A group sets out on a journey to the middle of the ocean to film a documentary examining the possible existence of mermaids — something no one on the team believes in. What they discover is so much more horrifying than they expected.
In a way Rolling in the Deep reads like a found footage film, stating from the opening pages that none of the crew or staff who started out on the ship SS Atlantic were ever found. We know from the get-go that something terrible is going to happen — reading the book reveals the how.
The story features a diverse and interesting cast of at least a dozen — between the captain and her deaf first mate, the host and her cameraman, the half a dozen scientists, a troupe of mermaid performers, and the producer of the show. Mira Grant reveals her incredible skill in making these characters feel like people you can care about in an incredibly short timeframe, considering the book is only 120 pages in length. (Well, almost everyone, since I’m pretty sure no one minded much that the producer got his due.) We don’t know everything about each of these people, but we don’t need to. We know that they have pasts and hopes and plans for the future, and it’s enough to make me sad if that future is snuffed out.
I’m not going to tell you what happens at the end, because you should read this book yourself. But I will say this book builds at a perfect pace to a finale that left me with chills. Honestly, I may never swim in the ocean again.
It was revealed in November 2018 that Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary) has signed on to direct the movie adaptation of the book — which is of no surprise. As I was reading, I immediately felt that, with its tight pacing and chilling ending, this was a book destined to be adapted for the screen. I hope it gets made, but we’ll see. Hollywood can be fickle.
What It’s About: “A repressed woman does away with her domineering father, freeing herself to pursue her heart’s desire. Using a local folk magic called “root-work”, she conjures a demon to aid her in creating the man of her dreams — but soon finds herself in a waking nightmare.” — Bree Newsome
Why I Like It: This short hits the perfect tone from minute one, with Charmaine’s opening words, “Everybody knows if you’re fixin’ to GOSSIP, you gotta have a little dirt on somebody. And everybody knows if you’re fixin’ to BURY, you gotta throw a little dirt on somebody. But don’t everybody know that if you’re fixin’ to CONJURE, it’s best to take a little dirt from a body…” This story of southern folklore and a woman going after her own desires is brilliantly acted and compelling from start to finish — with an ending that gave me chills.
“A village girl travels to the Lao capital, Vientiane, to care for her rich cousin who has lost her sight and gained the ability to communicate with the dead.”
This film can best be understood through the complicated familial relationships that are at its core, which blend of love and betrayal within the situational reality of class structures. Nok (played by Amphaiphun Phommapunya) exists in an unsettled position throughout much of the film. When she arrives at her cousin’s home, she is an outsider — the camera peering with her into the home as the servants ignore her and the husband keeps speaking English, a language she doesn’t understand. The scenes provide an intense feeling of isolation, which is continued even as she is introduced to Ana (played by Vilouna Phetmany) the next day.
Nok exists in an odd liminal space within the home. Although she’s family, she has been brought there to help and serve Ana. She’s too much of a servant to be treated as family and too much apart of the family to be welcome among the servants.
It’s only when Nok begins to earn Ana’s trust that her position within the household begins to change. Ana is loosing her sight, the world reduced to a blur of light and shadow — with ghostly figures emerging out of that distorted vision, the sudden awareness of these spirits causing her to become injured. No one believes her, thinking the injuries are something she is doing to herself. Her husband is willing to spend any amount of money to cure her blindness and help with her mental care. He clearly loves her, and yet he also often treats her like a child. Meanwhile, the servants only care that they not be blamed when the mistress injures herself.
Nok is the only one who listens, the only one who works to find a way to help Ana manage the ghosts. With this help, Ana is able to feel more comfortable in dealing with her situation, and therefore happier — but this happiness is coupled with a new dependence on Nok.
The relationship grows more complicated as Nok discovers that she can profit from Ana’s condition. While she cares for Ana, she’s also drawn to want to be more a part of Ana’s world — and that includes the wealth, nice clothes, and other fineries she sees around her. Money seems to be a way for her to move from her liminal space into more firm footing beside Ana. This, of course, doesn’t go to plan.
All of the interplay between the characters in this household represent complicated power structures based on family, money, and class. The cinematography, editing, and sound design all work together to help illustrate and build upon the great performances presented by each of the actors. For example, as their relationship blossoms, Ana’s conversation with Nok is layered over several moments of quiet moments between the women — illustrating their growing friendship and intimacy.
This is a beautifully made film, unraveling concepts of trust, family obligations, and the power of money. The horror is not just in the ghosts and the inevitability of death, but in the ways people manipulate and abuse each other in both subtle and overt ways.
What It’s About: “A single mother battles her son’s fear of a monster in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.”
Why I Like It: “Monster” is the short film that was later extended into the feature length Babadook — both of which are great. In both, a woman is harangued by her overactive son and his imaginative fears. How this develops into revealing the supernatural force at work is a bit different in each, with the condensed narrative of the short adding to the dark fairy tale tone. It’s able to build a story without needing to explain much — the monster is a monster andcan be defeated. In other words, it’s possible to master one’s fears by giving them a stern talking to. I also admire the beautiful black and white cinematography with its stark shadows.
I’ve been a fan of horror as a genre since I was a kid, but only recently became aware of how poetry and horror intersect to provide beautifully dark verses capable of illuminating the shadowy side of the human experience. Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increasing number of horror poetry collections written by women in the world (in part, because I’ve been more actively looking for them). It’s exciting to see this develop. Below are a few of the horror poetry books I’ve read and love, and I hope to discover many more in the future.
I Am Not Your Final Girl offers up the female personas of characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent. (Full review.)
I’ve put Southern Cryptozoology on other favorites lists before and will continue to put it on lists, because this chapbook is one of my favorite poetry reads. This collection presents a bestiary of strange, legendary creatures from the Southern parts of the U.S., examining what it means to be monster or human, beast or woman, myth or flesh.
In R E D, Berggrun presents a series of erasures of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The poems transform the text from a storyline in which women have little to no agency to a stunning exploration of abuse, violence, power dynamics, and femininity.
Basement Gemini is a gorgeous chapbook of poetry that draws on horror movie tropes to explore female power and agency. There’s a kaleidoscopic beauty to these untitled lyrical prose poems that feel cohesive a cohesive whole. Chelsea says, “Basement Gemini was kind of born out of that idea — the simultaneous, seemingly-contradictory-but-not-really victimization, vilification, and empowerment of women that’s encountered so often in horror.”
Razvi’s collection tangles together darkness and light into a dark tapestry of power poems. As Razvi describes her book, “I suppose these poems are some kind of unholy fusion of museums, goth clubs, meditations, and global diaspora — all rewritten through dream logic, in some kind of ink made of the timeless decay of memory!”
Horror poetry books by women on my TBR:
A Collection of Nightmares by Christina Sng
Love Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Lisa Cheby
Love for Slaughter by Sara Tantlinger
The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger
Final Girl by Daphne Gottlieb
Satan Says by Sharon Olds
Twisted in Dream: The Collected Weird Poetry of Ann K. Schwader
How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda Addison
Something in the Potato Room by Heather Cousins
Satan’s Sweethearts by Marge Simon and Mary A. Turzillo
Friends, it is February and that means that it is Women in Horror Month. I’ll be participating by consuming books, movies, and short films written and/or directed by women — and highlighting as many as I can here on my website.
What It’s About: A 13-year-old girl and her grandpa struggle to survive in a zombie infested world.
Why I Like It: The zombies are situated into the background, as such the violence and scares are subtle with the relationship between the grandfather and granddaughter being at the forefront. The writing in this regard is excellent with believable dialog and some genuinely moving moments, and Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott both do a great job of bringing these characters to life. Every scene is well utilized, so that when the truth about the zombies is revealed, the story delivers some chilling realizations.
As a fan of horror (and someone who hopes to write it), I’m stoked that Women in Horror Month exists to promote women in the genre, from filmmakers to artists to novelists. In that vein, here are a five women writers of horror or horror influenced fiction, whose work I’ve loved.
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within.” – from The Haunting of Hill House
The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever read. The way the characters bond together and simultaneously become hostile to one another in the face of the horrors of the house is quite compelling. The story is creepy and weird and nothing is every quite resolved.
She’s also well known for the short story, “The Lottery,” which is often taught in high school English classes and for good reason. It’s frightening in a dystopian sort of way. I need to get around to reading more of her short stories sometime.
“Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot — in this case, my brother, Shaun — deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.”— from Feed
Mira Grant is the dark alias of fantasy writer, Seanan McGuire. As Grant, her novels delve into the scientific thrillers with lots of death and mayhem, causing them to overlap with horror.
Her Newsflesh trilogy explores a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies, in which humanity has clutched a fragile foothold of society. Overlapping the constant threat of being chewed up by or turning into the infected, are dark governmental conspiracies.
I’ve also read Parasite, the start of her Parasitology series, which is thus far proving to be fantastic as well.
Caitlin R. Kiernan
“Hauntings are memes, especially pernicious thought contagions, social contagions that need no viral or bacterial host and are transmitted in a thousand different ways. A book, a poem, a song, a bedtime story, a grandmother’s suicide, the choreography of a dance, a few frames of film, a diagnosis of schizophrenia, a deadly tumble from a horse, a faded photograph, or a story you tell your daughter.” ― from The Drowning Girl
The Drowning Girl tends toward psychological horror, explorations of the psyche more than physical danger. That is certainly the case with The Drowning Girl, in which is told from the point of view of a schizophrenic young woman named India. I almost wouldn’t consider this horror, although there are hauntings and werewolves and mermaids that play their parts and some of the elements are deeply unsettling. The Drowning Girl was a favorite read for me.
Kiernan’s work has been listed on several horror lists and her novels certainly play with the genre.
“The rustling peaked, became a chitinous clicking, and Morrow fought hard to stay still while the whole wheel-scarred road suddenly swarmed with insects — not locusts, but ants the size of bull-mice, their jaws yawning open. Neatly avoiding both Chess and Rook’s boots, they broke in a denuding wave over the corpses, paring them boneward in a mere matter of moments.” – from A Book of Tongues
I was introduced to Files’ writing with the Hexslinger series, a re-imagining of the Wild West in which a violent and dangerous preacher turned sorcerer and some of his fellow outlaws is drawn into a deadly game with the gods. These novels take you uncomfortable and visceral places. Not just gore (though if you like that, there’s plenty), but also in terms of sex, psychology, and emotion.
Writing this reminds me that I still need to buy and read A Tree of Bones. Also, I was excited to learn that her new short story collection, We Will All Go Down Together, was recently be released in late 2014.
“You have to salvage what you can, even if you’re the one who buried it in the first place.” – from “The Wrong Grave”
“The Wrong Grave,” featured in Link’s Pretty Monsters: Stories is wonderfully creepy and strange, involving a boy who goes grave robbing in order to recover the drafts of poetry he left in the casket of a friend — only the discover it’s wrong grave and the dead girl inside is rather annoyed to be disturbed.
While many of the stories in Pretty Monsters are more fantasy than horror (and this collection is more YA), she definitely has a knack for darker fantasy as well. Her collection of adult stories, Get in Trouble, is also supposed to have some horror stories.