Archive for angela carter

Horror Stories for a Snowy Night

Posted in Best Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2015 by smuckyproductions

 

Yuletide is upon us! The nights grow dark, the air cold, and the wind carries voices of ice… the perfect time for a few fireside shivers. Here is a (partial) list of classic and contemporary stories that suit themselves for a cold night, when you tremble from something other than temperature.

  1. THE WENDIGO by ALGERNON BLACKWOOD

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Algernon Blackwood is the unchallenged master of the terrified awe that nature inspires – like an evil twin of the Romantics. “Wendigo” is my personal favorite of his famous tales. His ill-fated group of hunters who encounter the titular spirit in the winter woods are witnesses to a horror that we all understand: being at the mercy of the elements. It evokes a sense of ever-present dread, lurking over the treetops and blowing in on the snow – something that we can’t see, but it sure sees us.

  1. OH, WHISTLE AND I’LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD by M.R. JAMES

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No December reading list is complete without M.R. James – he is one of the best practitioners of the fireside ghost story. While many of his stories are worth reading, “Whistle” combines the best traits of them all: chilly seaside atmosphere, ancient relics, and slow-building uncanny events that blow up into shocking terror. All with a cheeky sense of humor. Suffice to say that James actually makes the ghost-in-a-sheet cliché frightening.

  1. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES by ANGELA CARTER

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As with the entirety of her collection, Angela Carter is phenomenal at paying tribute to fairy tales while also subverting them. Here, we find a deeply dark version of Red Riding Hood – a snow-shrouded village in Eastern Europe; a young girl with a vital task, and the boy who seduces her; the horrible, animal secret that might kill her. It’s both frightening and hideously erotic, realizing the full potential of the werewolf/sexual awakening metaphor.

  1. SILENT SNOW, SECRET SNOW by CONRAD AIKEN

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Cited by some as one of the first psychological thrillers in short American fiction, this story has a bizarrely simple premise: a boy becomes obsessed with snow. Somehow it manages to be weirder than it sounds. On one hand, it’s a deeply disturbing supernatural horror story; on the other, it’s an upending exploration of mental illness and obsession. All while having a supremely chilling atmosphere.

  1. MIRIAM by TRUMAN CAPOTE

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What would you do if a helpless little girl follows you home… and refuses to leave you alone? Set in a bitter, empty New York winter, this shivery tale reads like the purest of nightmares: surreal, impossible, but inescapable. It’s also a horrifying meditation on loneliness and manipulation. Capote knew how to scare readers with his true stories, but he also could craft fictional terror, all too well.

  1. THE YATTERING AND JACK by CLIVE BARKER

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No one in their right mind would call this scary. But it’s an absolute blast to read – a combination of demonic horror clichés and brilliant dark humor, often bordering on slapstick. And it all takes place during a traditional Suburban Christmas. Clive Barker has an imagination of dark gold, and it’s displayed beautifully in this tale of holiday Satanism, with a hefty dose of satire as well.

  1. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES by NEIL GAIMAN

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Only someone like Neil Gaiman could take such a classic, overdone story – Snow White, in this case – and completely invert it, so the original is unrecognizable. I won’t tell you how he does it, but the effect is astonishing and wholly terrifying. This wintry fairy tale is a bleak and brilliant nightmare. Its minute twists of the source material alter the reader’s perception so fully that they can never go back.

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Contemporary Horror Stories to Read in October

Posted in Best Of, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Only a week and a half until the big day! That means we’ve got to start stocking up on our Halloween-themed films and literature. The dark days are just around the corner… don’t be caught without your proper collection of spooks.

As a follow-up to Smucky’s post at the beginning of the month, I’ve dug up some other stories that fit the October bill – this time, ones that have been published in the last few decades. For some fresher terror, look no further than our list of CONTEMPORARY STORIES TO READ IN OCTOBER.

  1. JERUSALEM’S LOT by STEPHEN KING

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Mr. King is the obvious choice, but that’s because he has such a wealth of horror tales, ranging from more experimental to classic, atmospheric chillers. This one, a prequel to the amazing “’Salem’s Lot,” captures a Lovecraftian tone with degenerate themes and a terrifying secret lurking beneath an abandoned town. It’s got everything – a creaky old mansion, ghouls in the walls, a Puritan settlement that went to the devil, and a decaying church that harbors a horrific evil. And even better, it explains in part what makes ‘Salem’s Lot such a magnet for evil. Though published recently, this story is classic, in the best way.

  1. THE LADY OF THE HOUSE OF LOVE by ANGELA CARTER
Artwork by Lee McConville

Artwork by Lee McConville

Part of the monumental collection “The Bloody Chamber,” this is the only story not adapted from a specific fairy tale. Instead, it inverts the vampire myth, spinning a melancholic and beautiful portrait of a young undead woman who despises herself for drinking blood. The imagery – a shambling Gothic castle, a blood-stained wedding dress, and a corpse-like woman feasting on virile young men – is stunning. There’s quite a statement made about archaic spooks and real-life horrors, too. A must read for a rainy afternoon.

  1. THE DAEMON LOVER by SHIRLEY JACKSON

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You can’t have a best of list without mentioning Ms. Jackson. Though “The Lottery” is her most accomplished story, I find this one equally haunting, in an even more subtle way. It follows a woman who is supposed to be married, but she can’t find her groom – and no one else seems to think he exists, either. Like some of the best horror, it’s unsettling and disturbing because nothing happens, but the implications are awful. Perfect for its spectral plot and dark images of phantasmal New York in the rain.

  1. THE FUNERAL by RICHARD MATHESON
From the 'Night Gallery' episodic adaptation

From the ‘Night Gallery’ episodic adaptation

A bit of tongue-in-cheek macabre to lighten the mood this month. Richard Matheson is the master of the uncanny mundane, and this is a great example – a funeral director gets the strangest offer of his life when a man asks to host his own funeral. And the guests? They’re all monsters – from a witch to a werewolf, and some vampires thrown in between. This is a delightful mash-up of our favorite monsters, and Matheson’s genre genius elevates it to hilarity. Not scary in the least, but certainly a huge amount of monstrous fun.

  1. ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD AGAIN by NEIL GAIMAN

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Like “The Funeral,” this story is a melting pot of classic horror tropes – best of all, it’s set in Lovecraft’s fishy town Innsmouth, and narrated by one werewolf Lawrence Talbot – but it has a dreadful weight of its own. Gaiman has a ridiculously brilliant imagination, and here it wanders through dreary, fog-filled streets where hideous rites are being performed. With sea monsters, a creepy fortune teller, and a character from the Universal vault, it’s hard to go wrong.

I’m sure I’ve missed some, so send in suggestions at your leisure! And happy reading, freaks.

Forbidden Tomes (Halloween edition): THE BLOODY CHAMBER by ANGELA CARTER

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Halloween is a time for legends and fables, going back to its roots in Celtic tradition. What better way to spend the month than immersed in the dark world of myths? In honor of that tradition, this entry dips into the Gothic gold of Angela Carter’s groundbreaking fairytale collection, THE BLOODY CHAMBER.

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Cinema today is obsessed with retelling fairy tales, more often than not with a more adult edge. This is not at all a new trend – it all started back in the 70’s, and Angela Carter did it better than anyone. Adopting the monumentally familiar plots of Charles Perrault (among others), Carter brings the classics into a modern and deeply sensual world, in a way that reveals dark but important themes. Her feminist slant on horror, together with stunning Gothic-Romantic language, creates an ingenious collection of terrifying and beautiful stories.

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The stories in “The Bloody Chamber” are, as I said, familiar. The titular one refers to “Bluebeard,” followed by two versions of “La Belle et la Bete” and three of “Red Riding Hood.” Carter does not disrespect these classic works, either – her imagery is steeped in Gothic traditions, full of shadowy castles and spectral women in bridal gowns and gnarled woods haunted by wolves. This acts as a support for her strikingly modern themes of sexual awakenings and forced maturation in a deadly world. Carter is working in the Gothic genre, but she is elevating it from its clichés as well.

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I was overjoyed to be immersed in so much classically spooky atmosphere. Carter seems to relish in it as well, as she renders for the reader her breathtaking manor houses and wasted landscapes of danger. “The Lady in the House of Love,” a riff on the dying world of aristocratic vampires trapped in abandoned castles, is a personal favorite – the titular lady in her mother’s wedding dress covered in blood is one of the best images in the book.

But this image, along with others – the girl-bride of Bluebeard being violently deflowered, an innocent girl waiting to be transformed into a bird and kept captive by her Elfish lover – are also quite emotionally haunting. There is a layer of melancholy and tragic horror to the more Romantic kind, that of the loneliness of love, and the pain of coming into your own sexuality.

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It’s no secret that classic fairy tales often set horrible values for young girls, and Carter exposes these mercilessly, while also creating some of her own. In stories like “The Company of Wolves” (later adapted with great success by Neil Jordan), her young protagonists actually take control of their sexuality and are empowered for it. When the imagery has faded and the violence committed, it’s these moments of human revelation that really remain. Carter was renowned for this in her time as well, and it would be a shame to neglect what she did for women in the genre, which is rife with sexism. That is part of the joy in her stories, discovering how she alters the endings, or doesn’t, in favor of her modern goals.

“The Bloody Chamber” is a lush, entrancing world full of sensuality, awakening, and death – all set to the backdrop of traditional Gothic imagery. Atmospherically, it is ideal for cold October nights. It’s a classic of the genre that has influenced more than it is credited for – we will do our best to never neglect its impact, and find morbid joy in its gleeful appropriation of the fairy tales we all know so well.