In defense of horror
We all have a postulate buried deep in our minds: that an interest in horror is unhealthy and aberrant. So when people say, “Why do you write that stuff?” they are really inviting me to lie down on the couch and explain about the time I was locked in the cellar three weeks. Stephen King, Danse Macabre (1980)
In preparation for this year’s Freedom to Read Week (Feb 20-26, 2011) I thought I would do my small part and defend a much maligned genre (while reviewing a pretty nasty book in the process). Too often horror in all of its manifestations comes under the cross-hairs of censorship (and the egregious act of book banning). Because it is a genre that constantly pushes boundaries (and buttons) and is often steeped in violence either explicit or implied, horror will remain an easy target of those small-minded individuals who wish to sanitize (and anesthetize) our minds.
Survivor by J.F. Gonzalez was a tough book for me to finish and I nearly threw it down in complete revulsion more than once. Yet there was also something so utterly compelling about the story that kept me riveted and turning the pages to get to the end. Let’s call it the "slowing down to look at the accident" compulsion. In order to survive the worst circumstances imaginable the female protagonist makes a choice no human should ever make in order to save her own skin. It's brutal and calculating and really got me thinking...in the same situation, would I do the same? Could I do the same? And if I did, could I live with myself afterwords? If this book was half as tough to write as it is to read, my hat goes off to J.F. Gonzalez.
Understanding the appeal factor of horror is difficult for some people to comprehend – the same people who will look at you with a wary expression that screams: "how can you read that stuff"? To them horror is illicit, offensive and quite possibly damaging to society at large. Consuming horror in any shape or form should make us feel guilty, as if we are somehow mentally warped or that our moral compass is dangerously askew. Don't worry, it isn't. Horror appeals to many fans for very solid, rational, non-psychopathic reasons.
We love it because it's a genre that probes sensitive, taboo areas and it asks the difficult questions. The best horror fiction reflects back to us our collective cultural fears and everyday personal anxieties. Most importantly, horror allows readers to safely explore humanity's dark side, giving us a place where we can face our deepest fears from a vantage point of complete safety. In his non-fiction magnum opus on the horror genre – Danse Macabre – Stephen King explains that what the horror writer seeks to achieve is to locate societal “pressure points….terminals of fear…so deeply buried and yet so vital that we may tap them like artesian wells—saying one thing out loud while we express something else in a whisper”.
King deftly explains our attraction to the genre this way, and I've yet to come across anyone else who sums it up any better (or more honestly) than this:
Here is the final truth of horror: It does not love death, as some have suggested; it loves life. It does not celebrate deformity but by dwelling on deformity, it sings of health and energy. By showing us the miseries of the damned, it helps us to rediscover the smaller (but never petty) joys of our own lives. It is the barber’s leeches of the psyche, drawing not blood but anxiety....We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones (Stephen King, Danse Macabre).
New Richard Laymon now available!
Thanks to the new One Province One Library Card system, it's now easier than ever to get your hands on some of the hottest horror out there. Books are just a click of the Request It button away, like these two Laymon classics, re-released by Leisure Books in 2009 -- Dark Mountain and Flesh.
Even when Laymon isn't at his best, I still find myself turning the pages and unable to put the book down. His books are often dreadful, compelling stuff -- trashy but satisfying, everything a pulp-riff-page-turner should be. For me, Laymon is the equivalent of a greasy cheeseburger and fries -- consume in moderation and enjoy -- and try not to feel guilty about it later!
Find Richard Laymon in the all-new One Province Encore catalogue!!!!
Eden Lake has finally arrived!
Note: There was a delay in getting this movie in, so some of you have probably been on the wait list for a long while. But the wait is finally over!
Eden Lake (UK 2008) New!
Written and Directed by James Watkins
***WARNING!!!! Contains graphic horror violence***
When a young couple goes to a remote wooded lake for a romantic getaway, their quiet weekend is shattered by an aggressive group of local kids. Rowdiness quickly turns to rage as the teens terrorize the couple in unimaginable ways, and a weekend outing becomes a bloody battle for survival.
The Cryptkeeper's review:
I watched this movie on a whim, hadn't even heard of it ... and I'm still shaking. Seriously, I'm truly traumatized. This movie is so graphic, so brutally realistic, that I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. And it's not like it's so original -- young, pretty couple in love venture out into nature to take in some R&R and cross paths with a gang of young "toughs" and the situation rapidly escalates into bloody confrontation.
Couples in peril at the hands of vicious tormentors is hardly new. I thought Vacancy was decent, and I felt The Strangers upped the ante on the home invasion scenario. The French flick Them was even better in some respects. But nothing in any of those movies prepared me for the unflinching sensory assault of Eden Lake. Ferocious and relentless, not to mention my absolute worst nightmare come true.
Like the recent controversial French-Canadian horror movie, Martyrs, Eden Lake will not just haunt you, but hurt you. Don't say I didn't warn you! Grade: A+
See previous blog post: Abandon all hope ye who enter here
Shocking ... brutal ... terrifying!
Inside (France 2007)
***WARNING!!! Extreme violence and gore***
What the heck is up with the French these days? Their horror movies have got some heavy teeth -- mixing violence and gore with top-notch acting and smart storytelling. These movies are not for everyone -- they are challenging to say the least, and will be offensive to some, this one included.
Summary: Four months after the death of her husband, a woman on the brink of motherhood is tormented in her home by a strange woman who wants her unborn baby. Where this leads ... well ... you'll have to watch and find out. If you dare!
If you think you can handle it, check out these other French horror selections available at RPL:
Irreversible (France 2002) - while not strictly horror, this movie will horrify you. Summary: Alex and Marcus are a couple whose story is told over the course of a fateful evening in a series of long takes. An emotional odyssey that unspools in reverse from gut-wrenching violence to sweetly observed moments of sublime tenderness.
High Tension (France 2003) - Summary: Two college girlfriends (Marie and Alexia) escape to Alexia's parents' country home for rest and to study. Their respite is brutally interrupted by a mysterious killer on the rampage. Very little dialogue. Some subtitles. See previous blog post: French slasher film destined to become cult classic.
Martyrs (France/Canada 2008) -- Summary: Lucie, a ten year old little girl who was kidnapped in France in the early 70's, is found a few months later wandering by the side of a road. Traumatized and mute, she is placed in a hospital where she finds friendship with Anna, a girl her age. 15 years later, Lucie sets out to find her torturers and get revenge. See previous blog post: Abandon all hope ye who enter here
Abandon all hope ye who enter here...
Martyrs (France 2008) Coming Soon!
Written and directed by Pascal Laugier
Plot Summary: Lucie, a ten year old little girl who was kidnapped in France in the early 70's, is found a few months later wandering by the side of a road. While there is evidence of abuse, her body does not have signs of sexual assault. Traumatized and mute, she is placed in a hospital where she finds friendship with Anna, a girl her age. 15 years later, Lucie sets out to find her torturers and get revenge...
Warning!!! This is French survival horror at its most explicit, intense, cruel, sadistic and traumatizing. Approach with extreme caution! Many hardcore horror fans are calling Martyrs easily the most disturbing and devastating movie they've ever seen. Others are calling it: chilling, compelling, gross yet beautiful, and sad ... very, very sad.
I've been too chicken to watch this movie yet myself. I have it on very good authority that nothing I've ever seen in any other movie will prepare me for the full-on frontal assault of Martyrs. This story is meant to not just haunt you, but hurt you. French director Pascal Laugier offers more than just a story of senseless violence, this movie promises to deliver a powerful emotional resonance with a real beating heart.
Jason Buchanan for the AllMovieGuide sums it up best: "Martyrs is not a film for everyone (a simple glance at the MPAA ratings reason should provide proof positive of that), but for those who prefer their art to be a bit more challenging, and who possess the ability to look beyond trendy tropes, this transgressive shocker will likely earn a cherished spot as one of the most effective and ambitious horror films of the past decade."
Scott Sigler is contagious!
by Scott Sigler
Scott Sigler's first novel Infected was published to rave reviews (see previous post Sigler debut completely infectious). Now the highly anticipated sequel is finally here! I for one can't wait to dive into this one.
Want to know what everyone else is saying? Check out reviews here on Amazon.com!
Summary (taken from www.scottsigler.com):
Across America, a mysterious pathogen transforms ordinary people into raging killers, psychopaths driven by a terrifying, alien agenda. The human race fights back, yet after every battle the disease responds, adapts, using sophisticated strategies and brilliant ruses to fool its pursuers. The only possible explanation: the epidemic is driven not by evolution but by some malevolent intelligence.
British flick bloody, gory fun
Another bloody office outing
Directed by Christopher Smith
Starring Danny Dyer
Product Description: Working 9 to 5 can be a real killer, but team building vacations can sometimes be worse. Seven employees of an international weapons manufacturer are left stranded and must fend for themselves. The retreat turns deadly as the colleagues discover they are the target of a crazed and vengeful enemy. Forget office politics, only lucky will survive this deadly and bloody office outing.
The Cryptkeeper says: This one looks too funny to pass up. One reviewer describes it as: "The Office meets The Hills Have Eyes". Severance is essentially a British slasher movie and that's a rarity isn't it? If it's only half as good as Shaun of the Dead, then count me in. I'm a sucker for horror-comedies anyway. This one comes with a gore warning though!
Dan Chant over at BloodyDisgusting.com describes Severance as: "a very different type of horror that’s both slick and gory while combining a satirical comedic twist." He goes on to say the movie: "goes straight for the jugular and combines an odd, but outstanding, mix of jump scares, all-out gore and self-referential laughs that haven’t been seen, or outdone, since the fantastic Shaun of the Dead. From the opening scene featuring an armed and dangerous madman stalking a helpless local to tributes to Deer Hunter, Nosferatu and other famous names from cinema’s legendary canon, the film turns horror conventions on their head and offers the expected level of gore offset with a malevolent and ironic smile."
Are you afraid of the dark? You will be...
Afraid (2009) Coming Soon!
by Jack Kilborn
Are you afraid of the dark? You will be...
Welcome to Safe Haven, Wisconsin. Miles from everything, with one road in and out, this peaceful town has never needed a full-time police force. Until now...
A helicopter has crashed near Safe Haven and unleashed something horrifying. Now this merciless force is about to do what it does best. Isolate. Terrorize. Annihilate. As residents begin dying in a storm of gory violence, Safe Haven's only chance for survival will rest with an aging county sheriff, a firefighter, and a single mom. And each will have this harrowing thought: Maybe death hasn't come to their town by accident...
The Cryptkeeper says: Okay, this little paperback sleeper has been getting a lot of attention and I for one can't wait to see if it's worth the hype. The premise sounds really intriguing and it promises to deliver the goods. C'mon, scare me -- make my day! I've been told you need a strong stomach and even stronger nerves to take this one on. Let's hope!
Here's what some others are saying:
Afraid is a bungee jump into pure terror, a story that plays brilliantly on all our primal fears, and stands shoulder to shoulder with the very best of Harris, Koontz, and King. A classic horror novel. --Blake Crouch, author of Locked Doors
Jack Kilborn's Afraid is appropriately named. It will scare the hell out of anyone who reads it. Fast and ferocious, this is a dangerous thriller that will take a bite out of you. An absolute must read for anyone who loves the adrenaline rush of a shocking story told with style, speed and savage grace. --Jonathan Maberry, Bram Stoker Award winning author of Patient Zero and They Bite
Japanese horror tale sure to please ... and disturb!
Goth: A novel of horror
Translated by Andrew Cunningham
Looking for a quick read that's a little bit brutal, falls on this side of disturbing, and plays mind games to boot?
Goth is six interconnected stories woven together by one overarching plot line -- two teens linked by an obsession with murder and humanity's dark side. Each story in and of itself packs a punch -- taken all together, Goth is a reading experience you won't soon forget. Originally published in Japan, (with a manga adaptation), Goth went on to win the Honkaku Mystery Prize.
"Someone had taken apart her body in the forest. Her eyes, tongue, ears, thumbs, organs - each was nailed to a tree. One tree had, from top to bottom: the left big toe, the upper lip, the nose, and the stomach. Another had other bits of her arranged like Christmas tree decorations. The murder was soon the talk of the nation..." ... In this truly shocking tale of terror, two high school sociopaths become fixated on a local serial murderer. But rather than trying to prevent and solve the next murder, their obsession grows, taking them on a descent into a maniacal darkness in which the most nightmarish acts occur.
The Last House on the Left revisited
To avoid fainting, keep repeating
It's only a movie...
It's only a movie...
With the 2009 remake now playing in theaters, let's take a look at the original 1972 Wes Craven classic.
The Last House on the Left (1972)
Written and Directed by: Wes Craven
One of the true classics of modern horror cinema. --Channel 4 Film
A tough, bitter little sleeper of a movie
that's about four times as good as you'd expect.
--Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
The Cryptkeeper says:
Before Wes Craven became famous for his Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and before his gargantuan success with the Scream trilogy, he crashed upon the horror movie scene with this controversial and shocking debut. While sadistic torture horror seems to be the rule of the day (with recent films like Hostel I and II, the Saw franchise, Wolf Creek and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes), in the hands of legendary movie director Craven, horror is brought to a whole new level.
There is a too real, thoughtful, gut-wrenching component to Craven's early creation that's altogether missing from current run-of-the-mill torture fare. In The Last House on the Left the horror is unrelenting and kicks you right in the solar-plexus. The grainy film footage has a documentary feel that makes it seem like you're watching somebody's twisted home video. You'll want to look away, but you won't be able to. It's as gripping as it is repulsive.
Finally, I can't think of a better name for a horror movie than this one, cryptic yet tantalizing enough to instill dread ... and c'mon ... that tagline is without question the most effective marketing ploy we've seen in the history of horror cinema (except for maybe The Exorcist).
Original movie poster
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