Tag Archives: Horror

Does Size Matter?

Guys, I completed one of my 2015 Reading Resolutions just in time to start thinking about 2016’s … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I finally finished Stephen King’s It. I feel a new kind of emptiness inside and my right eyelid has been twitching for the past couple of days (and I thought Chuck Palahniuk wrote some twisted stuff). That old terror of reality is coming to get me, more frightening than any supernatural evil, but I did finish.

I decided to give myself the entire month of October to read It because it’s huge and because I’d finish on Halloween. Spooooooky! I have to say it’s one of the most complete novels I’ve ever read. Some of the book’s detractors may say that there’s too much detail about the history of a fictional town, but it made the whole experience feel more real. I wanted to go on adventures with the kids in the book and I wanted to be with them when they finally faced off with It, which I can only describe as mind-bendingly far out. The made-for-television adaptation is really like a trailer for the book. There’s only so much of the novel that could conceivably be crammed into just over three hours. Some of the novel—like the showdowns with It—are so unfathomably conceptual that they might be unfilmable. Such scenes are better existing only in your mind, if your mind can handle them.

itcoverIt consumed me and took over my subconscious for a several days. I had nightmares about my friends dying pretty regularly while I read it, but on the night I finished it, my dreams were beatific. I didn’t remember specifics upon waking, but I felt at peace.

The novel is a big hulking thing, more weapon than book, that sat on my bookshelf in three different apartments over five years, a towering 1138-page monolith. I felt a new kind of accomplishment when I turned the final page, and finishing it endowed me with the confidence that I could start and—more importantly—finish other long books.

(Please note: When I talk about length, I’m talking about number of pages, not number of words, even though number of words is more accurate.)

For years I’ve been putting off reading some long books, like Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. For some reason I thought it was around 1000 pages, but it’s a paltry 639. Ernest Hemingway‘s For Whom the Bell Tolls and John Steinbeck’s East of Eden are practically novellas at barely 500 and 600 pages, respectively. And Moby-Dick? Herman Melville’s classic allegorical tale, which I always thought was much longer (like Kavalier & Clay), comes in at 625. Haruki Murakami‘s 1Q84? That’s closer to It at 925. What about Gone with the Wind? Margaret Mitchell gets even closer at 1037 pages. War and Peace? Tolstoy’s tome tips the scales at a whopping 1386 pages.

Some of these look downright scrawny next to It.

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That sweet, sweet thickness.

It isn’t even King’s longest novel; The Stand holds that honor at 1153 pages.

There are, of course, plenty of articles and listicles about the longest novels, some of which are in our catalog, like:  Joseph and His Brothers (1207 pages), Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady (1533) or The Man Without Qualities (1774).

But does size really matter? I’ve read long books that were awful, like the 756-page Breaking Dawn (don’t judge—I was in college, trying to impress a girl) right along with short books that were awful (like The Train from Pittsburgh). Likewise, I’ve read short books that were fantastic (like the 295-page Me and Earl and the Dying Girl). Regardless, it’s undeniable that with more words—and more pages—authors have more room to create a more detailed world into which you can escape.

I doubt anyone would bemoan a well-crafted escape.

What’s the longest book you’ve ever read, dear readers? Do you have any recommendations on what I should read next to decompress after It? Sound off in the comments below!

–Ross

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Must See TV in October

Image by GDJ at Open Clip Art. Click through for source.

Image by GDJ at Open Clip Art. Click through for source.

Fall means football, changing leaves changing and the return of TV shows!  While some of my favorite TV shows (Empire, How To Get Away With Murder, & Scandal) have already returned, there are some more shows that premiere very soon that I’m excited about:

1. The Flash (Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW)

The last season of The Flash left viewers with a lot of questions. How did Barry’s battle with the Reverse Flash end? What will happen with S.T.A.R. Labs? What will happen between Barry & Iris? Most of these questions will likely not be answered within the first episode. If you wanna catch up on the first season of The Flash it’s available in our catalog.

2. iZombie (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW)

Olivia “Liv” Moore is a medical examiner who also happens to be a zombie. She applied for the job as a medical examiner so she could have access to brains. Little did she know that when she ate the brains of murder victims, she would get visions that led to discovering how they died. So, with this new found gift she works with the Seattle Police Department Detective Clive Babineaux to help solve cases. Initially I wasn’t going to watch this show because from the trailer I thought that it looked stupid, but it’s actually a good show. Unfortunately, season one isn’t in our system, but the graphic novels that the TV show are based on are available.

3. Arrow (Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW)

Oliver Queen is no longer the Arrow! Well at least that’s what the show’s writers and Queen himself want us to think. I doubt that the fairy tale world of Oliver and Felicity Smoak will last (sigh) We’ll just have to see what happens when the show comes back. Season 3 is available in our catalog along with tons of graphic novels featuring Green Arrow.

4. American Horror Story: Hotel (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX)

Ryan Murphy’s creepy anthology show is back for a fifth season. This time it takes place in a hotel. Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates and Matt Bomer are back for another season. There’s a new face along for the ride this time: Lady Gaga. I’m really interested to see how she’ll do on the show. Previous seasons of American Horror Story are available in our catalog.

What new shows are you watching this season? Which ones are you waiting on to return? Let us know in the comments below!

~Kayla

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A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night–and straight into my movie-loving heart

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Photo taken from ShockTilYouDrop.com – all rights reserved to same – click through to read a blurb about the film

I recently had the chance to see A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the feature-length debut of Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour.

Let me say this right off the bat:  I’m not really a fan of vampire movies; I could probably count the ones I like on one thumbless hand (Thirst, Vampyr, Let Me In and Afflicted). Sadly, I’ve yet to see the original Let the Right One In or any version of Nosferatu. And, while both were supremely stylish, I didn’t love Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Only Lovers Left Alive as much as I’d hoped.

Oh, did I not mention A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a vampire movie?

The film follows the titular girl, played by Sheila Vand, as she lurks around the aptly-named Bad City, looking for her next victim. As a non-vamp-fan, I’m not sure what interested me in this film in the first place. Was it the fact that it was filmed in black and white (which adds an otherworldly eeriness to the film)? The superbly constructed tagline (“The First Iranian Vampire Western”)? Or was it just curiosity raised from reading an article on Indiewire.  Whatever the reason, I kept checking our catalog, hoping that we’d get a copy. When I finally saw it, I quickly put my name on the waiting list.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is both brand new (The Girl–as she’s credited–is a skateboarding, chador-wearing vampire!) and nostalgic (The Girl loves vinyl; the last song she listened to was Lionel Richie’s “Hello”). There’s no end of vampire symbolism; needles attached to heroin-filled syringes pierce the skin of junkies, we’re often shown oil rigs plunging their giant metallic teeth into the ground and slowly sucking Bad City dry. It’s a wonderful amalgamation of pulpy film noir, Midwest ghost towns and Amirpour’s recreation of Iran; the characters speak Farsi, yet it was filmed in the darkened streets of Taft, CA.

The following scene, featuring Vand and her victim(?), the ecstasy-addled Arash (played by Arash Marandi, a.k.a. the Iranian James Dean), could fit into any idyllic indie/hipster drama (not unlike the adorably charming God Help the Girl) and be a delightful scene. But within the confines of the universe that Amirpour has created, it becomes a near-psychedelic trip that raises hairs as it walks a fine line between terror and temptation. Honestly, even if you hate the other ninety-six minutes of this movie, this scene will more than make up for it. It’s magical:

It’s a film that takes its time building the horror and tension, as evidenced by the above scene. Today’s technology-swilling generation, with the attention span smaller than a femtometer, often equates tension-building with boring (have we forgotten the first half of Psycho or the entirety of The Blair Witch Project?). In an arena mostly dominated by jump-scares and senseless gore, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night shines through the fog of horror mediocrity. To be fair, there is some gore in the film, but it’s used in a way that doesn’t make it the punch line of horror; the gore is used as a means, not the end. Plus, it’s in black and white so it isn’t nearly as gruesome as it would be in color (again, like Psycho).

I could go on and on about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night; it’s a film I’ll definitely want to revisit–and recommend–again and again. It made me an instant fan of Amirpour, so I looked up what she’s doing next. Due out in 2016 and starring Jason MomoaKeanu Reeves and Jim Carrey, her next film is titled The Bad Batch. It’s a love story set in a cannibal commune. I’m not joking. Even if cannibal love stories aren’t your thing, you have to admit that’s a pretty interesting and impressive group of actors for a relative newcomer to assemble.

Do you have a favorite vampire movie? Did you hate the ones I enjoyed? Sound off below!

–Ross

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Sharp Short Stories

Short story collections are a great way to get to know an author, and reading them is a win-win situation: if you enjoy the tales, you can see what else s/he’s written; if you don’t care for them, you haven’t wasted a lot of precious reading time. Short story collections are also a treat for people who already love an author, and are pining away for her/his next novel.

There have been a number of really solid short story collections released this year. Here are three that pair nicely with the cold, dark winter ahead of us.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel. Quiet people leading Mantelquiet lives that suddenly take turns for the uncomfortable, supernatural, or just plain deadly are the meat and potatoes of this collection. They’re all outstanding, but my favorites were “Harley Street,” which, up to the very end, pretends to be one kind of story and then suddenly turns into another; “The Heart Fails Without Warning,” which reads like an homage to Kate Chopin‘s “The Story of an Hour”; and “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher,” which plays fast and loose with English history. Available in print, audio book, eBook, and eAudio.

AtwoodStone MattressMargaret Atwood. Atwood can do terrible just as nicely as Mantel can. However, her terrible tends to have spots of sweetness, melancholy, or other gentler emotions mixed in as well. This tone is set with the fantastical “Alphinland,” which is then followed by two stories that occur in the same universe to the same characters, forming a lovely little world I would’ve liked to see more of. Other highlights include “The Freeze-Dried Groom” (not a metaphor) and “Torching the Dusties,” in which an elderly woman with Charles Bonnet syndrome must flee an attack on her assisted living facility (uncomfortably plausible) with the help of a fellow resident. Available in print, eBook, eAudio, and Playaway.

Spoiled Brats, Simon Rich. Rich sticks it to the clueless and the entitled with this richwickedly funny collection of tales, narrated mostly by characters who have no idea how clueless and entitled they are. Rich doesn’t let himself off the hook, either: two of the stories feature a character named Simon Rich who is unpleasant as all get out (one of those tales, “Animals,” is narrated by a classroom’s pet hamster). Other highlights include “Gifted,” which satirizes privileged, pushy parenting, and “Elf on the Shelf” (’tis the season, after all). Available in print only.

Dark fiction for dark nights, in easy-to-read bites!  Are you a fan of the short story form? Who are your favorite authors? Read any good collections lately?

–Leigh Anne

 

 

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Don’t Go In There!

It’s hard to say why I find horror movies, and haunted house movies in particular, so appealing. It probably has something to do with being frightened, but from the comfort and safety of my couch or theater seat (the credits roll, and I’m reminded that none of this is real). It could also have something to with the house I grew up in, the “original homestead” of my ancestors in Oregon. While I don’t recall it being particularly haunted, it was a shadowy old Victorian house in great disrepair, and years after we moved out I heard rumors that it was the sort of abandoned house that teenagers would dare each other to spend the night in (I will not include a photo here dear readers, because I don’t want it to haunt your dreams). Of course, scary movies might also appeal to me because of my family’s occasional visits to the Timberline Lodge for dining — the Lodge served as the exterior of one of the (imho) most creepy movies ever filmed, The Shining.

Pop Pilgrims The Shining from Timberline Lodge on Vimeo.

Whatever the reason, I like a good, scary haunted house movie. And whether you prefer your haunted house movies to be atmospheric or funny, there’s sure to be something on this list that appeals to everyone:

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The Amityville Horror
A couple’s Long Island colonial house on the river’s edge seems perfect–until it isn’t.

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Beetlejuice
The non-ghosts are scarier than the ghosts in this film. After a  trendy New York family moves into an old farmhouse, the former tenants (a couple of likable ghosts) contact the afterlife’s bio-exorcist “Beetlejuice” to help them scare the family away. The Danny Elfman score for the film is also killer.

changeling

The Changeling
After the death of his wife and child, a composer moves to a secluded mansion, where he attracts the unwilling attention of a possible ghost. An underrated gem, with some scenes that inspired the director of the more recent The Conjuring.

conjuring

The Conjuring

One of the best haunted house movies to come out in years, this 2013 film focuses on a family terrorized by a dark presence in the secluded farmhouse they just moved into.

The Evil Dead
Five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in the Tennessee woods unwittingly resurrect malevolent demons and spirits.

thehaunting

The Haunting
Adapted from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, this psychological thriller tells the story of four people who come to a haunted house to study its supernatural phenomena—and may never leave.

house

House (1977)
After learning that she will be sharing the summer with her father’s new girlfriend, a young girl invites some friends to join her at her aunt’s house instead. With a sick aunt, a bloodthirsty cat, and evil spirits lurking around, the girls find that it might have been better to stay at home. A very weird, crazy film that is half horror, half dark humor.

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Unusual Monsters

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Watch out for monsters! Image from: http://www.rogerebert.com

I’d be willing to argue that almost all good horror movies are metaphors (with the added caveat that not all horror movies are good). While I realize that some folks may not be fans of the genre, I wish it were given a little more respect. Although there are plenty of goofy and campy monster movies, there are also quite a few that deal with more serious issues. As with other fringe genres, horror movies have the freedom to deal with weighty social matters—race, gender, and social inequality—through metaphor.

americannightmareThe recent documentary The American Nightmare makes this argument by mostly focusing on the horror movie renaissance during the 1960s and 70s, its main thesis being that during this time of great social unrest, many issues were being worked out through horror movies. Pittsburgh’s own George Romero is featured in the film, and admits that Night of the Living Dead was partially inspired by the violence he witnessed during the civil rights movement; and famed make-up artist Tom Savini found working on special effects to be a cathartic experience after the horrors he witnessed in the Vietnam War.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not trying to take all the fun out of the horror genre (I can appreciate a good, campy horror movie with the best of them), I’m just trying to make the case that there’s a lot more to this most lowly of genres than gory effects and spooky noises. Here are my picks for a few intelligent and original contemporary horror movies:

monsters

Monsters was shot on a meager budget with non-famous actors, but is a solid monster/alien movie. After aliens land in Mexico, the central part of the country is quarantined. An American tourist trapped south of the quarantine line attempts to travel through the “infected zone” with the help of a local journalist. What starts as disaster-monster-road movie morphs into a love story about the horrors of xenophobia.

wearewhatweare

This movie does something kind of impressive—it makes you feel sympathy for the Mexican cannibal family at the center of the film. After all, they don’t want to eat people—it’s just what they’ve always done.  We Are What We Are  starts with the passing of the father of said cannibal family, and then examines the dysfunctional dynamics of the clan as they try to “provide for the family” after the death of a parent. [Side note: this movie was just remade in the United States, and has been getting mostly glowing reviews.]

changeling

Ghosts are spooky, but do you know what’s even more terrifying? Grief.  After moving to a creepy old house in Seattle, George C. Scott is trying to get over the death of his wife and daughter—but a malevolent ghost won’t leave him alone. The Changeling is neither gory nor violent, but earns its ‘R’ rating by being just plain scary. Technically, it’s not a contemporary horror film, but it only recently became available on DVD. If you like haunted house movies, this one’s for you.

tuckerndale

This horror-comedy definitely subverted all my expectations. We all know the set-up: college kids on vacation at a lake encounter scary looking backwoods boys. Except in Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil the heroes are the two hillbillies, who are a couple of nice guys just out to enjoy a quiet vacation in the woods. The misunderstanding between the college kids & the two lovable rubes reaches a comic, and grisly, conclusion. Warning: this movie does contain a good deal of gore, but is also smart and very funny.

magic

Who knew that Michael Cera could play such a creeper? Picture being trapped and isolated in a foreign country with one of the most obnoxious travel companions you can imagine. That pretty much sums up Magic Magic, in which the protagonist slowly starts to unravel after not being able to sleep and not understanding the local language or customs in rural Chile. This is an unsettling movie, and not recommended for anyone who has ever dealt with the horrors of insomnia.

What scary movies are you watching this Halloween season?

-Tara

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Appalachian Autumn

As the cool evenings settle in for a proper Southwestern Pennsylvania autumn, thoughts often turn to the horror end of the spectrum. As a full disclaimer, I’m not a horror guy. I like some stuff a WHOLE lot, though. For example, Night of the Living Dead stands as one of the best films of all time to me. Also, Carnival of Souls is a fantastically strange, oddly dreamlike horror movie from 1962. They are both available on one DVD for your convenience! Likewise, the original 1963 version of The Haunting is all but unmatched in atmosphere and tension. That film is mind-blowingly good.

Movies are cool and all, but where my interest really lies might be closer to explorations of the cryptozoological kind. One of my favorite cryptozoological/mythical creatures has to be the Mothman. Having roots in the Appalachian region (and I don’t need to remind you that Pittsburgh is the Paris of Appalachia) , the Mothman is a very interesting creature. Some say he is a harbinger of disaster, some that he is the result of ecological catastrophe. Still others look at him as another little-known mountain monster.  One of the best places to get more information is Donnie Sergent’s book Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend. This book cobbles together facsimiles of the handwritten eyewitness reports, along with news clippings to illustrate a very thorough picture of what the Mothman is all about.

If the cryptozoological isn’t your cup of tea, I would point you in the direction of some excellent fiction by the Appalachian writer Manly Wade Wellman. His collection of short stories Valley So Low: Southern Mountain Stories is a fantastic collection of creepy, interesting, engaging, well written horror. His style struck me as being one that gives enough to create the scene, to illustrate what the reader needs, but I didn’t feel overly burdened with description or setting. Rather, Wellman uses his considerable skill to give the reader what they need and point them in the direction he wishes them to go. He knows when to back off and when to push the reader to a particular spot. Filled with stories of forbidden knowledge, strange creatures, and off-putting half-forgotten places in the mountains, Wellman puts together a fantastically odd, weird, (and at the risk of repeating myself…but I just can’t help it) CREEPY collection that is worth curling up with on a cool autumn night.

There you have it, dear Eleventh Stack reader! A few classic horror films of note and two thoroughly Appalachian sources for some Autumnal creepiness! Enjoy!

Eric – who is gearing up on blankets and tea for cool nights spent reading with the cats

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