William McGregor’s feature debut Gwen is not your typical horror film. In fact it’s not really a horror film. What is terrifying about this film is its grey, trudging depiction of the harsh reality of life in the Welsh countryside of Snowdonia at the turn of the nineteenth century. Eleanor Worthington-Cox plays Gwen, a teenage girl whose father is away fighting in the army, struggling alongside her severe, exhausted mother Elen (Maxine Peake) to look after her little sister and prevent their small farm from falling into the hands of the local quarry owner, Mr Wynne.
Following hot on the heels of the cosmic horror masters, from Chambers to Ligotti, To Rouse Leviathan, a collection of short fiction by Matt Cardin, is a solid contemporary entry into the corpus of cosmic horror, though it delivers moments of tonal inconsistency and some story entries that slightly weaken the structure of the work taken as a whole. Ligotti himself has praised this collection, writing “That the so-called reality we bump into on a daily basis should be seen as pure misconception is a fundamental assumption of Matt Cardin’s vision.”
The past decade has seen a spike in meta-horror, particularly in film. Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and The Cabin in the Woods all bring a comedic self-referential vibe to a genre known for its tropes. But what about books? Below, find a list of some of the best in meta-horror literature. From classics to contemporary fiction, there is something to haunt everyone. But be warned, reading this list may have consequences…
Turn on the news today and you’ll be confronted by a headline that seems more likely to have been ripped from a movie than real life: “Record heat fuels wildfires in Alaska”; “High likelihood of human civilisation coming to an end by 2050”; “Half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead”. Cheery stuff. Even so, this isn’t a disaster movie we’re living in, it’s a slow-burn horrorfest. There’s a lingering sense of dread now that accompanies us everywhere. We know there’s something on the horizon and we’re pretty sure it’s not going to be pleasant. And while some of us are trying to rewrite the narrative to make it less apocalyptic, the rest of us are still sleepwalking to oblivion.
“Science fiction plucks from within us our deepest fears and hopes, then shows them to us in rough disguise: the monster and the rocket” – W.H. Auden
You may believe that Alien is a science fiction film. After all it’s set in space with all the hypersleep pods and computer terminals and rumbling star-drives you might want. The story happens in some distant (but not too distant) future where humanity feels at home travelling the gulfs between stars. It is, perhaps most pressingly, called Alien.
You may believe that Alien is a science fiction film and it’s not an absurd position to hold. It’s just wrong.
Small-town weirdness meets supernatural thriller in screenwriter Michael Rutger’s The Possession, a sequel to The Anomaly, which was released in 2018. Hands up – I have not read The Anomaly, so came to this cold. Despite a few small mentions about the climax of the last book, which of course meant nothing to me, I did not suffer. Rutger doesn’t labour the point, and just gets on with the business of a new adventure.