Reviewed and Recommended: F. Paul Wilson’s Nightworld

7957849I recently had such a great reading experience! So many of the books I read are deep, or classics, or deep classics–this time I just wanted something fun. Because of that, I spent a few days in a row staying up late so I could keep reading. That hasn’t happened in a while.

Nightworld is the final book in a series that begins with Wilson’s classic The Keep. (Yes, I skipped to the end of a series just so I could get to the gripping, white-knuckled conclusion. Fight me.) Like all great horror novels, the plot is as elemental as any dark fairy tale: a powerful evil entity is making each day on Earth shorter than the one before, and at night hungry creatures come out of the ground to ravage the world. Each night is longer than the one before, and each night brings larger and more aggressive monsters. Soon, the world will be kept in permanent night, ruled by this demon and his army of monster minions. And only a small rag-tag band of human heroes can come together to stop him.

Pretty awesome. Wilson delivers. Why isn’t there a movie of this? Tons of fun. Highly recommended.

 

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Clever Short Horror Films

I recently discovered the popular short films of David F. Sandberg and Lotta Losten. These are terrifically inventive little no-budget slices of dark fantasy, only 2-3 minutes each. Rich micro-storytelling with clean content, folks. I think “Attic Panic” is my favorite.

 

 

Top 5 Most Frightening Scenes In Stephen King Books

 

Be ye warned, Constant Reader: here there be spoilers.

5. The Dark Tower VII: “The Thing Under the Castle”

This is the most recent entry on this list; the only one from the 21st century, but it works because it so strongly harkens back to classic King style: that combination of simple, elemental storytelling with detailed, psychological exposition.

Roland and Susanna are, as the chapter title implies, fleeing some unknown thing in the winding, dark passages under a ruined, ancient castle. At first, there’s just a slight noise in the distance, but then, over the course of several pages, the noises get clearer and closer, and that primitive instinct we all have warns of an approaching predator.

The pace increases to one of sheer panic as they first jog, then run, then sprint with terror-fueled energy away from the mysterious thing. Susanna, whose wheelchair has been lost, rides on Roland’s back and can see behind them into the darkness at what’s coming. As it finally comes within biting distance…

darktower

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Fans of H.P. Lovecraft May Not Want To Read This

This week I was thinking of something I read somewhere, that much of what we think of as “Lovecraftian” doesn’t really come from the works of Lovecraft. It’s true. Most of his work is not horror fiction as we think of it; his style has that ring to it, but the plots tend to be be of different genres.

Most of his major work is really more science fiction. The rest is a mix of weird Gothic, some is dark fantasy, and, sure, some is just horror. But he jumps around, blends genres, and covers his main body of work under the very broad umbrella of speculative fiction.

Basically, he’s Dean Koontz.

There, I said it. Let the rioting begin.

 

 

Recommended: The Babadook

the-babadook_612x901I enjoy a good horror movie, but I hardly ever see any. I avoid excess in gore, profanity, and nudity: all things in which horror loves to overindulge. Besides that, though, most horror movies just aren’t very good. Is there another genre in which the worthwhile-to-garbage ratio is so high?

So imagine my joy to hear about The Babadook, last year’s Australian indie hit. I recommend it here not only because it passes the tests of my above criteria, but because it’s simply a wonderful film, period.

Start with the lead. On the strength of this performance, she should get a slew of Hollywood offers now. If this film had been made in Hollywood, she’d’ve been up for an Oscar.

Movies are full of struggling single moms, but I’ve never seen one look so legitimately haggard. Plenty of reviews have noted that this is a film about the persistence of grief, and they’re right.

But in our heroine’s beleaguered existence lies more than grief. She’s a nearly all-encompassing conduit of suburban social ills: regret, shame, ostracism, inadequacy…who can’t relate to some aspect of her plight? I’ve never seen the harsher strains of parenthood portrayed so bracingly.

Warning: the rest of this review is sort of spoiler-y…

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Professor Huston Performs and Lectures on YouTube

Ever since I started blogging, I’ve wanted to do some kind of podcasting: I’ve always been told I have a pretty good voice, and I try to have an energetic, engaging classroom presence.  Therefore, I thought I’d post some audio of me at work, to see if anyone else out there might like it or find it useful. 

Yesterday, just in time to start the Halloween season, I posted a 23-minute piece on YouTube of me performing and giving my teacherly commentary on Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Masque of the Red Death.”  I’ll put it up on TeacherTube also, so more classrooms might be able to use it.

And, of course, the world finally has a chance to hear just what the magic is like in Huston’s class!

Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9isY8hx-q4

 

Homer’s Iliad For Halloween

Homer’s Iliad is great for the Halloween season.  I’ve been reading it, and I’m trying to finish so I can start on some easy, stress-relieving scary stories as summer ends, but I’m realizing now just how appropriate this ancient epic poem is for the new season.

I’m in Book 15 out of 24, and several recent passages have struck me with their grim, vivid obsession with the morbid. 

As Book 12 ends, the Trojans are invading the Greek headquarters, Hector urging them on:

They rushed to obey him,

Some swarming over the top at once, others streaming in

Through the sturdy gateways—Argives scattering back in terror,

Back by the hollow hulls, the uproar rising, no way out, no end—

To me, that conjures the kind of claustrophobic panic in the air felt in the Mines of Moria episode in The Fellowship of the Ring

But far more graphic horrors appear in the battles that follow.  Lines 655-666 of Book 13 describe the painful, gruesome death of Adamus at the hand of Meriones:

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Halloween Reading Review: The Ruins

Scott Smith’s The Ruins is pretty good–definitely worth a read.  The plot is as simple as any good horror novel should be: a group of people in their twenties end up in the Mayan jungle, trapped by natives on a hill where sentient, ravenous monster vines eat people. 

OK, so the story is silly, but here’s what it has going for it: Smith is a terrific writer.  He  lays down the narrative with authority, and balances his silly story with absolutely zero sympathy for his characters.  They’re not bad guys, just spoiled, ignorant losers who you don’t feel especially connected to. 

With that being said, I do have a few quibbles (warning–very minor plot spoilers):

1. If the vines are so powerful, why do they need to toy around with people and wait for them to be weak and make mistakes? Why don’t they just grab everyone and kill them right away?

2. Why don’t any of these college kids think to set the vines on fire? They make a couple of small fires and, at one point, even a Molotov cocktail. Shouldn’t someone have thought of using fire as a weapon against this organic, fairly stationary enemy?

3. None of these college kids had a cell phone on them? Really?

4. Why is it called The Ruins? The ruins they’re ostensibly seeking are hardly an important part of the story, and the actual setting is really just a hill in the jungle. Shouldn’t the book have been called The Hill or, even more appropriately, The Vines? I suppose The Ruins is a moderately more spooky title than either of those…

Still, it was a fun, quick read and I enjoyed it. 

Final Grade: B

Let Us Now Praise H.P. Lovecraft

One more recommendation for Halloween reading.  I first heard of Lovecraft in high school when Stephen King put out a collection of short stories called Nightmares and Dreamscapes.  One story in particular was especially effective, a bone-chilling number called “Crouch End.”  In it, a young couple get lost in a weird suburb of London and encounter some malevolent, mysterious beings that are clearly evil and alien, but never fully revealed, only darkly hinted at.

The best part was a scene where one of the heroes, who knew astronomy reasonably well, tried to get oriented by looking at the sky, only to get nauseatingly dizzy(along with the reader) at seeing a totally foreign arrangement of stars.  What a classy, elegant, and supremely unnerving method of showing the reader that we’re not in Kansas anymore.  

This great detail wasn’t of King’s own making, though.  He borrowed it–as well as the atmosphere, theme, and even names in the story–from H.P. Lovecraft, whom King has often said was one of his major influences.

Lovecraft is popular, just not enough so.  He deserves a far wider reading than he gets.  He writes with the same breathless straining for evocative, psychological superlatives that we identify with Poe, but updates Poe’s interest in realistic fantasy to his early 20th century Progressive era: stories usually involve dispassionate researchers scrutinizing documents and offering detached observations to the reader. 

A sample of Lovecraft, from his novella “The Shadow Out Of Time“:

There was a hideous fall through incalculable leagues of viscous, sentient darkness, and a babel of noises utterly alien to all that we know of the Earth and its organic life.  Dormant, rudimentary senses seemed to start into vitality within me, telling of pits and voids peopled by floating horrors and leading to sunless crags and oceans and teeming cities of windowless, basalt towers upon which no light ever shone.

Dude.  Sweet.  Continue reading