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Review: “Will Haunt You,” by Brian Kirk

Let’s just get this established right up front: Brian Kirk is a hell of a writer. He’s a gifted storyteller, but what’s more, he has mastered some of the subtler tools of horror. His characters are grounded and realistic, and his grasp of voice is perhaps his greatest gift, one that, incidentally, is also Stephen King’s secret weapon. When Kirk writes dialogue it’s crisp and lively, and when he brings us inside a character’s head (at one point, not to give too much away, quite literally) it feels rich and human. Kirk and King are both, I suspect, fantastic listeners, given their skill in evocation and the fleshing out of fictional persons.

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Review: “Dendera,” by Yuya Sato

Being human, it’s easy to forget that we are animals. By all rights, it shouldn’t be. We navigate our world in fleshy bodies, and experience it with our five very animal senses. Other than the addition of a few more CCs of brainpower than most species come equipped with, we could even be called unremarkable – fairly pedestrian, actually, when compared to a falcon or an octopus. Despite this, “human vs. nature” is still often used as one of the time-honored central themes of literature, as though a clear distinction could ever be drawn between the two. This imaginary divide has been breached with increasing frequency in the decades since 1962, when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring and kicked off the modern environmental movement. Since that time, writers including Utah’s own Terry Tempest Williams and Edward Abbey (the latter of whom is considered one of the founding thinkers of eco-terrorism) have attempted to un-brick the imaginary wall between Homo sapiens and our scaly, furred, and feathered brethren.

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Review: “Her Body and Other Parties” by Carmen Maria Machado

Sometimes fiction is like a mangrove swamp, or a log slumping into rich decomposition in a forest: natural, wild, an ecosystem unto itself. Other fiction is like clockwork puzzles, or ornate and jewel-encrusted nesting boxes: they are finicky things, filled with interlocking story logic. Then there are stories – and, indeed, collections of stories – that have a little of the organic to them, and a little bit of whirring clockwork complexity.

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Lessons from the Halloween Aisle

Every September it appears like a carnival stealing into town under cover of darkness; the seasonal Halloween aisle at your local supermarket. It’s an explosion of shiny sequins and rubbery red devil horns: face paint, wigs, fake cobwebs, and Styrofoam headstones. It’s a cacophony of moods and flavors, the delight of many children (and not a few adults). That seasonal aisle hides more secrets than most people know. For example, there’s a recent documentary called Halloween in a Box that celebrates the rise of low-cost, store-bought plastic Halloween costumes; a tradition that proudly continues to this day. As the film tells it, trick-or-treating almost went extinct in America, and it was only the efforts of a plucky band of rapacious industrialists that may have salvaged the tradition. I’m glad trick-or-treating survived. It’s always an interesting barometer of where kids’ heads are at and what stories resonate with them.

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FearCon 2019

No matter your interests, Salt Lake City’s metro area regularly hosts enough conferences and conventions that there’s most likely one that’s right up your alley. There is, of course, the LDS Church’s General Conference if that happens to be your bag – but there are also FanX and Salt Lake Comic Con (our biannual pop culture and comic book conventions), Anime Banzai, the Salt Lake City International Tattoo Convention, numerous government and professional meet-ups… and FearCon, a convention devoted to all things horror.

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Four Halloweens

In the annals of horror cinema, there are watershed moments:  F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, the first time that Bela Lugosi donned Dracula’s satin cape, Night of the Living Dead. It’s rarified company, and the entry bar is high in a genre full of broken boundaries and pushed envelopes. True watershed horror is not just technically excellent, well-written, or especially chilling. It breaks new earth in a well-dug graveyard; finds new lenses through which to project old fears, or vice-versa. One such film is John Carpenter’s most celebrated and influential movie, 1978’s Halloween. 1960’s Psycho may have been the first truly modern horror movie, and 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (about which I have written here) may have been the slasher prototype, the ancestor from which subsequent films evolved, Halloween is widely considered the first “true” slasher film. While Psycho and Texas Chainsaw were groundbreaking in both their subject matter and execution and addressed the then-still-nascent concept of the serial killer, Halloween took the dark, Freudian madness of Norman Bates and the masked, bloody butchery of Leatherface and plunged them deep into the heart of suburbia, a place more banal than the settings of previous films – and thus, more terrifying.

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God Hates Halloween

Every community has its good points and bad points. For example: I grew up in a deeply religious and conservative community in Utah. That was mostly bad points – the ostracism, the closed-mindedness and ignorance, the extremely disturbing rates of child abuse and suicide. However, when I later moved to a *different* deeply religious and conservative neighborhood, this one in Oklahoma, I learned that there are aspects of the dominant faith in Utah that I find greatly preferable to the shenanigans of many of the Evangelical communities I encountered.

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“Marianne”: Des bonbons ou un sort!

“Des bonbons ou un sort!” – A French idiom used by children while trick-or-treating; literally, “candy or a spell!”

In a previous post, I talked about Mercy Black and Possum, two movies that – like other recent offerings including Hill House and Hereditary – use horror storytelling as a way to talk about family trauma and the ways that it can haunt our lives long after childhood’s end. I wrote that:

…As #MeToo and #TimesUp continue, and as we – as a horror community – strive to add more voices to the conversation, in particular voices that have thus far been kept out in the echoing dark, I suspect that more and diverse examinations of this aspect of the human condition will enrich us all. Horror, by its very nature, offers us unique insights into trauma.

The French web television series Marianne (now streaming on Netflix) offers further evidence of horror’s value as a scalpel with which we can dissect trauma. Marianne is a tense and emotional portrait of small-town life in France. Set in the fictional seaside village of Elden, the 8-episode season tells the story of a horror author, Emma, who returns after achieving success to the hometown she fled as a teen. There, she faces demons both literal and figurative with the help of her old friends, now all grown up and dealing with their own specific threads of darkness; regret, anger, grief, unrequited love.

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A Rough Taxonomy of Evil Clowns (Part Two)

In my last post, I offered a rough taxonomy of cinematic evil clowns. I did not, of course, offer an exhaustive list of examples; although such a list would make a great coffee table book. It’s worth noting that film and television aren’t the only place that you’ll find these jolly gargoyles; they are also frequent visitors to the world of print.

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A Rough Taxonomy of Evil Clowns (Part One)

Friday marked the release of It Chapter Two, the second half of the most recent adaptation of Stephen King’s epic, genre-defining 1986 novel. As I’ve frequently mentioned here, I’m a King fanatic from way back; I first read It when I was younger than the kids portrayed in it, and while the Dark Tower series is best considered King’s magnum opus, It is on my short list of all-time favorite horror novels and ranks higher in my affections than any of the Dark Tower books considered individually.

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