If you’ve spent any time on this blog over the past decade or have ever peeked at my social medias, you will have seen frequent mentions of the monthly horror periodical, Rue Morgue magazine. I have been reading since 2007–this issue with The Host on the cover was the first copy I ever bought! I remember seeing it on the magazine stand in a Borders bookstore when I was living in New Jersey, and thinking “where have you been all of my life?” I finally began subscribing the next year, and I recall receiving the first issue on my birthday…along with an IRS notice that I owed money…but I didn’t even care, because I was so excited to start reading. And I have been an obsessed subscriber ever since. This is the only magazine I have ever subscribed to in my whole entire life. And no, I don’t count Martha Stewart Living, because that was a gift from someone. But yes–Martha Stewart AND Rue Morgue! The multitudes, I contain them!
This month when I received my issue, I let out a shriek that could probably be heard all the way up in the RM headquarters in Canada. There I am, in a two-page feature about The Art of Darkness! EEEEEEEEEEEK!
It wasn’t an exclamation of surprise, of course. I was expecting it at some point and had answered a Q&A for it a few months ago. But …to see it in print, in front of me! Wowee. An absolute dream come true on so many levels. Though obviously, I am a huge fan of horror movies, it’s the section dedicated to forthcoming horror books, novels, comics, etc., that I have always flipped to first, and for these many years I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about the titles that Monica Kuebler singles out to feature that month. So to be interviewed by Monica was so freaking cool.
In my responses, I rambled quite a bit, but of course, there was room to include only so much. I talked about the importance of sitting with dark uncomfortable feelings instead of pretending they don’t exist, and I mentioned that as someone who hates talking about my feelings and emotions, looking at art is helpful in at least thinking about them. Another thing I talked about was the books that I stole from my mother’s bookshelf, that I was probably too young to be reading, but which were pretty formative. Dracula and Frankenstein, and The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh, a George Romero biography!
One thing she asked me about that didn’t make it into the article, was who this book was intended for:
I think any human who has ever had a feeling about anything should flip through this book and see what speaks to them, and follow it where it takes you. It’s not a book solely intended for Debbie Downers (although I see you out there, and I love you, Debbie!) It’s for everyone, all of us. But…while I’m not saying it’s a book for children… I am also saying this is a book for all of the bookish eleven-year-old oddballs and outcasts out there, who are reaching for weirdness and wonder in whatever places they can find it. My secret goal for it, and I don’t think I’ve ever acknowledged it until just this second, was to create a book of strangeness and beauty that I would have been absolutely compelled to sneak off my mother’s shelf, and that would have served to put the plant the seeds in my head and heart that grew and guided me to become the ghoul I am today.
So, okay, maybe mentioning all of this is cheating at my 31 Days of Horror…but maybe not. When I think of all the scary movies I watched in my life, all of the demons and darkness, the monsters and madness, the frenzied, fiendish fodder in the books and stories and poetry that haunted and possessed my brain by the time I wrote The Art of Darkness–it doesn’t feel like a cheat at all. This is a celebratory moment!
But ok, if we’re strictly adhering to the rules, I will report that in Doki Doki Literature Club, things are getting dark. The girls are saying weird, concerning shit and being glitchy and a Very Bad Thing happened but I won’t say what because it could be spoilery (I don’t know if the story plays out the same way for everyone?)
I have also just started Volume Three of John Allison’s Steeple, and again, long-time readers probably know of my deep and abiding love for John Allison. Steeple is a story described thusly: “a supernatural tale of friendship, the devil, and moral gray areas. Two women with wildly different worldviews become unlikely friends as they navigate the supernatural happenings in a sleepy coastal parish—and soon find themselves forced to choose sides in the war between good and evil.” Allison’s stories have always had an element of mystery or the supernatural–though often the monsters are meant more as metaphors–but really, no matter who or what he is writing about, I love all of John Allison’s characters, how they grow, evolve & age, & how he introduces us to new generations of weirdos for us to love and root for. Change is scary but I never feel so emboldened to embrace it as when following the adventures & friendships he brings to life.
Although I wrote the following about the haunting imagery and paranormal photography of Simon Marsden five years ago, today is its debut here at Unquiet Things. And coincidentally enough, I just discovered last night that there is a documentary on this extraordinary gentleman! I myself plan to watch it this evening, and you can find it here: Simon Marsden’s Haunted Life In Pictures
For a dreary stretch of years, I lived cut off from friends and family in a miserable realm known to me now as, “that shit-hole of which we do not speak,” (to others, I suppose it is just “New Jersey”.) I led a rather joyless existence during that time, especially during the winters, for I had to that point lived most of my life in Florida, where, more often than not on Christmas day my sisters and I comfortably wore shorts and flip-flops. I was neither used to the cold and ice and snow nor did I ever become enamored of it.
I have written before, on my personal blog, of that emotionally and spiritually crushing time, and well, it’s a bummer. I won’t go into it again, but I’m linking to it here so that you might see where I am coming from. The high point of my existence was my yearly trip back down South during the week of Thanksgiving to spend time with my sisters, and of course, the low point was the moment I set foot back in my small apartment upon returning.
The idea for a late autumn/early winter graveyard stroll occurred to me one gloomy Saturday morning in December, a few weeks after the glee and glow of my recent vacation had begun to wane. Though I had probably lived in the tiny town for three or four years at that point, I was still unfamiliar with most of the area and I had never been one for exploring on my own.
As it happened, I recalled seeing a small cemetery at the bend of a slight road that ran past a shopping plaza I frequented. With that destination in mind, I packed a small sack with apples, notebooks, and my camera, wrapped a woolen scarf around my neck, and drove the six or seven minutes through town, where the afternoon sun was so dim that the Christmas lights, tangled around the street lamps for the upcoming holiday, gleamed and glimmered like constellations.
I was uncertain of where to park, so I left my car in the back lot of the shopping center and hiked along the side of the road until I reached a rusty fence that ran the length of the property. I held my breath at the gate–I’m always the one who is worried that they are doing something that they are not supposed to do, about breaking the rules, about “getting into trouble,” but it was unlocked and the space was completely deserted, so I stepped through. The only sounds to be heard were my relieved murmur of “oh, thank goodness,” and my feet crunching on a path of unswept November leaves.
It was a tiny place; I walked through it in less than ten minutes. After traversing its few paths, I sat on a soft lump of earth with my back to the scarred, scratchy bark of a sturdy tree, and scribbled in my journal for a while. I snapped a few photos. I lunched on an apple, and realizing there were no trash receptacles nearby, tucked the sticky core in my pocket. I blew on my hands, stamped my feet, and realized it was too chilly for my comfort. It was time to head home. Not much of an adventure, but then again, I am a timid soul who likes my adventure in small, gently administered doses.
The chilled, late-autumn weather, stepping through that old chain-link fence, taking photographs of local grave markers, worn smooth by time and the touch of the bereaved –this became a ritual that I would come to repeat year after year, during the remainder of the time that I was to spend in New Jersey. It was like a reset button for my soul; after the intensity and ecstasy of feeling that came from time with my beloved sisters and the resulting despair and depression when we parted and I traveled back to that black hole of perpetual heartache and misery, I needed a tranquil place to calm and quiet myself, to find an even keel, to function like a normal person for the rest of the year.
Thus, I suppose, began my minor obsession with the eerie romance of strange and solitary spaces, of places lost in time and overlooked by human hands; of neglected graveyards, dilapidated buildings and derelict structures, architectural ruins, and spectral landscapes. Forlorn, forgotten, and forsaken. Much like I felt a great deal of the time.
What is it about the desolation of abandoned spaces that fascinates and captivates us so? There’s an uncanny beauty in decay and abandonment, in the decrepit, ghostly aesthetics of what was once thriving and pristine, now fallen to ruin, suspended in time and place.
The late Sir Simon Marsden knew well this appreciation for those things that vanish: these decaying buildings and vestiges of places that once existed, remaining in the landscape, reassuring our minds that death might not be the end. A photographer and master of darkroom techniques, his body of work is replete with ghostly black-and-white photographs of the shadowy and ethereal–various allegedly haunted houses, gothic graveyards, and moonlit abbeys throughout Europe.
From my reading, it seems that Marsden had a childhood one might read breathlessly of in a weird Victorian tale: he grew up in two haunted English manors, and his father, who had a collection of books about the occult, and did nothing to discourage such interests. He would tell his four children ghost stories before they retired to bed; Simon was terrified, and said that he spent the rest of his life trying to exorcise these fears.
“It is not my intention to try and convince you that ghosts exist,” Marsden said, “but rather to inspire you not to take everything around you at face value. I believe that another dimension, a spirit world, runs parallel to our own, and that sometimes, when the conditions are right, we can see into and become part of this supernatural domain. The mystical quality of my photographs reflects this ancient order and they attempt to reveal what is eternal.”
Over the years Simon Marsden traveled widely — primarily in Britain and Europe — and created his uncanny style by using infrared film, veiling his images with that characteristic unearthly atmosphere. I regret that I did not discover for myself the spooky splendors of his work until 2010 or so, just two years before he died in 2012. I was stricken when I read of his passing. Within the world seen through his misty lens, I felt as if I had just found a like-minded spirit, a kindred soul who somehow shared startling glimpses of what was in my own dreams, my own heart—and then he was gone.
In the past I had purchased a calendar or a set of postcards showcasing his stunning imagery, but it is in recent years that I began collecting his works in earnest. I no longer live in what feels like an eternal winter of solitude; my days are sunny and warm, and I am more content that I ever dreamed possible with my life and in the company I now keep. My ritual of trawling the bone yards searching for serenity has fallen by the wayside, and I can’t say that I miss filling that particular hole in my heart.
On a quiet evening in early December, though, when the sky has begun to darken early and the clouds float across the glowering face of the moon, I sometimes feel a chill that has nothing to do with iced-over window panes or the damp promise of snow. When the goosebumps rise on my skin in the presence of an invisible wind and a strange melancholy rises in my heart, the only thing to be done then is retrieve a title from my growing collection, and immerse myself in the somber shades and shadows of Simon Marsden’s kindred glooms.
Featured image from the Marsden Archive. All other photos by S. Elizabeth and from her personal collection.
Squeaking in an hour before midnight, here I am with the final entry for 31 Days of Horror! It’s mostly going to be photos because I am awfully tired.
Yesterday I visited my sister (which was nice) and we watched Halloween Kills (which was not nice.) I really didn’t have much in the way of expectations, but I am not sure I have ever hated a movie so much. It was a joyless, soulless thing, and I’m resentful of those moments of my life frittered away watching it. It was maybe only 40 minutes, because I found it so terrible that I couldn’t watch any more. But dammit, I want those 40 minutes back! And I want someone to pay for the crime that is this movie!
I decided the only way I could make things right was a palate cleanser so I revisited Suspiria, which I probably haven’t seen in 20 years or so, and I also watched Horror of Dracula, which I had never watched. I’ve not watched most of the Hammer Horror stuff, actually, so if there’s any must-sees, please let me know! Pictured here are two of my favorite scenes from these films.
We carved up a pumpkin (see here for inspiration) and roasted up the seeds for a snack. I also made some “marshmallow squares,” as I used generic cereal and that’s what the recipe on the side of the box referred to them as, hee! Mini candy corns were added for extra trashy festivity.
The soup is a carrot pumpkin soup which calls for “parsley root” and I have no idea what that is, and I certainly don’t have any, so it’s not in there! Instead I added ginger which I am sure is in no way the same, but whatever.
And in between every spare second, I was feverishly knitting on this top, on which I bound off the last stitch just as Dracula was being reduced to a ridiculous dusty corpse. It’s too big because of course it is. I never swatch and I will never learn.
The pattern is the Lounging Top by Joji Locatelli and the yarn is from Dragon Hoard yarn, it’s the goblin slub in the “slutty pumpkin” colorway. It’s pretty perfect, right?
And that’s 31 Days of Horror for 2021! Happy Halloween all my witches, weirdies, and wildly wonderful friends.
The month of October is a most marvelous time to see spooky new art emerge on social media while darkly-inclined artists all over the world are participating in eerie seasonal art challenges …and I eagerly await its arrival every year! There’s such a fantastically diverse variety of styles and mediums, from painting and illustration, to photography and sculpture, and even tiny creepy puppets. I am here for all of it.
See below for a gallery of frightful, fabulous favorites…!
Today I am finally taking a moment to breathe. Not to sound too annoyingly self-congratulatory but I just last night submitted the completed draft for the book I am working on this year. My deadline for the its completion (minus edits and…everything else, ha!) was Halloween, but there’s no way I am working on Halloween weekend, no way, no how! So, as much as I was enjoying working on this and maaaaybe drawing it out as much as possible, I did finally type the last few words last night and sent it off!
Between working my full-time job, Halloweening/Horroring it up all month, and immersing myself in and dreaming about dark artworks and what to say about them, I’m tired! So I’ll be honest with you here and tell you the three collections of poetry in the photo above are books that I have barely even started and most definitely will not finish before Day 31 of October, but I wanted to squeak them in here anyhow.
Satan’s Sweethearts from Marge Simon and Mary Turzillo: a collection of searing poems that explore deeds of death and debauchery, inspired by history’s most villainous women: serial killers, torturers, murderers, and madwomen.
Homunculus from Elle Stern/ Poetess Mori: I have been enamored with Elle’s feminist spells from the void for some time now and I am so thrilled to be holding this stunning copy of Homunculus in my hands and I can’t wait to immerse myself in these poems “extracted from deep and meaningful conversations with ancestors, aliens, demons, the dirt we walk upon, and everything in between.” Follow Elle on Instagram to get a peek of what you’re in store for and grab for yourself this splendid tome of deep magics and profound mystery from her shop.
Altars and Oubliettes by Angela Yuriko Smith: “In our lives, there are altars and oubliettes—the things we want to remember and the things we hope to forget. This collection explores the things we both idolize and abhor.”
I imagine if you follow horror blogs and “must-read horror of X year!” type lists, then no doubt you have seen mention of Cassandra Khaw’s novella, Nothing But Blackened Teeth. A quick and compulsive read, this story of five friends who meet up at a purportedly haunted Japanese castle for pre-wedding adventures is steeped in dread and inevitable tragedy. And as someone very sensitive to confrontation and hostility…oof. There’s a lot of baggage between these individuals and they really seem to despise each other. The writing here is absolutely gorgeous, but even more than that, this atmosphere of stewing resentment and loathing is so present and palpable that it made me physically ill. Well done! I guess! Seriously though, this was enjoyable and unique and if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
A24 had a one-night-only screening of LAMB last night, and since I am still not comfortable with going to the theatre, I had myself a fancy in-home theatre experience. Like every other movie that I have watched since late February 2020.
Are you guys going back to the movies yet? What are you doing to ease your fears about the experience of being out and about among others? I should note that I am not out and about doing much of anything yet. A few doctor’s appointments and the occasional grocery excursion, and two outside, open-air restaurant experiences over the course of 8 months, but that’s about it. I feel like if I weren’t living in FL, I might be a little more into it, but…nah. These people are insane, and I don’t want to risk it. So home movies it is!
I’m not sure what to say about LAMB just yet. If you’ve seen the trailer, and have decided to watch it, then I imagine you already have a grasp on what’s going on. To an extent. On the surface, it’s a simple, slow-moving story: a married couple, Maria and Ingvmar, are eking out a rather joyless existence on a remote farm somewhere in Iceland. You get the sense–though it’s never mentioned–they’ve experienced a loss. A profound sadness has taken root as resignation, and this is a couple just going through the motions, a daily life steeped in ennui. Until one day they bear witness to a strange miracle, and they accept this gift as their own. I am not sure it was meant to be taken as such, or taken at all.
I read a review in which LAMB is described as folkloric psychodrama and “chamber horror,” if you can consider this film horror at all. I believe this is a film meant to be unsettling, but as another reviewer remarks “…indeed, the most disturbing thing is how non-disturbing it ultimately becomes.”
The Icelandic scenery, the towering mountains and bleak, foggy skies, is somber and beautiful and this rural folktale almost seems like a love letter to nature, if you discount the fascinating and baffling story occurring at the heart of it.
I still don’t know what to make of LAMB, though to be fair it’s been less than 12 hours since I saw it, so I’ll sit with it a while longer. But I doubt I will come to any easy conclusions.
On a less weird (or MORE weird?) note…did you know that A24 sells scented candles in their shop? Your home theatre can be fragranced with the aromas of Horror, Noir, Thriller, or Fantasy, just to name a few! I won’t lie, I am kind of into this.
Horror, pictured here, includes notes of mandarin, clove leaf, cypress, suede, and cinnamon bark, and is inspired by “fangs, glowing eyes, remote lakeside cabins, foreboding shadows on walls, bloody knives, low-angle staircase shots, dilapidated houses silhouetted on a hill, and black cats.”
And finally, earlier this month, Nuri McBride over at the Death/Scent blog, for her annual October tradition of pairing fragrances with Halloween costume ideas, put together a phenomenal list of fragrances to set the mood for watching a handful of A24-associated films: If A24 Films Were Perfumes
If there is one tradition I have over the years of participating in 31 Days of Horror, it’s that Dragula usually always gets a mention. Most recently, I included it in last year’s Week 4 roundup, over at Haute Macabre. This is actually the first year I have been trying to keep up my 31 Days challenge on a daily basis as opposed to a weekly gathering, and I think I like it better this way, it’s somehow less stressful!
I’m always a little surprised that I even watch this drag competition show. Of course I’m here for the horror and glamour aspects of the spectacle, but these competitions always make me so anxious, partially because I just want everyone to win and I hate seeing people eliminated, but even more problematic for me is the cringe-factor involved. On one hand, I do love me some juicy drama, and the cattiness of the contestants never fails to generate that for me, but at the same time, I guess I hate to see it unfolding in front of me. I’d rather hear about in secondhand, in the form of salacious gossip! Oh well. I continue to watch anyway because I love to see them dreaming up their amazing floorshow creations!
I have only just seen one episode of Season 4, but so far my favorite is Hosu Terra Toma, a gore-geous beauty who I believe is the show’s first South Korean contestant. Exciting! What’s funny about this look (which I grabbed off of their Instagram because I didn’t want to include something from the show and spoil it for someone who hasn’t yet seen it) is that it is SO reminiscent of the KISS makeup that scared me so badly as a little girl. Isn’t it funny how our fears can sometimes lead to our fascinations?
Have you started Season 4 yet? I don’t want to get into it too much here because I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but I will say that I have some thoughts on the first floorshow, there is someone I really, really dislike, and there is another someone whose presence on this show makes no sense to me at all. Also, Tananarive Due, whom I just wrote about last week and whom I admire tremendously, was a judge for this episode!
Any thoughts? Let us gawp and gossip in the comments!
If you have not already seen The Medium, the first thing I want to urge you to do is PLEASE GO WATCH IT NOW! And then mosey on back here and let’s talk about it!
(But I am honor-bound to tell you that you need to check doesthedogdie.com before you watch it–and yes, it does– because I would never knowingly inflict that sort of viewing experience on my sweet, sensitive friends.)
In The Medium, a documentary team follows a pragmatic shaman named Nim in a remote village in Northern Thailand and who is now probably one of my favorite movie characters of all time. Nim works as a bridge of communication between the townspeople and their goddess, Ba Yan, and she is also on call to cure their spiritual ailments. Sicknesses from the “unseen,” as she stresses to the film crew when they ask her if she can heal all illnesses, and then deadpans, “If you come to me for cancer, you’re probably going to die,” I love her!
Being possessed by the goddess is an inherited gig, and it was not actually meant to be Nim’s calling, as we find out. Nim’s elder sister, Noi was next in line for the role but declined. We learn as the movie progresses that she did more than this in order for the goddess to pass her over in favor of her sister, some sort of supernatural “take her instead!” business. It worked, and perhaps for the best, as Nim actually grew to enjoy her job as spiritual advisor and conduit.
Mink, Nim’s niece (Noi’s daughter) begins showing signs that she will inherit the role as the area’s next shaman. Over time, however, Mink’s bizarre behavior becomes more erratic–extremely frightening in fact– and hints that within Mink is not the benign goddess that they worship, but something else entirely.
This is a film that takes some time to ramp up, so be patient and settle in, because when it gets going, it’s a wild ride. The first act is an engaging family tale, the second is more or less glimpses at the progression of classic possession, and the third…well, it’s fucking bananas. If you enjoyed films such as 2016’s The Wailing, you’ll probably find yourself compelled to watch this one, and that would make sense because I believe there is a similar director/producer involved.
Even if you’re not a fan of possession/exorcism films or zombie gorefests (which is not exactly what this film is? but it’s also not…not this film?) you might be interested in its themes of faith and belief, karma, and curses; you might be drawn in by the family drama and richly realized characters; or you may be intrigued by the remote, rural, and eerie but utterly breathtaking locations. The Medium has a lot to recommend itself, and no wonder it currently stands as the 6th highest-grossing Korean film of 2021.
The screen stills I grabbed from the film and used for this post are not exactly representative of the entire film, so don’t get the idea that it’s all as peaceful and idyllic as these images suggest. I just didn’t want to give too much away! Plus they were pretty.
Devilish chanteuse crooning her dark, unsettling secrets into your trusting ears and twisting your tender heart, dark pop artist La Femme Pendu conjures her second full-length album, VAMPYR, forth from the midnight portals today.
Don your dark glasses and a single earring: VAMPYR is a 1980’s darkwave party and a celebration of shadows and lustful excess, produced by Grammy nominee Dave Darling and featuring guest appearances by Billy Morrisson, Jake Hays, Damien Done, and the magnificent punk legend Cherie Currie of the Runaways.
About this fête fantôme of an album and its moody revelries, the artist shares that after having been quarantined for more than a year, pale and thirsty for human connection, she felt “like Dracula emerging from putrid soil after his journey on the Demeter.”
As such, she continues, this record was an aspirational one, drawing inspiration from favorites across film and music: bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode. Films like The Hunger, Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Let the Right One In, and Only Lovers Left Alive.
The lyrical protagonists from her first full-length album, Absolute Horrorwere fallible and mortal. In VAMPYR, our narrators are empowered mistresses of the night. And after these many months (years now!) spent in the melancholic limbo and navel-gazing of our self-isolation, a wicked bit of carousing with La Femme Pendu’s vampiric bacchants is profoundly appreciated, even by this wallflower.
“It’s my dream soundtrack to a Halloween rager at a goth club, and these days a gathering like that seems just as dangerous as the bloody rave that opens Blade (1998). It’s no accident I made a record about a contagious undead condition after our collective endurance of this lethal virus.”
Songs that have got me fanged me up, pricked my imagination, and infected me thus far: the dreamy beat of “la somnambule” and the jaunty dread of “la nuit a un prix”.