Wednesday, 31 August 2016 06:39 pm
carose59: scary stuff (they're coming to get you barbara)
"Oh, Oh Sweet Lord! This Is What Evil Must Taste Like!"*

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I have now finished The King in Yellow, and I can say with great authority that I do not understand it.

It's a collection of stories, "loosely connected" to, I thought, each other by way of The King in Yellow, which is "a forbidden play which induces despair or madness in those who read it," and apparently another name for Hastur (one of the Elder Gods, the ones Lovecraft later wrote about).

Here's the problem. The first story, The Repairer of Reputations is definitely creepy. It's about a man who has lost his mind, though nobody seems to have noticed—or if they have, they aren't taking it very seriously. It reminded me a lot of a short story I read in grade school in an Alfred Hitchcock collection; it's called Sleep Is the Enemy. Both stories are first person and have seriously unreliable narrators who don't seem to get what's going on around them. It's been described as being set in an imagined future 1920's America, but that's presupposing the narrator can be trusted—which he really, really can't. It was going along fine until we got to the end, which was . . . abrupt. But I was happy because I thought this was the tone of the book.

I was wrong.

The next three stories are dreamy, supernatural, and disturbing—well, disturbing unless you grew up watching The Night Gallery. There was nothing particularly unexpected. And as the stories went on, they became less and less disturbing and more average until we get to the last three which—

Honest-to-God, the first story had me craving some Lovecraft, but by the end I was laughing and wanting to re-read The Lawrenceville Stories! (The Lawrenceville Stories are set in Lawrenceville, a prep school for boys, in the 1920's. There's nothing remotely scary about them.)

I know I'm jaded. I've been reading and watching scary stuff since I was a kid—and really, this is a problem with all genres. When you've read those who were influenced by the originators, it's very hard to go back and be shocked by the originals—or even surprised. I knew where most of them were going long before they got there. The problem is, I've read a lot and I remember the patterns. They taught me well in high school.

I might listen to the first one again, to get my Lovecraft mood back.

*Phoebe Buffay
carose59: Dark Shadows (I don't understand!)
"That's Probably Asking A Lot Of The Metaphor."*

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I've been re-watching Dark Shadows for a while—a month, maybe two. Time starts losing all meaning when you marathon a TV show, which is one of the things I love about watching that way. And I've been thinking about why Dark Shadows—a flawed, Gothic, supernatural, patchwork soap opera—is still picking up fans lo, these many years later.

Mostly I don't think about why we love what we love because mostly it's a waste of time. It's a matter of resonance. You don't see it as much as you used to, but you used to see scenes of wine glasses being broken by a loud, pure, sustained musical note. There's more to it than that, though. Objects have resonance. If you strike a wine glass, it makes a sound, a note; it makes music. Whatever note the glass makes is the note that can break it. If the glass is C and you use an E, you won't break it.

And so it is with the things we love. If they don't cause resonance, vibration inside us, they can't break through to the passion part of our selves.

But I do like to think about the whys of things, and at the end of each Dark Shadows disc is an interview with an actor, writer, director, technician, and at some point they're asked why the show has lasted. Maybe I can only hear that question so many times before I start trying to answer it myself. In a way, I'm more qualified to answer than most of the people being asked because I'm one of the lovers, while they're the creators of the beloved.

My mind wandered around, picking up words like purity and innocence and passion. The beauty of something flawed but uneditable, something so of the moment trying to fix it would only destroy it. None of that gelled, and if it doesn't gel, it isn't aspic.

Then, this morning I thought of something Alfred Hitchcock said about movies: "What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out?"

Then I thought about what Arthur Quiller-Couch** said about writing: "Murder your darlings." What that means is, no matter how much you love a line, a scene, a description, a character—if it doesn't fit, you have to remove it. (You say you'll save it, use it some other time, but that happens almost as often as lottery winners are struck by lightning. It's just something you have to tell yourself so you can commit the murder.) The story has to work, and if that means pulling out the wonderful description that throws the whole thing out of whack, you pull the wonderful description, kiss it tenderly, promise you'll use it somewhere, sometime, someday. And then the story flows properly. Think of it as having a giant diamond in the middle of your river, one that obstructs the boats that try to travel down the river. "It's a diamond!" you keep telling yourself as boats hit the big rock and capsize. "I can't just get rid of a diamond!" But if your goal is running a river (please ignore the way my analogy is breaking down), that diamond must go.

And then I realized that the Dark Shadows writers never killed their darlings, they never threw away diamonds, they didn't care about the story as a whole, or the river or any other half-assed metaphor I might come up with. They cared about the good parts.

Which, of course, led me to William Goldman and The Princess Bride.

Everybody's seen the movie, of course. But before the movie was the book, and while the movie is really great, the book is fucking brilliant.

In the movie, we start with a little boy recovering from an illness being read to by his grandfather, and then we move into the story the grandfather is reading. Occasionally we come back to the boy and grandfather, but mostly it's the story-within-the-story that we see. It's only a little more complicated than a regular movie. They could have made the movie without the boy and grandfather. It would have been less textured, but it probably would still have worked because The Princess Bride is a magical movie. It even has a magical origin story.***

But the book isn't magical, it's brilliant. It's complex, fanciful, sophisticated, mythic, and smart. It's a cousin to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, telling you not only the story it's telling you, but a few other stories besides. It's stories all the way down.

In The Princess Bride, William Goldman (a fictional character) is trying to find a copy of a book his father read him when he was a young boy. The book was the classic novel The Princess Bride, a swashbuckling tale of romance and adventure. It started Goldman's love of literature, and he wants to buy a copy for his son's birthday.

He buys a copy long-distance—he's in California, his son and the book store are in New York. He's hoping his son will be just as dazzled as he was by this incredible book.

Only, his son isn't. He's bored to tears. And when Goldman gets his hands on the book, he can see why. Yes, there's adventure in the book, but what the book is really about is the country of Florin, and much of it is parochial and dull. Goldman is baffled. What happened to the book he loved so much?

Well, what happened is, his father only read him the Good Parts, the parts he knew a twelve year old boy would like. And Goldman has a brainstorm: he will edit The Princess Bride down to the Good Parts and get that published.

What follows is the story you've seen in the movie, but there's so much more. There are footnotes, glorious, sometimes-page-long footnotes,**** hilarious, smart footnotes that are just Goldman talking to us, the readers.

I was about fifteen when I read The Princess Bride. I had no idea it was all a wonderful farce, that the real William Goldman had no son (he has two daughters) and that this was his Wuthering Heights,***** complicated and brilliant and wonderful.

Dark Shadows. I was talking about Dark Shadows.

Dark Shadows isn't the real novel The Princess Bride, because the real novel is a beautiful, well-crafted, highly-polished story. Dark Shadows is the story the fictional William Goldman's father read him. It's not just life with the dull bits cut out, but story with the dull bits cut out, it's distilled story. It's everybody's darlings, Dan Curtis's and Sam Hall's and Violet Welles's and yours and mine. It's soap opera on speed. It's the opposite of murdering your darlings, it's dress up your darlings and push them on stage, and who cares if the continuity is wonky, and time travel that makes Back to the Future look like a documentary, and sometimes it's astonishing and suspicious, this resemblance to an ancestor and sometimes nobody even notices, and sometimes the cemetery is five miles away and other times a little girl can walk there in a few minutes, and misspelled gravestones that wobble or disappear altogether, and I could go on all night in these dark shadows.

But I won't. Because what it is is us all being children together, and I'm going to be a ballerina and a queen and a fairy princess and an angel, all at once.

*Colby Granger
**I don't care what you've read about William Faulkner, Arthur Quiller-Couch said it first.
**The magical origin story of the movie The Princess Bride is thus:
Carl Reiner wrote a play called Something Different, which was on Broadway in 1967. That season, William Goldman was researching a nonfiction book about Broadway, and he went to as many plays as he could, some of them more than once. He also interviewed playwrights and other people involved in the theatre, which was how he met Carl Reiner. He loved Something Different (which did not do well) so much, he kept going back to it. He wrote glowingly of it in the book he ended up writing (The Season), and he sent Carl Reiner a copy. And, when he wrote The Princess Bride, he sent Carl Reiner a copy of that, too.

Which is how Rob Reiner happened to read it.

Which is how Rob Reiner happened to fall in love with it and want to make it into a movie.

Which is what happened.

****Maybe that's where I get my love of footnotes.

*****Wuthering Heights is complicated and brilliant and wonderful, but it's also goofy. Most people wouldn't use the word goofy to describe it, but most people don't remember (if they ever knew) how insane the structure of the story is. It isn't straightforward Cathy-&-Heathcliff. It isn't even narrator-telling-us-about-Cathy-&-Heathcliff. No, it's narrator-telling-us-a-story-he's-being-told-about-Cathy-&-Heathcliff. Who does that? Emily Bronte, and she was not to be trifled with.
carose59: Dark Shadows (I don't understand!)
"And I Know What You're Going To Say, You're Going To Say, Well, The Steak Was Dead. Sure The Steak Was Dead, But It's Dead Life."*

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OK, so Quentin's a zombie. (It's a long story. Well, not really. Quentin's crazy wife killed him. Barnabas needs him to be alive, so he asked Angelique for a favor. She brought Quentin back, sort of.)

So, Quentin's a zombie. He abducts Rachel, because she looks like Josette so Angelique wanted him to. But Rachel got away. Then he went to sit by Barnabas's coffin, to taunt him, also because Angelique wanted him to.

Then Barnabas remembered that he knew a ceremony that would reunite Quentin's body with his spirit (which is in Jamison, which is handy). They did the ceremony—which included making sure the chairs were placed so there was room for the spirit to get back to the body. Feng shui is so important when you're reuniting a body with its spirit. But the ceremony didn't work, and Quentin left.

Barnabas has to go get Jamison, which means going to Collinwood. Quentin only has to get back to his grave, at which point he'll die permanently. (Yeah, well, as permanently as anyone ever dies on this show.) You'd think Quentin would "win" this race easily. Except the next time we see Quentin, he's crawling towards his grave.

Why is he crawling? He was walking around just fine when he left the Old House; he even knocked down Barnabas and Sandor. (He was walking like the guy at the beginning of Night of the Living Dead, which is great characterization.) But now he's crawling, struggling to get to his grave.

Barnabas can't get Jamison, so instead he takes Quentin to Collinwood. For whatever reason, Quentin suddenly obeys when Barnabas tells him they have to go to Collinwood.

You know, I put up with a lot, watching this show. Time travel pardoxes, cemeteries that move closer to the house, werewolves who won't eat their flowers, people being menaced by heavy-breathing shadows, vampire victims who get annoyed when the vampire summons them. But zombies suddenly crawling along the ground for absolutely no reason is just annoying. Take some pride in yourself! Stand up and shamble like a zombie!

(By the way, Dark Shadows zombies don't eat people. They kill people, and they vandalize your house. I don't know why.)

*Seth Brundel
carose59: scary stuff (they're coming to get you barbara)
Review: You're Next

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There's nothing here you could really call a spoiler.

My first thought on watching You're Next was that it hardly seems necessary to write YOU'RE NEXT on a window in blood when there are only two people in the house to begin with. I think most people would just assume that the person(s) who had butchered their recent sex partner would most likely go after them next, and that it would make more sense to write NO WORRIES, I WAS ONLY AFTER HER.

Which would have made for an interesting movie. Well, maybe more like an interesting moment in a movie.

Not that You're Next isn’t an interesting movie. I really enjoyed it. My next thought was, this is what it would be like if psychotic killers invaded an Edward Albee play. That thought stayed with me throughout.

Here’s a rundown: during a family gathering to celebrate the parents' wedding anniversary, crazy killers begin killing the family members. The gathering includes three brothers and one sister, plus their SO's. One of those SO's is really good at survival stuff. I think the ad copy said something about it being someone unexpected.

I didn't find it all that unexpected, which was OK.

What I really liked, though, was the bickering between the siblings. At one point—after two people are dead and another is injured—they get into it about who runs faster and can make it to the car fastest. The brother who had been shot in the shoulder (with an arrow; this is not an NRA-approved movie) tries to convince everyone that he's the fastest runner, and he doesn't need his shoulder to run. It's hilarious that even scared to death, they're still acting like the spoiled children they were before the shooting started.

There are some twists, and they’re good ones, even if you have seen two of them in other movies. There’s a scene towards the end with a blender that you might not want to look at—I didn’t, anyway. I didn’t even know you could do that with a blender, but I guess it’s good to know.

I know I sound kind of eh about it, but really did like the movie. I think it's that I found it more interesting than scary. But I do highly recommend it to people who like gory movies.

Posted simultaneously on LiveJournal and Dreamwidth
carose59: childhood (i should have been more specific)
Consonants, You Knew Pretty Much Where They Stood, But You Could Never Trust a Vowel.*

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I just finished watching American Nightmare, which is a documentary about horror movies—specifically, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Last House on the Left, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Shivers, Halloween, and possibly something else I'm not remembering.

(Not that it's important, but I've seen four of these. The ones I haven't seen are Last House on the Left and Shivers. At least, I don't think I've seen Shivers. I could be wrong; I've seen a lot of movies I don't remember anymore.)

Anyway, I've been trying to write about George Romero's Dead series for a while now. This is not that post.

Pat and I saw Night of the Living Dead at the Emerson, and I was crazy about it. I insisted we see Dawn of the Dead when there was a midnight showing at Lafayette Square (which is on the west side of town and nowhere near home and scary to drive home from in the dark with a driver with night-blindness. But it's not like we didn't do that kind of thing on a pretty regular basis). And we saw Day of the Dead when it came out. (I was underwhelmed. I was even less whelmed when Land of the Dead two years ago. I, um, I fell asleep.)

But before any of that, there was something that happened when I was a little girl. This is what I remember.

I was at my grandparents' house with my father, his parents, and some . . . other relatives? I don't know if that's who they were; I don't know if I knew who they were at the time. Even thinking about this confuses me because I know my mother was at home, and what was I doing out with just my father, and why were at my grandparents' in the first place when there were other people there? (We weren't allowed to go over when there was anybody else there—and I mean anybody, even my aunt and uncle. Well, except when the Catholic relatives came to town. Then my grandmother brought them over to our house for my mother to entertain them. Oh, and when my cousin Patty Ann came to town flipped out, then my mother got to look after her. I would explain that to you, but I mostly don't understand it.)

Anyway, we were there for quite a while. I was about seven, and I was bored. I got sleepy, and I was sort of drowsing on the sofa while they talked. And at some point, one of my relatives started talking about a movie she'd seen. The only part of the description I remember hearing was the scene where the little girl kills and eats her mother, though I do remember something about the whole zombiefication of people, that dying did it to you. I remember that it could happen to anybody.

Now, you have to understand, I had nightmares all the time, and was afraid of the dark, I was afraid of "them." (I'd tell you who "them" is, but I don't know, I only know I was sure "they" could hear me when I went for a drink of water in the middle of the night, and that they would get me as I walked down the hall to the bathroom in the dark, and that they would take my mother away from me. I had serious separation anxiety problems about my mother.)

I remember being so afraid, so afraid I thought I was going to pass out, and for some reason being even more afraid of letting anyone know I was afraid. I was sure that when we got home, my mother wouldn't be my mother anymore, and I was—I was silently hysterical. By seven, I already knew not to let people know what I was feeling if I could possibly help it because they would laugh at me, they would hurt me. So I lay there on the sofa, panicking and wanting to get home before whatever they were talking about happened to the only person I could trust to keep me safe.

It wasn't until years after that I saw Night of the Living Dead and realized that was the movie they'd been talking about.

In American Nightmare they talk about the Vietnam war, and the images we saw on TV, and the subtext of Night of the Living Dead. For me, what the movie has been about since before I ever saw it, was about how people you trust can suddenly, for no reason you can understand, become people you can't trust, people who want to hurt you, kill you, devour you. Trust no one.

(As I've been writing this, I've been watching a thing on Superman on the History Channel, and they were saying that when they made the Christopher Reeve movie, they wanted it to be an epic, unlike any movie ever made. And I suddenly realized that, in presentation, it's very much like another movie: Gone With The Wind. It has the same feeling of, Here it is, the movie you've all been waiting for! Right off the top of my head, I can't think of another movie like that.)

*Maniac Magee

July 2017

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