Embarrassingly, I’d never seen Near Dark before I started writing this review. I don’t know why, it just seemed to pass me by. I take some comfort in the fact that, at least on initial release, this vampire-noir-western hybrid passed a lot of other people by as well.
It is perhaps fortuitous that Ben Hervey’s BFI Film Classics: Night of the Living Dead monograph has been republished in 2020. Not only was this the year when we most needed stories about the failure of systems we have trusted implicitly, but it was also the year that The Living Dead, a novel by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus, was published by Tor Books.
One thing I’m perpetually fascinated by is the concept that we can never truly know other people, even those we might feel close to. All we can ever know is our own experience of their behaviours. We may even be able to predict those behaviours to a reliable, comfortable degree but when those predictions fail – when someone confounds our expectations, acts out of character – then we find this deeply disturbing.
Ghost stories are often not about ghosts at all – they are about people. And so goes Edward Parnell’s Ghostland, a deeply personal and quietly magnificent reflection on what it is to be human, through a genre-blending mix of memoir and narrative non-fiction.
Despite its ubiquity in our media and news cycle, death remains a taboo subject in the United States. Unless raised in a culture or religion that employs open casket viewings at funerals or part of a field that requires cadavers as educational tools, few Americans interact with the dead – American culture staves off acknowledgement of our own mortality. Megan Rosenbloom seeks to disrupt our reluctance to look death in the eye. Or, in the case of her new book Dark Archives, in the pages.
In a London suburb in 1938, with war looming on the horizon, attractive well-off housewife Alma Fielding is being plagued by a poltergeist. Glass and china are splintering in mid-flight before smashing to the floor, objects float down the stairs behind her, lumps of coal levitate from the grate… it is a house under siege – from itself.
There’s often a temptation, with the gothic, to believe that it all began with the paragons: with the first stirrings of Victor Frankenstein’s monster or the tapping of the raven at Poe’s window. But a vast and significant portion of its history lies with a different group of authors, many of whose works have been largely lost to time, whose names are no longer known and who have been commonly represented as unoriginal, unimaginative authors dealing as much in melodrama as in moralism.
So-called “genre” fiction has had, since its inception, an issue with defining itself. Even the word itself is vague, coming from the same root as the less-flattering description “generic”. It implies a mass of different types, clustered together haphazardly and cowering beneath the monolithic purity of the much more proper literary fiction.
We live in a time of remixes. Arguably, we live in a time that is itself a remix. Culture, history and politics all seem to repeat themselves, changed only slightly from one iteration to the next, with increasing rapidity. Whether it’s blockbuster movie sagas or wars in the Middle East, everything seems unpleasantly familiar.
“How would a zombie really decompose in Night of the Living Dead? Are there instances of shape shifting in nature like in The Wolfman? What is the science behind the night terrors that inspired the creation of Freddy Krueger? Is there scientific data supporting ghost detection like the tools used in Poltergeist? What is the psychological drive that compels cannibals like Hannibal Lecter?”