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Archive for September 21st, 2020

by Sam Juliano

America lost an irreplaceable cultural icon this past week and the timing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing at age 87 from cancer after a long illness spells trouble ahead for us Democrats and Biden supporters who are witnessing a Republican power play to fill her seat.  I admired her deeply and when I heard she passed I was like so many others, in tears.  I fondly recall reviewing the picture book on her in my Caldecott series back in 2017.

This past week Jim Clark reviewed The Touch in his masterful winding-down Ingmar Bergman series here at Wonders in the Dark.  Jamie Uhler’s epic Halloween Horror Fest 2020 continues with some seriously fascinating entries (below).  I am holding back my Night Gallery additions until next week.  Best wishes to all.  Stay safe!

Color Out of Space (R. Stanley… 2019) 

The Curse (D. Keith… 1987)

The Midnight Meat Train (R. Kitamura… 2008)

Horror, as a celluloid enterprise, grew almost wholly out of its literary origins; the greatest and most influential films in the genre for the first several decades had all previously found birth via the printed word. Shelley, Stoker and Poe unmistakably formulated much of what we see when we think of Horror, even as the genre grew out from their tales into wholly new and foreign ones. It’s a somewhat remarkable point to consider, given that only Bram Stoker even saw a day in the 20th century (12 years to be precise), i.e. the modern age that saw the birth of projected, flickering images. But nevertheless I think we take it for granted that where Horror has come from is a medium that seeks to burrow and twist language, hoping a reader can conjure the creativity of their mind to imagine ghastly ghouls, creaky floorboards, spider-web filled castles or unimaginable bloodshed (in a photographic medium like film this becomes even more ironic). H.P. Lovecraft would then be somewhat unique, he the great link from the past masters into the Horror of the cinematic age, penning most of his classic works after World War I had completed its untold misery. Like Poe, he was also a writer in the age of periodicals, so most of his Horror was birthed in short stories published in magazines or newspapers that the everyman could afford and collect, imbuing his (still sophisticated) work with more Pulpy leaning elements of fantasy and demons, all mixed together with new advances in the natural sciences to create quite the scary cocktail.

The work that he regularly listed as his favorite, ‘The Colour Out of Space’, is perfectly illustrative of his unique brilliance. A 1927 story about a mysterious meteorite that lands on the Gardner farm near their well that they use as their water source. The meteorite is unexplainable, alluding scientific analysis as it slowly recedes into the soil over a number of days. In the coming months, everything that has been near the absorbed soil, or drank from the well (this is much of their crops, all of their animals and every member of the family) changes; the plants and vegetation grow large, often in a wild array of kaleidoscopic colors, but is nevertheless sickly inedible. The animals—and this includes the humans—slowly turn into brittle grey forms and wither away to painfully horrific deaths (similarly after their colorful plumage, the plants recede, turn grey and brittle, and break off into ash). The auteurist trick is Lovecraft’s after the fact first-person perspective of a surveyor that comes to the Arkham area years later, only able to locate one person willing to recount the ghastly ordeal that had taken place there. As Horror, it’s tremendous; it’s all exposition and recounting, nothing happening in real time, thus, theoretically, nothing happening to keep the reader on the edge of his seat. Still, it manages to be a gripping read by exacting a strangeness and often dense maze of poetic, ever-twisting prose. As was Lovecraft’s trademark by this point: it reads calmly, like the dispassionate reading of a will, or police report to a grisly murder. For cinema to tackle such a story, changes would have to be made, minor plot points wholly embellished or invented from thin air to concoct the action so it appears in the present. But how do you explain a story working so hard to be mysterious? 

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