What makes a good Halloween story?
It goes without saying it’s got to be horror. But there are certain stories that evoke that whimsical October chill better than others.
Stephen Graham Jones’ novel My Heart is a Chainsaw is a bloody feast
for horror fans.
The book is essentially Jones’ version of Scream, a mystery slasher about
people who know they’re in one. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to
watch all the movies it celebrates, then re-read just so you can catch all the
references. Not only is every chapter named after a different slasher, they’re
also bookended by chatty essays about the genre.
These are ostensibly written by Jade, a horror-obsessed high school senior who
is the first to suspect a serial killer may be loose in her small town of
Jade is a fantastic character: a disgruntled goth who moves through life
with empathy despite never catching a break herself. (Early on, she’s rescued
from a watery suicide attempt only to be sentenced to community service for
“misusing the town canoe.”) It’s no wonder she doesn’t object when bodies start
piling up. At least when you’re living in a horror movie, the rules are clear.
This girl lives and breathes slashers, and she knows all the rules. She even
identifies Proofrock’s perfect final girl – the lovely Letha Mondragon – and
sets out to convince her that she’s the town’s only hope. Jade’s the latest in
a string of Jones protagonists who jump to outlandish conclusions and then
recklessly act on them – but unlike Sawyer in Night of the Mannequins
and the unfortunate men of The Only Good Indians, Jade turns out to be
right. About most things, anyway.
Jones serves up red herrings by the jarful, with no character (living or
dead) above suspicion. Proofrock’s history includes not only a mass murder at a
campground (classic!), but also a mysterious fire, a puritan pastor whose entire
congregation drowned, and an undead witch. Not to mention a cabal of
multi-millionaires building mansions along the lake, several with dark secrets
of their own.
The solution to the mystery is outlandish and chaotic, yet totally
consistent with Jones’ brand of meta nightmare logic. (Truth be told, it’ll
probably take a re-read to make sense of everything).
Along the way, Jade’s forced to reckon with personal traumas that make movie
murders seem tame by comparison. Jones handles her backstory respectfully, with
a matter-of-factness that avoids the usual exploitative cliches; Jade’s
experiences shape her personality, but they’re never used cheaply as motivations
or sources of “inner strength.”
The book ends on a note of dangerous beauty and subtle revelation – hope
without false closure.
Danger Slater’s Impossible James is a bizarro sci-fi comedy that fuses apocalyptic fiction with family saga.
With Ordinary Man, Ozzy Osbourne presents his most personal album yet, without losing any of his theatricality.
He’s also in very good hands musically, with accompaniment from members of Guns N’ Roses, Rage Against the Machine, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and guest vocals by everyone from Elton John to Post Malone.
Reading Brendan Vidito’s Nightmares in Ecstasy is like entering a basement laboratory to find hundreds of unspeakable things sealed in jars, peering through the murk to glimpse eyeballs and tentacles and other mutated appendages that appear unnervingly human, but somehow not.
UPDATE: This post was written back in March, when the 2020 JUNOs were facing an uncertain future. I’m happy to report that the Awards will be broadcast on CBC Music at 7 PM EST on June 29th/2020.
Richard Stanley’s H.P. Lovecraft adaptation The Colour Out Of Space is a wonderfully weird cosmic horror freak-out featuring Nicolas Cage at his most bizarre.
In the opening scenes of Ant Timpson’s Come to Daddy, former Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood is once again on a quest.
When we first see him, he’s travelling on foot along a desolate shore, his baggy garments resembling a cloak, on the way to meet his estranged father who’s reached out inexplicably after a decades-long absence. The scene has a certain dreamlike quality, which seems comparatively normal as the film descends wholeheartedly into insanity.
William Prince’s Reliever is as much of a balm as its title would suggest.
The Peguis First Nation folk singer’s long-awaited follow-up to his JUNO-winning debut sees him no less thoughtful, and even more assured in his song-writing. There’s a distinct gospel influence on this record, with gentle acoustic arrangements and Prince’s soothing baritone belying sweeping reflections on life, death, love, and redemption.
Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) finds our anti-hero finally freed (quite against her will, I might add) from a life-defining toxic relationship; it also sees the character released from the constraints of Suicide Squad.
Kesha’s fifth album kicks off with a throwback.
After a bait-and-switch piano intro, opening track “Tonight” bursts into a gleefully rapped verse reminiscent of her autotuned party anthems like “Crazy Kids” and “Sleazy.” It’s perhaps no coincidence that the second song, brash banger “My Own Dance” has her “hungover as hell like 2012.”
If you believe the reviews, The Turning is a turn-off.
Audiences and critics seem to be united on that. The ghost story earned an “F” rating on CinemaScore. One writer for the Irish Times claimed that the film was such a “waste of time,” readers shouldn’t even bother to skim his review.
I’m not going to say these people are wrong, just that it would be a mistake to listen to them. While not perfect, The Turning is visually striking, well-acted, consistently scary and surprisingly potent, with a palpable sense of menace building throughout.