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Posts Tagged ‘Halloween’

If I Had a Ribbon Bow

October 31, 2014 | by

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From the cover of In a Dark, Dark Room.

As we all know, the world divides, evenly or otherwise, between those of us who grew up reading In a Dark, Dark Room and those who did not. Those of us who have read it (I got my copy at one of those sponsored school book sales, noteworthy for its bake sale and wealth of Klutz-brand books, one of which came with a Koosh ball) will never look at a green ribbon the same way again.

Spoiler alert for “The Green Ribbon”: Girl has green ribbon around her neck. Grows up, marries, ages, dies. Ribbon is untied, head falls off. It is a perfect scary kid’s story: simple, terrifying, pleasantly idiotic. Certainly, I didn’t feel it to be in any conflict with the basic facts of anatomy. Certainly not doll anatomy. In Alvin Schwartz’s 1984 I Can Read! version, the girl—Jenny—looks sort of like Laura Nyro and rocks a really good look. 

If I have a beef with most modern fright-fests, it’s that they’re too complicated: over-plotted, spilling over with various malignancies and kinds of dark magic. “The Green Ribbon” is an antidote to this. Unlike, say, the Koosh ball, it has aged well. After its fashion, it is the perfect scary story. But you don’t have to take my word for it! 

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Letter from Casa Dracula

October 31, 2014 | by

A haunted house for writers on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

Photo: Billy Sheahan

The writers are coming.

But first, we must get our house in order, because, ay carajo, Hurricane Odile’s rude visit left the place in a shambles—muy malo, as our property manager Paula told us by e-mail a few days later, after Odile’s wrath had passed and the Internet had been restored to our dusty little town on the Tropic of Cancer. The Day of the Dead approaches, and while so many are mourning their losses and celebrating their miraculous survival, we have much to do.

Our house, the house in question, is known as the Casa Dracula, an ancient two-story, adobe-brick landmark in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur. Odile was a category-four hurricane and she made a direct hit on the southern Baja peninsula last month.

The writers are the attendees of the 2015 Todos Santos Writers Workshop, taking place for the second year at Casa Dracula at the end of January. They’ll draw inspiration from the old haunted house, a noble structure built around a courtyard in 1852 by a local sugar baron. Legend has it the Casa was given its name by the barrio children in awe of the imposing, long-vacant, bat-infested structure, and it was later officially designated such by the town—a town with, in fact, its own official designation as a Pueblo Mágico by the Mexican government. Nobody is sure what that means exactly, a “pueblo mágico,” but in Mexico the exact meaning of anything is not necessarily the point. The poetry is what matters, and Todos Santos is known for its lyrical beauty—a lush oasis bounded by mountains to the north, an oddly verdant desert, and a Pacific Ocean coastline alive with whales spawning, with baby sea turtles emerging from sandy nests on certain moonlit nights to begin their tireless journey to the sea, and with surfers skimming the waves by day. Read More »

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What Scares The Paris Review?

October 31, 2014 | by

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From a 1939 Dutch workplace safety poster by Gé Hurkmans.

The book I find myself most often recommending—Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps—is perfect reading for tonight, or for any chilly evening, when the fallen leaves outside have begun to mold and decay in wet piles. I may originally have read it in the summer, but so thoroughgoing is its tone of paranoia, cold, rot, and subsumed violence that you can’t easily separate yourself from the refracted narrative of the book’s protagonist, an ESP-endowed teenage girl running with a group of “vampire hobo junkies” in the Pacific Northwest. She’s searching for her foster sister, Kim, along the “highway That Eats People,” and the novel reads like an Orphic descent into a bad dream within a bad dream, with the physical landscape—loamy, waterlogged, and dank—doubling as the psychic landscape: “The land was not to be trusted. Its climate had the potential to make those teetering on the edges of decency spill over into murderville … Psychos tried to plug up cracks with bodies, cloth, whatever’s at hand.” —Nicole Rudick

Scary things I remember: a hand coming out of a box on The Electric Company, the dying boar on the cover of my parents’ Four Seasons LP (made them skip the Autumn movement), “Ode to Billy Joe,” reading The Dead Zone by flashlight under the blanket at camp, The Shining (movie), The Exorcist (book), the prophecies of Nostradamus (had to hide the book), Let’s Scare Jessica to Death on TV on a Sunday afternoon (Sunday afternoon movie), the Twilight Zone movie (had to leave theater), Eraserhead late at night alone in my parents’ bedroom (“You are sick!”), the diner scene in Mulholland Drive (the compressed audio), the distortion of Laura Dern’s face in Inland Empire, “Don't Crash” by Front 242, in the listening room at the school library (do these still exist?), Don’t Look Now, Francis Bacon, Fleetwood Mac, The White Ribbon, the dream sequence in Amour, and the scary-doll movie Sadie made me see last month. The other things I’ve managed to forget. —Lorin Stein

Taylor Swift’s “Track 3” recently made it to number one on Canadian iTunes. The track was a glitch, eight seconds of white noise. I’m open-minded, so I gave it a try, and by lunchtime I realized, rather suddenly, that “Track 3” was stuck in my head; Swift seemed to follow me into the void, filling it with something familiar yet indefinable. In “Track 3” she’s mastered the Freudian uncanny, something that’s frighteningly unknown but brings us back to something familiar. Freud once quoted Ernst Jentsch: “One of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the [listener] in uncertainty whether or not a particular figure … is a human being or an automaton.” I maintain that Swift released “Track 3” in all its uncanniness to confess that she is, in fact, an automaton. If you think your costume is good, stew on that: Swift’s has been better, every day, since 1989. —Alex Celia

Alex jests, but I do not: I really adore Taylor Swift. And that’s scary. She’s just released the best pop record of 2014: the most exhilarating, the most addictive, and also the most inscrutable, the most frustrating. Carl Wilson, the best pop critic writing today, understands—his review of 1989 uses Swift’s famously undisclosed bellybutton as a metaphor through which to apprehend the entire Swiftian zeitgeist. He gazes into her navel “as umbilical nub,” “as median point and sore spot,” “as Jell-O shot dispenser,” “as contemplative locus,” “as camera aperture,” “as teen-pop erogenous zone,” “as pretty hate machine,” “as the whitest thing on Earth,” and “as the omphalos of capital,” among others. No one has better identified the qualities that make her such a vital force in pop, so lucid and so obscure. “You could tug forever at the ends of Swift’s elusive, invisible abdominal bundle of avarice and sentiment, art, ego, envy, love and hate, drought and flood, truth and fiction, savior and monster,” Wilson writes, “and it would never come undone.” If that’s not horrifying … —Dan Piepenbring

There once was a time when the scariest thing imaginable was what one never saw: creaks in the floorboard, the rustling of branches against the window, whispers floating in the wind. It used to be that the monsters in horror films were never seen, which got under your skin: think of the spiral staircase of the original The Haunting, the eerie sobs of an unseen woman in The Uninvited, the psychological violence in later films like The Entity. Then slasher flicks and the “video nasties” of the early 1980s came, and we evolved into the terror porn of the Hostel series to laughable films like The Human Centipede. These films are indeed horrific, but are they scary? It’s pretty unlikely that I’ll stumble upon some sadistic German surgeon, but I turn the lights off every night. So it totally makes sense that The Blair Witch Project made millions of dollars—that last image in the basement is still ingrained in my head because—besides being absolutely terrifying—you never know who was behind the terror. (I still can’t go camping without thinking of the film.) One recent film that stands out, and one that gets better with repeated viewings, is The Orphanage (2007). There’s nothing innovative in the storytelling—haunted house, missing child—but it expertly builds the atmosphere of the remote orphanage and the characters who inhabit it. There aren’t as many thrills as something like The Descent—a great example of what is still possible within creature features–but when the scares come they are genuine. The rest is waiting, anticipating, dreading; there’s nothing scarier than what haunts one’s imagination. —Justin Alvarez Read More »

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The Not-So-Ghastly Ghosts of Arthur B. Frost

October 30, 2014 | by

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These are a few of Arthur B. Frost’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s “Phantasmagoria,” as collected in Rhyme? And Reason? in 1884. Frost was part of the Golden Age of American Illustration; he illustrated more than ninety books, including a few by Carroll. Read More »

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Moral and Divine (and Terrifying)

October 28, 2014 | by

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Cruel fate.

Yesterday’s journey into the macabre (via Thackeray) was so lousy with skulls and black cats and seasonal pageantry that I thought, Hell, let’s do it again.

The public domain is teeming with hoary, scary fare for Halloween. Time was, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting something spooky.

I present to you, then, a few morbid selections from George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne: Quickened with Metrical Illustrations, both Moral and Divine; and disposed into Lotteries, that Instruction and Good Counsel, may be furthered by an Honest and Pleasant Recreation, from 1635. Wither wrote verses to accompany these allegorical plates, which were originally by Crispin van Passe from earlier in the seventeenth century. The allegories depicted here aren’t always easy to parse, but I think we can safely assume that they instruct humankind in the evasion of sin. If you sin, after all, your hand may wind up mounted to a stick, or you may become like the caged cat, beset by the mice you once terrorized. Read More »

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Thackeray Gets Grotesque

October 27, 2014 | by

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When William Makepeace Thackeray died, near the end of 1863, he left behind a formidable library in a mansion he’d only recently designed, erected, and occupied. A few months later, his home was dismantled and his books were put to auction. On the flyleaves and margins, their new owners discovered a wealth of Thackeray’s sketches, some in pencil and others in pen and ink.

Thackeray’s talents as an artist were no secret—he’d contributed illustrations to many of his own novels, including Vanity Fair—but few were aware of the extent of his doodling habit. More than ten years later, in 1875, the art collector Joseph Grego published Thackerayana, an assemblage of more than six hundred of Thackeray’s drawings with extracts of the books in which he’d drawn them. (Grego, perhaps fearing the consequences of his blatant copyright infringement, presented the collection anonymously.)

What surprises most about the sketches in Thackerayana is their range—Thackeray was an adept caricaturist, but these drawings find him equally at home in more high-flown styles. As his source material moved him, he could do landscapes and portraiture, the irreverent and the solemn, the macabre, the surreal, the juvenile. It’s these last three qualities, in particular, that caught my eye; with Halloween around the corner, it seems as good a time as any to present a portfolio of Thackeray at his most imaginatively unhinged. He had a thing for combat, for instance, and for men with hideously bulbous noses. Here, then, are a series of Thackerayana’s more unsettling entries. Read More »

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