I don't remember seeing this horror novel when it came out from Jove in 1989, and Robert Masello's name is only vaguely familiar to me. But BLACK HORIZON turns out to be a pretty entertaining psychological horror yarn. Jack Logan is a musician who plays in the orchestra for a newly opened Broadway show. It's opening night, in fact, when Jack saves the life of an old man who's been hit by a
Inspired by Kanae Minato’s horror novel and the back-to-school season, today’s question is this: what’s the worst thing a teacher has ever done to you?
The Deadly Spring, by J.C. Conaway No month stated, 1976 Leisure Books J.C. Conaway, the man who as “Jake Quinn” gave the world the Shannon series, returns to Leisure Books under his own name and delivers a trashy horror-mystery hybrid that comes off like a proto-version of William W. Johnstone’s The Nursery. Unlike the Shannon books, stuff actually happens here, and it’s all pretty wild
To preserve her identity and prevent any tinkering with her mind and soul at the hands of interfering psychiatrists Jean is advised by that Voice to murder her father. And she does so in a lovingly savage way. It's the beginning of her descent into a surreal world of hallucinations, indulgent sexuality and violent murderous attacks. Imagine if you will a most bizarre mix of the selfish child murderess Rhoda Penmark, vindictive pathological liar Mary Tilford, and seductive teen age vixen Lolita and you have only a smidgen of an idea of what Frank Walford has created in Jean Deslines. It's difficult to believe that a fifteen year old girl is narrating this lurid tale of madness, pansexuality and brutal murder. Jean may very well be crime fiction's first bisexual serial killer. Oh, I forgot to mention that Twisted Clay was published in 1933.
Twisted Clay has been reissued by
For more wicked women, amoral temptresses, and literary femme fatales in forgotten books of the past visit Patti Abbot's blog.
I've written previously about the strange stories (his preferred term) of Aickman in my post on Powers of Darkness. But re-reading these tales in their new editions brought forth some interesting recurrent themes in his writing. Aickman doesn't really write traditional supernatural stories though some of them incorporate tropes of ghost story fiction and horror fiction. There is always an ambiguity pervading the stories, a ghost may not be a ghost at all but the fervent imagining of a disturbed mind. There are some instances of outright horror as in his chilling tale of the walking dead in "Ringing the Changes" found in Dark Entries or the thing that lives in the lake in "Niemandswasser" or the grisly and nightmarish true purpose of "The Hospice" both in Cold Hand in Mine. But more often than not the odd and bizarre events tend to be shrouded in a haze of the characters' twisted perceptions of reality and enhanced by their personal quirks and eccentricities.
There are six long stories in Dark Entries and eight in Cold Hand in Mine. Most of them run between 30 and 50 pages. Aickman takes his time telling his tale, like a patient artist at work on a canvas he paints landscapes with carefully chosen words that evoke a sublime atmosphere blending dread and anticipation of the characters' inevitable doom. No one really escapes unscathed in an Aickman story. If they are lucky enough to survive their encounters they will carry with them a haunting memory of the world of the macabre and the weird. Many of Aickman's characters are forever changed and scarred by their inexplicable adventures. And the reader taking in Aickman's narratives cannot help but be affected as well.
For more about Faber & Faber's paperback reprints of Robert Aickman's books visit this page at their website. They plan to release a total of six of his books. It is also worth noting that Tartarus Press, an independent UK publisher of supernatural fiction, has reprinted all of Aickman's books in hardcover editions. All of them are still available. As part of the centenary of Aickman's birth Tartarus has also published this month The River Runs Uphill, an autobiographical volume originally published in 1967. Read more at the Tarturus Press website.
Whitten wrote one of the most interesting takes on the werewolf legend with his Southern Gothic novel Moon of the Wolf (1967). In it we get a combination of a murder mystery and an exploration of lycanthropy from a psychologist's perspective. A series of murders seem to be the work of a savage animal. Whitten sets his novel in the 1930s so when the first murder victim also turns out to be a black woman we get the additional layer of social criticism of racism in the south. The police sheriff's investigation leads him to a wealthy white family of plantation owners and whispers of illicit sexual relations.
Angry locals insist the girl was attacked by a pack of wild dogs and set out like a posse of Transylvanian villagers to kill them all. But the skeptical sheriff is not convinced. Medical evidence points to violence by a human hand even amid the signs of an animal attack. His questioning of the locals uncovers their superstitious beliefs, the curious practice of hoodoo with its bottle tree and other witchcraft-like talismans, and an odd reference to "Loup Garou." A psychologist enters the picture and begins to explain the legend of the werewolf and lycanthropy as a legitimate mental illness.
Guy Endore treated the werewolf legend as a mental illness in Werewolf of Paris decades earlier, but Whitten makes his approach more accessible and tells the story in such a way that one never really knows if the werewolf is real or imagined. The finale, of course, will settle all that ambiguity with a somewhat startling revelation.
Moon of the Wolf was made into a TV movie (almost faithful to the book) in the 1970s with David Janssen as the sheriff and Bradford Dillman as the primary murder suspect. You can find several versions of the full movie at YouTube. The best quality version I found is here.
SCREAM QUEEN AND OTHER TALES OF MENACE is the latest collection of Ed Gorman's short fiction from the great Perfect Crime Books. As you'd expect, this is a fine bunch of stories that cross over into a number of genres, although given the title of the collection there's a thread of fear that runs through all of them. "Cages", "Duty", and "The Brasher Girl" (a novella that served as the
by Franck Thilliez
translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti
370 pp. $16.00
April 29, 2014
There is a certain type of crime novel that wants to be everything. It wants to comment on the nature of evil and the predilection for violence, criticize government abuse with satiric jibes, entertain with quirky characters, and scare the pants off of you with scenes of grisly crimes that outdo anything in the latest torture porn flick. Syndrome E is one of those books. I should’ve hated it, but I found it to be one of the most guilty pleasures I’ve read in a long time.
Franck Thilliez has written a contemporary horror novel with elements of the detective novel that entertains as much as it repulses and disgusts. Any attempt to make the book a cautionary tale about the abuse of corrupt governments or a stab at educating people about such past disgraces like the Duplessis orphan tragedy and the experiments of the CIA on unsuspecting citizens is lost in his sea of information. Syndrome E is a potboiler thriller with all the usual ingredients in abundant display -- labyrinthine plot, globe trotting scenery, forgotten historical tidbits, arcane lore and legends, and a Pandora’s trunkful of bizarre murders and body mutilations. It does exactly what it should do –- jolt you with a few shocking surprises, terrify you with its indulgent and grotesquely executed murders, and in the intervening scenes calm and assuage you with a perfunctory romance between the two lead characters.
Film lovers more than anyone will find much to enjoy. Thilliez is clearly a movie fan. The cause of all the mass slaughter (there are a lot of bodies) and paranoia found in Syndrome E is a 16mm movie so disturbing it leads one man to suffer hysterical blindness and haunts the memory banks of everyone else who is foolish enough to watch the movie. From it’s jarring opening scene –- that any true cineaste will instantly recognize from Dali’s Un Chien Andalou -- to its ostensibly innocuous images of a little girl cuddling a kitten the movie leaves each viewer with feelings of unease and disquiet without really understanding why. That’s because the movie made in 1955 is an early and very perverse example of subliminal filmmaking. Examination of the film uncovers a second film buried beneath all the primary images the viewer takes in. And that second film rivals any horror movie ever made.
Investigating the many murders linked to the ownership and eventual theft of the 16mm movie are two policeman. Appearing as solo lead characters in Thilliez’ other books (still untranslated into English) they meet for the first time in Syndrome E. Lucie Henebelle is a single mother doing her best to raise her twin daughters. Lucie lives for her job as police officer often abandoning her family and leaving her admonishing mother Marie to take on the role of primary caretaker.
|Franck Thilliez, bestselling crime writer throughout Europe.|
Syndrome E is his first book translated into English
Lucie and Shark (“No first name, no titles, please.”) become partners through a combination of chance and Lucie’s desire to work with the man. Shark is a world class criminal profiler and has been called upon to use his skills on a case that appears to be the work of a serial killer. Five bodies have been unearthed in rural France, most of them now nothing but skeletons, but all of them with the tops of their skulls sawed off with surgical precision.
As the mystery of the film’s creation and meaning plays out it eventually intersects with the story of the killer responsible for the five murders and many other deaths throughout the world. Is it the movie itself that has created this monster of serial killer? Or is the killer only trying to recover the film for some private purpose? The trail will take Lucie and Shark from France to Egypt to Canada and back to France again. As the bodies pile up the two police discover that the terrible subliminal messages are part of a much larger global conspiracy involving the CIA, the Foreign Legion and the disgraceful past of 1950s era Quebec.
The novel's structure of finding an expert, interviewing the expert, having the expert "info dump" loads of technological or historical data gets to be very predictable. Among the varied topics lectured on are the latest trends in neuroscience, the use of neuromarketing in advertising, the recruitment process of the Foreign Legion, the methods of hiding subliminal images on film, how to splice and edit 16mm celluloid, and the shameful nightmare undergone by the Duplessis orphans in Canada. But at nearly 400 pages you do get your money’s worth in arcane educational moments.
|Nicolas Cage can't believe what he sees in 8mm|
According to Deadline.com Syndrome E has been purchased for the movies. As of February 2013 the screenwriter adapting the novel is Mark Heyman who wrote the very disturbing, surrealistic nightmare movie Black Swan about a ballet dancer losing her mind which won an Oscar for actress Natalie Portman. It’s a daunting project and I wish the entire production team a lot of luck transferring an imagined horror film into a real film. Often the real horror that goes on in the reader’s imagination is completely lost in the adaptation process.
A few nights ago I saw a trailer for the upcoming TV movie remake of one of my all time favorite novels and horror movies -- Rosemary's Baby. I screamed, "What? Are you kidding me?" at my television once again upsetting Joe who dislikes it intensely when I talk to the TV.
Jason Isaacs, so compelling as Jackson Brodie in the recent UK TV series based on Kate Atkinson's crime novels, has been cast as Roman Castevet. Way too young for the role. Minnie has been renamed Margaux and is played by French actress Carole Bouquet. Minnie is gone! Now I know this is going to suck. Clearly, the producers have decided to rejuvenate another classic and market it to a younger TV viewing audience with no memory of the original film.
Zoe Saldana, an actress I am not impressed with, is Rosemary. Mia Farrow IS Rosemary Woodhouse! To my mind only an immensely talented actress could surpass Farrow's performance. Certainly not someone as mediocre as Zoe Saldana.
Canadian actor Patrick J Adams is playing Rosemary's husband. He appeared on a cable TV series called Suits most recently. Never seen him in anything. Beats me if he has the stuff to even match Cassavetes' portrayal of the overly ambitious actor Guy Woodhouse who makes a diabolical pact in exchange for success on the Broadway stage. Looks like so many baby-faced young actors these days. He's got that trendy scruff to make him look older for this part.
The movie -- a four hour, two parter -- will be broadcast in May on NBC. For more info see this webpage at NBC.com.
Anyone else think this is a horrid idea? Anyone planning to watch this? I'm not sure I'm even mildly curious about what they've done to update it. Some movies should never be remade. This, I think, is one of them.
by Will Storr
Marble Arch Press/Simon & Schuster
367 pp. $16 (trade paperback)
Publication date: March 11, 2014
Killian Lone had a childhood that even a Dickens orphan would find nightmarish. Punished cruelly with burning cigarettes and beatings by his man–hating mother who taught him to withstand pain and not cry out in order to toughen up, subjected to a humiliating attack by a teenage thug that nearly blinds him, it’s no wonder he finds it necessary to escape to his Aunt Dorothy’s Gothic retreat in the Sussex countryside. There, with his Aunt as teacher and mentor, he learns to cook mouthwatering meals filled with tantalizing exotic ingredients Under his aunt’s patient instruction coupled with the only kindness he ever receives Killian blossoms into a chef of enviable skill and invention. He decides to pursue his love of cooking at a culinary school where his talent does not go unnoticed by the headmaster. Soon Killian finds himself apprenticed to his hero, the brilliant celebrity chef Max Mann whose restaurant “King” is one of the best in London. But the world of the professional chef is no better than a military boot camp with its grueling exercises and initiation rituals for the grunts. Killian once again finds himself the target of sadism and cruelty on the scale of a Grand Guignol production.
When Aunt Dorothy dies she promises Killian will be rewarded. To his parent’s horror that reward is the family estate. His mother is enraged, his ineffectual father merely disappointed, when Killian refuses to sign over the property so that his parents can sell the place and use the money to start their lives afresh. He leaves his parents and takes up residence in Dor Cottage. In his exploration of the foreboding house he comes across a library of cook books in a locked attic. Among those books he finds a few apparently written by his ancestors who were known to indulge in witchcraft. One of the books, an eerily illustrated volume of herbs, discusses strange plants he has never heard of and their culinary and medicinal properties. He later discovers these very same mysterious plants are growing wild on the estate in a forbidden garden that has been walled up for centuries. And just like those curious characters in fairy tales temptation gets the better of him. Killian breaks down the walls and gathers some of those herbs for his own cooking experiments with some surprising results.
Will Storr, an award winning investigative journalist, has crafted a modern tale of horror that capitalizes on the popularity of celebrity chefs, gourmet cooking and the egos at war in the professional kitchens of Michelin rated restaurants. Storr has a gift for unusual metaphor, evocative descriptions, and well thought turns of phrase ("It was a flavour that took ordinary beauty and violently challenged it; that took perfection and humiliated it.") His obvious love for Gothic settings are both homages to traditional supernatural tales of the past and excitingly contemporary with original details and imaginative spins. Dor Cottage and its creepy gardens might well be at home in the stories of Lefanu, Machen and Blackwood, yet the plants Storr invents are monstrous things with horrifying traits; so life-like they seem like supporting characters not just leaves and stems. The book is most effective when Killian is alone at his aunt's home cooking, exploring the house and grounds, and experimenting with the plants. When confined to the brilliantly realized Dor Cottage where Killian is under the influence of century old powers he cannot comprehend the story is genuinely thrilling and filled with mystery.
The bulk of the story takes place in the restaurant world, however, where Storr indulges in the modern trend in horror to repulse and nauseate with gore and torture. The intensity of the cruelty, the relentless troment and humiliation of Killian and his co-workers at the hands of the sadistic head chefs had this reader longing for a scene of violent revenge and role reversal in victims and tormenters. Yet when it comes there is no true catharsis for either reader or victimized characters.
Killian begins as a figure of pity but in his hunger to become London’s – if not the world’s – best chef we see him metamorphose from anguished victim to ambition crazed, loyalty obsessed madman. Though Killian begins to show his natural talent in food preparation and a desire to transcend the tired nouvelle cuisine of his icon Max Mann the reader soon discovers that Killian’s dependence on the powerful herbs and their near magical properties are the true cause of his success. It is therefore difficult to side with Killian as he skyrockets from apprentice to master chef eclipsing the fame of Max Mann to become the new darling of the restaurant scene.
Hunger and ambition, interestingly, are used interchangeably throughout the book. The howling is done both in pain and in longing. Killian refers to himself as a "turnspit dog", he constantly talks of the loyalty dogs have for their masters, and is obsessed with the idea of loyalty. The title's metaphors recur and morph as the story inexorably makes its way to a tragedy hinted at in the opening pages. Storr's novel in the end is a cautionary tale of blind ambition and an unquenchable thirst for stardom. But Killian doesn’t ever seem to learn anything. Beaten, burned, scarred both physically and emotionally, one hopes for an epiphany that will redeem Killian in his quest for love and acceptance.
Further frustrating the reader is the knowledge that Killian is a fraud. All his declamatory talk of loyalty is just so much hot air. He traps himself and becomes enslaved to a success based on lies, lies that he continues to tell his friends, co-workers and even himself. His ultimate sacrifice in the final pages seems more like a writer’s cop out than a real deserved catharsis for a character who seemed paradoxically to live and long for pain and not the love and attention he so fervently craved.