How is The Horror Doctor?

It’s been two years since I started The Horror Doctor.

I wasn’t sure what I was attempting to make here exactly: if The Horror Doctor was going to be something of a horror host moniker for myself, or a placeholder until I came up with a better name. It just … pretty much stuck, you know? It was going to be the blog’s prototype name: some dissected skeleton with sinew and nerve-endings that would eventually have a fleshly descendant. 

But I suppose what I made, at the time, was less a ghoul from Night of the Living Dead to be replaced with vastly more improved Savini zombies, and more an abomination from Return of the Living Dead that simply can’t die, but can only be stopped through containment and neglect. 

My other pastimes aside, it’s been a long road through Hell. Like most horror franchises, the origins of my love of horror and even the creation of this blog can differ. I’ve thought about it today, independently, completely forgetting that this is the anniversary of the day when it officially began. 

I’ve mentioned before that my partner had passed away earlier the same month I eventually came back to The Last Drive-In: this time more permanently than the Halloween Special with which I visited on Shudder TV, and Twitter back in 2019. I’ve not always been good with time in the best of moments, and it kind of sank in that I found this series again, and the community around it, not long after she was gone: literally weeks. 

I know I wasn’t sure how long I was going to stick around, but I needed something stable during this period of loss, sickness, and quarantine. I’d found Darcy, or Diana Prince, on her Twitter about a year ago after the platform had put her into jail for a horror burlesque photograph far tamer than the other stuff I’d seen on there, and we Followed each other after talking about how ridiculous that had been. But I wasn’t sure how long the Drive-In was, or even when I realized it was five hours if I could sit through all of it. The first episode of Season Two was rough for me, though I loved the spectacle of Chopping Mall. It really is a commitment to watch something for that long, but it also got my mind off of the hell of the real world, and put me into a place of ridiculous and entertaining films not unlike those independent films shown at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. I think that was the key thing for me: that the event that Kaarina and I went to every year was canceled after her death and the Pandemic, and I wanted to celebrate it for the two of us.

I also remembered what my partner said about my writing, and she believed I could write something about horror films and that I had something important to say. You have to understand that before this point, I was writing my thoughts on Facebook, but also Twitter, and I was reaching out to the creators of these films so they could get that feedback. Sometimes, like Impossible Horror, I even wrote homages or fanfiction for them. And once I began really watching the Creepshow series, I wanted people to see my thoughts in a place that wasn’t the black gap into emptiness that is the Shudder comments section. 

I’d been thinking about making something like the Horror Doctor for a while, and began making the thematics behind it. I was considering creating something that would stand out: that would be unique. I seriously wanted to rewrite Demon Wind, to the point where I have notes on what I would do differently. I was going to transmute it from a script into a story, and post it serially on this blog. The reviews were something that would happen every once and a while, along with insights into my writing process to buttress this experiment while the real work occurred.

That didn’t happen, of course. The reviews, the deep-dives, the grave-digging began to take more precedent along with my smaller fanfiction experiments. It was between the Drive-In’s showing of The Exorcist III and Deadbeat at Dawn, and Dead Heat and Cannibal Holocaust that I launched the Horror Doctor. I even posted it on Twitter where Darcy took note of it, and wished me luck in my endeavours. One of my new partners at the time had encouraged me to do all of this.

The Horror Doctor was a strange hybrid. At first, it was a place to hone my horror writing again past my original online writing: to perhaps one day pitch and submit something to Fangoria. Certainly, I took the opportunity to have the Blog featured after buying a spot for its showcase on Fangoria: even if I had very little content on it at the time. But The Horror Doctor was definitely a space where I wanted to have a place where I could be seen. Where I could be heard. I wanted people, like Darcy and others, to see I was intelligent and I had something to add to the discourse on horror and exploitation and the weird. It also didn’t hurt that by Season Three, I wanted to be a contender for a Silver Bolo Award, and I am big enough to admit it. 

And it made me engage more with horror people on Twitter. It made me think more about horror and franchises and mythologies. But more than that, The Horror Doctor was a place where I could talk about weird shit without it being overshadowed by my other writing elsewhere. The Horror Doctor is pretty much my weird place here, or so it was for some time.

A lot went down since I made this blog. I participated in the Iron Mutant Citation Challenge for VHS Appreciation Night: the certificate of which I am still waiting to get in the mail to this very day. I met TheDude and Mia Chainsaw, the incredible horror couple whose endeavours attracted me as part of the MutantFam, and I have stayed with them ever since. I made more friends. I found The Lost Drive-In Patreon, and then the Discord where I got to know many more Mutants – including the brilliant Magi Savage who got me involved in a film roulette challenge, and made me a Moderator. I started some conversations on Moon Knight, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. And because of Magi, I also realized that Letterboxd is basically Goodreads for film. That is one reason I don’t write on here as much anymore. I find that I like to just get to the heart and meat of something that I like, or I don’t – and many of the articles I write here, while I am proud of them, they take a lot of time and actual reading and research at times to make something approachably good.

It’s a strange thing: to be on that line between wanting to be recognized as a professional, and a fan. You know there are connotations to both, though I would love to be called an amateur or, if you will, a student of horror as the only thing that is missing is the established recognition. To have the skill, and the will, and the passion is what is often enough for me. 

But I came a long way. To think that two of the actresses in Chopping Mall, Kelli Maroney and Barbara Crampton not only Follow me on Twitter because of some of the work I’ve written on the films they’ve had roles in, but that sometimes we interact, really puts it full circle. Yet I value the rest of it as well: the Fear Street films Mia Chainsaw, TheDude, and the rest of our friends have watched, The Lost Drive-In events that you too can be a part of should you want to become a Patron Saint on the Patreon, watching all the films with Magi Savage to become a better cinephile.

I know I’ve slowed down a bit, but only because I have gotten more social in these aspects. Perhaps it’s because of my Blog, and its part in getting me to put more of my stuff out there, and interact. Or maybe I did this more in lieu of those exchanges until those conversations began to happen. I don’t really know. It’s not always easy. Quarantines seem to be over, for now, and inoculations keep happening. There is a space of two years where so much loss occurred, but in all of that, I gained this, and that is more than nothing. 

So I don’t know how long The Horror Doctor will continue. It has changed over time, along with my focus, but I have one or two articles I still feel belong here, and that I want to share with all of you. Thank you for following me, so far, into the darkness with all of its twisting roads, explosions, and blood and breasts and beasts.

I dedicate this day: to the fiends that I’ve made along the way.

Experiencing Max Brooks’ World War Z During World War C

Back on January 7, 2022 and in his Fangoria Terror Teletype “Monstrous Musings Column,” Phil Nobile Jr. asked for freelance pitches in his article “Things to Do in 2022” with the observation that most pitches have become “repetitively autobiographical,” and that many more readers are getting to the point where they “want to read informed, smart content about the genre, not about the writer.”

It’s something I’ve been mulling over ever since, and I will admit that it felt personal, though Nobile also added that it is his opinion, and perhaps even that of Fangoria’s Digital Editor Angel Melanson. Certainly, I would imagine that this sentiment would not apply to horror figures such as Barbara Crampton with her “Scene Queen” column, or the various interview that luminaries such as Jordan Peele and Ari Aster have given to each other, but even then while their lives definitely figure into their discussions, it is often more the insight into their already established careers that have the most fascination for a horror readership. It also makes me wonder if Nobile is referring specifically to digital content itself (with a majority of Fangoria’s print edition being filled by veteran writers and figures in the genre), as you will find many articles in which the writers involved attempt to relate their life experiences to different horror media. 

I know I’m not different. Many of my articles on The Horror Doctor and elsewhere are specifically focused on how I relate to something. I think it’s a very human thing to do, especially in the face of uncertainty, trauma, and fear. I’m also different in that while genre is important to look at, as opposed to merely my own life experience, I think that the stories told within that genre are equally – if not even more – important. 

This is a long segue into being reintroduced to Max Brooks’ novel World War Z during this Pandemic. The first time I read it was back in 2009, and the second time I exposed myself to this specific brain-virus again is the year of this writing, 2022. However, World War Z was published in 2006, and the audiobook that I listened to this year was released in 2013. Let’s look at these years. In 2006, several years passed since 9/11 and the War Against Terror. But more specifically, we have the SARS epidemic in China back in 2002, and then H1N1 spreading in 2009. This is around the point, at least in North America, where we began to see hand sanitizer dispensers crop up in public spaces outside of hospitals. The fear that a Pandemic could happen in our generation thanks to poor governmental organization, and global ennui was really prevalent, and the spectre of it never disappeared. And look at the zombie films, as unliving, walking, representatives of what a Pandemic represents truly coming to the fore: You have your 28 Days Later, Quarantine, Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, and a whole other host of cinematic, slavering, creeping, infections.

The era when I first read World War Z was long after I read Dracula, and I’d become very aware of epistolary narratives, though definitely before I’d truly come to appreciate the horror subgenre of found-footage films. I recall reading it as I traveled from Go-Train between Toronto and Oshawa to visit the partner that bought it for me. H1N1 was still a fear, so much so that in a horror writing contest called “Dark Idol” I attempted to be clever and write a story called “Hypochondriac” where the main character is terrified of getting a vaccine that ends up turning patients into zombies, only for his girlfriend to turn right when she’s giving him oral sex. Yeah. I made the themes relate back to one another much in the way I circle back to a point in my current writing, but between the awkward gait of the prose that would have made a zombie frustrated, and a “just a dream” hallucination from the vaccine he actually had leading up to that point, I didn’t want to think about it.

But it all circles back for me, now.

In 2009, World War Z was just a pseudo-historical narrative of different people’s stories being affected by the spread of the zombie virus, and watching how civilization almost dies, and then radically changes as a result of surviving the waves of its Pandemic. It also makes each source of – shall we say – An Oral History of the Zombie War, very compelling, and incredibly human in both how it depicts suffering, fear, hope, and a grim determination. I absolutely love how Brooks manages, or at least attempts, to encompass a variety of cultural and individual experiences in dealing with the unthinkable: almost the ridiculous. I’d heard about the 2013 film loose adaptation, that focuses on just one story and seems to lose the point of the entire human experience by altering the slow, creeping Romero nature of the zombies and cutting out all of those stories. I’ve said for a long time that World War Z would have benefitted much from being made into a miniseries, or webseries for streaming: which Netflix could have easily done as it created original programming in 2013. At the time the only other work I can think of that attempted to bring together so many stories into a world surviving the undead is The Walking Dead released in 2010: and adapted from Robert Kirkman’s 2003-2019 comics run of the same name, the Cable-televised version starting off strong before eventually succumbing to its own inevitable melodramatic rot.

However, after bemoaning this (I am sorry, but not sorry for these unintentional zombie puns), a friend of mine reminded me of the audiobook which I listened to now, again, in 2022: the closest thing to a multifaceted audio, oral history of a zombie apocalypse, or at least a global disaster. The World War Z audiobook, narrated and voiced by luminaries such as its creator Max Brooks, then Mark Hamill, Simon Pegg, Nathan Fillion, Denise Crosby, Alfred Molina, René Auberjonois, Bruce Boxleitner, Henry Rollins, Jeri Ryan, even Martin Scorsese, and other all-stars, feels like the vocal equivalent to different episodes of a series about people that saw, survived, and look back on different human facets of a zombie pandemic. Their voices reanimate the conflict between life and death, society and chaos, in a whole other way – these eye-witness accounts, recollections, and reflections, feeling more ever-present, more vital: especially after existing several waves of our own global Pandemic, and its effects on our world, and lives. 

If reading World War Z came at a time in my life, and in the world, where it became apparent that global health was letting itself become vulnerable to a superbug or virus, and North America was exhausted by various wars in the Middle-East, along with wondering how I was going to get my own work done in Graduate School and what I would do from there, listening to the audiobook is something that comes with its own existential angst. Aside from freelancing jobs, I have been long unemployed after Graduation, isolating at my parents’ house even before the Pandemic, and watching an incompetent government reign in America, and waves of sickness deciminate people and overwhelm medical systems. They are similar places, but while the former was an abstraction of something that could happen, and was going to, the latter is an experience which it has – and it still is.

It’s eerie. While Max Brooks used Studs Terkel’s The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two as the inspiration for his narrative, as well as the zombie films and tropes of George Romero to create the solanum virus – the disease that creates the zombies that he introduces in his Zombie Survival Guide of 2003 in which he actually outlines an infection scenario that is expanded on in so many ways in World War Z, he might as well have predicted many of the events of 2020, and even some that preceded it.

The parallels are fairly clear. At one point, set presumably after the Bush Administration – though Brooks seems to be intentionally ambiguous about this – a new Black President and his running mate, nicknamed “The Whacko” are elected into office, the comparisons between Barack Obama and Joe Biden being fairly clear: though I can definitely see some Duane Jones in the little characterization we are told of that leader and his mannerisms. There is so much misinformation and denial about the zombies, even when the governments of the world are warned about the virus in advance. There are interviews that cover the terrible socio-economic conditions of North America, how the Pandemic is changing how everybody works, and what is important in a world attempting to survive, and then rebuild. There are tensions with Eastern Europe, especially Russia: even though as far as I know, it isn’t attempting to become a theocracy yet. There are accounts of people fleeing with items that will not help them in the long run, and taking all essential products from others, and falling for poor advice. Hell, even the false zombie cure or vaccine called Phalanx has some disturbing ties to all the debate circling around Moderna, Pfizer, and the like: though Phalanx is a placebo to prevent international, or at least American panic, while the vaccines of our world actually work. 

You also have constant reports of a death toll, and seeing how bureaucratic structures simply can’t – or aren’t willing and able – to change fast enough to combat this virus, and many people choose to remain ignorant, or even see it as a sign from God, or at worse even try to appease and embrace it. There are obvious differences. While the threat of societal breakdown was, and is, possible if medical infrastructure is overwhelmed by the vast numbers of infected in our world, Brooks’ universe is one where civilization takes a major hit. But Brooks’ world also has stages where the change of seasons will allow for the virus to spread again through its carriers, and has lulls and waves: though ours tends to happen in Winter and Flu-Season, while Brooks’ occurs during Spring and Summer thaws. 

I think there is something that The Whacko, who became President after his running mate, says that sums up everything that we have been feeling. While he is talking about America, and its idea of the “fair deal”: of doing honest work and be rewarded for it, he also mentions: ”The numbers are declining, thank heavens, but it doesn’t mean people should let down their guard, We’re still at war, and until every trace is sponged, and purged, and if need be, blasted from the surface of the Earth, everybody’s still gotta pitch in, and do their job.”

And make no mistake, what we have gone through – what we are still going through – is a struggle akin to a war: a world war. And this isn’t even talking about Russia and Ukraine and the spectre of atomic conflict, or the environmental damage that has created longer winters in World War Z (due to a nuclear confrontation between Iran and Pakistan) and our own pre-existing behaviour.

COVID-19 is heavily infectious. And while it isn’t incurable like the solanum virus, it mutates and if people take unnecessary risks it will continue to persist and remain a potentially deadly adversary. Like zombies, COVID-19 isn’t an opponent you can negotiate with, bomb (The Whacko’s comments not withstanding), shoot, or intimidate into surrender. It is definitely not something to ignore. While solanum spreads through bites and fluids passed into cuts or openings in a person, COVID-19 is airborne in enclosed spaces. And while you can’t survive solanum, it is possible to beat COVID, though it can have its price and potentially overwhelm our social structures if left unchecked. Despite their differences, take away the symbol of the zombie and what you get is our twenty-first boogeyman made manifest: our fear of plague and contagion every bit as frightening as the terror that makes the herd instinct do some incredibly stupid things.

I don’t know if anyone, beyond health professionals and zombie hunters, wears thick and almost cumbersome gear. I am not sure if masks are a part of Max Brooks’ World War Z, or what effect the virus has on fashion and social interaction. Ours is insidious. See, The Walking Dead likes to focus on how “the walking dead” aren’t the undead, but humanity as it struggles with a force greater than itself, trying to wipe it out completely. Who maintains their integrity? Who rises to the occasion in extraordinary times? Or who will resort to foolish actions? Who will be selfish? Who will have incredibly rash and irrational moments that can mean not only the differences between life and death, but between questioning their morality, or losing it completely? Who will admit they were exposed to something that made them sick as they stay in places, with people, that are vulnerable and don’t want to become sick?

The people of World War Z and their responses are different. With solanum, some people have attempted to isolate if they have the infrastructure and the resources to hunker down, or to keep moving and migrating and always being vigilant to whom they spend their time. With COVID-19, it is isolation that is both the greatest boon if you can manage – if you aren’t an essential worker – but a major killer for a herd-based species like us. I can’t even begin to tell you how being separated from my friends and loved ones for two years has affected my health and sanity. And how many relationships of mine ended, in one case terminally.

The thing is, we do our part too. We take the vaccines that now thankfully exist for a year. We put on our masks in this grim Halloween game, something we need to keep doing despite many governments and organizations relaxing those mandates. There is something absolutely soul-killing about seeing people attempting to return to business as usual, to parties and gatherings as though they can’t get sick again, as though they can’t die, as if you are the one that is mentally sick, and perhaps you are: maybe you do need help – and if so, you should seek it out.

Many of us, like the people in World War Z, will never be the same again. Some persevere, now working from home, or having new jobs and mobility they didn’t have before. Others lost everything, and they still have to struggle to get something akin to stability back. Their favourite places no longer exist. Many have larger families. Some have no families at all anymore. There is a story of a shut-in, in his case a self-identified otaku in Japan, who feels a lot like I was before our Pandemic, and I know I couldn’t have improved as much as he had done.

For me, and this is where it is personal again, I struggled to get out of the house before COVID-19 and I was in the process of rebuilding my life before the virus destroyed all of my plans. It is a major event for me to even go to the movies with my brother, or see my small group of friends, or go on a date. There are places I can never go back to. People I won’t see again. And there is so much trauma I haven’t even begun to process yet.

I am a freak. I watched Cronenberg’s Rabid and Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse in the midst of the Pandemic. It is always on my mind. The day I visited my partner in the respiratory ward of a hospital before the virus officially hit, where I had to put gloves and a mask on felt not only like the dress rehearsal of her death and isolating myself from all other people, seeing them from a distance, but the beginning of this grim Halloween harvest that never seems to end.

It reminds me of something in the novel. Actually, it reminds me of two things. At one point, Max Brooks as “Max Brooks” is interviewing a filmmaker who created movies during the Zombie War for morale. And to give you a strange feeling, at one point the filmmaker refers to “Marty,” you know: Scorsese, who also does voice-acting in Brooks’ audio adaptation. Anyway, this movie-maker mentions how “Marty” created a film called Avalon: in which the residents of a college of the same name fight valiantly against the zombie hordes. The version that most people see is the one where the heroes are valiant, brave, and those that die presumably go out tragically, if not with nobility. But then the filmmaker tells “Brooks” that there is a longer version of that film that “Marty” chose not to release during the height of the Pandemic: a cut which shows the worst of humanity, the lows, the despondencies, the vilest and cruelest excesses, and even the despair of the heroes, or protagonists in question. “Marty” wanted to show the best of humanity in the worst crisis of their world, to prevent depression and even suicide rates. It is only after the worst of the Pandemic is over that “Marty” releases the longer cut to show the multifaceted nature of the human condition in the crucible of life versus death itself.

Right now, after several waves and quarantines, I think this is my longer cut of my own observations between COVID-19 and World War Z. At the beginning of the novel, “Max Brooks” is supposed to be working for the UN: to create a report on the event, only for it be greatly paired down for its consumption. It is only after he gets furious over many of his testimonies getting cropped out and his interviews ignored, that his boss tells him that what he should do is something else: that he should write a book.

I think back to Phil Nobile Jr. and Angel Melanson talking about how they believe horror readers, at least of Fangoria, are exhausted by autobiography as opposed to facts and genre details. And maybe where The Horror Doctor, and my writing in general, shines is precisely in looking at those emotional and personal elements. And while I can examine other considerations, perhaps I should do something different with my writing: with my experiments. Because while I can say something about the genre and tropes of World War Z, how it is just as much a world-building serial extension of the ghoul mythos created by George Romero and John Russo as Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, and how the cinematic adaptations of both Brooks and Kirkman do not do them justice, I think it’s important to say something about people – and even horror fans and creators’ minds – during this time.

When you compare World War Z to COVID-19, the novel reads like the past two years of our world accelerated and condensed into something of a four year singularity, or a potential implosion. Brooks’ fictional pandemic lasted from 2004 to 2008, but ours began in 2020 and still continues now in 2022. But our War, our World War C isn’t over yet, but I think that despite this fact, this is a timely article to write. We are all feeling it: the C, for cyclical, nature of this conflict and how literature and horror imitate and even anticipate the timelessness of our struggle, and the stories that we live and leave behind in its wake. 

To a Queen of the Damned

I was in Thornhill Secondary School, going through the great variety of fantasy and science-fiction books there. 

I must have been in the horror section again. Up until that point, I’d read Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine books primarily. To this day, I’m not sure what actually did it. Maybe it was Buffy The Vampire Slayer becoming a formative part of my youth, and creative mind. It could have been my friend who was making her own vampire stories. And I’d heard of Interview With the Vampire as a film that girls loved.

And so, that afternoon, at my high school library I borrowed a copy of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire: card catalogue, and stamp, and all. I read it everywhere: at home, at my friends’ and even at the synagogue services I was forced to attend. It’s been years since that time, but I can tell you that my brain expanded reading that book. I saw the baroque writing, the lush descriptions, the sensuality that my younger mind was not prepared to process along with the homoerotic subtexts, and … the world-building. The world-building hit me like a fuckton of blood bags. It was one thing to discover what another child vampire like the Anointed One from Buffy but with far more personality like Claudia could do, and the idea that vampires weren’t affected in the slightest by holy symbols, or places, or even stakes of wood. It had no human hunters. No slayers. No Van Helsing groups.

It was just vampires. Vampires attacking other vampires, loving other vampires, trying to find out about themselves, trying to reconcile their predatory natures with their former selves, and their emotions. It was a vampire telling a human journalist a story about his miserable eternity, even if – as we find out later – it wasn’t the entire story, or even the complete mood of Louis. We find out about Revenants: of beings that were not given blood quite right, or in the precise amounts to make them anything other than beasts. Before The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the Damned, it was more than possible – at least to Louis and Claudia – that these were some of the first, more primitive vampires who prey on even other vampires.  We got more description of how organized vampires are in Europe, compared to the New World: with covens and covenants, and their need to constantly reinvent themselves when they exist for too long. There was a period of time when ancients existed, but most of them were killed by younger vampires that rebelled against them, and only a few survived.

Interview With the Vampire is where I learned that vampires weren’t just soulless beings but remembered every part of their existence, and some didn’t acclimate to their new inhuman state well and either went insane, or mindless. Many would commit suicide. I learned they all had different powers depending on who their sires, or progenitors were, and some were better suited to their vampiric nature than others. There is a moment where you see Louis, who up until this point, had basically been acting like a human with supernatural abilities realizing that he isn’t a mortal anymore and fully embracing his reflexes, and instincts – his nature – which costs another obnoxious vampire his existence. And of course, older vampires are more powerful than the young, but they can increase their power by feeding off of even older vampires. Telepathy, telekinesis, inhuman speed, incredible strength – these were some of their powers, and we see how these beings have been venerated as gods by humanity, and demonized later on, and made into myths even later than that.

I made it from Interview to The Vampire Lestat, where we find out Lestat isn’t just some inhuman dandy serial killer monster, and has faced far worse than Louis and Claudia could ever dream: and tried to protect them from it. The fact that he had male lovers, and brought across – or turned – his own mother was strange to me, but Anne Rice showed me a world where other rules applied to other beings, and it got me thinking.

If White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade, Clan Brujah was inspired by Lost Boys, and Clan Nosferatu by the film of the same name, then Clan Toreador are definitely descended literarily from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles: beautiful, swift, psychically gifted artists, poseurs, and obsessive beings whose morality is different from the humans that they hunt. Perhaps that’s why I gravitated towards that faction when I really studied that game lore. I was also fascinated with Lestat’s creator Magnus, who was a wizard that stole immortality from captured vampires, and experimented with various younger victims before settling on Lestat before killing himself. That obsession with experiments, and perfection, and making something better as horrifying as it was, really got to me – as did Anne Rice’s writing.

And I hadn’t even watched the film until after reading those two books. It led to a good time with my girlfriend, though I almost didn’t want to interrupt the movie in my living room as it was so good. And the film adaptation of Queen of the Damned, starring Aaliyah as Akasha the Queen and Mother of all Vampires, was the first film I saw with my girlfriend and my friends after my parents revealed – and grudgingly accepted – they knew she was my girlfriend. I remember her and I holding hands as we watched Queen of the Damned unfold on the screen, complete with that bloody bathtub of roses scene, and all. 

I went on to make my other vampiric mythos: with a Chalice of the Damned that had blood that was supposed to offer immortality to the wizards that created it, but whose magically generated blood only made monstrosities, and then blood-dependent vampires. I made a vampire magus who figured out how to remove his own heart, and became almost impossible to kill before I even knew about Koschei the Deathless. But none of this would have been possible without Anne Rice, and her work.

I think about it now, that she’s passed on: how Interview With the Vampire was that perfect combination of history, mythology, folklore, sex, sensuality, and epistolary fiction: that interview format that was essentially a dictated journal, or an autobiography of an immortal. And I think far before Frankenstein, and Dracula, this is the format that informed my writing interests to this very day. 

Over the years, I’d heard about Anne Rice and her personal views, as well as her other works, but I would never get over her vampires. I personally loved Marius: who was level-headed, an artist, and had started to master his advanced vampiric abilities. He was an ancient Roman that revelled in the Renaissance. But I think I related the most to Louis, to a nature of melancholy and bitterness that nevertheless hid a spark of true, and aggressive, potential. Perhaps these days, in some ways, I can more see the Lestat in my creative endeavours, but I think I will always try to endeavour to be a balanced and powerful creator like Marius.

And as I wrap up this commemorative retrospective, I truly hope that wherever you are now Anne Rice, that you know you were a true Queen of the Damned. Thank you for making me more interested in vampires beyond being blood-drinking monsters.  May Lestat brat you into the Afterlife. May this Interview never end.

A Tell-Tale Heart

I said it a year ago, on the first Halloween of The Horror Doctor, that this is the time when the veil between worlds is thinnest. It’s a time of costumes, candy, and contemplation. 

A year ago, it was the first Halloween everyone spent in Quarantine from the grim harvest that was COVID-19, before we had a vaccine. It was also the first Halloween without my partner Kaarina Wilson: an avid horror lover. 

So I wanted to enjoy my Halloween twofold, for the two of us, since she wasn’t here anymore to celebrate with me, or her family, or on her own. So I decided that from September to October would be a Grand Halloween, and I would do my damnedest to enjoy it all before I’d have to deal with a reality that I’d rather not.

And I did well. I went to my friends’ virtual horror viewings. I attended some Lost Drive-In Watchalongs, and even interacted with Joe Bob and Darcy, and the fine folks that also love them. And I watched as many of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, having returned and being all online this year, that I possibly could. 

So I’m not sure what this was going to be, this latest October 31st post, before the events of a week or so again, when my grandmother passed away.

My grandmother and I used to talk a lot. We were close. I was a demanding child, somehow to counterbalance the extreme introversion and shyness. I had her make me things all the time, when she could, and I was exacting. I wish I could tell you what I had her make for me, but it’s all lost to time now. 

During that time between my childhood and adolescence, I was a nervous being. In retrospect, a lot of my maladies were probably the result of anxiety. And my grandmother played cards with me, we watched television — usually Early Edition, or Keeping Up Appearances, or Are You Being Served? — to calm down.

But then, she also read to me. A lot of the time it was from books she already had like Little House on the Prairie, but sometimes I wanted her to make stories. To create them. I was fascinated, and scared, by horror. My parents wouldn’t let me watch 1980s or 90s horror, so I wanted as much of the classical stories as I could get away with. Now, my grandmother was many things, but she didn’t make stories. But she did retell them. I remember being in the basement of a house that saw at least four generations of my family on my Mom’s side, a dim place with crackled red and white checkered tiles with a bar that never saw much use anymore, and a fireplace that did. I recall, like my horror, being fascinated and terrified by that fire place. We would put in wood, but mostly white paper birch that we used to write on from a tree in the front yard, to burn. I’d stay away from that old grate as it would barely contain the crackling embers that spit out, as my grandmother would nudge it with a poker, as she would tell me about the heart buried under the floorboards, and the man that put it there: haunted by his crime of murder: committing it, and hiding it from everyone except himself.

It didn’t take long to realize that she was retelling Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and possibly conflating it with “The Cask of Amontillado,” but it did the trick, and it made me want more. And to do more.

I made all kinds of weird clay creatures from Magic Model plasticine and Play-Do in that house that she displayed for a while. I would create men out of Silly Putty, give them Lego armour, make vehicles, and crash them down the long stairs into the basement into a million pieces just to reassemble it all, and do it again, and again. And again. I am pretty sure she knew I did it too, but let that slide as I had some aggression to work out, those dual forces of creation and destruction that are so intrinsically part of my character. 

There were always woods where she and my grandfather lived, in her own parents’ house. I was always exploring, and contemplating the many ghosts that could be in the area from my late relatives alone. It was a bubble of time that also managed to make me very aware of it having passed. 

Sometimes, my grandmother let us get away with some things. For instance, while my parents didn’t want my brother and I to watch horror films, she would rent us movies, and some of them fell under that umbrella. I am pretty sure we watched Anaconda and Mimic under her watch while my parents were busy dealing with adult matters. And this isn’t even going into when we could get away with staying up a little later. I recall one time, at night, when there was a TVO horror movie with a woman affected by a love potion by a man, who dies, and her ghost haunts him still from the obsession he gave her. It was probably the first time I’d seen a simulated sex scene in a horror movie. There were many other times as well, and this didn’t even include when I could sneak snippets of Tales From the Crypt on Fox 29 when we were over for Passover Seders. 

Things were not always easy between us, especially as I got older. I was questioning a lot of my parents’ beliefs, and therefore those of the family. My grandmother was noted as being a peacemaker, but sometimes what that meant was that she would strongly advise something “for the good of the family,” even if you didn’t like it. Even if, sometimes, it was kind of tone-deaf. She couldn’t help it. It was probably socialized into her, her whole life, being a matriarchal force in a patriarchal family and culture. She would always side with my parents when I just wanted more freedom, and less structure, and her spoiling only went so far. 

Poetically enough, it all came to a head one summer when she blamed my first girlfriend for my rebellious behaviour. It should be mentioned that my first girlfriend wasn’t Jewish, but that I was rebelling far before I met her. She literally took me aside, and chewed me out over it, and essentially told me to tow the line. Never mind the fact that I’d missed spending more time with my friends at this time in my adolescence, at one point being dragged out before I could finish watching Fright Night with them, or not going on cottage trips despite my good grades, and academic behaviour. It was an unfairness that struck me, and those phone calls I used to make to her talking about new ideas, and my days, stopped. I didn’t feel like she was on my side, which I needed her to be — just once — but in a choice between me and my parents, it was kind of inevitable where that decision would land. As it was, it drove me further into my own rebellion, and alienated me a great deal. Years later, I would talk about this incident in Pornsak Pichetshote, José Villarrubia, Aaron Campbell, and Jeff Powell’s horror comic Infidel: which was funny, as my own father once called me a heathen, so there in a symmetry in the miniseries published two of my letters. Infidel is a comic about differences, and how in attempting to overcome them, sometimes they tear us apart. Sometimes, as Stephen King notes, the monster wins. 

I know I didn’t win, then. And this was a powerful experience from my grandmother that I carried with me for the rest of my life, for good or ill. Sometimes the people you love, that might even have good intentions, make mistakes. Sometimes, they simply come from a different place, and they will not see your perspective.

Sometimes, they will fail.

Our relationship was changed. I buried my part of it in the floorboards when I could. I moved as far away from it as I could, which I began to do with other relationships that failed as well. 

Of course, she was always there. She would be invited over to my parents’ and I made token appearances: and made them as brief as possible. I drew her birthday cards. And when COVID-19 hit, I wrote her letters: especially when she sent me birthday money, which she always did without fail. Eventually, over time, what was anger became just awkwardness, and distance, a gap of age and time. I knew she was never going to change who she was, and I wasn’t going to do so either. I didn’t go to many family functions. I still don’t as they aren’t really places for me anymore, unless I have the will and the lack of anxiety to do so. 

When she was sick, it’d not been the first time. I guess a part of me, just like with Kaarina, thought or hoped that she would pull through. Despite our differences, I still loved her. She was stubborn, you have to understand. So am I.

So, one day, I was told she didn’t have enough time. And, despite missing Kaarina’s passing and others, I made my way with my Dad to the house. It’s hard to see someone you saw so independent and strong, and stubborn, even when you disagreed with them, even when you remember all the times you spent with them, tired and worn away. She wasn’t speaking anymore. It was like she was in between dreaming states on that easy chair in the Den. The following morning, she passed. 

It was as though the darkness in the halls of that house I always walked through consumed the dimming light, and it grew throughout the entirety of the week of the services and the funeral. And I realized, with her being gone, that all of it was gone: the childhood, the house that was a part of my reality — even on the fringes — the anger, the disappointment, her distinctive chuckle, and all of it. She loved mystery novels, she always read them and got them from my Mom, and I can see how Poe came to her mind all those years ago when she retold those stories to me. 

And I suppose the mystery is how it all came to this point, which is life, and the horror of realizing one day I would be lying down like that in my own home surrounded by people that knew me: if I was lucky. If I am lucky. 

Reality sucks. I wanted to stave it off for just one more month, but these Twenties evidently want to suck as much as their twentieth century counterparts. And I have been angry, hurt, sad, and terribly tired. 

But this is something I have to write, something real, as autumn becomes fall, and Hallow’s Eve passes to the Morning. It was my grandmother’s house and the land that helped nurture the horror inside of me. It was those stories that made me want to know more, in addition to the remnants of old pulp comics she kept, and books that were collected. It was the little moments of grace where I got to see, and gained things I probably shouldn’t have but she let it pass. 

So maybe I did bury that old part of me. But perhaps, through seeing what was important at the end, I don’t have to have it drive me mad. I don’t have to have it beat through my conscience for the rest of my life. I got to see her again, for at least one last time. 

Rest in peace, Bubby Rose. You were almost a century old, and you saw wonders and horrors I can’t even begin to imagine. I am going to a Halloween Party with friends today as of this writing: where we will participate in a roleplay game as monsters attacking some heroic antagonists coming into our Dungeon. Maybe it’s not what the family might be interested in, and I know you would have hated even the idea of me hurting simulated lives, but it interests me, and I intend to have as much fun for as long as I can.

A funny thing though, before I end this post. When we used to eat at her house more often on weekends, when I stayed up late I would sometimes see some other television shows. And on a channel called TNT, far after Dinner and a Movie earlier that evening there was a strange man in a cowboy hat sitting on a lawn chair that was always hitting on a red-head that viciously never gave him the time of day. I never understood the point to all that, or the weird movies that played … But I do now. It was great meeting you that first time, Joe Bob. And thank you again, Bubby, for that little indulgence. 

Next time, on The Horror Doctor, I think we will talk about something else. Something else to do with family.

What is The Horror Doctor?

I find that I keep on reinventing my horror origin story.

As of this date, the Horror Doctor is a year old. Not me, of course unless you want to be existential about it, but this whole blog. 

I don’t think I ever really knew what it was going to become. Oh, I definitely had a plan. I was going to take a particular film and rewrite it on here in installments for my “Reanimation Station,” but for the most part I’ve written “Strains and Mutations” for my horror mashup fictions and homages (read: fanfiction), a whole lot of focus on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and vampires, and — really — my “Dissections and Speculatives”: you know, my reviews. 

A lot of my horror reviews focus on films, even though originally I toyed with looking at short stories, written narratives in general, plays, and even games. Sometimes I’ve done some “Behind the Screams,” which is an embarrassing label as it is anything other than original, though I got to write about my reasoning behind creating some of my fictional homages, so that was all fun. 

Mostly, my Horror Doctor blog reviews, takes apart, and sometimes puts together in different forms horror movies. A long time ago, I wanted to focus on lesser known movies too, but once I saw Cannibal Holocaust it was all over. I’d like to think that somewhere, in the Dark Multiverse that probably wasn’t created by Universal Studios, that the original version of my horror blog — a work displaying a long-form horror film rewrite, along with some smaller fictional experiments, and reviews of films most people don’t look at — does exist. And maybe, it might at some point anyway in this hellish timeline. 

A long time ago, my non-fictional writing mostly focused on the comics medium, and popular geek culture. I wrote for two other online publications, and a whole ton of fanfiction along with my mainline Writer’s Blog Mythic Bios: where I’d post a lot of writing experiments, which included horror. 

One problem I have is that sometimes I try to be too clever. I’m a perfectionist and it creates a cycle where I agonize over something, and it either causes great anxiety and I overwork myself, or more anxiety and it just doesn’t happen. Before really delving into horror in a focused way, I used to be even more exacting, and serious: I took myself and what I would see or watch very seriously. Horror, back in the day for me — before the Year From Hell, and you know exactly what I mean by that — was something I was afraid of as a child, kept away from the mainline Eighties and Nineties films by my parents, and something I came at surreptitiously from the corners of my youth. I would go into Hollywood Movies and look at the box art and descriptions of the films either my family wouldn’t let me sneak past, or my own fear kept me away from. 

But I read abridged folktales and classics, and eventually went to the Toronto Public Library and read Christopher Pike, and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series. I saw the Poltergeist: The Legacy series as I got older later at night, already watched Are You Afraid of the Dark, and the Goosebumps shows, and occasionally managed to get some Tales From the Crypt, when not also watching shows like Psi Factor, and Outer Limits, and your good old X-Files if you want to branch out into multi-genre classing. 

And I saw some movies, especially when the 300s became available on Cable. I was always there, on the periphery but I missed out the mainline slashers and contemporary monsters of — again — the Eighties and Nineties until much later, and I’m still catching up on them: which isn’t a bad thing as I’m doing so with the Mutant Fam of The Last Drive-In. I could seriously do worse than discover old and new films with Joe Bob and Darcy, and Fangoria Magazine as well. 

It really culminated when my late partner got me into the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and when I started going and checking out films from the late and lamented physical manifestation of Toronto’s Suspect Video store and sometimes I wish I could go back in time — for a variety of reasons — to talk about the things I learned. And I would just make these comments on Shudder when I discovered it on the movies I watched, or on Twitter after I saw something at the After Dark. 

Then the Pandemic struck. And, like I mentioned in other places I’m sure, I looked at an old Blogger journal my partner and I were going to make together back in 2011 that never happened. I was going to make The Horror Doctor — still a working title — there, but the platform wasn’t sophisticated enough and I went with WordPress, only for it to change its own format in the process too. 

But I needed a place to write my thoughts on horror that was more than just on other online magazines, or even Mythic Bios. I needed something focused. Something clearer. Like a dark blade. 

I have been writing this blog for a year. I learned a lot. I write my entries in Google Docs now and paste them into the format that WordPress has basically enforced, after a lot of complaining on my part. I finally made a place, too, for my collected Creepshow Commentaries. It’s funny. My Mythic Bios blog, that I haven’t really updated in a while, was the result of me needing a place to talk about geekery that my Reviews on Amazon just couldn’t cut, and then I went into GeekPr0n and Sequart from there. And it was a similar, but parallel evolution here on The Horror Doctor: from Shudder Reviews and Twitter streams of consciousness, to this. 

I’m sure this is all fairly interesting retrospective stuff. Sometimes, even with all of this I wonder how it all happened, and if it’s going to go anywhere. I’ve worked on this a lot, perhaps in a fairly obsessive manner. I wonder, sometimes, when that sliver of doubt happens if I can use this writing to lead me to a place where I can write professionally again: or in general really. Sometimes I wonder if I am just wasting my time. 

But this has been a transformative experience too. Not only has this space allowed me to engage with horror media in a critical and creative manner — more expansively than before — but I got to review new films based on classic horror film stars, and interact with them on social media. I can’t even begin to tell you how it feels to realize that I’ve talked with Kelli Maroney, and Barbara Crampton. I have difficulty trying to describe just having a casual conversation with Diana Prince (Darcy the Mailgirl), or even getting a DM from Joe Bob one day. It’s hard to explain the coolness of chatting with Anna Biller on Twitter about Viva and The Love Witch, not to mention Barbara Crampton and her role in Sacrifice. I have a whole section on “Dialogues” on The Horror Doctor that was reserved for Interviews with horror personages I might have, and some of those discussions could have made it on there if they were a bit more formal, and if of course I had permission to post them. 

But also having Kelli Maroney, Barbara Crampton, Diana Prince, and even directors like Travis Stevens, and Tate Steinsiek, a writer like Kathy Charles, and so many others comment positively on my articles is just something that made this year for me. 

The fact is, like many people during this time, I lost a lot this year, but I gained something else. I don’t always know what it is, or where it will lead, but I want to keep going with it. I have to be careful to pace myself. I’d been flirting with burn-out for a while. It helped to take a break for a while. Breaks are good. Breaks let you take stock, watch other things, do other things, perhaps see the difference between not giving up on something and letting something old tired go, and going back with perhaps more of a game plan. 

It’s been a hell of a year. But I accomplished a lot. And even if this blog ends sooner rather than later, I did this. I made this, and put it all on social media, and curated what I could, and did the best I was capable of doing. And whatever happens, nothing can take those achievements away from me. 

It’s been a ride. And hopefully, we can have more of them together. Technically, today is not the first day of the Blog — that would be the 29th because that is the first post I made — but this was one year anniversary of the first time I made this “About” section, and cursed at WordPress in trying toggle their weird Word Block formats in setting this basic structure up. 

And I’m so glad that you long-time readers have continued to deign to join me here in this organized house of horrors, and I am equally appreciative of those of you newcomers who want to see my black blade at work on these bloody building blocks of storytelling.

So take care everyone and remember, while I am not an actual doctor or a master of this genre, I am definitely still continuing to be one of its students, and perhaps we can continue the experiment together along the way.

Creepshow Commentaries Season Two: Episode 5 – Night of the Living Late Show

Warning: Potential Spoilers for Episode 5: Night of the Living Late Show

They always say that the first rule of holes is that you should stop digging. But in horror, what often happens is the protagonist keeps on digging, until they complete their own grave — or, in this case, a coffin. 

I didn’t expect this episode for a variety of reasons. First of all, “Night of the Living Late Show” is just one story as opposed to two, directed by Greg Nicotero and written by Dana Gould. It doesn’t share the billing with another story, and it almost functions as a standalone. The other reason it’s taken me aback is that, as the fifth episode, it is also the last of this season. That surprised me, as the last season had six episodes, though due to the current global circumstances it might make sense: and really, having all of these episodes to watch with their controlled fears on the small screen — or writ large on a television — is one method of escape. 

It’s a different situation from the ending of Season One. While “Skincrawlers” and “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain” were decent stories, worthy of being Creepshow material for sure and having that undead spirit within them complete with the grim justice inherited from EC Comics mentality, they just didn’t feel like an end cap. Of course, the Animated Special made up for it — in my mind — but I remember thinking as it ended just how Season One started strong, and then kind of ended on an anticlimax, or not even an element of catharsis. “Night of the Living Late Show” still has the ghost of Creepshow within the structure of its machine, and it tries to innovate, and it feels like an end. It also makes me think about other matters as well. 

The homage to Night of the Living Dead — in the VR sequences before, during, and after the story — were nice to see. The introduction raised my expectations for sure. As for the actual virtual reality device that we see Simon having created, complete with camera-mirrors, and looking like a casket — it feels like something from a Black Mirror episode: invention made from the best of intentions, but gone terrifyingly wrong due to the banality of human nature. 

I appreciate how they attempted to splice together vintage horror films such as Horror Express, and Night of the Living Dead into the story, which is a nice thematic callback to the first episode of this Second Season, in particular the story “Model Kid”: which also plays with a youthful and nostalgic imagination for vintage horror. At the same time, I can also see how it interplays with “Public Television of the Dead” with an element of nostalgic horror affecting the minds of those it comes into contact with through technology.

But these are only some of the thematics. I did find myself relating to “Night of the Living Late Show” in some uncomfortable ways. I suspect that Gould and Nicotero wanted us to sympathize with Renee, and believe that her husband Simon gets his just desserts. And I agree: Simon isn’t honest with his wife. He lies to her. There is the implication that he’s married her to get the funding to create his virtual reality pod in order to get his jollies off with a fictional character, and escape from life, that her father was right in that he only cared about her for her money. And it is cringy that he says the title of “Countess” before he goes to sleep, right next to his wife. Also, the man talks through horror films. It’s almost a guaranteed death sentence in at least a movie theatre setting. 

At the same time, I don’t particularly … like Renee. She is fairly ignorant of what Simon actually likes and, deep down, it comes apparent that she’s fairly disdainful of it. She refuses to even test out the very device he’s spent so much time and energy creating, on her own dime no less, and browbeats him for perceived unhappiness in his life instead of actually talking about it with him. While Simon runs away from his problems, and gets addicted to the escapism of being in his favourite horror film and having sex with a fictional character — which is essentially interactive VR porn — Renee only seems to think about herself, is generally passive-aggressive, and while talking about “sacrificing her relationship with her father” doesn’t seem to even acknowledge how much Simon had actually taken the time to get to know him and prove him wrong. It’s one thing to not have the same interests, but in her case she has this almost wilful ignorance of what he likes, and I can just see where that resentment would begin. 

I think we’ve all been there as geeks and nerds, where there is someone special in our life, and we accomplish something, or something good happens and they just … don’t get it. They don’t understand. That can be absolutely soul-killing. I know I’ve been there, where I worked time and again on something, just for others around me to simply … not care, or in a better case scenario it’s just not their area of expertise. It’s easy to side with Renee over what happens, but I keep thinking about how Simon went to her, totally proud of what he’s accomplished, more than willing to show her — to show her father and her friends, and really just her — that he isn’t a loser. That he more than earned his place in the material aspect of their relationship. This is a big deal. This device can simulate reality and it doesn’t need a headset. Simon could exceed any money he married into by billions, easily. But there is nothing. No excitement. No attempt to really engage. Nothing. 

There are other aspects. Simon doesn’t account for claustrophobia, or even the fact that the pod takes up a great deal of space and resources. Miniaturizing the technology is a good step. Even having a screen that would allow someone to watch a partner or friend interact with a simulated film would be a nice touch. Certainly, as a builder of something to be placed in the consumers market, Simon would have needed to present his product in an accessible way. At the same time, it’s as though Simon doesn’t want anyone else to have this technology, and it’s more just about him and his special relationship with it: not just because of the fictional Countess, but also because he can — in his own mind — hobnob with the likes of the late Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing: and no one else. 

Also, isn’t about the money or the virtual porn but the fact that he’s spent more time with it than Renee that builds resentment on her end. And the lying. But I am not convinced Simon began by just wanting to use Renee for her money, but it was a breakdown in communications between them: or a feature if you consider that maybe between their two separate operating systems they just weren’t compatible.

But my inaccurate attempts at technological metaphors or analogies aside, I didn’t feel the payoff on Renee’s revenge. It is just petty and spiteful, just as Simon is cowardly and annoying. I have to admit, when the creature tries to devour Renee’s mind, I almost wish it had succeeded, though it’s fascinating given how Simon says in the beginning of the episode that the “creature isn’t finished yet.” I thought that meant it couldn’t actually do anything, or maybe he meant he didn’t have the “safeties” installed? Maybe he should have had two remotes for both hands instead of one? But let it not be said that Simon is a thoughtful person, which he clearly is not. 

I’m also curious as to why the ghouls in Night of the Living Dead seemed to react to him being there with his thumb cut off in real life, but that is another Hitchcockian fridge question for another night, I feel. 

This episode in particular makes me think about two other things: about Creepshow and horror fandom. I’ve seen fans who aren’t as enthusiastic at the Second Season, seeing an apparent degradation of quality. And I think the issue is that, for some, they don’t understand that Creepshow is modelled after EC Comics: that the stories are often bordering on two-dimensional, and they are supposed to be kind of ridiculous, zany, wacky, and weird. I used to take stories seriously all the time and I didn’t enjoy them for what they were. But often going to the Toronto After Dark, and interacting with The Last Drive-In with its own origins in a horror host who is an expert in grindhouse horror, I can still constructively criticize a piece while seeing its merits, and even enjoy them. As a creator myself, I thought of a few ways I would have made this episode different. For example, Simon uses the device to escape to his fantasy, and the film of his childhood, only to have his wife die and we see the episode repeat over and again as he keeps trying relive seeing his wife — who he knows he neglected — over and again as he is a wasted skeleton in that coffin of glittering electronic glass lenses. 

But that kind of intricate pathos isn’t a part of Creepshow. Creepshow gives you a simple premise or a gimmick and runs with it. I’ve seen somewhere that there are those who think this episode had more resources, and should have had more to develop its concept. And I think so too, but that’s not the nature of this show or what I even recall of the original film from which it all came: or EC Comics favourites like Tales from the Crypt. You have an idea, characters in an exaggerated and even over-the-top situation, and something tips the karma to the bad ones generally — especially between more than one bad one — the good tend to make it out, though there is sometimes collateral damage, but there is always a form of poetic justice. And of course gruesomeness, and sex. These are Creepshow stories, and I feel like while you can have your own opinion, there is something petty about simply dismissing a whole season without constructive criticism to the point of self-entitlement. 

There is also something fairly telling that Simon is a horror fan, or just a fan who almost self-inserts into his favourite narratives, and feels a sense of power in knowing what will happen in those stories — being outside of it, but capable of immersion — at his own will: possessing a power he can never have in reality. Simon is the kind of person that talks through a film, though I’d argue it’s less about showing how intelligent he is, and more from excitement, and even a degree of wanting to point out details one might miss. Of course, he does all this with himself and in a format that is solely his, and whenever he is pleased with Cushing or Lee, or even the Countess, arguably it’s himself and his own tastes with which he is more pleased. He did make all of this after all — and what he didn’t make, he adapted with his own will: while forgetting, perhaps, the resources and labour of others that allows him to enjoy and immerse himself in that entertainment. I feel like there is something of a critique there: especially when you consider the coff — the pod, lined with cameras and mirror-lenses that feed back into the brain, a self-contained universe where you can exist in your own fantasy world. It kind of reminds me of the inverted light cameras that made up the suit in Leigh Whannell’s 2020 film adaptation of The Invisible Man. I feel like, perhaps, Gould and Nicotero are saying something about some elements of fandom in general and, while gaudy as all Creepshow stories, it is fairly subtle and effective. 

I guess you can also see it in the animated sequence at the end of the whole episode, where the Creep — a ghoul himself — uses his own VR set to kill other ghouls, licking his lips as they consume flesh as he might want to, and he ends up getting eaten by another ghoul outside the headset: and doesn’t seem too dismayed by this. We consume our favourite things, and sometimes our favourite things consume us in return. There is a cycle in that process. 

In fact, I think if “Night of the Living Late Show” would have an epitaph on its tombstone, for the hole and grave its protagonist dug, it’d be:

Rest in Pieces Creepshow Season Two

Episode 5

“Night of the Living Late Show”

“May you be devoured by the things that you have consumed.”

Consuming the Sublime: Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man

I almost didn’t watch The Wicker Man.

Unlike Cannibal Holocaust, which I thought would be too extreme even for me, I didn’t watch The Wicker Man for a long time because of not only my ambiguous place in horror media, but also because later I’d seen Ari Aster’s Midsommar — and I loved that film so much, that I was afraid that if I saw The Wicker Man I would end up seeing the former as something of a pretentious bastardization of the latter.

Luckily, my love for Midsommar remains intact as it that is a different story. And while Ari Aster’s movie revolves a remote choreographic Nordic communal culture in which the protagonist faces the demons of her grief and gains a twisted form of resolution, Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man is ultimately a folk horror musical film about a man who finally gets the chance to become a contemporary Christian saint in on an island ruled by a form of Celtic paganism.

I think about this film on the surface. Imagine: a movie that utilizes musical tropes to complement and institute the philosophical quandaries, a murder mystery, and the final psychological horror of the entire thing. I don’t think I will ever be able to get any of it out of my mind: not the folk songs the children sing when talking about the cycles of reproduction and nature and the harvest, not Sergeant Howie literally being made a fool of — and unlike Punch, the costume he takes, the Devil didn’t make him do it, just his own sad sense of self-righteousness, not the brilliant Lord Summerisle’s (played by the towering Christopher Lee) monologues and observations of human nature, nor just the way that the entire story reaches its peak. And I can say, with certainty, that if the innkeeper’s daughter Willow sang to me like that, I would definitely have not been the sacrifice that the inhabitants of the Hebridean island of Summerisle would have been looking for.

So much can be forgiven, really, when you look at the quality and the build of the film that so many other critics and scholars, far better than I — a dabbler student in horror — have already dissected and spread across the world like a glorious, beautiful, terrifying harvest. Certainly, you have to suspend your disbelief to consider that anyone on that island would have known that Sergeant Howie was a virgin at all, and gone through the machinations through the “kidnapping” or “death” of a child of theirs to bring him there. But when you look at all those cheerful, awe-inspiring songs almost pulling you back into English folklore, the elemental rituals of dance, and music, and copulation also reminiscent of the free love spirit of 1973 in some parts of the world, and just watching Howie’s own Puritanism — which in the Final Girl trope would have saved her — become his complete, and utter undoing, it is a perfect bloody film.

Someone once pointed out that Howie could have saved himself if he had just given into Willow, into fornication, into living, into feeling beyond a set of ancient, strict, patriarchal guidelines. This is no Golden Calf, but a flesh and blood woman who actually offered him genuine connection and tenderness beyond the bounds of socially and religiously accepted marriage. But Howie just couldn’t do it. And, in a way, there is almost this tragedy there: that he had one moment where he could have had this, had this link to the earthly joys and the here and now, and it’s lost to him forever because of his sense of duty. In a Christian paradigm of some kind, he passed a test and resisted temporal sin, but fittingly enough he also passes the standards of the Summerisle villagers and their pagan roots by proving himself worthy to be sacrificed in The Wicker Man.

The Wicker Man itself makes me so tempted to make a bad pun of the strawman argument, where something is argued against but not properly represented. It is a scarecrow, made to scare off things that would devour it or refute it but is ultimately just empty clothes and bails of straw. In this sense, Lord Summerisle believes his people can make a harvest happen again through animal and human sacrifice based on their Celtic belief-system, believing the faith of Christianity and science and mainland civilization to have failed them. But another way of looking at it is Howie considering the ways of the villagers immoral and wrong because they abandoned Christianity, and believing that the death of a girl is clearly their fault because they are “heathens.” The straw man is the Wicker Man for both whereby it is an object ritualistically destroyed in order to prove one side, or the other right: a sacrifice to the gods, and an eventual martyrdom for Christianity.

It’s too simple, though, and perhaps not a great analogy in its own. The fact is, Howie is a terrified man being burned alive cursing the villagers for tricking him — the fool and the trickster, the outsider and the stranger — to this fate for dying for their “sins” while Lord Summerisle believes that the harvest will happen despite all logic, and that he will not one day be called on by his people and “volunteered” should it fail again.

Perhaps, again, the Wicker Man isn’t so much a strawman as it is the scarecrow I mentioned: created to placate the villagers’ fears of the harvest not happening, of starvation occurring, while allowing for the nominal civil and spiritual independence of the island. At least, this is what Lord Summerisle seems to believe.

When I look back on the film now, one issue I actually have with it has to do with Lord Summerisle. I just don’t see him as being afraid of the sacrifice. If the man had been raised through two or three generations on the culture, even with his education, he would see it as his own duty: as his own sense of noblesse oblige, to give his life to protect and better that of his people. To me, this faith — or fanaticism — should be bones deep and unshakable. Of course, there is the fact that by the paradigm of his people the man is also not a virgin — whatever that ultimately means — but that is almost irrelevant. I just don’t see someone as composed as Lord Summerisle being rattled by one setback, or the threat of his own life in the balance. He would understand the cycles of the world. He would know it was his time when the gods decreed it. It’s just that simple me, as real to me as Christopher Lee’s other character in Star Wars — Count Dooku — not begging for his life which ultimately doesn’t do in that film.

Lord Summerisle should be an ideologue with absolute conviction, and that should make him more horrifying than any blood-starved monster, that behind all the colourful pomp and circumstance is a man who is willing to serve the gods and the natural order at all costs: including murder. But, let’s play the Devil that doesn’t kill our Punch-wearing protagonist Howie, and say that perhaps it’s not an effrontery of his beliefs being insulted, but actual arrogance or pride masking a fear of failure and death motivating our friend Lord Summerisle. Aside from the fact that it makes him, and his belief as hollow as a straw man, consider what he tells Howie at the beginning of the film: that his Victorian grandfather revived the local pagan practices and rituals of the people of Summerisle to convince the people that his new strains of fruit trees would prosper in the climate.

But what if it was Lord Summerisle’s grandfather who was fooled, or ultimately fooled himself? What if, deep down, he did believe or it was the people he “led” that convinced him to reinstitute pagan elements that already existed in Summerisle, and just brought them to the surface again? What if these Lords of Summerisle really don’t lead using the name and acts of gods, but they are just figureheads for the people who are truly in charge? Lord Summerisle still operates from the monotheistic mainland order of rule, for appearances sakes, but what if the people just let him believe so long as he is useful? You know, until his role has to change? We see in Midsommar that there are a variety of different sacrificial rituals, so why couldn’t that be the case in The Wicker Man’s community of Summerisle? Lord Summerisle himself has, to an extent, realized that what began as a tool in his grandfather’s arsenal has become real, but what if it had always been real, and the Lords only deluded themselves into thinking that they could control it: this act of human sacrifice and growth and sex and primal renewal?

Howie believes this impulse needs to be denied, while Lord Summerisle thinks he can embrace it, but perhaps both want to control it: one through rejecting it entirely, and the other through indulging, and directing it. .But I don’t know if either particularly understands what it is they fight for or against: certainly not Howie who realizes he had been playing a whole other kind of game, and maybe not even Lord Summerisle or the villagers to think they will get what they want by following this belief and instinct to kill and burn to have their conception of Nature give them what they want.

In the end, the fire that burns through Howie consumes the hearts of the villagers and Summerisle, and there is something beautiful in that destruction and the all-too bright joys depicted in that place and site. What is it that Lao Tzu is supposed to have said: “The flame that burns Twice as bright burns half as long.”

Right now, as of this writing, Spring has just begun — however it will look — but when you look past the literal and go into the metaphor, at the nature of what happens when you release something from the constraints and strictures of security and fear, of a structure that fails its people, what do you have left to do with that passion? Does it go into a resurgence of spirituality, of land-based beliefs, into a renaissance of sensuality and sexuality? Does it challenge the status quo and grow into something else? Or does it run rampant, become chaotic, and self-destructive beyond the sight of those who first the light the fire, or carry the spark? It’s almost romantic: in the old eighteenth century terrifying and sublime sense of the word, but somehow still beautiful for it.

These are some of my thoughts as The Wicker Man continues to smoulder in my thoughts. Forever.