Even though they have arguably been around since Frankenstein and the inception of horror, medical horror films have been in retirement for quite some time. American Mary and the remake of Flatliners are perhaps the most recent examples for the 2010s, even though it’s a setting ripe with horrific potential, as proven by the popular franchise Re-Animator. Netflix’s newest horror film Eli documents the horrors of the cost of private medical care in the United States alongside the usual fears that accompany a hospital setting: patient vulnerability during treatment, suspicious staff members with questionable motivations, and the possibility that the hospital itself might be haunted. It also raises several interesting questions regarding informed consent: how much should a patient be allowed to know about his or her condition if it puts the entire world in jeopardy?
TV has had no shortage of witches these past few years, from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to the Charmed reboot. While I love the witch archetype as a metaphor for powerful, radical women, one thing these witch TV shows are lacking is a legitimately frightening witch. Lucky for me, when Netflix announced the French series Marianne I was not disappointed. Written and directed by Samuel Bodin and Quoc Dang Tran, this series is decisively one of Netflix’s most frightening series yet, next to Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House.
I’ve been a fan of Stephen Chobsky ever since The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out when I was in college. Needless to say, I was excited to hear that he was dipping his feet into the horror genre with Imaginary Friend. The book centres around a young boy named Christopher Reese who goes missing in the woods after following a disembodied voice. Upon returning, Christopher realises he has something akin to superpowers: he’s no longer dyslexic, he wins the lottery, and he can somehow hear people’s thoughts. But there’s a catch. He keeps having reoccurring nightmares about a “hissing lady” who wants to tear down the wall between the “imaginary world” and the real one, which has something to do with another little boy who went missing fifty years ago.
Because I’m a woman who loves horror, people always ask me who my favourite women horror writers are, and I’m a little ashamed to admit I don’t always have the best response. Beyond the obvious choices like Mary Shelley or Shirley Jackson, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a comprehensive list when your bookshelf is made up of 90% white men.
Apart from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there’s hardly a more famous vampire novel than Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. It was among the first of its kind to take a modern stance to the vampire tale, such as coping with the existential horror of living forever when one’s loved ones have grown old and died, or the ethics surrounding drinking human blood.
In the convention program book for the 1983 World Fantasy Convention, Stephen King wrote: “What [Robert] Bloch did with such novels as The Deadbeat, The Scarf, Firebug, Psycho, and The Couch was to rediscover the suspense novel and reinvent the antihero as first discovered by James Cain.” A screenwriter and novelist of German Jewish descent from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Bloch was the youngest member of The Lovecraft Circle, or the writers who followed H. P. Lovecraft and published their short fiction in Weird Tales, a pulp horror outlet that circulated through the Great Depression. But Bloch is probably best remembered for his novel Psycho that served as the basis for one of the most iconic horror films of the 1960s. While Bloch was hardly the first to lend a psychological perspective to the horror novel (a feat that many initially attribute to Edgar Allan Poe, but can also arguably be found in Gothic and speculative literature since its inception), his unique true-crime slant to storytelling set the tone for both speculative fiction and psychological horror for the latter half of the twentieth century.
Richard Matheson is not quite a household name, but guaranteed you’ve heard of his work. He has written some of the most memorable scripts for television and movies of the mid-twentieth century, particularly for the Roger Corman/AIP “Poe Cycle” of films starring Vincent Price and the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” featuring William Shatner. You might also remember his novel I Am Legend, also turned into a film called The Last Man on Earth which served as the inspiration for George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. While it is unlikely you can name five of his short stories off the top of your head, his legacy is everywhere, in The Walking Dead to Jordan Peele’s remake of The Twilight Zone. Without Matheson, we wouldn’t have some of the biggest subgenres of science fiction and horror.
For years, I have been telling people about the legacy of Milicent Patrick to anyone who would listen, so you can imagine my delight when I came across this biography. As author Mallory O’Meara explains, there’s a dearth of female role models in monster movie production. Sure, there are plenty of women in front of the camera, but all they seem to offer is what Carol Clover identifies as “tits and a scream.” Therefore, when I first learned about Patrick’s design of the Gill Man for Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Metaluna Mutant for This Island Earth, you cannot imagine how overjoyed I was that some of my favourite movie monsters had been designed by a woman. But, as is the case with many talented women in Hollywood who threaten the egos of their male counterparts, she slipped into relative obscurity after she was unceremoniously fired from Universal Studios. Therefore, this biography shares a dual purpose: to tell an important piece of cinematic history that had been previously left out by sexism and Hollywood, and to share the inspiring journey of a woman who lived according to what she loved, including her monsters.
In Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, Mark Dery attempts to respond to the challenge of how to write a biography about someone who, in their own words, lived a “featureless” life. A known recluse and creature of habit, Edward Gorey wasn’t the sort of person who indulged in grand love affairs or travelled the world. In fact, he seemed to be against that sort of thing entirely. When pressed about his sexuality he would scoff or dodge the question, and when asked to leave his little world of Cape Cod, Massachusetts for a touring production of his play, he would just stay home. In fact, Dery makes Gorey out to be a frustrating character: just when you think you have something pinned down about his identity or feelings on a particular subject, they change entirely. Perhaps the best way of describing Edward Gorey, Dery suggests, is either very indirectly or not at all.
In the summer of 1948, more than three hundred letters arrived at the offices of The New Yorker in response to a short story, “the most mail the magazine that ever received in response to a work of fiction” (Ruth Franklin, “‘The Lottery’ Letters,” The New Yorker June 25, 2013). At a time when the post-World War II boom of the United States was about to decline into the paranoia and conformity of the Cold War, the story in question could not be more appropriate, nor terrifying for the American imagination.