Saturday, April 30, 2011
[For previous tweets, click here.]
If LeBron James calls Delonte West a motherf***er when they meet up on the court tomorrow, is he talking trash or lamenting a fact?
--3:20 P.M., April 30th
I had to stop watching the news. All that footage of the wildfires down south was making me homesick.
--6:37 P.M., April 26th
Blasphemy: to me, it sounds like poetry.
--12:10 P.M., April 24th
Give me the good old days when music came on vinyl records. I mean, is it even possible to listen to an iTune download backwards?
--8:44 A.M., April 19th
Remember, disgruntled taxpayers, there's no W-2 form for the wages of sin.
--11:59 P.M., April 15th
Friday, April 29, 2011
[For Part 1 of this piece, see yesterday's post.]
Having considered the three main source texts for Storm of the Century, I want to focus now on how the miniseries Gothicizes the concept of the town meeting. To start with, notice how Linoge transforms the town hall itself into a site of terror. Little Tall believes that the building's basement will be "the safest place on the island" during the storm, but various individuals at this emergency shelter are surreptitiously driven by Linoge to commit murder and suicide before the sorcerer even arrives in person and calls for a town meeting. The very dilemma that Linoge poses to Little Tall--surrender a single child or risk the annihilation of the entire community--darkens the docket of the subsequent meeting. The pompous town manager Robbie Beals bangs his gavel and tries to treat the matter like "any other piece of town business," as "an item on the floor" to be debated then voted on. Lapsing into officialese, Robbie orates: "Oyez, oyez--this question has been called. Do we or do we not give Mr. Linoge what he has asked for, pursuant to his promise that he will leave us in peace? How say you, Little Tall? Those in favor, signify in the usual way." Only Constable Mike Anderson understands the absurdity of the situation, the utter incongruity of form and content: "We're debating whether or not to give a child to a monster!...Don't give in to this. This is damnation." Mike's protest, though, is drowned out by the majority, and he is literally beaten down by his fellow citizens when he refuses the terms for the town meeting dictated by Linoge. Such forceful suppression of a dissenting voice gives a wicked twist to a statement Mike makes at the start of the narrative (as he laughs off the cost of the preparations for the coming storm): "I hope Robbie Beals can kick my ass for being an alarmist, come town meeting next month."
A similarly ironic development can be traced from Robbie's prior warning to Mike that "Come town meeting, there's maybe going to be a change in law enforcement on Little Tall." A transfer of authority does occur at the meeting, but both Robbie and Mike end up displaced. Significantly, Linoge is the one who seizes the pulpit and declares "this meeting at an end." Again, I offer that Linoge (like a quintessential politician) makes a false promise that he will leave Little Tall in peace if he's given what he wants. He does take his protege and his exit at tale's end, but not before he has woven his corrupting presence into the fabric of the town itself. The climactic town meeting serves not to expel Linoge but to incorporate him into the body politic. Ever devious, Linoge
employs a rhetoric of consensus even as he perverts and pervades the ritual of the town meeting. He appeals to Little Tall's sensibilities, reminding the people that they have "always stuck together on the island," and asserting that "I'm here because island folks know how to pull together for the common good." When given what he allegedly wants, Linoge assures the islanders that they have done "a good thing. The right thing. The only thing, really, that loving, responsible people could have done, under the circumstances." Like some latter-day John Winthrop or Puritan preacher delivering a jeremiad, Linoge also warns the congregation of the disastrous effects should "insular selfishness" prevent them from doing "what's best for the town": Little Tall (once the islanders are driven en masse into the sea) will recapitulate the mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke colonists of 1587.
Linoge perhaps reaches the pinnacle of duplicity when he says, "I'll give you half an hour. Discuss it...isn't that what a town meeting is for? And then...Choose." His imperative tone here, his ultimatum to Little Tall, exposes the pretense of personal freedom and democratic process; the situation serves as a perfect example of what literary theorist and cultural critic Sacvan Bercovitch has termed "the imposed duties of assent" to a dominant social order. Linoge seeks not to elicit discussion but to ensure silence: he advises the inhabitants of Little Tall to strike this town meeting from the public record and to keep their scandalous agreement with him a secret. Nor is Linoge much interested in freedom of choice, as we might realize by turning once more to Bercovitch's work, his critique of the "rituals of crisis" that served as ready vehicles of social continuity and control: "Millennium or doomsday...it was the choice demanded by the rhetoric of consensus....On those grounds the leaders of American society, from Winthrop through Lincoln, have invoked the threat of doomsday, formulaically, as a rallying cry for cultural revitalization....The point was not to offer alternatives but to induce a state of anxiety, an apocalyptic urgency, that would enforce compliance. and generally, through the Nineteenth Century, the American middle class responded by embracing the covenant. Those who did not join in hope conformed in desperation." By threatening catastrophe, Linoge turns the town meeting into a ritual of crisis and effects fearful compliance.
Such formulaic manipulation of cultural anxieties through rituals of crisis also calls to mind the conservative account of the poetics and politics of the horror genre itself. For instance, Noel Carroll in The Philosophy of Horror notes that modern horror fictions "might be thought of as ritual of inversions for mass society. And the function of such rituals--as literally acted-out in their plot structure--is to celebrate the dominant cultural viewpoint and its conception of the norm." We might recall King's own politically-slanted comments on the horror genre in his 1981 treatise, Danse Macabre: "Monstrosity fascinates us because it appeals to the conservative Republican in the three-piece suit who resides in all of us. We love and need monstrosity because it is a reaffirmation of the order we all crave as human beings." In Danse Macabre, King clearly presents the horror writer as "an agent of the status quo" who restores communal
order by vanquishing the disruptive monster at the end. Still, we must be careful not to restrict King to this sole viewpoint or to constrict his work to such formula. Linoge in Storm of the Century--described in one stage note as "GRINNING SAVAGELY; looks like Richard Nixon at a political rally"--might be taken as the disguised
"Republican" who subverts the subversion-and-containment paradigm itself, paradoxically triumphing even as he is expelled (or, more accurately, removes himself) from Little Tall.
King, in his introduction to the published teleplay, admits that most of his small-town tales "had a certain unexamined postulate at their center: that a malevolent encroachment must always shatter the community, driving the individuals apart and turning them into enemies" (the two novels King cites, Salem's Lot and Needful Things, show monstrous intruders working a divide-and-conquer scheme, and the climactic defeat of these antagonists leads not to a resumption of the former status quo but to the fiery destruction of Salem's Lot and Castle Rock, respectively). Storm of the Century, though, provides one more turn of the screw, as Linoge shatters Little Tall by driving the individuals together and turning them into a community. King's account of Little Tall ends not with a bang but with a whimper, not in fire or even the ice of the titular storm. The narrative concludes at the time of the spring thaw, when the snow that has been metonymically linked with Linoge has melted into the island's soil. Through a series of divorces and suicides, Little Tall's community unravels even after Linoge departs with Ralphie Anderson. As Sandra Beals drowns herself in the reach separating island from mainland, one senses that the trickster Linoge's threatened punishment is beginning to transpire anyway. The word Sandra leaves scrawled on her abandoned rowboat, "Croaton," also recalls the mysterious clue left by the missing Roanoke colonists, and Mike Anderson's earlier speculation that Croaton is Linoge's ancient name only reinforces the notion that Linoge has bequeathed himself to Little Tall and has not been truly exorcised from the community. At the conclusion of the town meeting, the islanders are said to look "like people waking up from a communal nightmare in which they have done some terrible, irrevocable thing." But by the conclusion of Storm of the Century, the islanders seem to have awoken to a communal nightmare, to the undying guilt over the consensus reached at the town meeting.
King's Linoge ostensibly destroys Little Tall by exposing and exploiting the inherent contradictions of its rhetoric and rituals of consensus (in this light, we might note the oxymoronic nature of the very name "Little Tall"). Storm of the Century thus pushes towards a more radical account of the cultural work of horror, the unsettling of the nation's cultural identity explored by Teresa Goddu in her recent study Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation: "The nation's narratives--its foundational fictions and self-mythologizations--are created through a process of displacement: their coherence depends on exclusion. By resurrecting what these narratives repress, the Gothic disrupts the dream world of national myth with the nightmare of history." Goddu's premise seems to concord with Bercovitch's scholarship and King's slice of American Gothic in Storm of the Century. First, King challenges the myth of a chosen people, of a divinely-sanctioned Puritan errand into the American wilderness. As Little Tall prepares for the coming storm at the start of the miniseries, the islanders mouth platitudes such as "God takes care of his own" and "Trouble don't cross the reach," but the trouble Linoge brings when he singles out Little Tall for an infernal visit undermines such confidence and faith. Secondly, King craftily demonstrates the breakdown of the Puritan hermeneutic of typology that was used to justify the errand and prophesize its end results. In Storm of the Century, things fall apart, the Biblical parallels do not hold. When Mike Anderson decodes Linoge's name and recognizes it as an anagram of "Legion," he reminds us of the Gospel story of the demons who announced (as they were cast into a herd of pigs by Jesus and driven into the sea), "Our name is Legion, for we are many." But in King's reconfiguration of this story, it's Linoge who ominously assumes the Jesus role and the legion of islanders who face extermination via drowning.
Ultimately, King hollows out the town meeting, that hallowed sociopolitcial forum tracing back to Puritan New England. The violence accompanying acts of communal cohesion is exposed when islanders twice attempt to assassinate Linoge during the town meeting. Even more significantly, Linoge warps Little Tall's sense of consensus so that they forget how to pull together for the common good. During the debate at the town meeting, an impassioned Mike Anderson begs his brethren to "Stand against [Linoge], side by side and shoulder to shoulder. Tell him no in one voice. Do what it says on the door we use to get in hear--trust in God and each other." But the bonds of trust having been corrupted by Linoge (who knows everyone's secret sins), the islanders fail to form a united front against Linoge and instead reach a consensus that merely concedes to his dire demands. "Perhaps you tricked yourselves," is Linoge's final, taunting retort to Little Tall when accused of somehow having tricked it out of one of its native sons. This appears to be precisely the case, as Little Tall has allowed a sorcerous intruder to turn its most-trusted social apparatus back against the islanders, has let the town meeting become the staging ground for the dark rites of assent.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
The following is the text of a paper I presented several years back at the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts down in Ft. Lauderdale. I will post the first half today, and the conclusion of the piece tomorrow.
The Dark Rites of Assent: The Town Meeting Goes Gothic in King's Storm of the Century
Meandering through four hours of melodrama and not-so-special effects, the 1999 miniseries developed from Stephen King's teleplay Storm of the Century hardly gets off to a compelling start. The arrival of the evil Linoge as Maine's Little Tall Island is battered by a massive winter storm seems but a tedious rehash of the Randall Flagg plotline in The Stand: a supernatural antagonist manifests just as disaster threatens the breakdown of social order. Linoge's endlessly reiterated demand in Storm of the Century--"Give me what I want, and I'll go away"--creates perhaps less a sense of suspense than of irritation and impatience. The faithful viewer (the telematic analogue of King's Constant Reader) is almost tempted to hold up the TV remote like Linoge's cane and intone, "Give me what I want, or I'll go away."
On its third and final night, though, the miniseries takes a gripping turn. Linoge finally reveals the motivation behind his menacing:
the sinister sorcerer wants Little Tall to hand over one of the town's children to him, a boy or a girl whom Linoge subsequently will raise in his own image. At first, King might seem to have fallen back on familiar territory once again, considering that the parental anxiety over child welfare forms a leitmotif in the author's works. But what proves particularly striking in this case is the moral dilemma Linoge creates--he threatens to kill all the children and all the parents if Little Tall does not give him what he wants--and the sociopolitical forum Linoge has Little Tall adopt when making its torturous decision: a good old-fashioned New England town meeting.
In his introduction to the published teleplay version of Storm of the Century, King attests that the Little Tall setting does not merely offer a convenient atmosphere of claustrophobia as the island is cut off from the mainland by the snowstorm and forced to fall back on its own resources: "The final impetus was provided by the realization that if I set my story on Little Tall Island, I had a chance to say something interesting and provocative about the very nature of community...because there is no community in America as tightly knit as the island communities off the coast of Maine. The people in them are bound together by situation, tradition, common interests, common religious practices." King's climactic town meeting thus might be viewed in light of Sacvan Bercovitch's critique (in his 1993 study, The Rites of Assent) of the rhetoric and rituals of American consensus. These "strategies of symbolic cohesion" inform the American Gothicism of Storm of the Century:
"Is the result of pulling together always the common good?" King wonders in the introduction. "Does the idea of 'community' always warm the cockles of the heart, or does it on occasion chill the blood?" When King broaches the subject of communal formation and revitalization in Storm of the Century, he affords himself the opportunity to say something interesting and provocative about the poetics and politics of the horror genre itself.
Before turning to the miniseries' climactic town meeting, I would like to consider the three source texts for Storm of the Century. Two of these are readily identified in King's published intro-duction: "Most of my small-town tales--those of Jerusalem's Lot, those of Castle Rock, those of Little Tall Island--owe a debt to Mark Twain ('The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg') and Nathaniel Hawthorne ('Young Goodman Brown')." Given this acknowledgment of Hawthorne, it's worth noting how King's Storm of the Century hearkens back to Puritan times. For example, stage directions in the teleplay point the viewer's gaze first to the exterior of the Little Tall Island Town Hall--"a white wooden building, stark in the New England style, and the center of the town's public life"--before zooming inside to the actual hall where the town meetings take place: "This consists of many straight-backed benches, like Puritan pews, and a bare wooden lectern with a microphone. Looks more like church than government." When Linoge calls for his "little unscheduled town meeting," the gathering of islanders is described in another King stage note as a "spectral" sight: "They look eerie by candlelight, like villagers from an earlier time...the time of Salem and Roanoke, let us say." Such setting recalls the unsanctioned nighttime gathering in "Young Goodman Brown," where the forest outside Salem village is eerily aglow with pine trees blazing "like candles at an evening meeting."
Various other parallels between Hawthorne's and King's narratives reinforce this intertextual echo. The satanic figure in "Young Goodman Brown" sports a staff bearing "the likeness of a great black snake," while King's demonic Linoge leans on the supernatural prop of a wolf's head cane. Also, just as the figure in Hawthorne's story insists that "evil is the nature of mankind" and endeavors to expose the sinful "secret deeds" of the hypocritical Puritans, Linoge professes that "the good is an illusion" and airs the dirty laundry of Little Tall--a town "full of adulterers, pedophiles, thieves, gluttons, murderers, bullies, scoundrels, and covetous morons." The perennial debate about whether Goodman Brown in fact observed a witch's meeting or merely hallucinated the event perhaps find an analogue in Storm of the Century in the ambiguous nature of Linoge's power (i.e. can he carry out his threats, or is he the embodiment of a nightmare that will ultimately pass like the
titular winter storm?). In both narratives, though, the reality of the antagonist proves less important than the social and psychological effects on the protagonist. Goodman Brown has his rhetorical armor that he comes from "a race of honest men and good Christians" pierced by his experiences in the forest, and he loses
"Faith" in his wife after witnessing her dealings with the devil. Similarly, King's update of the Hawthornian everyman, Mike Anderson, no longer trusts in the communal and familial bond following the deal that is struck with Linoge at the town meeting. Anderson resigns as town constable and shuns his wife Molly, a key participant in the dark ritual at the town hall.
If Hawthorne's story of a mysterious meeting in the forest lends some Gothic overtones to King's town meeting, Twain's "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" forms an even more obvious parallel with Storm of the Century in terms of setting. While Twain's story climaxes with an 8 o'clock meeting called by the devious title character, King's narrative follows with a 9 o'clock meeting declared by Linoge. Having suffered an unspecified slight while in Hadleyburg, Twain's enigmatic stranger plots a revenge drama that reaches its final act in a communal gathering at the town hall. Recognizing that the vaunted honesty upon which Hadleyburg has built its reputation is but an artificial construct that will crumble the first time it is tested, the stranger works to expose the greed and duplicity of the town's nineteen principal citizens by leading them to lay false claim to a spurious sack of gold. My interest here, though, does not lie in recounting the elaborate confidence game orchestrated by this man, nor in noting the satiric glee with which Twain narrates the puncture of Hadleyburg's pretensions. Instead, I want us to consider that Twain's story furnishes a gloss on the abilities and motivations of Linoge in Storm of the Century. Twain's eponymous antagonist admits to the populace of Hadleyburg that "I could not kill you all"; by analogy, Linoge might also be seen as incapable of carrying out his threat of marching all of the islanders into the seas if his demand isn't met. After all, if Linoge possesses such powers of persuasion, why doesn't he simply take what he wants? Why does he insist that the child must be freely given to him, and that the decision must be reached at a town meeting? The answer, I would suggest, is that Linoge seeks less to divest Little Tall of a single child than to invest himself in the civic fabric of the island.
Simply put, Linoge aims to be the man that corrupted Little Tall. In both the Twain and King narratives, such corruption is achieved under the guise of public ritual. The pomp and circumstance of the Hadleyburg meeting devolves into pandemonium as the nineteen prominent citizens (like the Puritan elect in "Young Goodman Brown") have their dirty secrets exposed. At the start of the meeting, the town hall is said to have "never looked finer," clothed in its "showy draping of flags," but by tale's end Twain writes that
"the town was stripped of the last rag of its ancient glory." The stranger's deconstruction of Hadleyburg is finally evident in the alteration of "the motto that for many generations had graced the town's official seal": "Lead US Not Into Temptation" has now been emblematically revised as "Lead Us Into Temptation." By comparison, Little Tall seems to have its rhetoric hollowed out by the events of its own town meeting. At the start of the meeting, King's scene description points us outside the town hall, to a cupola containing a bell and a plaque listing the island's war dead (a memorial inscribed with the heading "WHEN WE RING FOR THE LIVING WE HONOR THE DEAD"). This slogan, though, rings false at the conclusion of the narrative, when the name of the child handed over to Linoge is listed on the plaque (in the pretense that he died during the storm of the century). Henceforth neither the living nor the dead are honored by the sounding of the bell; the islanders are guiltily reminded of the awful deal they struck with Linoge at the town meeting, and the child himself is not actually deceased but sentenced to warped, demonic existence under Linoge's tutelage.
We might move even closer to an understanding of King's use of the town meeting by considering a third source text for Storm of the Century. When Little Tall capitulates to Linoge's demand for a young protege, the particular child is chosen through a lottery in which the parents draw colored "weirding" stones from Linoge's bag. Here King invokes a story by a revered precursor, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." Granted, King shifts the setting from the summer solstice to a heart-of-winter storm, and Jackson's stones of punishment become the tools of the lottery itself in King's narrative. In other instances, though, King does make direct echo of Jackson--Molly Anderson's protest that Linoge's lottery wasn't fair matches the cries of Jackson's maternal figure. Still, the most compelling parallel between the two narratives is the discourse about the nature of community. Both Jackson's village lottery and King's town meeting represent public ceremonies that work toward communal renewal via scapegoating and callous individual to individual human suffering. The ritual lottery in Jackson's story--which is compared to other "civic activities" like square dances, the teenage club, and the Halloween program--is accompanied by a mantra promising a bountiful harvest: "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon." In turn, we might imagine Little Tall's chant regarding Linoge's lottery as "Assent to this one thing, live to see the spring." Nevertheless, both Jackson and King endeavor to demonstrate the violence and victimization that attends to the process of communal cohesion. The "winner" of Jackson's lottery, an arbitrarily chosen Other, is stoned to death by the rest of the villagers; likewise, the child chosen by Linoge's lottery is an appeasing sacrifice made in order to save Little Tall from dreaded cataclysm.
Hopefully, we can begin to recognize here the relevance of Sacvan Bercovitch's work--his critique of consensus, of "the simultaneity of violence and culture formation." Jackson underscores such notion in the very name she gives to her scapegoated protagonist: Mrs.
"Hutchinson" brings to mind the historical figure Anne Hutchinson, who was banished from Massachusetts to Rhode Island by Governor John Winthrop due to her Antinomian interpretations of Puritan theology. In his famous lay sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity," delivered as the Arbella sailed toward the New World in 1630, Winthrop attempted to mold private interest to the public good and to get Puritans to consent to their errand in the howling wilderness, so they "might be all knit more neatly together in the bonds of brotherly affection." In his subsequent journal entries regarding the banishment of Anne Hutchinson, though, Winthrop unwittingly reveals the verbal violence inflecting the rhetoric of consensus, the acts of exclusion used to achieve communal cohesion. Drawing on the same language and symbology of his Arbella sermon, Winthrop depicts the dissenting Hutchinson as some witch who has delivered a stillborn monster, a premature fetus whose grotesque, lumpen body is "so confusedly knit together...distinct and not joined together."
No less so than Jackson's christening of her main character, the name King gives to his respective scapegoat (the son Mike and Molly Anderson surrender to Linoge) has some significant historical resonance. "Ralph Emerick Anderson" carries definite phonetic echoes of that champion of American individualism, Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his essay "Self-Reliance," Emerson declares that "society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members." Ironically, in Storm of the Century it is Ralph Emerick Anderson who suffers Little Tall's conspiracy against his natural manhood, and who will see (in Emersonian terms) "the sacred integrity of his own mind" profaned by Linoge's teachings.
[Come on back to Macabre Republic tomorrow to read Part 2 of this essay.]
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
[For the previous round of this game, click here.]
Think of this as the literary equivalent of the old game show Name That Tune. Can you identify the author of the following passage based on its stylistic hallmarks?
"Well, as long as you have such a good disposition," the stylish lady said [to Mrs. Turpin in the doctor's waiting room], "I don't think it makes a bit of difference what size you are. You just can't beat a good disposition."
Next to her was a fat girl of eighteen or nineteen, scowling into a thick blue book which Mrs. Turpin saw was entitled Human Development. The girl raised her head and directed her scowl at Mrs. Turpin as if she did not like her looks. She appeared annoyed that anyone should speak while she tried to read. The poor girl's face was blue with acne and Mrs. Turpin thought how pitiful it was to have a face like that at that age. She gave the girl a friendly smile but the girl only scowled the harder. Mrs. Turpin herself was fat, but she had always had good skin, and, though she was forty-seven years old, there was not a wrinkle in her face except around her eyes from laughing too much.
Next to the ugly girl was the child, still exactly in the same position, and next to him was a thin leathery old woman in a cotton print dress. She and Claud had three sacks of chicken feed in their pump house that was in the same print. She had seen from the first that the child belonged with the old woman. She could tell by the way they sat--kind of vacant and white-trashy, as if they would sit there until Doomsday if nobody called and told them to get up. And at right angles but next to the well-dressed pleasant lady was a lank-faced woman who was certainly the child's mother. She had on a yellow sweat-shirt and wine-colored slacks, both gritty-looking, and the rims of her lips were stained with snuff. Her dirty yellow hair was tied behind with a little piece of red paper ribbon. Worse than niggers any day, Mrs. Turpin thought.
The gospel hymn playing was, "When I looked up and He looked down," and Mrs. Turpin, who knew it, supplied the last line mentally, "And wona these days I know I'll we-eara crown."
(Keep scrolling down to find out the author of this passage)
The subtly comic detail (e.g. a fat girl reading a "thick" book titled Human Development)...
The portraits of grotesque characters (such as the woman with snuff-stained lips)...
The ironic distance between the author and the viewpoint character (who is shown to be biased and falsely pious)...
The use of religion for thematic effect...
...This has to be the work of Flannery O'Connor.
(The passage comes from her 1964 short story "Revelation" [p. 490 in The Complete Stories]).
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
[For previous entries, click the "Most Gothic Place Names" label under Features in the right sidebar.]
Nebraska fields a formidable lineup of town and city names, such as Vorhees (a place where Jason can cut loose), Huntsman (home of The Most Dangerous Game), Gross (a community bent on vulgarity), Point of Rocks (is to bash in brains?), Mason City (the secret order seems to have gone public), Devils Gap (where Ol' Scratch shops for new clothes), Keene (turned out a City of the Dead), Fort Crook (where bunko artists bunker down), and Loup City (a.k.a Lycanthropolis). But the Cornhusker State's most ominous cognomen is found in...
Gothenburg. Sounds like the site of a horrific dirigible crash. A place in ruins, stony and sepulchral. Or perhaps worst of all: somewhere overrun by moody, pallid teens in black ensembles.
Monday, April 25, 2011
[For previous entry, click here.]
In the third episode of the series, Lucas shows just what a devilish Buck he is, going to ungodly lengths to make sure he is appointed Caleb's legal guardian. First, the sheriff tries to discredit Dr. Crower (with whom Caleb wants to stay) by causing a patient to have an epileptic seizure while on the operating table for a simple gall-bladder procedure. Then Lucas coerces anesthesiologist Dan Truelane to speak against Crower at the upcoming custody hearing by acknowledging the doctor's past drinking problems.
The two-faced Lucas sends an ostensible wedding present to Dan and his recent bride Cheryl, but the ornate looking glass he gifts them with has some supernatural qualities. Cheryl ends up enthralled by her reflection, and turns uncharacteristically libidinous. The sheriff assures Dan that he will get his old wife back if he does he part to support Lucas's case at the hearing. Unable to bear Cheryl's strange behavior, though, Dan destroys the mirror in a fit of fury--and Cheryl's own face is somehow simultaneously disfigured (shades of Dorian Gray).
Having also worked his charm with Judge Halpern, Lucas figures the custody hearing is guaranteed to be decided in his favor. But the judge throws him a curveball by decreeing that Caleb will go live at Loris Holt's boarding house (a multi-storied manse that happens to built on an old graveyard). Incensed by this turn of events, Lucas warns of retribution. Soon thereafter, Halpern drops dead after spotting a raven peering in his window. This judge will be presiding in Trinity nevermore.
"Eye of the Beholder" captures one of the essential elements of the American Gothic: the disparity between public persona and private nature, between surface appearance and ulterior motive. Lucas might strike a good ol' boy pose, but he's really bad news for the townspeople. And his determination to bring Caleb under his wing hardly stems from altruism; he's carrying out a personal agenda rather than performing a civic duty. God help Caleb if he ever ends up raised in the sheriff's sinister image.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Saturday, April 23, 2011
This edition of "Universal Monsters in Our Midst" highlights the greatest "toy" a monstrophile growing up in the late 70's could ever receive. The Gabriel Monster Machine allowed junior Jack Pierces to crank out (literally, thanks to the roto-cast device resembling a mad scientist's laboratory slab) plaster molds of their favorite monsters. Some painterly "make up" then brought the creations to vibrant life. The Monster Machine came with an instruction manual penned by none other than Dr. Frankenstein, and included the mold for the most famous monster ever to lumber out of filmland:
(molded by Joe)
One last thought: I wonder if this Machine helped churn out not just macabre busts but also a bevy of cinematic monster-makers. (How many of today's generation of special fx makeup artists found their calling in life while mixing and pouring "Monster Muck" into the plastic molds?)
Friday, April 22, 2011
With apologies to T.S. Eliot: April is the coolest month over at Grade Z Horror. The blog is running a month-long tribute to renowned horror author Richard Laymon. Here you'll find nearly daily reminiscences and book reviews by bloggers and horror authors such as Jeff Strand and Gord Rollo. The posts serve as a wonderful reminder of the late Laymon's greatness, and a spur to readers new and old to go seek out the author's work. Kudos to Grade Z Horror for offering this tribute.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Infamous (2006) no doubt was overshadowed by Capote, which beat it to the box office by a year and garnered much critical acclaim. I have to admit, I had never even seen Infamous until I caught it this past week on Netflix. But this is a classic case of better late than never, because I was absolutely blown away. In many ways, Infamous is the superior of the two biopics dealing with Truman Capote's writing of the haunting "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood.
While it tells much the same story as Capote, Infamous places more emphasis on the eccentric author's interaction with New York socialites. The film receives some skillful direction from Douglas McGrath, who cuts deftly between scenes--and between the storyline itself and faux-documentary interviews of Capote's associates. Infamous also exhibits some brilliant wit, yet takes a much darker turn midway through (in keeping with the debilitating effect that writing/publishing In Cold Blood had on Capote).
Not merely because of his diminutive stature, Toby Jones makes for a more convincing Truman Capote than the justly-decorated Philip Seymour Hoffman. Daniel Craig gives a stunning performance as Perry Smith, the savage killer with an artistic soul. But perhaps the biggest surprise is Sandra Bullock as Capote companion and fellow scribe Harper Lee; this supporting role shows that Bullock was an Oscar-caliber actress even before she took a walk on The Blind Side.
Does Infamous take some liberties with the "true story"? Probably, but the result is a powerful, emotional drama. If this movie has slipped under your radar (as it did mine for so long), you need to rectify that fact by placing it at the top of your Netflix queue right now. You won't be disappointed.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
[For previous ballads about the balladeer, click the "On the Road with Silver John" label under Features in the right sidebar.]
"Walk Like a Mountain"
Rafe Enoch is a mountaintop giant of incredible might,
But there's an even bigger reason to fear him.
The snap of his fingers sends lightning bolting,
And he can bring rain showering down at whim.
Now the behemoth has abducted a fetching young lady,
Conjured a deluge to drown out the settlement below.
The forecast is quite ominous until John comes,
Climbs high, and confronts this outsized foe.
Manly Wade Wellman's short story "Walk Like a Mountain" can be found in Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
[For the previous entry, see yesterday's post.]
A double dose of this feature this week, since it was preempted last Tuesday by Scream Week.
Montana gives us such appropriate appellations as Crow Agency (psychopomps in flight), Anaconda Trailer Court (residents are really feeling squeezed), Barker (a good spot to take in a Great and Secret Show), Singleshot (sniper paradise), Castle Mobile Home Park (medievalism on wheels), and Cavetown (talk about living primitively). But even if this list were longer, the easy winner would still be...
Blazing Place. Sounds like a place given to Wicker-Man-type paganism (or fiery execution of suspected witches). Where plenty of candles can be found burning in upstairs windows of residential homes. And a town that teems with jack-o'-lanterns every October.
Monday, April 18, 2011
[For previous entries, click the 'Most Gothic Place Names" label under Features in the right sidebar.]
A survey of the "Show Me" State reveals a bevy of great names. There's Graves Grove (seeded with the deceased), Skinner (beware: someone here seeks your hide), Old Peculiar (strange ways, indeed), Tingley (heed that uneasy feeling this place gives you), Green Town (where dandelion summers give way to wicked Octobers), Buzzards Roost (carry on before you're mistaken for carrion), Bloodland (gruesomely irrigated), and Stine (guaranteed to give you Goosebumps). But even an untutored brute with bolts in his neck knows that the Most Gothic Place Name in Missouri is found in...
Frankenstein. The name suggests a place of old, hilltop windmills and baronial estates. A town where the local doctor is universally distrusted, and where flashes of lightning stir the darkest fears. The edgy villagers here no doubt keep their torches and pitchforks close at hand.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
I figured that spotlighting this particular story by the prolific and versatile Ed Gorman would make for an appropriate coda to Scream Week. The story focuses on a legendary scream queen named Michele Danforth ("A scream queen? That's the sexy young lady," the narrator explains, "who gets dragged off by the monster/ax-murderer in direct-to-video horror movies. She screams a lot and she almost always gets her blouse and bra ripped off so you can see her breasts. Acting ability doesn't matter so much. But scream ability is vital. And breast ability is absolutely mandatory."). The titular figure disappeared from Hollywood at the height of her fame, but years later she is spotted by the narrator and his fanboy friends at a Midwestern video store. Now, though, Danforth has assumed a different identity, and she also has this strange quirk about never baring her beloved bosom again (even to someone she sleeps with).
All this might seem to be leading to some sort of ghoulish climax, but Gorman is more interested in making readers' hearts ache than pound. This bittersweet tale of scars accrued and innocence lost is well deserving of its slot as the final story in the 2007 anthology Midnight Premiere.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Scream. The multi-faceted title serves as a directive to audience members. It references the famous Edvard Munch painting (from which Ghostface draws his contorted visage). Most of all, it points to the signature cinematic expression of horror. There are plenty of screams let loose by characters in the Scream movies; here are my choices for best scream scene in each of the first three films:
1.Maternal wail by Casey Becker's mom (Scream)
3.Synchronized screaming by Gale and Jennifer (Scream 3) [1:18, 1:34, 2:30 marks]
1.Maternal wail by Casey Becker's mom (Scream)
3.Synchronized screaming by Gale and Jennifer (Scream 3) [1:18, 1:34, 2:30 marks]
Friday, April 15, 2011
"This isn't a comedy, it's a horror film," Ghostface intones to an imminent victim early on, providing the perfect gloss on Scream 4. The new installment of the postmodern slasher series dials down the humor and cranks up the viciousness. It is dark, bloody, and unabashedly mean-spirited--a welcome contrast to the goofiness of its trilogy-completing predecessor.
That's not to say that the trademark cleverness is absent here. For instance, the opening sequence (easily the best since Drew Barrymore's phone quiz in the original), is wonderfully witty in its use of nested narrative. Scream 4, though, doesn't let all the in-jokes outshine the attempt to terrify (perhaps with the exception of one character's dying reference to Bruce Willis). The focus remains on a pair of stab-happy psychos--the fact that there are two killers is made clear from the outset--bent on orchestrating a gruesome massacre in Woodsboro.
It's been over a decade since Scream 3, both in reality and within the chronology of the series, and in many ways the new film plays like Scream: The Next Generation. There's a whole new crop of Woodsboro high schoolers here in danger of grim reaping by Ghostface, and they do make for an interesting cast of characters. Unfortunately, the trio of series mainstays--Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courtney Cox), and Dewey (David Arquette)--get displaced by this youth movement, their screen time cut down to a point where they almost seem irrelevant to the action. The film does endeavor to make a thematic point of this very fact, but the diminished roles for these familiar characters cannot be counted as a strength.
The nature of their characters has changed as well. Sidney has
matured into a more maternal figure; no longer the haunted daughter of Maureen Prescott, she now functions mainly as the heroic protector of her cousin Jill. And the formerly-bumbling deputy Dewey has been promoted to sheriff, Woodsboro's leading authority figure. The dimwitted charm he displayed in the previous films is certainly missed here. (And speaking off missing aspects of his character: what happened to Dewey's gimpiness? Is his ability to move around here unimpeded the product of intense physical therapy--or selective memory on the part of the filmmakers? Either way, Dewey appears to have made the most remarkable recovery since Kevin Spacey's Keyser Soze stretched his legs at the end of The Usual Suspects.)
Ultimately, what makes or breaks a Scream movie is its climax--its unmasking of Ghostface and plot-twisting revelation of the killer's motive. Scream 4's extended closing sequence is a highly successful one, as shocking as the film's commercials promised it would be. Sure, there's an element of the Suddenly Psycho Syndrome that bedeviled Screams 2 and 3, but the archvillain proves to be quite the nefarious nemesis. This killer's rant also forms a stinging critique of the narcissism of the Facebook/Twitter generation. My only quibble with the film's closing: there was the potential here to end on a truly sinister note (or at the very least, with a cliffhanger), but the movie opts instead for the formulaic resolution.
Scream 4 is far from flawless, but it is much better film than I had anticipated. Devoted fans of the franchise will be anything but disappointed as they file out of theaters this weekend.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
"What's the point? They're all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act who's always running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door. It's insulting."
--Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), on her dislike for scary movies [Scream]
"Bitch, hang up the phone and *69 his ass!"--Maureen Evans (Jada Pinkett), yelling at the movie screen while watching Stab [Scream 2]
Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey): "[...] But I have to tell you, after [playing you in] two films, I feel like I am in your mind."
Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox): "That would explain my constant headaches." [Scream 3]
"And what movie is this from--'I Spit on Your Garage'?"--Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan) to Ghostface [Scream]
"How do you know that my dimwitted inexperience isn't merely a subtle form of manipulation used to lower people's expectations thereby enhancing my ability to effectively maneuver within any given situation?"--Dewey Riley (David Arquette) to Gale [Scream 2]
"Oh shit, Silent Bob, it's that TV news chick, Connie f***ing Chung!"--Jay (Jason Mewes), on spotting Gale at Sunrise Studios
Sidney: "Oh my God, Randy, I thought you were dead."
Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy): "I probably should be. I never thought I'd be so happy to be a virgin." [Scream]
"Jeez, Gale, you got more lives than a cat."--Cotton Weary, after the still-ticking Gale says that the bullet must have bounced off her ribs [Scream 2]
"I was up for Princess Leia. I was this close. And who gets it? The one who sleeps with George Lucas."--Bianca Burnette (Carrie Fisher) to Jennifer and Gale [Scream 3]
"Movies don't make psychos. Movies make psychos more creative."--Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) to Sidney (Scream)
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
You know you've achieved the status of pop culture phenomenon when you become the object of parody. That's certainly the case with the Scream franchise. From Scary Movie to the spate of amateur videos posted on YouTube, there have been countless attempts to poke fun at the antics of Ghostface & Company. My personal favorite, though, is this satiric segment from the 1997 MTV Movie Awards:
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Have you ever wished that there were a literary equivalent of the Scream movies? Well, actually, there is. Stephen Graham Jones proves himself to be not just an incredibly talented writer but also a pop-culture savant in his 2006 book Demon Theory. Self-aware, highly allusive, and copiously endnoted, this "work of fiction" is presented as a "three-part novelization of the feature film trilogy The Devil Inside," and reads like a cross between Vladimir Nabokov and Kevin Williamson. In fact, the Scream movies are invoked numerous times by Jones. Take, for instance, the following passage,
which is also a good example of the author's ability to offer prose that is both smart and suspenseful:
In the upstairs bedroom Seri's in quiet panic mode, wrapped in blankets, standing at the window, phone in hand [indicating for someone outside to pick it up, pick it up], bookends neglected, behind her on the bed. Another mistake in the making. And Nona left the door open behind her, it would seem. Just past it the attic stairs are lowering m.o.s.--the jeep hatch opening on Neve all over again.* Seri's not looking behind her, either.The passage hyperlinks to one of the several hundred notes at the back of the book (where Jones cites his sources and elaborates on his references):
*i.e. Neve Campbell, Sidney Prescott in Wes Craven-Kevin Williamson's 1996 Scream. Plot outline: "A psychopathic killer is stalking a group of teens just like in the movies!" And the teens all know about, and talk about it, perhaps prompting Clive Barker to say about the 2004 graphic novel adaptation of his 1987 Hellraiser, "I was delighted there was a sizable audience for a horror film that didn't dice adolescents in the shower, or have its tongue buried so deeply in its cheek it could lick out its ear from the inside."I cannot recommend Demon Theory highly enough. This is postmodernism as it was meant to be, clever and fun rather than exhaustingly esoteric. If you love horror movies and/or metafictional narratives, Jones's book is a must-read. It's also a work worthy of repeated readings, just as the Scream films warrant multiple viewings. The first time through, you'll be engrossed by the mystery and terror elements of the plot, but once finished, you'll be eager to go back and study the craftsmanship. Simply put, Demon Theory is bloody brilliant.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Ready to test your knowledge about the first three Scream movies? (Don't worry, unlike Ghostface's phone quizzes, this one doesn't require you to put your life at stake.)
Answers appear in the Comments section of this post.
1.In Scream, which of the following is not referenced during the killer's phone conversation with Casey Becker?
(A) When a Stranger Calls (B) Friday the 13th (C) Halloween
(D) Nightmare on Elm Street
2.In Scream 2, what character does Sidney play in the drama being staged by the theater group at Windsor College?
3.Name the song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds that's used in all three films in the trilogy.
4.What is Deputy Dewey Riley's real first name?
5.In Scream 2, Cotton Weary wants Sidney to join him for a primetime TV interview with Diane Sawyer. True or False?
6.In Scream 3, what work-from-home job does Sidney have?
7.List the three rules for surviving a horror film (as outlined by Randy in Scream).
8.Name the actors who portrayed the following people in Stab:
9.In Scream 3, what stage name did Sidney's mother Maureen use during her brief career as an actress?
10.Name the actor from the HBO series Deadwood who appears in Scream.
11.In Scream 3, Cotton Weary hosts a radio talk show called Cotton on Air. True or False?
12.What two horror films are seen playing on television in Scream?
BONUS: Who provided "The Voice" for Ghostface in all three Scream movies?
So how did you do?
0-5 Correct: Well, at least you took a stab at it.
6-9 Correct: A decent showing, but not quite on Randy's level
10-13 Correct: Your scary-movie knowledge makes Ghostface's jaw drop even further
Sunday, April 10, 2011
...With a new Poll. What are your expectations for Scream 4? How good or bad do you think it will be? You can offer your prediction by making a quick click over in the right sidebar (and if you'd like to expand upon your choice, you can share your thoughts in the Comments section of this post). In case you haven't caught any of the recent commercials for Scream 4, here's the film's trailer:
Be sure to come back to Macabre Republic each day this week for another Scream-related post.
Be sure to come back to Macabre Republic each day this week for another Scream-related post.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Just wanted to call attention to a series of blog posts over at The Zombie Feed. To help promote the imminent release of The Zombie Feed Vol. 1, contributors to the anthology have been guest-posting for the past few weeks (talking about their own stories and all things undead). My piece is scheduled to appear this coming Monday, April 11th. In it, I discuss the origins and nature of my short story "The Last Generation," a post-apocalyptic riff on Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
I encourage everyone to head over to the blog right now to check out some of the cool musings that have been posted.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Playing off of yesterday's post...some clips from the classic Sopranos episode (directed by Fargo's Steve Buscemi), in which Paulie and Christopher get lost in the snowy South Jersey woods.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
(For previous ballads about the balladeer, click the "On the Road with Silver John" label under Features in the right sidebar.)
"Shiver in the Pines"
A pleasant evening's interrupted when a wanderer
Gets John and his rustic friends to come follow
On a nocturnal quest for legendary riches
Buried in a cave deep within Black Pine Hollow.
Yet surprise is in store, because the stranger
And the local witch-doctor are curiously connected.
Worse, the discovery that the eldritch Ancients
Have not left their hidden treasure unprotected.
Manley Wade Wellman's short story "Shiver in the Pines" can be found in Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
[For previous entries, click the "Most Gothic Place Names" label under Features in the right sidebar.]
It's no shock that William Faulkner's native state furnishes plenty of Gothic appellations. Consider: Gravestown (epicenter of the zombie uprising), Shivers (easier to put on a welcome sign than
"They Came From Within"), Hoodtown (must lead straight to Lynchburg), McRaven (a Happy Meal nevermore), Stonington (primitively punitive), Vickland (you'll be in for a real dogfight), and Endville (the point of no return). A graphic phrase, though,
forms the Most Gothic Place Name in Mississippi:
Gore Springs. Sounds like the splatter capital of America. A city where evisceration is an everyday occurrence, and the river runs red with awful offal. The local color here leaves some terrible stains.
Monday, April 4, 2011
[For previous game, click here.]
Can you solve the following puzzle within 20 seconds, or are you going to choke?
CATEGORY: ACTOR & ROLE
__ __ __ __ __ T __ __ N I __ __
__ S __ __ __ __ __ __ Y I N
__ __ P __ __ __ __ __
MISSES: G, H, L, U, W
HINT: Mitchum before him
Answer appears in the Comments section of this post.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
No, the title of this post doesn't reference some 1950's monster movie sequel. Instead, I'm talking about the start of the second "season" of the reality-TV show Swamp People.
The sophomore run began this past Thursday night with the episode "Gator Gauntlet." What's new down in the bayou? Troy has a new gunner (his son Jacob has replaced the trusty Clint, who now has struck out on his own), Junior has a big new boat (which might be more trouble than it's worth), and Joe and Tommy are reaping big dividends from a "gravy" marinade (a secret family recipe poured onto the rotten chicken used as gator bait). Viewers are also introduced to a swamper named Terral, who doesn't kill gators but snatches them into his boat with his own bare hands (and then transports them to other areas where they will not present a danger to humans).
So a lot has changed, but the show still offers the same fascinating look at a unique way of life down in the deepest South. A part of the nation seemingly far removed from modern civilization, and where some serious, saurian predators haunt the waters.
The second season premiere re-airs tonight at 10 on the History Channel. And be sure to tune in every Thursday night at 9 for the debut of the latest episode.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Insidious (Directed by James Wan; Written by Leigh Whannell)
This ballyhooed haunted house/demonic possession film from the creative minds behind the Saw and Paranormal Activity movies proves to be less than the sum of its parts. It is stocked with well-crafted startle moments and genuinely creepy images/scenes, but fails to establish an overarching sense of dread (the scares work on the eye and ear more than the imagination). The narrative struggles for coherence, even after the plot is hashed out midway through via one massive infodump (in a nutshell: young Dalton,
unwittingly capable of astral projection, has gotten lost in a haunted realm called the "Further," and now a host of otherwordly bogeys are vying to cross over and occupy his soul-less body).
Insidious draws on the bump-in-the-night formula most recently popularized by Paranormal Activity, but unlike that earlier film and its sequel, never gets viewers to care about its main characters. Dalton falls into his strange comatose state minutes into the film, before the audience has any real chance to get to know him (making it hard to fret about the fate of his body and soul). The normally-terrific actor Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy; Little Children) is wooden as Josh, Dalton's brooding father with a dark secret. Rose Byrne, meanwhile, is limited by the role scripted for her--Josh's whiny, unheroic wife Renai. And Barbara Hershey (playing Josh's mother) is absolutely wasted by the filmmakers; her function here appears to be to facilitate the arrival of the psychic/
exorcist Elise on the scene.
One deviation from Paranormal Activity that director Wan and screenwriter Whannell do deserve some credit for is the decision to bring the demonic entity onscreen. Unfortunately, the red-faced Satanic archetype that's revealed looks hokey and unoriginal. As critic Michael O'Sullivan opines in his review of Insidious in the Washington Post, the arch-villain could be "the love child of Darth Maul and Gene Simmons."
The first half of the film, with its steadily increasing weirdness, is quite effective, but the second half feels like being trapped on some haywire ride at an amusement park. The action is just too frenetic to be truly frightening, particularly the film's Inception-like climax cutting back and forth between multiple planes (the haunted-house setting of the Further and the supernaturally-assaulted living room of Josh and Renai's home). Insidious, alas, also seems to think that obnoxious noise is the best means to disturb an audience. The cacophony includes an infant squalling in the beginning, Tiny Tim crooning in the middle, and ghosts wailing at the end.
I have no doubt that this film is going to attract a huge (largely teen) audience, one that will declare the proceedings exquisitely scary. For me, though, experiencing Insidious was more headache-inducing than horripilating.
Friday, April 1, 2011
[For previous tweets, click here.]
Porn has been banned from the Internet...
--5:58 P.M., April 1st
Did you hear? Today I joined a monastery...
--4:11 P.M., April 1st
Peace talks are underway in the Middle East...
--2:22 P.M., April 1st
In all honesty...
--9:45 A.M., April 1st
No good deed goes unrewarded...
--8:31 A.M., April 1st
Wow, those jeans look great on you...
--7:47 A.M., April 1st
Don't worry, there's no such thing as the Devil...
--6:06 A.M, April 1st