Falling Usher

Roger Corman is a name well known to film buffs.  The producer of many low-budget, obviously cheaply filmed movies shot over a matter of days, his early career was prolific.  Often working in genre films, he directed horror (among other projects), occasionally drawing on Edgar Allan Poe.  The problem of adapting a short story to a length required for cinema release could be solved in a number of ways, but padding out the story was common.  I had only a few minutes to watch a horror movie over the weekend, so I pulled out a Vincent Price collection I’d bought some time ago.  A number of them are Corman films and I may have seen them when I was younger, but if so the path recall is completely eroded.  I decided to watch The Fall of the House of Usher.

This story by Poe remains my favorite for its sheer moodiness and imagery.  The premise is brief and the action little.  I knew Corman would have had to have changed quite a bit.  It turns out that he’d brought Richard Matheson in as the writer.  Many films can be made or broken by the writer.  While it doesn’t improve on Poe it is certainly a watchable effort that develops a mood in its own right.  The low budget is evident, but despite that the story is a slow build using many of Poe’s famous concerns such as premature burial and isolation in dangerous locations.  While not scary in the same way as modern horror, and stretched out by a dream sequence and overture, it nevertheless works.

Given my particular angle on horror, I noticed the introduced religious aspects.  While identification is difficult due to the lack of focus, there seem to have been two large, iconic Bibles in the story.  Indeed, the Ushers have a private chapel in which Roderick prays over his dead (?) sister.  The curse of the Ushers has to do with family evil that is being punished, causing Philip Winthrop to quote the Bible in his denial of the passing down of divine wrath.  The paintings of the Usher ancestor as Roderick explains this are the scariest part of the movie.  Not all Corman adaptions of Poe work well, but with the ministrations of Matheson and the rich ground for development from the original story, this is an atmospheric contribution to early horror.  And it works if you only have a few minutes on a busy weekend for your favorite avocation.


Horror Deprivation

Is there such a thing as horror deprivation?  Life has been so busy that I haven’t been able to carve out the time to watch any horror movies for several weeks now.  That steady diet has given me blog topics and a strange kind of personal comfort in this all-too-scary world.  More than that, it is often a coping mechanism.  I sometimes think more people might read this blog if I “rebranded” it as horror-themed, but perhaps there’s a different way to go about it.  Some writers, with enough shares and likes, have their daily observations become part of the national wisdom.  The rest of us, it seems, are simply background noise.  I’ve also been told blogs are passè and that may be the case.  I have trouble keeping up.  I don’t even have time to watch horror!

As with most things in life, I keep a list of movies I need to see.  Like claws such a list continues to grow unless it’s trimmed once in a while.  A movie is a couple-hour commitment and when even weekends are programmed to the last minute it’s difficult to squeeze them in.  I always welcome the more pleasant weather of spring, but so does the yard.  I’ve always thought, like good haunted house owners, that I would let the yard go.  Here in town there are ordinances, though.  It doesn’t look tidy—right now dandelions exceed the tolerated grass length a mere day after mowing.  Like triffids they pop up and won’t go away.  I could be in, watching a movie.  My credibility’s on the line here!

The pandemic, from which horror movies will arise, led many people to having too much time.  Netflix soared.  For whatever reason, it had the opposite effect on me—is this a special effect?—I had even less time than before.  I had to cancel my Netflix account because I had no time to use it.  Horror is a coping technique.  Real horrors spill from the headlines daily.  Sometimes the antidote is in the poison itself.  The way to be less scared is to watch more horror.  We’re still in the pandemic and Putin decides to start a war.  Republicans confess that Trump tried to take over by force and then backtrack.  Global warming continues apace.  There comes a point when the only therapy is to watch something worse unfold, as long as it’s fiction.  It’s Saturday.  It’s raining.  What can one possibly do?


Shadows of Childhood

Childhood, it seems to me, is where we define ourselves.  In the days when life expectancy wasn’t terribly long and people generally lived only long enough to reproduce, there was not much of a need to revisit childhood.  Now that we live several decades, however, childhood begins to loom large.  We have time to revisit and reassess.  This is one of the reasons I’ve been addressing Dark Shadows so much, and why my memories of it have been of such interest.  I recently watched the second feature film based on the series, Night of Dark Shadows.  This was aired after the original soap opera had been cancelled.  It focuses on Quentin Collins rather than Barnabas and it again caused me to reassess.

The story is complex—the soap opera was quite literary and intelligent to begin with—and it involves several characters from the series.  In my mind Quentin is a werewolf.  In the movie he’s not.  This made me realize that my image of Quentin is largely from the Marilyn Ross novels, not from memories of the television show.  I never did see the original series through.  Nor did I ever read all the novels.  Like most people my childhood was a pastiche of this and that as I sampled the somewhat small set of offerings made available in a modest family in a small town.  Fossil collecting and exploring within two or three blocks of home were about all the options.  And then there was television.  I watched a lot of it.  When the rigors of homework started to really hit in high school, I stopped watching so much.  I’d begun reading quite a bit by middle school, and many of those books are the ones I’ve been seeking out in recent years.  Not that middle school was that great, but it was formative.

Night of Dark Shadows, although set in Maine, lacks the Collinwood I remembered.  Yes, it’s a grand old house, but there’s no hint of being on the Atlantic coast.  No crashing waves.  No theremin.  Quentin is instead haunted by the ghost of Angelique and is apparently a reincarnation of an ancient ancestor whom she loved.  Angelique decides to kill off Quentin’s young bride so as to have him to herself.  It wasn’t bad, but I guess I was expecting a werewolf movie.  My view of Quentin was formed by the imagination of W. E. D. Ross, I’m coming to realize.  Sam Hall wrote many of the original episodes.  He also co-wrote this movie.  My childhood, however, remembers all of this differently.


Wicker Lessons

Beltane creeps up unnoticed.  Not an official holiday in these parts, it is, hopefully, a sign of slightly warmer weather than we’ve been having in April.  It’s also the day that I can’t help but think of The Wicker Man.  One of the early intelligent horror offerings, it came out 49 years ago.  My book on the movie, as far as I know, is still scheduled to come out next year, on its fiftieth anniversary.  Watch this space for further announcements.  In any case, today I have a piece on The Wicker Tree—the “spiritual sequel” to the movie, appearing on Horror Homeroom.  Societies in old Europe tended to celebrate this as the beginning of summer, which explains why Midsummer comes half-way through June.  The seasons aren’t always the same in all times and places.

In Germanic countries, Walpurgisnacht, which began last night, was a time of concern about witches.  Our modern calendar tries to concentrate our fears in late October, but they are appropriate any time of year.  These days Beltane’s more of a day when we expect warmer weather to start rolling in and perhaps, especially this year, hopes for peace.  May tends to be a hopeful time—it’s a transition.  The persistence of our fears suggests that learning to deal with them might well be a good idea.  Instead of hiding monsters away, why not face them?  The Wicker Tree isn’t a great horror movie, but something holds true for it—the monsters are us.  In that film capitalism is the real horror.

What makes The Wicker Man the classic that it is is religion.  More specifically, the clash between religions, neither of which is willing to yield.  This is largely behind religious violence throughout history, up to the present.  Religions convinced that they’re the only possible way to the truth can’t recognize that believers of other religions feel exactly the same way.  Yet May is about transitions—one season giving way to another.  It’s part of the inexorable change that marks life on this planet.  We may not fear witches in the mountains any more, but we still fear what’s out there.  Beltane is a hopeful holiday—a day of blessing animals and building fires to encourage the strengthening sun.  Instead of making it a day of clashing beliefs, perhaps we should look for our common humanity in it.  Perhaps we can learn a deeper lesson from The Wicker Man.


Movie Moving?

If you don’t know me personally, you may not realize how frequently I quote movies.  On a daily basis, films I’ve seen—particularly multiple times—are the source of some of what I say.  Films have tremendous impact.  Some theorists have even argued that they are the new mythology.  So imagine my distress when an opinion piece in the New York Times suggested that movies are losing their relevance.  Media comes in so many varieties that we can take our choice.  YouTube and TikTok have given television its first real competition in my lifetime.  Our local CD store is a rather sad place, and does anybody even remember Blockbuster?  But movies—the media of entertainment for over a century—irrelevant?

What of the movie star?  It doesn’t matter which one.  The phenomenon of it.  The person recognized as a household name.  Now we seem to be losing yet one more frame of reference.  There’s no firm ground left for culture, it seems.  Is this why things are falling apart?  Movies weren’t the only glue, of course, but I wrote three books on movies.  The larger implications are sobering.  Media, of course, is always changing.  Movies are but a modern form of story-telling.  Already decades ago the weight for this began to swing towards what we used to call video games.   The younger generation prefers stories where their actions decide the ending.  To a point.  Someone had to program this thing and has predetermined possible outcomes.  Like a movie, it’s a story.

Stories are probably the oldest form of human entertainment.  The nonfiction books that sell the best are those with a narrative arc—they tell a story.  Nonficionados may be reluctant to admit that they’re drawn to stories, but we all are.  It’s human nature.  While I prefer books to movies, there are times I just can’t settle down to read.  And also, horror novels don’t quite scare the same way that horror movies do.  Movies have their place.  They can be tremendously expensive to make and many now have so much CGI that actors are disguised beneath layers of code.  Kind of like The Matrix.  Even so, they are telling stories in a format that has become a huge industry that ties culture together with common references.  Can you image a world where there was never a Star Wars?  The internet has perhaps blurred the line a bit and movies are evolving.  As long as we tell one another stories, however, we’re still human.

Image credit: Georges Méliès

Shadowy House

The more you learn the more you realize just how little you know.  The House of Dark Shadows was like a key, a missing puzzle piece for me.  Dark Shadows has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  I’m the first to admit that I’m no expert.  I never saw the whole series on television—I saw many episodes once, during my childhood.  Enough to know who the characters were—especially Barnabas—but when I stopped watching it (when? Why?) I started reading the novels by Marilyn Ross.  Clearly the soap opera was gaining enough ratings to merit the building of a franchise.  But the thing was, there is so much in life that I never concentrated on it.  I read the novels occasionally, and I never saw House of Dark Shadows when it came out in 1970.  Not, in fact, until 2022.

Since I was only eight when it came out, even though it was rated PG, I would’ve had neither the means nor the money to get to a theater.  I had, in fact, never even heard of it.  Having been raised a Fundamentalist, I have a tendency to believe there is just one way a story goes.  I know there are variations—they occur in the canon of Scripture, even—but something deep-seated tells me it should go this way.  House of Dark Shadows (which explains a lot of Tim Burton’s decisions for his movie reboot) has a different story line.  Given that it was 1970 it would have been in the midst of the initial series broadcast.  The movie was quite successful.  Still, Barnabas ends up victimizing Carolyn (which in the novels he is reluctant to do), and Roger, and outright killing a number of people.

I spent the movie trying to process how the story should go.  Of course, I haven’t seen the soap opera enough to know.  This Dark Shadows franchise is episodic and it doesn’t add up.  The film was shot quickly and leaves gaps in the story.  It certainly doesn’t track well with the tale of the Maine family who knows about “cousin Barnabas”and that he visits Collinwood from time to time.  Our course, between the series and the novels there are many, many avenues to select.  When Tim Burton got the idea to make a movie he had an abundance of stories from which to choose.  The House of Dark Shadows isn’t a great movie.  It is gothic and moody and a standalone story.  And it has me wondering about what other dark shadows conceal.


The Best Religious Horror Movies Streaming Now

Here’s an extra-special second guest post this week, enjoy!

Many horror movies have religious themes, plotlines or undertones. Here are a handful of the best religious horror movies to make you pray the bad away, in order of release.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rated R

Director: Roman Polanski

Starring: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon

A young couple moves into a NYC apartment with a haunted past. When the wife gets pregnant, she experiences an array of strange feelings, believing her baby may be the spawn of Satan.

Stream Rosemary’s Baby on Hulu, Sling TV, The Roku Channel and Amazon Prime Video.

The Exorcist (1973)

Rated R

Director: William Friedkin

Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow

An increasingly strange-acting 12-year-old girl causes her mother to volley between scientific and supernatural explanations. Ultimately, she seeks the aid of a priest who himself is experiencing a crisis of faith.

Stream The Exorcist on Netflix.

The Exorcist spawned two sequels: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) available to stream on Apple TV, Vudu and DirecTV and The Exorcist III (1990) available to stream on Apple TV and FuboTV. There was also a 2016 television remake of The Exorcist that lasted two seasons and is now available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

Carrie (1976)

Rated R

Director: Brain De Palma

Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie

Based on a novel by Stephen King, the master of horror himself, this is the story of a shy, introverted and sensitive teen bullied by her schoolmates and abused at home by her highly religious mother. Then, she becomes imbued with the devilish power to take revenge on them for the suffering and humiliation they’ve made her endure. This is such a timeless and beloved horror classic, it’s been remade twice: once made-for-TV in 2003 starring Angela Bettis and Patricia Clarkson in the leading roles and again in 2013 starring Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore in the leading roles.

Stream all three versions of Carrie on Apple TV, Vudu and AMC On Demand.

The Omen (1976)

Rated R

Director: Richard Donner

Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remmick, David Warner

When the wife of an American diplomat gives birth to a stillborn child, he adopts a child named Damien. After the child’s first nanny commits suicide, the family calls in a priest, who delivers a dire warning: the child may be the anitchrist himself.

The original The Omen spawned two sequels and one remake.

Stream the original The Omen on Hulu, Paramount+, Epix on Amazon Prime Video or Epix On Demand, Tubi and DirecTV.

Stream Damien: Omen II (1978) and Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981) on Apple TV and Vudu,

Stream the 2006 remake of The Omen on HBO Max.

Summary

Catch up on these, and you can say you’ve survived the most harrowing classic religious horror films of all time.


Scary Movies About Scary Movies

Hi all, here’s a guest post to enjoy:

In a meta-twist on the horror movie genre comes the horror film about horror films. Here are some of the most popular and well-executed (see what we did there?) navel-gazing scary films, ie. scary movies about scary movies.

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Rated R

Director: Oren Peli

Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs

This film has a relatively standard horror plot: a family is stalked by a murderous demon. What makes this film unique, however, is how it’s told. Much of the film is seen through the vantage of security cameras and other devices used to make it appear they were all culled together to thread together the story. This movie spawned a whole series of eight films.

Stream Paranormal Activity on Paramount+, Pluto TV and Netflix.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Rated R

Director: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez

Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

When this film – likely the progenitor of the entire found-footage horror sub-genre, first released, its uniquely modern (for the time) style of storytelling scared viewers in a whole new and unfamiliar way. Told through a video camera held by an increasingly panicked teen, this poorly lit, blurry, grainy, unsteady, hyper-realistic video-as-film follows friends investigating the myth of a witch and ending up getting lost in the woods.

Stream The Blair Witch Project on Apple TV and Vudu.

Scary Movie (2000)

Rated R

Director: Keenan Ivory Wayans

Starring: Anna Faris, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Regina Hall, Shannon Elizabeth

Warning: This film is as much a comedy as it is a horror film. This parody of slasher flicks satirizes popular ones of the day and their classic tropes. Don’t let the comedy fool you though; it’s still got its fair share of scares! The movie spawned four sequels applying the same formula to formulaic haunted house, mysterious object, alien invasion and demon-possessed children movies.

Stream Scary Movie on Apple TV and Vudu.

Midnight Movie (2008)

Rated R

Director: Jack Messitt

Starring: Rebekah Brandes, Daniel Bonjour, Greg Cirulnick, Mandell Maughan

The polar opposite of the Wayan brothers’ franchise, this horror film takes its horror seriously. Replete with classic blood and gore with a little sex and nudity thrown in (thank you, Mr. Hitchcock,) it involves a rare midnight screening at a dilapidated old theater of a slasher film whose maker apparently went insane from it. That doesn’t dissuade the audience, however, all of whom are unaware that when the lights go down, this bloodbath features audience participation.

The Final Girls (2015)

Rated PG-13

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Adam Devine

An orphan and several other high-school teens watch a B-movie slasher flick made by the orphan’s mother – an 80s scream queen, before she allegedly died. Suddenly, the friends all find themselves trapped inside the movie and face-to-face with some startling truths. To live to tell the tale however, they must adapt to the classic tropes of the genre.

Stream The Final Girls on Apple TV and Vudu.

Recap

After watching these scary movies about scary movies, you’ll never look at another horror movie the same way again!


Moving Movies

I read something recently which began something like, “Do you remember when you first saw…?” (fill in the blank with a title of a movie).  This got me to thinking.  Movies used to be community events.  I’m not the first to notice this, but your community would wait (especially if it wasn’t especially urban) until a hyped up movie came to a local theater.  Everyone would see it and it was all that they’d talk about for days.  The internet makes all of that rather obsolete.  Even the part where you were the less popular sort who had to wait for the film to be shown on television to get in on the fun.  You can set up an account to see the movie at home while those who aren’t afraid of Covid go to the theater.  Or you may be like me—so busy that years pass before you get to it.  Hopelessly behind.

There is definitely a benefit to being able to catch a movie you missed at the theater when it’s convenient to do so.  You might be a bit late to the party, though.  And, depending on your tastes, you may be watching the movie alone.  I can’t recall having ever gone to a theater alone until recent years.  Once when my wife was away, pre-pandemic, I went to a local theater to catch the latest Annabelle movie.  Since I’m an early person the theater was pretty empty—at least one guy and his girlfriend, or a girl and her boyfriend, depending, were there with me.  Maybe a couple others I didn’t know.  Nobody to talk it over with.  Like bowling alone, I suppose.  The last movie I saw in a theater, The Conjuring 3, I was literally the only one there.

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

I did recall the first time I’d seen the movie in the article.  I was watching with headphones on, sitting in my bedroom.  Sometimes it’s the living room.  I do recall my reaction, which is, after all, what the article is about.  Still, it was a movie that was watched without discussion, without seeing the reactions of others.  Watching it was, nevertheless, an enjoyable enough experience.  An intellectual one, even.  But as a former teacher I still have this haunting sense that if there’s no-one with whom to exchange information, remembering that first time becomes somewhat muted.  I suppose that’s why I keep this blog going.  I can interact with others on the internet and, collectively, recall seeing our movies together.  Attempt to be part of the discussion.


Learning to Fly

“Be afraid.  Be very afraid.” This quote originates with David Cronenberg’s The Fly.  Of course, after watching the original, how could I not watch its successful remake?  I initially saw this one upon its 1986 release in a Boston theater.  I hadn’t seen it in some 35 years but some of the scenes were as fresh in my memory as if I’d seen it last year.  It’s safe to say that it made an impression on me.  Even usual critics of horror gave the film high marks.  Both it and its predecessor with the same title were quite successful in the financial department and became part of popular culture.  The remake ends without the philosophical statement of Vincent Price in the original, choosing despair instead.  I’ve never seen the sequel.

I picked this up as a used DVD many years ago.  Mainly I wanted to have it on hand in case the mood struck to see it again.  I did recall that, as a Cronenberg film, it was a gross-out of body horror.  So much so that it’s difficult to classify it as science fiction.  It, along with its near contemporary Alien, demonstrated that the fusion of the genres was possible.  Perhaps inevitable.  At the same time, movies, like most other media, have proliferated to the point that such standouts are rare.  Yes, there are still Academy Awards and Golden Globes, but who but a professional can see all the offerings out there?  It feels like we’ve moved beyond the time when a movie could define a generation.  But on a deeper level, that’s why The Fly is about.

We, on the far end from the white male oligarchs, are blending.  We’re no longer simply accepting what we’re told.  We’re becoming more global and more people are starting to break into the power structures.  Even if they sometimes transform if they do.  I saw a recent newspaper article about what to do with your second home, as in decorating it.  Second home?  The majority of us are having trouble up keeping our one home, and that’s if we’re even owners.  Society needs a telepod.  The end results may be messy, for sure, but we need to stop thinking in exclusive terms.  Cronenberg indicated back in the eighties that the movie was about disease and aging and letting those we love go.  That gives the film its poignancy, in a kafkaesque way.  At the same time it may be a teaching tool.  Yes, we can be afraid, very afraid, and still learn.


When Bible Met Horror

My colleague (if I may be so bold) Brandon Grafius has recently published a piece titled “What Can Horror Teach Us about the Bible?” in Sojourners.  Brandon and I have never met in person, but we’ve worked together a number of times.  We share an interest in horror and we both teach/taught Hebrew Bible.  We’re not the only ones who’ve got this fascination.  When I was able to attend the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature annual meetings in person, I would often meet up with others who, apart from their respectable jobs, have a real interest in horror.  There are quite a few of us.  Some journals, like Sojourners, are starting to ask the obvious question: what do these things have in common?

I can’t claim to have watched all the horror movies ever made.  It’s actually pretty difficult to access some of those I’d like to see and, believe it or not, I’m actually a selective viewer.  Often my choices are dictated by research.  Back when I was young, in college and seminary, I’d go to see horror movies with friends.  Since I was living alone in seminary that sometimes led to sleepless nights.  I recall vividly being unable to sleep after watching David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly.  (To this day I still haven’t seen the original with Vincent Price.  I see that it’s available to stream on Amazon Prime, and since we’ve got the internet back perhaps it’s time I do that.)  What I can claim is that I’ve always watched movies for religious elements and that I often find horror isn’t lacking in that department.

The point of Brandon’s article is that there are horror stories in the Bible.  Indeed, the more I ponder the Good Book the more I see that makes it a frightening text indeed.  Once you get past the sugar coating, there’s fear of substance inside.  Funnily enough, it seems Jesus didn’t often play the fear card, although even he did so from time to time, according to the Gospels.  Religion, which gives us such hope, also makes us so very afraid.  I’m really glad to know that I’m not the only one who’s started to come to that conclusion.  So maybe it’s natural for those raised religious to be fond of monsters.  Getting others to admit it can be tricky, and I’m sure some genuinely don’t like them.  Still, when you’re in a scary place, it’s best not to be alone.


Living Right

Horace Liveright had an outsized influence for his somewhat foreshortened years.  Initially a bond trader, he eventually moved into publishing where he founded the Modern Library as well as Boni and Liveright.  The Modern Library still exists, now as an imprint of Random House.  Liveright ceased publishing operations eventually, but the name was revived as an imprint of W. W. Norton.  There have been many publishing Wunderkindern, including Richard L. Simon, co-founder of Simon and Schuster (and father of Carly Simon), and the Scot William Collins whose name still appears in HarperCollins.  While reading about Liveright recently I learned that he also was responsible, in an unexpected way, for the development of the horror film.

Liveright never worked in the film industry.  He did, however, work as a stage producer in New York in the 1920s.  Among his most successful works was a play titled Dracula.  It starred Bela Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan as Dracula and Abraham Van Helsing, respectively.  The success of the Broadway show caught the attention of Hollywood and Lugosi and Van Sloan were cast in the same roles in Tod Browning’s Dracula, widely considered to be the first horror film, released in 1931.  Van Sloan went on to appear in Frankenstein as well, and Lugosi reprised his Dracula character as well as several other monsters.  It’s possible, perhaps likely, that horror would’ve begun with some other entry into the genre, but as history stands Dracula, based on Liveright’s stage production, started the whole thing.

Unless we work in it, we tend not to think about publishing too much.  We don’t pay attention to the publisher of the book we’re reading, and who lingers over the copyright page?  Giving a thought to these details, however, often adds new stories to the ones between the covers.  A fellow editor is fond of saying that books are as much about the author’s story as they are about the story the author’s telling.  The press, for example, often focuses on the former.  Who is it that wrote this book and why?  The question may be extended further—what publisher took it on and how did they even get into the business of deciding what people will read?  The internet has democratized that quite a bit, of course, and some authors can become their own authorities by knowing how to handle it.  So I’m taking one such opportunity to highlight the work of a sometimes forgotten pioneer who nevertheless began a publishing venture from which we’ve all most likely read.  And he also helped created the horror movie.


Whose Baby?

Some books are better known as movies.  I suspect that I, like many, saw the movie Rosemary’s Baby without ever reading the book.  It turns out that they’re very similar.  The book takes the action a few minutes beyond the end of the movie, but otherwise they’re quite close.  Reading a horror novel where you know everything that’s going to happen isn’t exactly the recipe for thrills and chills, but I’m nevertheless glad to have done it.  For a book published as long ago as it was (1967) it still isn’t easily found used.  New copies tend to be just as expensive as new books.  I just wanted to have a read to see if Roman Polanski stayed close to Ira Levin or not.

Levin had a string of successful novels, but Rosemary’s Baby is probably still his best known.  He is quoted as saying he didn’t believe in the Devil and felt guilty that his book (and movie) may have led to many people taking on that belief.  In many ways Polanski’s movie kicked off the age of modern horror, being released the same year as George Romero’s Night of the Living DeadRosemary, however, opened the door to horror with overt religious themes.  It paved the way for The Exorcist and The Omen.  The latter, written by David Seltzer, was another example of a movie based on the Devil by an author who didn’t believe in him.  Personal belief aside, that trinity of movies remade the horror scene and led to one of the strangest cooperations in cinematic history.

In the book versus movie scenario often there’s a clear winner.  On other occasions the movie is so powerfully made that it overshadows its novel.  Rosemary’s Baby, along with The Exorcist, tended to do so.  (The Omen was novelized from the screenplay by the screenwriter.)  I wonder if that might not be because religion pays right into cinematic representation.  The novels, after all, can take several days of reading on a normal workaday schedule.  The film, if well done, transports the viewer there for a couple of hours and leaves you feeling as if you’ve been through, in the case of Rosemary, a traumatic pregnancy.  It so happened that the unholy trinity of religious horror tapped into that rapt storytelling of which celluloid proves so capable a medium.  Still, reading the novel fills in many of the gaps and brings to mind the benefits of the written word.  And this is, like a birth, something to be celebrated.


Incorporeal

I’ve been struggling with the concept of incorporeality.  Well, not me personally, but in how it fits into demon movies.  Specifically the Conjuring universe.  I’ve recently been watching the series through again and the corporeality of demons strikes me as problematic.  As spiritual entities demons don’t have bodies—that’s why they possess people.  Yet in these films they can be contained by blessed spaces, or objects.  The doll Annabelle, in particular, has to be kept in a locked glass case to prevent the demon (apparently Valak) from gaining its full power.  Annabelle Comes Home discusses this directly.  After the priest blesses the doll, Lorraine Warren says it’s not enough.  The evil has to be encased in another layer.  In this case, glass from “Trinity Church” which has, ironically, been torn down.

Watching the entire series, as it currently stands, Annabelle appears in four of the eight films and is named in a fifth.  Annabelle: Creation implies that the demon in the doll is Valak (a.k.a. “The Nun”), and she has her own movie as well.  In each case the demon has to be contained within a sacred space.  Once out, it manifests in corporeal form with the ability to harm, or even kill, human beings.  Now, I know this is movie magic.  I also know these movies have been carefully pieced together.  The corporeal/incorporeal question is a standard of seminary training.  While the topic of ghosts, and demons for that matter, was never raised in the curriculum, we did have to deal with God and angels and what it means for a being without a body to become incarnate in one.  These movies could use some seminary.

Is it like this?

In Holy Horror, and especially Nightmares with the Bible, I wrote quite a bit about The Conjuring and the universe it’s building.  I’ve seen demons physically attacking characters, and even taking on classic demon shape.  The viewers wants to see the monster.  If they’re truly incorporeal they can cross between glass cases, doors, windows, and walls.  Some of them do, when it suits their purpose.  Yet they can be quieted by being locked into a glass case, as long as it’s been blessed.  Of course, I’m trying to figure this out on my own.  There are entire fandom wikis out there based on the films and they probably have much more detail than I could ever find on my own.  But then, in a sense, information on the internet is, well, incorporeal.


Keeping Categories

Writing books about movies with a limited budget presents some challenges.  Our subscription to Disney Plus doesn’t really help with the horror genre, but my wife insightfully added Hulu to the package.  Now Hulu isn’t known as a horror streaming hub, but they do have some movies on my viewing list.  The other day I noticed one of their offerings with a title I didn’t recognize.  I  tried searching it on IMDb and came up with nothing.  A bit more research revealed it was an episode of an original Hulu series, mixed in with the horror movies.  The eroding of categories bothers me a bit.  It’s not just Netflix and Hulu and Amazon with movies, but it’s across the board.  I grew up when movie and television were easily distinguished.  Now we live with hybrids.

The same is happening in publishing.  When I sit down to write a book I have a specific end-goal in mind.  Everyone knows what a book is, right?  Well, the future of publishing is all about breaking that down.  Already years ago you could purchase aggregates for classroom use.  These were custom-selected chapters from certain books (electronic, of course) that an instructor could bundle into a “textbook.”  You could mix in articles, blog posts, anything to which you had the rights.  Such a textbook is not a book.  Nobody set out to write it in that form.  It looks like things are moving more and more in that direction.  You’ll be able to purchase just a chapter, or even a paragraph, to use.  Even if the book only makes sense when taken as a whole.

The electronic era is all about breaking down what civilization took centuries to build up.  Not everything about civilization has been good, of course.  It has been patriarchal, treating women unfairly.  It has been supremacist, treating those less technically developed in horrendous ways.  It has been classist, favoring the rich and their interests over those of the vast majority.  Still, it has left us some good legacies—the book, the symphony, the movie.  Such things have made us better people.  It may be fine to break such things down—who knows?  Maybe it will create more fairness for more people.  It won’t help me, however, when I’m trying to write a book about movies.  You still have to know what counts for each category, even if you have to do so on a budget.