Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Cure for Wellness (2016)

A Cure for Wellness (2016): written by Justin Haythe and Gore Verbinski; directed by Gore Verbinski; starring Dane DeHaan (Lockhart), Jason Isaacs (Volmer), and Mia Goth (Hannah): Who knew Gore Verbinski had so much Poe in him? Edgar Allan Poe, that is, whose shadow looms over the work done by co-writers Verbinski and Justin Haythe and director Verbinski.

I'm glad I watched A Cure for Wellness at home, broken up over three nights. It's a slow movie. Almost a languorous movie. Poe's great horror short stories often had this same feeling, a slowness, a creeping that was at odds with their brevity. There were whole worlds there being revealed in a slow pan.

Dane DeHaan plays a young American stockbroker sent by his firm to retrieve a colleague from a mysterious wellness clinic located in the Swiss Alps. Needless to say, nothing goes as planned. 

Instead, a parade of horrors results, counterpointed by a critique of capitalism and its modern discontents. There's a mysterious young woman played by the aptly named Mia Goth (seriously, is that her real name?). And there's the soothing, reasonable, yet menacing head of the clinic as played by Jason Isaacs in a mode of subtle dread.

Production design makes the clinic foreboding from the beginning, but also realistically dated in its colour schemes and appearance -- it looks like a hospital from the 1940's. Below the ground, it looks like a hospital from the 1540's. Or a castle's dungeons.

Terrible things await Dehaan and Ms. Goth. There are subtle moments and gross-out moments and a repeated use of the reliably nightmarish 'My teeth are falling out!' trope. DeHaan, who looks oddly wormy at the best of times, is perfectly cast as the protagonist. He looks like a Poe protagonist. How odd that this perfect casting should come in the same year as his most perfect miscasting as the jaunty hero of Valerian.

Verbinski is relatively fearless when it comes to those moments when the horror stops creeping and starts leaping. It's fascinating to see a director best known for bringing adaptations of modern Japanese horror to North America and for that Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy plumb the depths of good old Gothic body horror, incest horror, and monstrous secrets from the cloachal depths. I'd love to see him tackle a Poe anthology next. Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mirrors (2008)

Mirrors (2008): adapted by Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur from the movie by Sungho Kim; directed by Alexandre Aja; starring Kiefer Sutherland (Ben Carson), Paula Patton (Amy Carson), and Amy Smart (Angela Carson): Intermittently enjoyable adaptation of a Korean horror movie that I'm pretty sure was a whole lot better and more coherent. Kiefer Sutherland does what he can, as does Paula Patton, but there's not a lot for them to do. Director Aja manages some creepy visuals among the ruins, though they cease to be interesting after the first hour or so.

Grieving cop Sutherland (he shot someone, or something, not wrongfully, or maybe wrongfully -- if the movie-makers can't be bothered to clearly explain what drives Sutherland's character, why should I?) takes a job as night watchman at a burned-out, high-end New York department store in the tradition of Macy's. 

Something terrible lurks within all those mirrors still standing around years after a store-wide fire that killed dozens. 

Actually, nothing seems to have been removed from the store after that fire. And the store's still there. Isn't New York real estate worth a lot? Why is this structure still around?

Oh, well.

The last third of the movie is so ridiculous as to reduce the stakes to zero. The female characters are there for the most part to get horribly killed, act as the shrieking voice of reason in the midst of crazy supernatural events, or be the monsters themselves. And that last third. Hoo boy. If nothing else, we learn that the ghosts and demons of this film spend a lot of time dusting. They're tidy. Good for them. Not recommended.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Night Shift (1978) by Stephen King

Night Shift (1978) by Stephen King:

  • Jerusalem's Lot (Previously unpublished)
  • Graveyard Shift (October 1970 issue of Cavalier)
  • Night Surf (Spring 1969 issue of Ubris)
  • I Am the Doorway (March 1971 issue of Cavalier)
  • The Mangler (December 1972 issue of Cavalier)
  • The Boogeyman (March 1973 issue of Cavalier)
  • Gray Matter (October 1973 issue of Cavalier)
  • Battleground (September 1972 issue of Cavalier)
  • Trucks (June 1973 issue of Cavalier)
  • Sometimes They Come Back (March 1974 issue of Cavalier)
  • Strawberry Spring (Fall 1968 issue of Ubris)
  • The Ledge (July 1976 issue of Penthouse)
  • The Lawnmower Man (May 1975 issue of Cavalier)
  • Quitters, Inc. (Previously unpublished)
  • I Know What You Need (September 1976 issue of Cosmopolitan)
  • Children of the Corn (March 1977 issue of Penthouse)
  • The Last Rung on the Ladder (Previously unpublished)
  • The Man Who Loved Flowers (August 1977 issue of Gallery)
  • One for the Road (March/April 1977 issue of Maine)
  • The Woman in the Room (Previously unpublished)

Stephen King's early short stories appeared for the most part in markets that don't exist any more -- "girly" magazines that published stories in between the sections of nude photos. And those markets paid much better than the genre markets for short stories. 

Night Shift appeared the same year as The Stand, after the success of Carrie (novel and movie), 'Salem's Lot, and The Shining (and after the pseudonymous publication of Rage as by Richard Bachman). 40 years (and many re-readings of many of the stories) later, a few observations.

King was very generous here with unpublished material -- four stories! And they're good stories. "Jerusalem's Lot" is King's most Lovecraftian pastiche, and it's a lot of fun. "Quitters, Inc." is a solid thriller with a twist. And "The Last Rung on the Ladder" and "The Woman in the Room" are moving, "slice-of-life" stories then atypical for King.

The published stories are almost all horror. And they're still very effective. "The Boogeyman" is my all-timer here, one of King's ten best horror stories. Throughout the collection, King's ability to synthesize horror and the mundane waxes and wanes. I do love the transformative, tainted beer in "Gray Matter" (based on a true story, sort of!). 

King's world in these stories is one in which, pushing H.P. Lovecraft to the fringes of absurdity, eldritch tomes of forbidden knowledge are available at your public library. King goes to the well of easily-acquired magical books a couple of times too many. He would lose this tendency very quickly, coming up with more normative, intuitive ways for his characters to do battle with the forces of darkness. 

The suspense/thriller stories are also top-notch, none moreso than "Battleground," with its cool-headed assassin faced with a most unlikely payback. "The Ledge" and "Quitters, Inc." are also nice, taut pieces of suspense based on clever ideas. The latter two were memorably filmed as part of the under-rated Cat's Eye movie, while the former was brilliantly adapted and filmed for the Nightmares and Dreamscapes miniseries of more than a decade ago.

I count six other film or TV adaptations besides the ones noted above. But no "Gray Matter" or "Jerusalem's Lot"! Ridiculous! Highly recommended as one of the five or six greatest original horror collections ever published. All-timer!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Gwendy's Button Box (2017) by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Gwendy's Button Box (2017) by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar: In 1974, twelve-year-old Castle Rock native Gwendy Peterson meets a man in black sitting on a park bench. He's peculiarly convincing but no pervert. No, he wants her to take on stewardship of a peculiar small wooden box covered with buttons. She's the best person for the job. And as compensation, the box dispenses rare silver dollars on occasion and one exquisite chocolate once a day.

So begins this peculiar, affecting coming-of-age novella/short novel (it's really an abbreviated kunstlerroman). King handed it in unfinished form to writer-editor-publisher Richard Chizmar, who came up with ways to finish the narrative. The two work seamlessly together. The prose is a bit leaner, perhaps, than the King norm, but I'd be hard-pressed to figure out who wrote what.

The gem here is the character of Gwendy, who is perfectly believeable in the midst of increasing weirdness centered on that box and those buttons. As to who the Man in Black is -- well, I'll leave that to you. He sure does like the word 'palaver.' 

The horror in Gwendy's Button Box is mostly quiet and psychological, though King and Chizmar do throw in one gross-out scene, a brief one. In all, a rewarding, short read. Recommended.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Horror in the Museum by H.P. Lovecraft and Others

The Horror in the Museum  by H.P. Lovecraft and Others (1970/1989/This edition 2007): edited by August Derleth, Stephen Jones, and S.T. Joshi:

Primary Revisions: Which is to say, stories that are almost entirely rewritten by HPL from stories or notes from other writers.

  • The Green Meadow (1918) by Winifred V. Jackson and H. P. Lovecraft [as by Lewis Theobald, Jr. and Elizabeth Neville Berkeley]: Really a Dunsanian prose-poem more than anything else.
  • The Crawling Chaos (1921) by Winifred V. Jackson and H. P. Lovecraft [as by Lewis Theobald, Jr. and Elizabeth Neville Berkeley]: Again, really a Dunsanian prose-poem more than anything else.
  • The Last Test (1928) by H. P. Lovecraft and Adolphe de Castro [as by Adolphe de Castro] : Enjoyable, overlong novella about a scientist's descent into madness, his descent speeded by the advice of a monstrous survival from eons past. Set primarily in late-19th-century San Francisco.
  • The Electric Executioner (1930) by H. P. Lovecraft and Adolphe de Castro [as by Adolphe de Castro]: So far as I know, the only story written or rewritten by HPL to be set primarily on a train. 
  • The Curse of Yig (1970) by H. P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop [as by Zealia Bishop]: Should be moved to the HPL canon. One of Lovecraft's generally top-notch "collaborations" with Zealia Bishop that moved the Cthulhu Mythos into the Midwestern environs of Oklahoma.
  • The Mound (1940) by H. P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop [as by Zealia Bishop]: Another top-notch, almost-canonical Lovecraft-Bishop Joint. A secret land of Great Old One worshippers hides about a mile below the surface of Oklahoma. Well, that explains a lot! 
  • Medusa's Coil (1939) by Zealia Bishop and H. P. Lovecraft [as by Zealia Bishop]: Oh, Lord. Brace yourself for the most racist ending in Lovecraft's stories and revisions, so anomalously ascendant over much more dire information that the ending almost seems like a parody.
  • The Man of Stone (1932) by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald [as by Hazel Heald]: Minor horror stuff.
  • The Horror in the Museum (1933) by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald [as by Hazel Heald]: Solid Mythos material set at... a wax museum?
  • Winged Death (1934) by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald [as by Hazel Heald]: Somewhat goofy Africa-set horror story.
  • Out of the Aeons (1933) by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald [as by Hazel Heald]: Another piece that could be considered canonical Mythos horror.
  • The Horror in the Burying-Ground (1937) by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald [as by Hazel Heald]: Very minor horror material.
  • The Diary of Alonzo Typer (1938) by H. P. Lovecraft and William Lumley [as by William Lumley]: Promising beginning, somewhat muted ending to a haunted house story with shades of the Great Ones looming behind it. Bears more than a passing resemblance to Stephen King's early-career homage to HPL, "Jerusalem's Lot."

Secondary Revisions: Which can range from a lot of HPL to almost none at all.

  • The Horror at Martin's Beach (1923) by H. P. Lovecraft and Sonia Greene  (variant of The Invisible Monster) [as by Sonia H. Greene]: Minor horror stuff with hypnotic sea monsters.
  • Ashes (1924) by C. M. Eddy, Jr. and H. P. Lovecraft [as by C. M. Eddy, Jr.] : Minor science-fictional horror that seems inspired by Robert W. Chambers.
  • The Ghost-Eater (1924) by H. P. Lovecraft and C. M. Eddy, Jr. [as by C. M. Eddy, Jr.] : Really minor lost-in-the-woods horror.
  • The Loved Dead (1924) by C. M. Eddy, Jr. and H. P. Lovecraft [as by C. M. Eddy, Jr.] : Oh, brother. Controversial (for its time) story about a guy who, though his actions are never completely described, seems to be a necrophiliac.
  • Deaf, Dumb and Blind (1925) by C. M. Eddy, Jr. and H. P. Lovecraft [as by C. M. Eddy, Jr.] : Minor piece of cosmic horror.
  • Two Black Bottles (1927) by H. P. Lovecraft and Wilfred Blanch Talman [as by Wilfred Blanch Talman] : Droll tale of zombies and churchyards.
  • The Trap (1932) by Henry S. Whitehead and H. P. Lovecraft [as by Henry S. Whitehead] : Minor piece of horror revolving around optics.
  • The Tree on the Hill (1934) by Duane W. Rimel : Under-developed piece of cosmic horror.
  • The Disinterment (1935) by H. P. Lovecraft and Duane W. Rimel [as by Duane W. Rimel] : Minor horror that seems mainly inspired by Poe.
  • "Till A' the Seas" (1935) by H. P. Lovecraft and R. H. Barlow  (variant of "Till All the Seas") [as by R. H. Barlow] : Downbeat fragment of end-of-the-world melancholy.
  • The Night Ocean (1936) by H. P. Lovecraft and R. H. Barlow [as by R. H. Barlow]: Probably the "weirdest" tale here in the modern sense, as atmosphere and suggestion take front place over specific, horrific occurrences. Extremely strong piece. 

Overall: Essential to the Lovecraft fan and/or scholar, and with enough rewarding tales of horror and the macabre to satisfy the casual reader as well. Highly recommended.

Acolytes of Cthulhu (2001) edited by Robert M. Price

Acolytes of Cthulhu  (2001/ This edition 2014): edited by Robert M. Price:

  1. Doom of the House of Duryea  (1936) by Earl Pierce, Jr.
  2. The Seventh Incantation (1963) by Joseph Payne Brennan
  3. From the Pits of Elder Blasphemy (2008) by Robert M. Price and Hugh B. Cave 
  4. The Jewels of Charlotte (1935) by Duane W. Rimel
  5. The Letters of Cold Fire  (1944) by Manly Wade Wellman
  6. Horror at Vecra (1943) by Henry Hasse
  7. Out of the Jar (1941) by Charles R. Tanner
  8. The Earth-Brain (1932) by Edmond Hamilton
  9. Through the Alien Angle (1941) by Elwin G. Powers
  10. Legacy in Crystal (1943) by James Causey
  11. The Will of Claude Ashur (1947) by C. Hall Thompson
  12. The Final War (1949) by David H. Keller, M.D.
  13. The Dunstable Horror (1964) by Arthur Pendragon
  14. The Crib of Hell (1965) by Arthur Pendragon
  15. The Last Work of Pietro of Apono (1969) by Steffan B. Aletti
  16. The Eye of Horus (1968) by Steffan B. Aletti
  17. The Cellar Room (1970) by Steffan B. Aletti
  18. Mythos (1961) by John S. Glasby
  19. There Are More Things (1975) by Jorge Luis Borges
  20. The Horror Out of Time (1978) by Randall Garrett
  21. The Recurring Doom  (1980) by S. T. Joshi
  22. Necrotic Knowledge  (1976) by Dirk W. Mosig [as by Cemetarius Nightcrawler]
  23. Night Bus  (1985) by Donald R. Burleson
  24. The Pewter Ring  (1987) by Peter Cannon
  25. John Lehmann Alone  (1987) by David Kaufman
  26. The Purple Death  (2001) by Gustav Meyrink  (trans. of Der violette Tod 1902)
  27. Mists of Death  (2001) by Richard F. Searight and Franklyn Searight 
  28. Shoggoth's Old Peculiar (1998) by Neil Gaiman 

Excellent selection of Lovecraftian short stories spanning the years 1932 to 2001. Acolytes of Cthulhu is probably better suited to a reader well-acquainted with Lovecraftian weird fiction. Not all the stories are great. But I hadn't run across most of them, making the anthology a lot of fun as it avoids reprinting stories that have become familiar from multiple appearances.

In some stories, the Lovecraftian taint is faint -- perhaps as little as some curious tome of apocalyptic demon lore sitting on a desk. Other stories are just plain nuts, David Keller's "The Final War" chief among them. I won't even try to describe it in detail. It's just plain bananas.

Jorge Luis Borges' nod to HPL, "There Are More Things," gratifyingly appears, and is about as Borgesian a nod to Lovecraft as one could hope for. A piece of juvenilia by Weird-Fiction Historian-Supreme S.T. Joshi is a fun pastiche. 

The stand-out is Randall Garrett's tricky, fun "The Horror Out of Time." The kicker really kicks. Neil Gaiman's humourous "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" closes the anthology with a wink. A squamous, batrachian wink.  Though the winner for best title has to be "From the Pits of Elder Blasphemy" by editor Robert M. Price and Hugh B. Cave, whose career in weird fiction began around the same time that HPL's ended in the 1930's. 

Price has done an admirable job of seeking out stories previously excluded from virtually all Lovecraftian anthologies. They may not all be great, or even good, but they are a historic delight. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Born To the Dark (Book Two of The Three Births of Daoloth) (2017) by Ramsey Campbell

Born To the Dark (Book Two of The Three Births of Daoloth) (2017) by Ramsey Campbell: In The Searching Dead (2016), narrator Dominick Sheldrake told of his early teen-aged years in 1952 Liverpool. Along with friends Roberta (Bobby) and Jim, Dominick encountered increasingly weird occult occurrences, though by the end of the book he alone faced the final horrors. 

Now it's 1985 and Dominick is all grown up, teaching film studies at a Liverpool college, married, with a five-year-old son. But the son has a curious sleep disorder. A nurse recommends a new clinic specializing in successful treatment of this disorder. And Dominick finds himself plunged into new iterations of the horrors of the past.

Ramsey Campbell is at the height of his multitudinous powers in this, the middle novel of The Three Births of Daoloth. Narrated again at some time after the events of the novel by Dominick, Born To the Dark is cosmic horror amplified by Sheldrake's fears for his son, his friends, and his sanity. We view much of the cosmic terror through Sheldrake's son's descriptions of his dreams and the strange things and events lurking there. Somehow, this makes it worse.

Like many protagonists of horror novels, Dominick struggles to find someone -- anyone -- who will believe his story. And he also struggles with the consequences of telling his wife and others about the cosmic threat that seemingly only he sees: paranoia, abandonment, the threat of divorce, the threat of police action, public humiliation...

But this isn't simply psychological horror about an unjustifiably paranoid narrator. Something is coming, something worse than whatever it is that's already there. The novel climaxes with a lengthy journey into a place being undermined by an invading reality. And with a third book to go, there are (as Manly Wade Wellman once observed) Worse Things Waiting.

The characterization of Dom and the other characters is sharp, the mood and description unnerving throughout. As in many of H.P. Lovecraft's seminal tales of cosmic horror, Born To the Dark gives us a protagonist who continues to attempt to stop a rising tide of horror that is almost certainly beyond his powers to stop. Yet he persists. Highly recommended.