“Come on! What’s so precious about a monster?”

You guys. I have been waiting on this Tomie-inspired fragrance ever since Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab teased its creation way back sometime last year. And much like the feelings provoked by the malevolent, regenerative entity herself, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since that time.

…and now it’s here!

I’ve mentioned my great love for horror manga artist Junji Ito’s creations many times on this blog; just the other day I included one of the Tomie movies (there are like nine of them at this point) in my 31 Days of Horror blogs. But if you’re unfamiliar, how to describe Tomie? I feel like a monster myself (and a horrible feminist) when I try to talk about her. Tomie is an enthralling young woman whose beauty drives people mad in different ways–women want to either be her or, or are insanely jealous of her, and men become obsessed with her to the extent that they end up chopping her up and killing her–and she returns eternally to torment all of them.

What is Tomie? A succubus? A mutation?  To me, at least, it’s never really clear.  She’s an irredeemable anti-hero who’s an absolute guilty pleasure girl-power fantasy and she brings to mind the Margaret Atwood quote, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

..and all this misogynistic violence and exploitative gendered body horror and self-flagellation on my part for even reading it at all stems from the artist’s boyhood memory of a classmate dying. In an interview, Juni Ito shared that a boy in his junior high died in a traffic accident.

He observed, “It just felt so odd to me that a classmate who was so full of life should suddenly disappear from the world, and I had a strange feeling that he would show up again innocently.” He goes on to reveal that’s how he came up with the idea of a girl who is supposed to have died but then just shows up as if nothing had happened.

In Wikipedia, it says that he was inspired by the phenomenon of lizard tail regeneration. I suppose it could be both, why not!

Anyway! Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has taken all of our Tomie angst and terror and created a “seductive and deceptively delicate blend of rose-tinted white sandalwood, ethereal white amber, voluptuous almond blossom, coeur de jasmin, and a gasp of bourbon vanilla.”

When I first wore it, it seemed a simple confectionary musk. I became unnerved and overwhelmed when I thought for a second there that it was beginning to remind me of something, a sort of candied heliotrope feather boa of a perfume that when I first smelled it in 2020 I became convinced that it was a monstrously annoying YouTube celebrity’s signature scent. (She was revoltingly pink and OKAY YES I was obsessively watching her even though I hated her and found her vile and this all makes sense to me even if I can’t explain it.) I don’t want to say who because I don’t want to be a mean girl, and I also hate comparing one perfume to another when I am reviewing things, but my only point here is, that I thought I smelled this perfume for a brief second* but when I obsessively began sniffing my wrist trying to pinpoint it, the momentary phantom was already gone.  There is actually no comparing these two scents at all, but the thing is, from then on, I never stopped obsessively sniffing.

*my point, which I am having the devil of a time trying to articulate is that BPAL, in those opening notes, nailed that sort of attractive/repellent quality that this specific perfume requires; a flash of something revolting just to remind you who you’re dealing with, but then you’re immediately and utterly subsumed by how beautiful it is and you’ve forgotten that you were briefly but thoroughly appalled. It’s hard to write a sentence with the words “revolting” or appalling” when it comes to your favorite perfumer, but it feels so marvelously intentional and incredibly executed here, I can’t not talk about it!

Tomie crawls beneath your skin, a slithery jasmine-amber-flecked marzipan cotton candy ghost musk of a scent, but not a fresh, hot carnival cone of the stuff–rather, the soft, sticky filaments of floss caught in your uniquely self-scented hair at the end of the night. And maybe a bewitched and bothered someone is bizarrely compelled to snip a few of those sweet, tangled tendrils while you’re sleeping because they’re an absolute psychopath, and maybe when you wake up in the morning the scissors are gripped in your own hands, the sultry tresses are tucked into your own little etched sandalwood box, and maybe, perhaps, the psychopath is you. Utterly obsessed with yourself.

BPAL’s Tomie is both quietly haunting and all-consuming, the ghost of something you’re desperate to possess, but which is fully possessing you even as it slips through your fingers and disappears.

This is exactly it. This is Tomie. They got her perfectly right.

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Good lord. There is no one, NO ONE who writes Southern small-town nastiness like Michael McDowell. McDowell was a novelist and screenwriter whom you may or may not have heard of depending on how much into horror you are. You may have read The Elementals (that’s the last book I read that kept me up until 4 o’clock in the morning!) or Gilded Needles or his Blackwater series. Or if those don’t ring a bell, you may be familiar with the screenplay he wrote for a little movie called Beetlejuice.  He was in the midst of writing the screenplay for Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas when he died in 1999. Horror fans, I know you already know this, but this is for the people who are hearing it for the first time. Oh yeah, McDowell, also wrote the novelization of Clue!

From the first 30 or so pages, you would not think this book will go as hard as it does. Absolutely dialogue-free and exquisitely methodical in its descriptiveness, it sets the tone and the atmosphere in the town of Pine Cone, Alabama, a town “proud of its population of two thousand, and it might well be since there is nothing to keep them there except stubborn civic pride, overwhelming inertia, or a perverse moral self-discipline bordering on masochism.”

But, our narrative gleefully divulges, ” it can also be said that there is a great vitality in the mean-spiritedness of the town’s inhabitants. Sometimes they are creatively cruel to one another, and there were seasons in which Pine Cone was an exciting place to live–if you were a spectator and not a victim.”

The events of The Amulet most assuredly take place in such a season.

Sarah Howell finds herself trapped in a nightmare. Her husband, Dean, had a rifle blow up in his face during a training exercise before he shipped out to Vietnam. He’s been horribly disfigured (the extent of which we never even find out, he’s swaddled in bandages like a mummy through the entirety of the book) and more or less left a living corpse. Sarah is forced to care for him, while also enduring the scorn of her hateful mother-in-law, Jo. Jo is truly one of the most awful fictional characters you will ever encounter.

Dean’s friend Larry pays a visit, hoping that he is doing the right thing by stopping in, but is feeling terribly guilty and uncomfortable about being there. Larry was unable to secure a job for Dean at the rifle factory in town, which led to Dean ending up in the army. Jo has a laundry list of grievances about everything in general, but she especially blames the town for her son’s circumstances, and Larry in particular. Jo sends him away with an unusual amulet to take home as a gift for his wife Rachel.

That night Larry and Rachel’s house burns down, with them and their three children inside.

The amulet inexplicably passes from one hand to the next, wreaking havoc and leaving extraordinary carnage in its wake. Not even a quarter of the way through the book, the undertaker is running out of coffins! And no one is safe–while it may have started with someone linked to Dean’s accident, it doesn’t limit itself to locals with those sorts of ties…a poor woman passing through town with her husband gets her throat torn out by her own hogs when the amulet makes its way into her possession.

Sarah begins seeing a connection in the string of bizarre deaths and becomes convinced that somehow, the trinket is involved. As the body count rises, Sarah realizes that she must somehow stop the amulet before it’s too late. But how can she defeat an evil she can’t understand or even hands on–especially when no one believes her?

I literally exclaimed OOOOOOF aloud when I finished this book. GOOD LORD.

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Hello, friends! The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook Of All That Is Unreal has been out in the world for a little over two months now! Let’s mark the occasion with a giveaway!

Let’s also gaze upon these glorious glamour shots that Alyssa Thorne created in celebration of the book! A fantastical floral woodland scene wherein one may stumble upon a strange tome, brimming with magical, wondrous art and imagery, offered up in the arms of a bewitched tree.

Here is a lovely page, frilled by a fairy wing breeze, featuring the art of dear Brett Manning, whose captivating creatures fiddle, strum, and tootle through the twilight!

If you would like to win a signed copy of The Art of Fantasy, please follow this link and do what it says to do!

One winner –US ONLY– will be chosen and contacted on Friday, October 27

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I haven’t even been able to bring myself to watch David Cronenberg’s original Dead Ringers (1988) so I almost feel like I don’t even have any business watching something inspired by it. But what convinced me is A. it’s on Amazon Prime, which maybe it has been all along and I didn’t realize it, and B. I thought Alice Lowe was involved– and I loved her movie Prevenge, about a pregnant widow who believes her unborn baby is guiding her to exact murderous revenge on those who may have been responsible for her husband’s death.

Well, joke’s on me. It’s Alice Birch, not Alice Lowe. I don’t even know who that is! And furthermore, I am squeamish as hell when it comes to gynecological stuff and things related to pregnancy and birth. That makes me feel like a terrible feminist and also maybe a terrible ally and support system to all of my family members and friends who are also mamas. I am sorry! I’m grossed out by all of it! Out of all of the horror in the world, this is some of the stuff I find most horrifying. Which sucks for me, because I have a body containing all of these bits that must be invasively poked and prodded and examined on an annual (or more frequent basis) and so even walking around in this flesh is a constant fucking horror story.

…so why did I think I wanted to watch a movie, let alone a whole television series about Beverly and Elliot, a pair of famous gynecologists planning to open a high-tech birthing center? I DON’T KNOW. I watched the first episode last night, and I will be honest with you, I had to look away for about 40% of it.

I was ten years old when I got my first period. I had said period for 3 months straight. It was our male family doctor who did my first exam, and it hurt so badly that, terrified, in pain, and not understanding a single thing that was being done to me, I sobbed the entire way through. He basically told me to calm down and chill out. I was ten fucking years old, man. Have a little care, a little patience!  How I’d love to go back in time and just punch that guy in the dick.

Anyway, thirty-seven years later, every cervical exam or pap smear is an absolute nightmare for me, and I am taken straight back to that day, feeling completely alone in the world, my body not my own, my pain a thing does apparently doesn’t really exist. Sitting home in my office now, my knees locked tightly together, even the thought of a speculum so shiny you can see your pores in it makes me feel like fainting dead away.

I really wanted to watch Rachel Weisz in this duo role of brilliant but menacing twins, but I don’t think I can go back for more. I have two dear friends that have been recommending to me a show called Deadloch for the past few months, it looks like a sort of noir-mystery-comedy, which I have also heard referenced as “Broadchurch, but make it funny.”

So I am peacing out on Dead Ringers and headed over to Deadloch and I am not looking back. Life is too short to torture myself!

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I finally watched Talk to Me, and it was an extremely uncomfortable, disturbing, upsetting, and brilliant film. I never want to see it again and I definitely don’t want to talk about it.

I’ll sum up in one sentence, just so I can say I did my due diligence: Teens are getting high on possession as a party trick/for social media likes, with the aid of an old, severed hand, encased in ceramic and covered in creepy symbols and graffiti.

Teenagers are already susceptible to suggestion and stupidity and grief can leave you open, yearning, and raw. Talk To Me takes those feelings and behaviors and twists them to its own purposes for a relentlessly terrifying story.

I’m done now. I literally cannot think about this film a second more.

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Image credit: Don Maitz artwork featured in Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-fi Art of the 1970s

I am currently reading Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-fi Art of the 1970s by Adam Rowe and I am enjoying it immensely. Aside from being stuffed to the gills with phenomenal science fiction art–from the abstract and avant-garde to the trippy and surreal, from the murky and lurid to the vivid, vibrant, and hyperrealistic–on top of all that, it is written in exactly the way I want to read about art.

Well-informed, brimming with details, and powerfully engrossing sure, but Rowe’s voice is chatty, warm, and irreverent–like you’re being regaled by one of your smartest, funniest, nerdiest friends. You no doubt know of Adam Rowe from his Twitter and Tumblr accounts, where he shares otherworldly, alien retro sci-fi art on an almost daily basis…but while those are both awesome places to peek in at, it’s not the same as having this outstanding book at your fingertips.

Of course, the imagery he has curated is tremendous, but what makes this such a special collection is the enthusiasm, fondness, and overall spirit of curiosity and wonder that infuses every single word in this book. You never doubt even for a second that Adam Rowe is absolutely jazzed about these artworks–and he wants you to be, too.

I will probably write a longer review once I finish the book, and if I do a year-end round-up of gift book ideas, Worlds Beyond Time is going to be right up at the very top.

What does any of this have to do with 31 Days of Horror? Well, I just today finished the Monsters chapter in a section of the book, wherein artists “blend fiction and arguable fact, looking at how artists and illustrators reinterpreted old science-fiction tropes like creepy creatures and alien priests to represent the latest cryptid or mystic vision.”

I thought I might share two of my favorite works from this chapter, the first being Don Maitz’s 1977 cover for Eerie #91, and the second, Richard Hescox’s 1985 cover for Alan Burt Akers’s Omens of Kregen, featuring a final confrontation from the book, in which a bestiary of googly-eyed, wriggly-tentacled monsters have assembled to protect their queen. I know these guys are meant to be scary, but there’s something about this menagerie that tickles my fancy. The “weird and gross but adorable” fancy!

P.S. If you follow me and maybe you’re not a huge sci-fi art fan, but the name Don Maitz rings a bell, it’s because I am always sharing this image.

Image credit: Richard Hescox artwork featured in Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-fi Art of the 1970s

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Cat People has been on my 31 Days list every year for the past 7 years. Better late than never!

Irena is absorbed in her sketchbook at the zoo when she meets neat and tidy and well-behaved Oliver Reed, who teases her when her frustrated, crumpled-up drawings don’t quite make it into the trash bin. They chat and leave together, and as they stroll away, we catch a glimpse at what she’s been doodling: a sleek panther with a dagger plunged through its heart.

Oliver walks Irina home to her fabulously beautiful apartment, and she asks him in for tea. During this sort-of-first-date, as Oliver is meandering about her space, he seems particularly struck–and a mite disturbed by–a certain statue, and Irina explains. In her village in Serbia, there was the belief that it sheltered satanic cultists who could take the form of cats.

Good King John tried to kill these cat people, but some fled into the mountains, where they are said to live to this day. We soon learn that Irena secretly fears she is one of those cat people.

In the way of cinematic whirlwind romances, Oliver and Irina declare their love for each other and are married and living together within the next five minutes of screen time. It’s very clear right from the start that this relationship will be tested because Irina, uncomfortable with physical affection,  dreads getting close to Oliver. Forget about consummating the marriage–she won’t even kiss him. She is terrified that once her passions are aroused, she will transform into a panther and kill and eat her husband

Oliver promises patience and time, but when his long-time coworker, the very swell and pretty Alice, confesses her love for him, Oliver is not so supportive anymore.

As Irena’s fear and jealousy grow, she begins to stalk Alice; there is a genuinely creepy scene in which Alice is hiding in a swimming pool while something prowls and growls from the shadows. Has Irena metamorphosed? Is it Alice’s heightened terror and imagination? Things eventually escalate, there is an attack, and things don’t end well for precisely the person that they wouldn’t have a hope of ending well for, considering the era during which this film was made.

Cat People was a gorgeous movie with all its atmospheric cinematography and wonderful cat motifs, but I think what I felt more than anything from it was a deep melancholy and loneliness.

Irena says at one point, when she is attempting to explain her apprehension about the intimate nature of marriage:  “I’ve lived in dread of this moment. I’ve never wanted to love you. I’ve stayed away from people … I’ve fled from the past. Some things you could never know, or understand — evil things.” She reflects to Oliver, in a later scene, “You’re the only friend I’ve ever had.”

An immigrant, an outsider, a possibly cursed individual, a cat person who cats apparently don’t even like, whose only friend is that fickle fucker of a husband–Irina’s story is impossibly sad.

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People have only just started watching The Fall of the House of Usher, Mike Flanagan’s newest offering over on Netflix, so I am hesitant to say much–or anything!–about it at all!

I watched all eight episodes this past weekend, and I will say two things. I did not love it as much as I loved Midnight Mass (I think that one was pretty divisive though, so that may not mean anything to you!) and if you are expecting an adaptation of a singular Edgar Alan Poe short story…that’s not what that is. Rather it’s a narrative in which many Poe references, characters, plot pieces, story fragments, and poetry snippets are entangled. One reviewer referred to it as taking place in the “Poe cinematic universe,” and THANKS I HATE IT. It makes me think that Flanagan’s next installment is going to be something like BRAM STOKER: ENDGAME.

Did I love this new series? I did. Did I love watching rich people wearing designer clothing? Yes! Camille’s Alexander McQueen dress in episode two! Her snake lingerie/bodysuit that we’ve seen advertised all over Instagram, you know the one! Luke Skywalker absolutely stole every scene he was in! Did I love the cheesy, overarching message? Who doesn’t love a cheesy message? There was so much to love about this show. I mean … “GUCCI CALIGULA.” Iykyk.

But did I love it as much as Midnight Mass? I did not.  Would I watch The Fall of the House of Usher over and over again? Absolutely, it was that enjoyable. Whereas I would never watch Midnight Mass again. I can’t explain that, but there you go.


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Stephan Mackey, “The Sandman,” As seen in The Art of Darkness

Today I’m completely knocked out by the vaccines I got 48 hours ago and I am taking it easy. Which is to say, I am cramming a whole bunch of tv and reading down my gullet today but I am not going to exhaust my brain in trying to muster up words about it.

Over on Instagram, I am participating in the OctoberChrysalis challenge, a series of creative prompts collaboratively put together by Jess of Bloodmilk and musician Chelsea Wolfe. Today’s prompt was “Landscape/Dreamscape” and I was really scratching my head for this one. I live in the Florida suburbs, there is not much landscape to speak of out here. So instead I went with a few dreamscapes I’ve included in my books. You can peek at what I’ve been coming up with over here.

What else have I got planned for Day Fifteen? I just finished up Rachel Harrison’s Cackle, which was a wonderfully cozy small-town witchy story about friendship, accepting who you are, and being happy on your own. It had real Practical Magic/Stars Hollow vibes. I feel stupid saying I “highly recommend” it because I am pretty sure I’m late to the party here, and everyone has already read it. I’ve read Rachel Harrison’s other books and really enjoyed them, but they are definitely more in the horror genre than this one. This was feel-good, but not super saccharine or extra-fluffy. Just a little sweet. A tiny bit of fluff. Perfect for a sick day. I feel like some dudes out there are rolling their eyes at “cozy horror,” but whatever. You don’t hate cozy horror. Call it what it is. You hate women.

Anyhow, I’m feeling just peachy, not at all sickly and miserable, can’t you tell?!

Today’s plans include taking the all half-empty cans of pumpkin littering my refrigerator and making this curried pumpkin soup, watching some more of The Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix, and reading a few more stories in Jordan Peele’s horror anthology, Out There Screaming–which is pretty great so far, with several stories I found myself wishing I could read a full-novel version of!

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In the first five minutes of watching The Blood Spattered Bride, I thought, “Huh, I’ve already tried to watch this once before.” A newlywed couple speeds down the highway, arriving at a hotel. The groom (unnamed throughout the film) suggests that the bride, Susan, head up to the room while he unpacks the car. Once in the room,  a stocking-faced man who looks very much like her husband emerges from the wardrobe, pins her to the bed, and violently rips her wedding dress off. In my initial experience with this movie, it was this scene that made me think, “No thanks, I’m good,” and turned it off.

But it is at this point her husband arrives with all of their luggage and finds Susan sitting on the bed, wedding dress intact, and looking upset. “I don’t want to stay here,” she says, “I don’t like this hotel.”

From there they tootle off to his country estate. In gauging their early interactions, we get the sense that Susan is quite young and inexperienced (he says as much when he refers to her later on in the film as “just a child.” Ugh.) He is an older man, and soon, we learn, aggressive, predatory, and controlling. But Susan is not easily cowed, and often either runs away, defies him, or coldly shuts him down.

It’s this “you’re not the boss of me” spirit that comes across when she demands to know why there are no women featured among the ancestral portrait gallery in the house. He admits that they are all kept down in the basement. Susan, curious, checks it out…and finds a painting of a bride with her face sheared completely away.

This is where things start to get interesting. They walk through the gorgeous autumnal landscape around the castle’s grounds as he tells her the story of the woman in the portrait. Mircala Karstein (!!) murdered her husband on their wedding night and the family found her comatose beside the dead body.

They eventually buried her in the ruins of the cathedral on the property. Susan realizes this is the ghostly woman she has seen from the corner of her eye, ever since they arrived–and even in the hotel parking lot as they were leaving. Susan then begins dreaming of Mircala. In her dreams, there is an antique dagger, and an irresistible urge to kill her husband…

The Blood Spattered Bride, which I initially thought was an exploitation film that really wasn’t in the mood for, turned out to have a bit more going on than that. Although you have to get through the first half of the film first, and I if I am being honest, I found it a bit of a slog. But there’s definitely a psychological depth that I wasn’t expecting, and there are some politics beyond the sexual involved that I wasn’t aware of, and you can read more about here.

I don’t think I can blame it on the flu vaccine/COVID booster combo that I received last night, but if I ever knew that this film was a retelling of Le Fanu’s Carmilla, I had completely forgotten it. It was a delightful surprise because honestly, I could watch a million versions of this sapphic vampire story. I’m not feeling so hot today, I’m clammy and my joints ache and I am definitely having a reaction from the shots, so I think that’s all I’ve got in me for day fourteen.

P.S. If anyone knows the artist for the film poster featured in this blog, please fill me in!


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