The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

The Art of the Fortune Cookie, and Other News

September 21, 2015 | by

Your true creative calling. Image: Flazingo Photos

  • There are any number of prestigious opportunities available to freelance writers—footwear catalogs, restroom signage, pamphlets about flossing—but it takes a truly outstanding writer to land the best gig of them all: fortune-cookie writer, at seventy-five cents a pop. It’s exacting work. The fortunes “have to be general enough to make sense for any kind of customer, but at the same time, they can’t offend anyone … Companies keep databases of thousands of fortunes accumulated over years that they rotate on a regular basis to keep people from getting the same ones over and over. Coming up with original ideas when there are already ten thousand in the database—as there are, for example, at cookie manufacturer Wonton Foods—is a real challenge.”
  • Stephen King on William Sloane, whose 1930s horror novels were the opposite of Lovecraftian: “Because they ignore genre conventions, Sloane’s novels are actual works of literature … In To Walk the Night, we discover that a disembodied brain—perhaps an alien from space, perhaps a human intelligence from another time-stream or dimension—has inhabited the body of an ‘idiot’ girl named Luella Jamison, transforming her vacuity into coldly classical beauty.”
  • While we’re on horror: try reading The Hound of the Baskervilles when you have a profound fear of dogs. “My elementary school’s library had an edition of the book with a cover like this: a black dog with red eyes standing in a green hoary mist, spittle oozing from its jaws, while the vague silhouette of someone in a cloak (Sherlock Holmes?) lurks in the background. I was totally captivated and scared shitless by the horrific power of this book.”
  • The lexicographer Francis Grose was the first to record phrases like fly by night and birds of a feather, in addition to other, non-flight-related idioms. His Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue deserves the same recognition as Johnson’s Dictionary, and its entries live up to its name: “Inebriation is well documented, with terms ranging from ‘Hicksius Doxius: Drunk’ and ‘Emperor: Drunk as an emperor, ie ten times as drunk as a lord’ to ‘Admiral of the narrow seas: One who from drunkenness vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite him’. Other entries focus on bodily functions. There’s ‘Fizzle: A small windy escape backwards, more obvious to the nose than ears; frequently by old ladies charged on their lap-dogs’, as well as ‘Fart catcher: A valet or footman, from his walking behind his master or mistress.’ ”
  • We all know that cops are putzes—but does this, in and of itself, explain their love for doughnuts? Is that love a symptom or a cause of their idiocy? The link between law enforcement and dough runs deep: “We’ve officially stuffed the protecting-and-serving citizens of our country with sugary pastries since at least World War I, when the Salvation Army sent female volunteers to France to cook doughnuts and bring them to the front … ”

The Horror of Philosophy, and Other News

August 24, 2015 | by

From This Magazine Is Haunted, April 1952.

  • Newly declassified documents have revealed that the British government spied on Doris Lessing for some twenty years and that they’d thoroughly imbibed the rhetoric of J. Edgar Hoover: “Her communist sympathies have been fanned almost to the point of fanaticism owing to her upbringing in Rhodesia, which has brought out in her a deep hatred of the colour bar,” MI6 wrote of Lessing, whose “plump build” they were also sure to mention. “Colonial exploitation is her pet theme and she has now nearly become as irresponsible in her statements as … saying that everything black is wonderful and that all men and all things white are vicious.”
  • Say what you will about The End of the Tour as a depiction of David Foster Wallace—it is, if nothing else, a smart take on the mechanics and ethics of celebrity profiles, the lifeblood of the magazine industry. “The movie is apt in its insinuation that there is sometimes very little daylight between doing the reporting necessary for a magazine profile of someone and compiling a surveillance dossier upon him or her … the very structure of the reporting process, with its enforced proximity, can engender a precarious intimacy, even while the ultimate purpose of this intimacy—an article that is to be written by one participant about the other—is never forgotten.”
  • Teju Cole saw a photograph by René Burri: four men on a rooftop in São Paulo. He resolved to discover the circumstances of its creation, and—why not?—to replicate it, if possible: “To me, it literally portrays the levels of social stratification and the enormous gap between those above and those below … ‘Those four guys just came from nowhere, and went to nowhere,’ Burri said of the men in his photograph.”
  • On philosophy and horror and the horror of philosophy and the philosophy of horror: “Any reader of difficult philosophy books will have experienced their own kind of horror of philosophy, reinforced today by public intellectuals, who most often use philosophy as a smokescreen for selling self-help books and promoting the cult of the guru … philosophy explains anything and everything, telling us that a horror films means this or that, reveals this or that anxiety, is representative of this or that cultural moment that we are living in, and so on. Perhaps genres such as the horror genre are interesting not because we can devise ingenious explanatory models for them, but because they cause us to question some of our most basic assumptions about the knowledge-production process itself.”
  • If you’re looking for a good way to kill a lot of time at the end of the summer, head to Berlin, where, in a longstanding ritual, a cinema deep underground hosts a complete and unabridged viewing of Andrei Tarkovsky’s filmography. “International filmgoers book their flights as soon as the schedule is released, some in order to see the same set of films they saw last year. Judging from my seatmates at several screenings, the appeal crosses generational as well as national divides. The people want Tarkovsky, they want him on celluloid, and they want him whole.”

Beardsley’s Poe

August 21, 2015 | by

Illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, made to accompany Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Beardsley, born on August 21, 1872, favored the grotesque and the erotic in his drawings and had a large influence on the developing the Art Nouveau style, though he lived only to twenty-five. He also illustrated work by Oscar Wilde and Alexander Pope and helped found The Yellow Book.

     From “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

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Twain Trove, and Other News

May 5, 2015 | by


John White Alexander’s portrait of Twain, ca. 1912.


  • At UC Berkeley, scholars have discovered a cache of stories by Mark Twain, written when he was a twenty-nine-year-old newspaperman in San Francisco. “His topics range from San Francisco police—who at one point attempted, unsuccessfully, to sue Twain for comparing their chief to a dog chasing its tail to impress its mistress—to mining accidents.”
  • Filmmakers have always struggled in depicting the act of writing. Authors in movies tend to act, all too realistically, like total bores—sitting there, typing, thinking, gazing out windows, et cetera. But it is possible to make good films about writing. One of them is Joachim Trier’s Reprise, which “recognizes that much of the stuff of writing and literary circles is, well, talk. And unlike many other such films, it can talk that talk.”
  • Bellow had a way with similes: “When Professor Ravelstein laughs, he throws his head back ‘like Picasso’s wounded horse in Guernica’ … Eddie Walish has a woodwind laugh ‘closer to oboe than to clarinet, and he releases his laugh from the wide end of his nose as well as from his carved pumpkin mouth’ … A man with a wooden leg walks ‘bending and straightening gracefully like a gondolier.’ ”
  • In the late sixties, the progenitors of land art were “literal groundbreakers”—a new documentary, Troublemakers, tries to rediscover their works, many of which have “succumbed to natural forces.”
  • Plenty of horror video games borrow from Dracula—but they take only the “shallowest trappings” from Stoker, preferring instead to lean on Lovecraft. A new game, Bloodborne, “offers a backward lens into a particularly strange point in horror history in which the anxieties of a changing world found its way into the monsters and terrors of the genre.”

Trust Issues

January 6, 2015 | by

How The Evil Within and horror games manipulate their players.


A screenshot from The Evil Within.

Few relationships depend more on trust than the one you have with your computer. Without faith in the indifference of its automation, how could you share as much with it as you do? Video games are built around the fragility of this trust: they let us play with the horror in our dependence, experiencing the computer as a hostile entity within the safe, fictive frame of competition. To entertain us, games must defy our expectations. But their surprises can’t lapse into incoherence—if they do, our trust is violated, our fun spoiled.

Shinji Mikami’s games have tested the limits of that trust. He didn’t invent the horror video game, but in his twenty-plus-year career, he’s done more to popularize it than any other designer. His career began in the early nineties with a string of convivial family-oriented games, but it wasn’t until 1996’s Resident Evil that he made a name for himself. Combining graphic bodily horror and cryptographic claustrophobia—and set in a rotting mansion, no less—Resident Evil became a standard-setting high point. Playing the game felt like wearing a straitjacket, and this was part of the horror: its movement system was halting and cumbersome, and it used an incoherent array of fixed camera views, ensuring that even the basic rules for moving your character changed every few seconds, even during crises. The frustration informed the fear.

Nearly a decade later, in 2005’s Resident Evil 4, Mikami abused player trust by making the game’s fundamental action—shooting—unnervingly realistic. The animations of bodies taking bullets were lifelike to the point of inducing vertigo. Most games depend on some form of violent conflict, even if it’s only colored bits of candy exploding when they’re properly aligned, but we expect the games to have moral alibis for the violence they ask of us. But in Resident Evil 4, you played the role of an alien invading an innocent foreign culture—and watched, say, a farmer stumble after being hit in the knee, then slowly rise again, pressing past the normal human threshold of pain. The game forced its players to violate moral and cultural taboos, while craftily reinforcing the adrenal joy that came with those sins. It unmasked the cruelty of play.

Now, another decade later, Mikami has returned to horror with The Evil Within, which combines those earlier templates with a kind of graphic violence and semiotic incoherence reminiscent of pink cinema, a rich, revolting tradition of Japanese filmmaking that dates to the early sixties. Though the term is often used to describe Japanese erotica, pink cinema’s aesthetic is broader, with no real equivalent in the West. The scholar David Desser has described it as a brand of Japanese modernism—“achronological, arbitrarily episodic, acausal, dialectical, anti-mythic and anti-psychological, and metahistorical”—that aims to cast off the “bourgeois individualism” of American storytelling. Read More »


What Scares The Paris Review?

October 31, 2014 | by


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 »