Acting Attorney General's Bigfoot and Time Travel Claims; Plus: Kentucky's Governor Blames Zombie TV for Mass Shootings
Despite the fact that the History Channel and I don’t have the best of relationships, it seems that their publishing partners at the Atlantic Monthly Press didn’t get the message. The publisher just sent me an advance copy of the History-branded The Curse of Oak Island tie-in book by journalist Randall Sullivan, due out just in time for Christmas. I only received the book Tuesday night, so I haven’t had time to read much, but I have to say that the introduction and opening chapter left me baffled. I suppose this must be a book for super-fans of Curse, since my general but not particularly deep knowledge of the “mystery” of Oak Island was not enough to make sense of the barrage of names and dates, or the convoluted history thrust upon me with little authorial guidance.
Truth or Double Dare (TODD)
2018 | L.O.U.D. (Living Out Ur Dreams) Films | 62 minutes
Every day, publicity agents send me pitches to review new movies, TV shows, web series, concept albums, and books. As a general rule of thumb, if they are asking me to review something, it’s probably bad. I only watch about one in ten of the movies that I get asked to review. I review maybe one in five of those at best because most are vaguely competent but clichéd riffs on familiar themes, destined to cycle through a third-tier streaming service and be forever forgotten. They aren’t even worth hating. But once in a while I find a movie so staggeringly awful that it takes even me by surprise. And I have watched every episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Happy Halloween! I’m taking the day off to mark the occasion with my son, who is dressing up as his favorite animal, an owl, this year. In the spirit of the holiday, please enjoy a selection of seasonally appropriate content.
The Teenage Slasher Movie Book (2nd revised and expanded ed.)
J. A. Kerswell | 224 pages | Companion | October 2018 | ISBN: 978-1620083079 | $24.99
Horror fans have sliced and diced the genre into innumerable subgenres—if you will forgive the terrible pun. It is now possible to be a fan exclusively of Korean zombie movies, or films about people trapped in overly complex torture devices, or even movies about creepy strangers posing menacingly outside of young adults’ windows. It is both an astonishing time to be alive, and also kind of uncomfortable to have Hollywood feeding so much of the same that the most obscure horrors are no longer isolated gems cherished for their own sake but are instead copied and pasted until the original no longer stands out. There is a certain degree of homogenization in horror, and the homages, copycats, and riders of coattails end up retroactively detracting from the true originals.
Tonight, Syfy launches the new season of Channel Zero, its low-budget knockoff of American Horror Story. Like other outsourced copies, the Canadian-produced series tends toward lower quality and a more workmanlike, no-frills approach to its product. I have been critical of the anthology series’ past efforts, all of which I have found to be aesthetically displeasing, occasionally wooden, and rather thinly sketched. However, I will offer praise for the remarkable renovation that the series has undertaken for its new six-episode edition, “The Dream Door,” which premieres this evening and will run a new episode each night until Halloween.
A couple of years ago, W. Scott Poole wrote a book about H. P. Lovecraft that I did not like, and a few years before that, he wrote a book about monsters in America that I also did not like (Part 1 and Part 2). Having read much of his work, it is clear that he and I have very different views on the origins and development of the horror genre. This week Poole releases a new book, Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror, unread by me, about what he sees as the profound impact of World War I on the development of the horror genre. While there is no doubt that the war found its way into horror—as it did comedy, as Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and many others attest—my visceral reaction to his claims in a recent Vice interview is that he has grossly overstated the case.
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is one of the all-time classics of the horror genre, bringing the classic Gothic tale of a haunted mansion into the twentieth century and firmly locating the horror in the psychological reactions of the men and women who unwisely choose to enter its orbit. Jackson’s novel was doubly notable because it was a rare-for-its-time masterpiece by a female writer in a field that was, and largely remains, dominated by men. Its opening lines are famous:
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…and whatever walked there, walked alone.
This week Scottish television personality and sometime Ancient Aliens talking head Ashley Cowie attempted to explore the origins of vampires for Ancient Origins. It did not go particularly well, not least because Cowie frames his discussion around Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula without, apparently, having read the book and without understanding much about its origins. Probably everything you need to know can be summed up in the fact that he traces vampires in popular entertainment to Stoker and then focuses exclusively on movie and TV vampires, despite the fact that Stoker drew on decades of Gothic vampire fiction (Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” and Polidori’s “The Vampyre” most prominently), and vampire entertainments go back in European folklore at least to the stories told for titillation and sensation about the great vampire outbreak of the late 1600s and early 1700s.
Fortean Author Claims "Picnic at Hanging Rock" Was Based on a Psychic Vision of Its Own Manuscript's Editing Process
I wasn’t planning to write an original blog post today, but in the Daily Grail news feed I came across a bizarre claim in an article about the classic Australian movie Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) that is worth discussing. The film, for those who haven’t seen either it or the recent Australian TV adaptation released in the U.S. by Amazon Prime, revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a number of school girls in the early 1900s while out on a school trip to a rock formation in the woods. Because of the spare, poetic, but plausible depiction of the events in the film, which focus on the guilt and sadness of the survivors, many people wrongly believe that the completely fictional story was based on a real-life event.
The Sky Is Falling: How Vampires, Zombies, Androids, and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism
Peter Biskind | 256 pages | New Press | Sept. 11, 2018 | ISBN 9781620974292 | $26.99
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, commissioned a study to better target the kinds of voters Trump would need to reach to win the election. According to an interview Kushner later gave to Forbes magazine, he learned that Trump voters were most likely to be fans of AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead, a show about rugged individualists struggling to beat back hordes of rampaging zombies that constantly breach their border walls after the total collapse of the federal government. Consequently, the Trump team bought air time during the broadcast. It was neither the first nor the last time that The Walking Dead—a rural-themed show with the formal structure of midcentury cowboys-and-Indians movie—has been viewed as a conservative drama. As I wrote in my Knowing Fear a decade ago, horror is almost by definition structurally conservative since it revolves around breaches of the status quo.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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