Stuff and Nonsense: horror

Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts


The Murders of Molly Southbourne

The Murders of Molly Southbourne is a strange little novella, at once compelling and also surprisingly unsatisfying. I read it in one sitting, frequently wanting to put it down and disliking it intensely at points, but could not stop reading. Yet, after I finished, I found myself skimming back through The Murders of Molly Southbourne, feeling certain I'd missed something.

Oh, I enjoyed the premise -- whenever Molly bleeds, her spilt blood grows into other mollys who must be dealt with before they turn all murder-y -- but, ultimately, the novella felt unfinished and I was left with SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

My questions are more than a bit spoilery, so you might want to stop here with "The world-building in The Murders of Molly Southbourne is vague and unsatisfying, but I'm pretty sure I'd watch a season of it were it to be adapted by Netflix or Amazon."

  • Why did Molly's blood generate mollys?
  • Where did the mollys come from when she wasn't bleeding -- I understand one was alive, zombie-like, down a hole for years -- but what of the others?
  • Why did the other mollys want to kill her?
  • Why was the "last" molly different?

Evolutionary drive seemed a hand-wavy answer to these questions.

And then there were what I think of as the "menstrual questions:"

  • Why did Molly's mother not explain menstruation to her long before it happened? If Molly's blood births monsters, than surely menarche should be a time of extra concern?
  • Why is Molly burying the evidence of her monthlies? Why not burn them in the furnace with the mollys? I'm imagining a diaper pail full of diluted bleach in the bathroom, that she adds bloody stuff to & then takes to the furnace? Rather than burying it in the back garden, which is just a big NOPE.
  • Why isn't Molly using a continuous birth control pill to keep from menstruating? Molly's world suffers from an extremely low birthrate and I can see where that might mean birth control would be frowned upon or difficult to obtain, but she's a also registered hemophiliac. Certainly, there's no mention of contraception when she discusses sex, but what do I know?

See, I told you -- SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson. Tor: 2017.


Night Strangers

After Chip Linton crashlands his plane in Lake Champlain, causing the death of thirty-nine passengers, he and his family decide to rebuild their lives in rural New Hampshire. The old farmhouse they purchase is a ramshackle affair, full of unsettling wallpaper and hidden weapons, that has seen its share of tragedy. The locals seem friendly enough -- although the local “herbalists” seem weirdly fascinated with the Linton twins, they appear well-intentioned and supply the new arrivals with a steady flow of baked goods and treats.

Unfortunately, while Emily and the girls seem to fit right in, Chip can’t settle down. There’s a door in the creepy, dirt-floored cellar sealed with thirty-nine carriage bolts, you see. Its existence nags at him. As do the ghosts of three of his dead passengers -- especially the littlest ghost, who deserves playmates her own age.

I enjoyed Night Strangers immensely. It was, for me, the perfect, creepy Christmas Eve read. The (deceptively) slow pace of the novel was made deliciously torturous by the constant undercurrent of foreboding -- with every page turned I thought “and now SOMETHING TERRIBLE must happen,” but no. Just the slow, suspenseful slide of Chip from PTSD into Redrum Crazy. And then ... and then all hell broke loose and everything I’d vaguely suspected or feared occurred in a wild denouement that left me torn between “What the hell, Chris Bohjalian?” and “I love you, Chris Bohjalian!”

Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. Crown Publishers, 2011. Kindle edition.


Wake of Vultures

I don't read Westerns or horror and while Wake of Vultures both is and isn't either of those things, it certainly dressing up like them, and that just confused the heck out of me when I started reading it.

Ohhhh, but then ... by the time Nettie Lonesome arrived at the brothel with the other ranch hands I was hooked. Couldn't put the darn book down. Gobbled it down in three hours flat. It's a weird fantasy-Western-horror mash-up with a magickal nonwhite, mixed race, cross-dressing, bisexual protagonist. In some ways, I feel I'd waited my whole life to read Wake of Vultures and I'm thoroughly chuffed to hear Nettie's adventures will continue in Conspiracy of Ravens (also, confusingly, sometimes titled Horde of Crows) and I cannot wait for October.

I received an advance reading copy of Wake of Vultures at BookExpo America 2015 and, as an ARC, it is possible my version differs from the one currently available at your public library so caveat lector, etc.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen (Orbit, 2015) [ARC]


Through The Woods

A collection of dark, creepy-yet-beautiful stories. I made the mistake of gulping this book down all in one go, quite late at night, and then I COULDN’T SLEEP. Seriously, what was I thinking? I was thinking it couldn’t be that scary and I’d be fine, because I’m a sensible adult who doesn’t let her imagination run away with her.

And, really, it isn’t scary in the traditional sense of, say, monsters jumping out from under beds. Yet the stories left me feeling deeply uneasy. While the stories show you plenty of horrors, the horrors they suggest are much worse as your brain is more than happy to give them shape. (However, while I found Through The Woods delightfully creepy, The Husband was not impressed at all so ymmv).

Carroll makes good use of black, red, and white in the illustrations the accompany each story. They are quite atmospheric and definitely ratchet each story’s creep factor up a notch. I find her illustrations at once deeply disturbing and beautiful. Carroll has many comics available on her site and, if you take a look, you’ll see what I mean.

Through The Woods by Emily Carroll (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014)


Seasonal Reads: Rosemary’s Baby

During the summer of '65, a young married couple eagerly move into the Bramford, a highly desirable New York City apartment building. The wife, Rosemary, is a naïve young woman completely in love with her new apartment (and actor husband) ... until things start to get a little strange after she becomes pregnant. Her new neighbors, once seemingly kind-hearted and well-intentioned folk, become increasingly menacing as her pregnancy advances. And Rosemary's loving husband, Guy, turns cold and distant as his success as an actor grows. He's not even interested in the baby. While the neighbors are obsessed with it. What's going on at the Bramford?

Of course, we all know. Right? Rosemary's Baby is such a pop culture touchstone that it's hard to believe anyone could NOT know what's up at the Bramford. Certainly, I've never seen the film but I knew enough about it that very little of the novel surprised or shocked me and those bits that did probably weren't intended to. Like the way Guy masks Rosemary's drugged rape (by Old Nick himself!) by claiming to have had baby-making sex with her while she was passed out drunk after dinner. Yes, by all means, cover up a rape with a rape! And, dear god, the constant casual racism. Oh, 1960s America, I don't miss you.

Mostly, though, I have to say I enjoyed Rosemary's Baby. Levin clearly knows how to write, having set what is essentially a classic Gothic horror story in modern urban America and managed to make it feel real. The story is all from Rosemary's POV and we slowly move with her from enthusiasm and amused interest to creeping dread and confusion. Yes, Rosemary is a bit slow to catch on to what's happening and I could clearly see what was happening well before she did, but it's hard to know whether that's Rosemary's fault or whether I should blame cultural saturation. Rosemary is, despite her lapsed Catholicism and upward-climbing urban lifestyle, still a "good" small town girl who wants to see the best in things. Her neighbors can't be dabblers in the Dark Arts -- they're so kind and constantly fussing over her pregnancy! Her husband can't be colluding with Satanists -- he's just distant because he's overwhelmed with work! Her baby can't be the Son of Satan -- he's too cute?!

And that's pretty much where the novel falls apart for me. Right there at the end when Rosemary decides that the demonic rape-conceived child -- the same child she had just moments before considered throwing herself out the window with -- is actually rather sweet. Cute even. Am I supposed to believe that Rosemary is so overwhelmed by maternal feeling that she actually falls in love with the little monster? It's too big a stretch and occurs too quickly to be even slightly believable. All I can hope is that Roman Castevet's gentle pleading and the mental focus of the other Satanists have subverted Rosemary. Or, perhaps, she's had a complete psychotic break. Because, otherwise, no.

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Leven (Random House, 1967)


The Madman’s Daughter

As the screams dragged on, haunting my every breath, my mind started to wander to darker and darker places. Wondering what would cause an animal to scream like that. Imagining the beast spread out, shackled down, dotted lines traced on its skin in black ink. And why? What purpose did Father have for such wanton cruelty?
Juliet Moreau's father was once the most celebrated physiologist in England and Juliet had every expectation of a bright, shining future. Then her father's terrible experiments were discovered and Moreau fled England, leaving his wife and daughter to the grudging charity of family and the disdain of a society that could not drop them fast enough. Needless to say, Juliet's life became one of hardship and drudgery. She had no hope for the future … until she stumbled upon evidence her father might still be alive.

In the company of Montgomery, a family servant/childhood friend, Juliet sets sail to the remote tropical island where her father continues his work.

*cue ominous music*

I'm quite sure I would have liked The Madman's Daughter better if I had never read The Island of Doctor Moreau. It took me much of the first third to accept that Moreau had married and fathered a daughter. Also, I had difficulty accepting that his assistant, Montgomery, should not only be (conveniently) about the same age as Juliet, but also be her childhood friend. And then, when Edward the Castaway was thrown into the mix as the Mysterious Love Interest, I almost closed the book forever. What kept me going? Dr. Moreau. He's excellently wrought -- the kind of character I love to hate -- and it was worth plowing through the rest of the novel just to experience the slim bits of the novel he occupies.

That said, the novel is 420 pages long and too much of it felt given over to Juliet's "do I love Montgomery? No, I love Edward! No, I love Montgomery!" angst. It's first love. It makes one obsessive. I understand. But it shouldn't make one dumber than a post. That Juliet didn't twig on to her own secret or Edward's secret ... oh, I was so annoyed. I can see why Juliet might not guess her own secret -- children want to think the best of their parents and the world they brought them into and that's true even when your dad is a vilified vivisectionist. But not to have guessed Edward's secret? Juliet might not have read any Dickens and can therefore be forgiven for not seeing through "Chesney Wold." But once she knew the significance of her father's Shakespeare collection, shouldn't "Edward Prince" have seemed significant?

But, on the other hand, Edward is Victorian Wolverine and that's totes awesome!

Seriously, Shepherd did a really good job fleshing out and humanizing Moreau's monsters. It was impossible not to be in sympathy with them and, in several cases, I found I preferred them to the humans on the island. Alice, Jaguar, Caesar, Balthazar! If only the novel had been more about them. And, yes, maybe Edward/Wolverine? Although I don't think we can have more Edward and the other beast-people without having to think more on the science that made them ... and that doesn't bear thinking on. (Which isn't Shepherd's fault as the science didn't work in The Island of Dr. Moreau, either).

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd (HarperCollins, 2013)


he Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

There is a child -- a baby -- who long since kicked off her blankets. Her skin is ashen and her mouth open in a perpetual yet silent scream. She isn't old enough to roll over, to sit up, to climb. So she lies there kicking her fat legs against the footboard of the crib, eternally calling for her mother. For food.
For flesh.

I've been putting off writing about The Forest of Hands and Teeth, because I can't quite decide what I think of it. I certainly devoured the book -- usually, a strong indicator of liking -- but afterwards I was full of doubts. Oh, quite a lot of The Forest of Hands and Teeth was well-written and there were some truly beautiful, poetic passages that made me sniffle, but the love triangle left me feeling completely meh. Admittedly, I am a cranky old woman with no patience for insta-love or triangles. I am quite sure teenage-me would have been totes Team Travis.

Also, the Unconsecrated nag at me. If the Unconsecrated can pile up against a stout trapdoor and burst it open under their weight, why did they not (years and years ago) overrun Mary's village by simply piling up against the chain-link fence? If most of humanity has died or become Unconsecrated and the Unconsecrated decay into nonthreatening undead bits as time progresses, then why are there still so many Unconsecrated? I mean, the events recounted in The Forest of Hands and Teeth occur generations after the First Night and yet it's still Zombies All the Time.

I'd like to think the next book will answer my questions, but The Dead-Tossed Waves is a companion piece, not a sequel. It features some returning characters, but I don't know that they're central to the story, and it sounds like it's spinning a whole different love triangle. I'm not interested in love triangles -- I want to know more about the Unconsecrated -- so I don't know whether to go on with the series or not. Will The Dead-Tossed Waves explain the Unconsecrated or just create more confusion?

Oh, heck, if there's even the remotest chance of another undead baby I'm in.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (Delacorte, 2009)


Gothic Challenge: Closed on Account of Rabies

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

I enjoyed Stories of the Macabre so much that I went looking through my library consortium’s catalog to see what other recordings might be available to me. As soon as I saw the title, Closed on Account of Rabies, I knew I had to give it a listen. I mean, doesn’t it look deliciously disturbing?

The audiobook collects fourteen of Poe’s stories and poems. Some have been set to song and all have accompanying atmospheric background music/sounds. I found the background music distracting as it frequently overwhelmed the performer -- too loud and/or too pronounced. Iggy Pop, Christopher Walken, and Gabriel Byrne performed excellent renditions of Poe's most famous horror stories, but I enjoyed them less than Ralph Cosham's on Stories of the Macabre, because the background music was so darn distracting.

That said, oh, you haven’t heard "The Raven" until you’ve heard it performed by Christopher Walken! (Just ignore the guitar).

Closed on Account of Rabies: Poems & Tales of Edgar Allan Poe written by Edgar Allan Poe & read by various (Mercury Records, 1997)


Gothic Reading Challenge: Stories of the Macabre

"For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not — and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul."

I’ve been listening to Ralph Cosham read Richard Adams’s Watership Down and he’s doing such a bang-up job that I started looking for other works read by him. Poe’s Stories of the Macabre seemed a good place to start -- being short and appropriately seasonal.

Stories of the Macabre comprises six of Poe's classic horror stories and two of his poems:
  • “The Bells” -- Oh, those bells! They’ll drive you mad, they will.
  • “The Cask of Amontillado” -- Man takes revenge upon a friend who has insulted him by bricking said friend up in a wall.
  • “The Tell-Tale Heart” -- Man kills his landlord who has a blind eye, because the eye is driving him crazy. Police investigate, madness ensues.
  • “The Fall of the House of Usher” -- Out of friendship, Man visits a crumbling house beset by madness and disease. Someone gets buried alive.
  • “The Raven” -- Man is visited by a raven while mourning the loss of his beloved Lenore. Man descends into madness.
  • “The Black Cat” -- Alcoholic Man sinks into depravity, commits murder, and is haunted by Basement Cat.
  • “Berenice” -- Man, affianced to his cousin, becomes inappropriately fixated on her teeth and removes them from her corpse (which, it turns out, is not actually corpse).
  • “The Man That Was Used Up” -- Man meets the famous Brevet Brigadier General, who is more than the sum of his parts. Or is he? (Not a horror story, actually, but a satire)
Cosham’s superb reading is full of enthusiasm and emotion -- there is absolutely no doubting the wild madness or cold, calculating, wickedness that possesses our protagonists. Indeed, the mad little laugh he gives during “The Tell-Tale Heart” sent chills down my spine and the calm, rational tone he uses while reading “The Black Cat” made my flesh crawl.

And, on a mostly related note, I give you a scene from Edgar Allan Pooh's "The Tell-Tale Heart:"

Stories of the Macabre written by Edgar Allan Poe & read by Ralph Cosham (Commuters Library, 2002)


Day 8: Book That Scares You

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House scared the bejesus out of me. I like scary stories with subtle, crafty horrors, because those qualities make them seem much more terrible and far creepier then something with werewolves or midnight graveyards and Shirley Jackson is so very, very good at that.

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

And, of course, many of Jackson’s short stories are excellent. “The Possibility of Evil” is a favorite – full of small town nastiness and terrible tyranny by a neat, Respectable old lady.

The town where she lived had to be kept clean and sweet, but people everywhere were lustful and evil and degraded, and needed to be watched; the world was so large, and there was only one Strangeworth left in it.


The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer

At the point where I learned what I was fighting, loving, I knew that I was bound, in the end, to lose. I dispensed with the formalities of tenderness, pity, the ceremonial flattery that should go before disciplined massacre. I fought, I suppose, like a woman, uttering distracting cries, making false moves, hitting below the belt. I was incapable of giving up, and unable to escape. But I was no match for Jake. He went on loving me even after I was beaten, propped up with my wound wide open, emptied of memory or hope.

Mrs. Armitage (we never learn her personal name) has lots of kids, but she isn't really mother to any of them as the lifestyle she maintains with her current husband (number four, which is a bit of a big deal in 1950s England) means there are layers of carers between herself and the children. I get the feeling she resents those layers, but doesn't see away through them. This is the life her husband has built and it's supposed to be the life she wants. Maybe, having another baby would make things better? She does enjoy being pregnant. But does she enjoy being pregnant because it is the only time she feels in control of herself and at the center of things?

Her husband doesn't want more children and finally cajoles her into an abortion and sterilization. Mrs Armitage goes along with his desires, because she loves him and wants to keep her marriage together when it is obvious another pregnancy will wreck it. Of course, Mrs Armitage is understandably destroyed when she discovers her husband has been having an affair with a young married actress he works with and has gotten her pregnant. Is it any surprise she ends up hiding out from her husband and children in their glass tower of a country house?

While I couldn't stop reading The Pumpkin Eater, I can't say I enjoyed it overmuch. There are darkly funny bits and some of the language is quite lyrical, but it's still a brutal story with sort of drab inevitability to it. Long before the children laid siege to the tower, I knew Mrs. Armitage would be conquered and reclaimed and that life would go on as before for her, sans fecundity.

The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer (NYRB Classics, 2011)


Gothic Challenge: Little Vampire Women

The March family are impoverished, humanitarian vampires living in New England during the Civil War. Mr. March, a chaplain in the Union Army is away from home, and Mrs. March does her best to contrive a happy home for her four daughters and send them down a life-path which will turn them into "little vampire women."

I must admit that while I have watched several film versions of Little Women, I have never managed to read the novel in its entirety. However, when I saw the cover of Little Vampire Women with its pale, blood-covered young women, I immediately thought that this might be a version of Little Women I could stand to read. Surely it would avoid the mawkish qualities that drove me from the original novel?

Well, yes, and no. Yes, there's lots of blood, vampire defender training, and slaying of vampire hunters, but there's also plenty of sweet rhapsody over the perfection of "Dear Marmee," Beth's possession of Mr Laurence, Meg's courtship and marriage to Mr Brook, and a million other things that most girlish readers would enjoy. But I didn't. Much of the novel felt as Little Women had felt when I tried to read it all those years ago -- preachy and kind of smarmy in its sweetness.

I feel I should mention that Little Women is the only Alcott novel I don't get on with. Little Men was one of my favorite childhood reads and I adored her semi-autobiographical novel, Work: A Story of Experience, when I read it last April.

Little Vampire Women by Louisa May Alcott and Lynn Messina (HarperTeen, 2010)


Gothic Reading Challenge: The Canterville Ghost

Even though the Gothic Reading Challenge doesn't officially begin until 1 January, I've already started. Oh, I didn't mean to. No, indeed. I was just on Amazon, looking for something short and free to read on my phone, when Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost just leapt off the screen.

The Canterville Ghost is comedy in Gothic trappings -- sensible, modern, forward-thinking Americans buy a haunted English country house. Discovering a mysterious bloodstain, they set to cleaning it with Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent! Confronted by a chain-clanking fiend, they offer him Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator! Oh, you almost have to feel sorry for the foul spectre -- he's only trying to carry out a job he's had for hundreds of years and here are these wretched, modern Americans, not taking things the least bit seriously! It's humiliating and, obviously, he must have his revenge:

The owl beat against the window panes, the raven croaked from the old yew-tree, and the wind wandered moaning round the house like a lost soul; but the Otis family slept unconscious of their doom, and high above the rain and storm he could hear the steady snoring of the Minister for the United States. He stepped stealthily out of the wainscoting, with an evil smile on his cruel, wrinkled mouth, and the moon hid her face in a cloud as he stole past the great oriel window, where his own arms and those of his murdered wife were blazoned in azure and gold. On and on he glided, like an evil shadow, the very darkness seeming to loathe him as he passed. Once he thought he heard something call, and stopped; but it was only the baying of a dog from the Red Farm, and he went on, muttering strange sixteenth-century curses, and ever and anon brandishing the rusty dagger in the midnight air.

Woooo ...

One of my local libraries has The Canterville Ghost in audio and I'm hoping to get my hands on it before Christmas, as I'm sure it would be a lot of fun to listen to!


Gothic Reading Challenge 2011

Susan B. Evans is hosting the Gothic Reading Challenge and I, fool that I am, have signed up to read five books in the coming year.

Dates: January 1, 2011 – December 31, 2011
There is nothing better than a great Gothic read – crumbling old castles, mysterious legends, shadowy characters, supernatural beings and unexplainable events, make for some of the most haunting and captivating reading imaginable.

There are four levels of participation to choose from:

A Little Madness – Read just 1 novel with Gothic elements.
The Darkness Within – Read 5 novels with Gothic elements.
A Maniacal Frenzy – Read 10 novels with Gothic elements.
Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know – Read 20 novels with Gothic elements.
I am attempting the Darkness Within level and will be reading:
  • Library of America's Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories
  • Mrs. Gaskell's Tales of Mystery and Horror
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I will be posting reviews as I finish the books -- probably, one every other month.


Horns by Joe Hill

Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the anniversary of his girlfriend's murder getting good and pissed, so it is no surprise he wakes up the next morning with what feels like a horrible hangover and a vague feeling of having done something terrible. No, what's surprising is the pair of horns growing out of his head! People who see the horns seem to immediately forget them and want, desperately, to tell Ig all the unspeakable desires tucked away in their wicked hearts. Worse, when Ig touches people, he can see the terrible things they have done.

Signs Ignatius Perrish is a devil:
  • horns
  • goatee
  • drives a Gremlin
  • last supper w/ Merrin was at The Pit
  • doesn't mind the heat
  • spends time brooding in the furnace of an abandoned foundary
  • wields a pitchfork
  • snakes have a thing for him
  • fire talks to him
  • and many other signs I am probably forgetting
But does Ig's devilry make him Evil? Certainly, everyone believes he is a depraved sex murder who killed sweet Merrin in the woods beyond the old foundry. Even his own parents think he killed her!

Horns isn't a book I would have picked up on my own -- my Reader's Advisory librarian thrust it upon me and I owe her a great deal of thanks, because I really enjoyed this novel. While Horns can be violent and grotesque it is never scary and, more often than not, it is just plain funny. Hill's (usually) clever use of black humor tickled me -- Merrin and her sister are so obviously named after characters from Blatty's novel The Exorcist, Terry drives a Viper and plays the devil's music, Lee (who is the true devil) works for a right-wing politician, etc.

If I have any complaint against Horns, it is that Merrin seems to exist merely as a plot device and not as an actual person -- she's a madonna, a whore, a cancer diagnosis, a victim. Aside from the letter she leaves, we only know Merrin through the stories men tell of her. Which is, maybe, Hill's point?


Horns by Joe Hill (William Morrow, 2010)