October 2017: Rats, Walls

“In 16 July 1923, I moved into Exham Priory after the last workman had finished his labours. The restoration had been a stupendous task, for little had remained of the deserted pile but a shell-like ruin; yet because it had been the seat of my ancestors, I let no expense deter me. The place had not been inhabited since the reign of James the First, when a tragedy of intensely hideous, though largely unexplained, nature had struck down the master, five of his children, and several servants; and driven forth under a cloud of suspicion and terror the third son, my lineal progenitor and the only survivor of the abhorred line.”

H.P. Lovecraft, The Rats in the Walls - 1924

If Lovecraft had died the day after it was published, this early story would still be included in horror anthologies. It's a near-perfect example of pulp horror, with a creepy building and tainted bloodlines.

It's also a curious example of Lovecraftia in that the racism is contained in one cat, rather than just all over the place. 

Also, hey, do you like horror? You must, right? Well, I hereby endorse Corporate Cthulhu, a book of weird horror set against the world of bureaucracy. If the Kickstarter reaches its first stretch goal, my own story, involving the King in Yellow, will be included, so feel free to take that as a warning.

October 2017: Guignol

“(The room is very dark. Henri sits in a dressing gown with his back to the audience. His head is wrapped in bandages. He lights up a hubble-bubble and a sticky smell of opium clouds up. The door opens very slowly and the Doctor and Nurse step in.)

DOCTOR: You do realize, Henri, that my professional standing does not allow me to condone this.”

Maurice Level, The Final Kiss - 1912

Ah, Grand-Guignol. A curious little theatre-form out of twentieth century Paris, the style is famed for its extreme violence. The notion of theatres staging nurses and doctors and nurses in the house, made famous by Frankenstein, started here as a marketing gimmick implemented by the theatre's owner, who knew how to play into a myth. 

Although horror theatre may be relatively little know, THE FINAL KISS is one of the most significant entries in the genre. The play concerns the above-mentioned Henri, who was horribly scarred by an "accident" involving some acid. And it concerns what he intends to do about it.

October 2017: Paul Tremblay

“‘This must be so difficult for you, Meredith.’

Best-selling author Rachel Neville wears a perfect fall ensemble: dark blue hat to match her sensible knee-length skirt and a beige wool jacket with buttons as large as kitten heads. She carefully attempts to keep to the uneven walkway. The slate stones have pitched up, their edges peeking out of the ground, and they wiggle under her feet like loose baby teeth. As a child I used to tie strings of red dental floss around a wiggly tooth and leave the floss dangling there for days and days until the tooth fell out on its own. Marjorie would call me a tease and chase me around the house trying to pull the wax string, and I would scream and cry because it was fun and because I was afraid if I let her pull out one tooth she wouldn’t be able to help herself and she’d pull them all out.”

Paul Tremblay, A Head Full of Ghosts - 2015

Last night, when I made sure I knew where my copy of A Head Full of Ghosts was, I popped open the first paragraph and read the first paragraph again. Tremblay's novel is an exquisite scare, and I haven't been subtle about the fact that this is my favorite horror novel, but I found myself a little disappointed by those words, as if it didn't live up to my memory.

But then I kept thinking about them. And kept thinking, all day. Those words stuck with me, because they are so perfectly sinister. Your senses are assaulted right off the bat: it opens with a question from a woman who's apparently perfectly put together...in a place that's been ravaged by time. And the story we're told, it seems so innocent, a tale of childhood games. Except that it ends with the fear of torture. Even the illustration of the stones as loose baby teeth, it's a strange mix: babies (people think those are adorable!) teeth (ew body parts). But, ultimately, it's a cute story right? Which makes those last few worst strike all the harder.

Buy this book.

October 2017: Cthulhu

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu - 1928

Probably the most iconic quote I'll cover this month is this, from HP Lovecraft - and it won't be his only appearance this month. For all his horrible aspects, that first sentence is, in its own right, a thesis statement for the entire horror genre.

October 2017: 'Salem's Lot

Halloween 2017, Day 2:

“Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.

They had crossed the country on a rambling southwest line in an old Citroën sedan, keeping mostly to secondary roads, traveling in fits and starts. They stopped in three places along the way before reaching their final destination: first in Rhode Island, where the tall man with the black hair worked in a textile mill; then in Youngstown, Ohio, where he worked for three months on a tractor assembly line; and finally in a small California town near the Mexican border, where he pumped gas and worked at repairing small foreign cars and an amount of success that was, to him, surprising and gratifying.”

Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot - 1975

I'm a fan of King's opening lines, and probably could have left today's quote at just that first sentence, but I like the second paragraph nearly as much. It introduces a notion that persists through the book: fits and starts. The book sees a cycle of just starting, then shifting. Sometimes shifting character focus, sometimes shifting POV, the book is constantly shifting, right up to the end.