I’m hoping that Halloween Beyond pops up again next October with further linked-novella volumes or even an entire theme anthology.