16. Burnt Offerings – Robert Marasco
Marion and Ben and Aunt Elizabeth and David live in the city. It sucks during the summer. It’s like really hot and there are too many people and Marion doesn’t feel like her antiques get their due unless she’s obsessively polishing them and so she’d really like to escape. Just this once.
Well, a house that’s only $900 and way out in the middle of nowhere comes up for the summer. It’s full of antiques, it’s by the beach and has a pool, the only catch is Marion has to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an old lady she’ll never see. Perfect!
Everything goes fine and they all end the summer with a nice family chuckle as they drive back to the city. The end.
Okay, not so much. But it’s not ever really clear what is happening exactly or why that title was used if the very life is being sucked out of the adults. But I guess “Burnout Offerings” just sounds like a post-graduate school group therapy session title. Too contemporary.
Danger and Horace are waiting for me to get the movie so we can all figure out if we like that better. These boys really loved their 1970s horror cinema.
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44. Blood Farm – Sam Siciliano
The cover of this 1988 horror trade paperback is awesome. The title is perfect for an “Iowa Gothic” as it is labeled. That is where the awesome ends, unfortunately.
There are some strong images, the hippie driving the hearse is an amiable fellow, the damsel in distress is damsely and very 70s with the hitchhiking and such, and the highways covered in snow are aptly described. I also appreciated the very 1970s aesthetic of the apartment interior description… It falls apart in terms of the horror. It’s brutally obvious and gets rapey and well, the setting basically means nothing (kind of like the extremely cold Southern Gothic I read earlier this year, Who Made Stevie Crye? [sub-disclosure, I remembered the title as “What Makes Stevie Crye?” and that’s probably because a lot of the book made me want to cry(e)]) and that disappointed me a lot because I’m Iowan. There’s lots of Gothic to extract from the Iowa winter landscape and farms. I’ve seen some desolation, perhaps it is up to me to properly “Iowa Gothic.” To be fair, the one time I tried clove cigarettes and didn’t inhale seems like a more apt description of “Iowa Gothic” for me, which doesn’t bode well for the genre.
Danger Crumples and Horace engage in a tense scene from their Guinea Pig Gothic drama where they are friends and part of the same long lasting herd, but sometimes Danger is compelled by his dementia to be not friends and Horace wants the will re-written so he can inherit the unholy legacy of having as many little toys as Danger Crumples. It’s a real page turner. A flip book.
56. Harvest Home – Thomas Tryon
The story this book tells has been imitated enough that I knew exactly where we were heading. Like Deathstalker, I’ve seen it all before and could shake my eighties haircut with hubris at it (if I had an eighties haircut). And really, the problem of the main character is hubris. He thinks he’s smart enough to figure out what’s really going on in Cornwall Coombe and stamp out those “old ways” he keeps hearing about. He thinks. He’s no rural sexpot postmaster, or frustrated outsider who should really go to college, and he’s certainly no blind elderly neighbor who just goes with the flow. No, he’s Ned, incredibly pompous narrator, so he goes forth into the corn-based fray (watch out though, corn will sneak up on you when you least expect it), with all the self-righteousness and obsession he can muster.
Finny, you don’t want to cross the Widow Peregrine when she’s looking up at you like that. Don’t get sassy.
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35. Shock Value – Jason Zinoman
Short essays on horror movies that gave me the impression that a lot of horror directors act like dicks. That’s actually not too much of a surprise. There’s an accepted attitude of dickishness that has been at work in creative enterprises for an extraordinarily long time, and if you take the lack of opportunities for women into account, it gets even dickier. And sometimes that dickishness works in the favor of the horror audience, sometimes it doesn’t. Too many cooks. Also, there are apparently several factual inaccuracies in the book and that is an important thing to consider if you are into serious film criticism. I’m not that serious, but I do like accuracy so I’m at an impasse. My favorite fact from the book was easily verifiable, so you know I’m trying not to lie to you.
Anyway, I learned many interesting little tidbits from Zinoman’s work and I really enjoyed the chapters on Alien and Texas Chainsaw Massacre in particular. One name that I didn’t know before reading this that I really should have is Dan O’Bannon – although leaving Dan out seems to have been kind of a thing back in the day. Apparently he and John Carpenter ended up frenemies and he worked on that failed Jodorowsky version of Dune and is responsible for the chestburster scene from Alien existing and H.R. Giger being involved in Alien. He is not specifically responsible for my very favorite fact from the book, the one I didn’t know and committed to memory because I knew I would need to repeat it as much as possible – one of the working titles of Alien was “Star Beast.” I cannot imagine how little gravitas Alien would have had if it stayed “Star Beast.” Holy shit that is a terrible title for a horror movie. Or a thriller. Or anything that is supposed to have dark suspense. It evokes the He-Man cartoon for me. The over-projected voices, the furry half-there clothing, the complete lack of suspense…that’s what Star Beast says to me.
I could’ve named Danger Crumples “Star Beast” and it would’ve made more sense than calling Alien “Star Beast.”
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6. The Sentinel – Jeffrey Konvitz
There’s this model – I pictured Katharine Ross because I thought I was reading the book version of that movie with the cat head coming out of a hand on the cover (The Legacy) but The Sentinel has its own film version – and she moves in to this brownstone. She has issues with both her religion and her father and her father died and she left Indiana for New York City and now she has this boyfriend who vacillates between creepily invested in her issues and avoidant and she wanted to move out so she found the apartment in the brownstone. Some super creepy people live in the building and she spends a lot of time fixing the apartment to her liking and ragging on the paintings the owner or previous tenants had chosen (this was very odd to me, but no one really loves anyone else’s decor). It reminded me that it doesn’t seem like the altering and the “this is not to my liking in this tiny space owned by not me, have it painted” happens as much now – it’s kind of take it or leave it in the finding an apartment game these days- at least for me. I hate apartments but current finances and space availability won’t allow me and the pigs to have our own house; I would especially hate living in a building where people often came to my door, to me neighborly=spooky and if main character not-Katharine Ross aka Allison the model was like me, maybe things would have gone differently for her.
Anyway, Allison the model has headaches and dizzy spells and she gets stuck in that fun loop of “this is happening/oh no, that’s not really happening you must be nuts” that happens in horror stories. I thought she had been previously possessed and that’s why she didn’t want to tell her boyfriend about her childhood trauma because this book clearly links religion and horror and when I think adolescent religious horror, I think possession. Plus she keeps messing with her cross necklace and her boyfriend asks her why she’s wearing it and constantly badgers her about what happened with her father. I was wrong, but I wasn’t on board with the resolution to this story either. In theory, everyone wins, but also no one wins.
Apparently this was a bestselling novel. It also has one of the creepiest covers I’ve ever seen.
Twiglet is hiding from the uber-creepy priest image on the cover of The Sentinel. It was a good choice not to use that same image as the movie poster and it really surprises me that something with that cover was a bestseller.
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43. Carrie – Stephen King
I was probably one of the last people of my generation not to know that this is an epistolary novel. It’s not the example that’s usually used in high school English classes when explaining those, although it would probably be more relevant to the students than Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (which I do not like, thanks very much 18th century satire class I took in college and totally hated-I like satire [especially Shamela the satire of Pamela from the same century], however, the class mainly dealt with my professor’s interest in Indiana and basset hounds, strangely not major topics in 18th century literature so I barely learned anything). Carrie apparently has been the target of book banning attempts in schools, though, so maybe my idea wouldn’t work so well. I just remember that in my second semester freshman English class everyone was reading Stephen King books for their book reports. Everyone except me, I chose Silence of the Lambs (time well spent). Some people accidentally (I say accidentally because I doubt any of them bothered to open the books before choosing them and one person complained to me directly because I was “a reader”) chose King’s short story collections, which were my gateway to Stephen King’s books, and I found that kind of funny. It’s hard to write a book report about a short story collection…especially if you are a high school freshman. It turned out that many of my fellow students weren’t able to finish their books in the allotted time before the report was due. If anyone had chosen Carrie, it would have been easily finished AND I would have known what I was getting into when I picked it up.
The things I enjoyed most about Carrie were the descriptions of Carrie herself. All the bovine language really struck me. I’m so used to reading about beautiful nerds and damaged characters that just need to remove their glasses and shake out that ponytail that it was refreshing to have a main character like Carrie. She wasn’t just bovine, she was unredeemable and she had a dark purpose. She didn’t make many choices that were on the up and up and seemed to be well aware that she was doomed just based on how she came into the world. It feels weird to say that’s refreshing, but it is. She’s telekinetic – but she’s nobody’s chosen one.
If Duncan had been telekinetic, I believe my produce bill would have been much higher for the year 2009.
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