Sublime Horror

Celebrating the best in horror

Category: Essays

The Devils (Devil’s Advocates) by Darren Arnold review – a potted history of Russell’s controversial masterpiece

The Devils is Ken Russell’s notorious 1971 historical drama telling the extraordinary story of a case of possession in 17th century France, in the city of Loudun. I start with possession because, were this any other story, that would be the most extraordinary part. But this isn’t a film about possession; it is a film about the dangers of religion and politics colliding, and it’s message is as resonant today as it was on release (and on publication of the Aldous Huxley book, The Devils of Loudun from 1952, on which the film is partly based).

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Ancient nightmare, modern guise: Elements of Greek mythos in A Nightmare on Elm Street

The nightmare was real. Sitting in Ava Chitwood’s course on Greek civilization, my phone starts going off. Loudly. Dr. Chitwood was the kind of professor who inspired both fear and fascination. No doubt, those of us majoring in classics adored her but nobody, and I mean nobody, wanted to get on her bad side. I remember once advising a friend of mine, “if you’re late, just don’t go.” Truth be told, she just didn’t have time for any college-age bullshit. This was the kind of professor (icon) that would throw you out for yawning too loudly. So, you can imagine the fear, the panic, and utter desperation I felt as my phone starts ringing. There I am, tearing through my bag, praying she doesn’t kick me out, when my hand finally finds the phone. I silence it, drop it back in the bag, and pick up my pen. Dr. Chitwood is just standing there silently, eyes locked on me. “In 44 CE,” she continued, “…there was a sudden outburst of music.” She winked at me and, I swear to God, it felt like a wink from Fate, herself!

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Spiders and flies – the Gothic monsters of sci-fi horror

“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.

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Midsommar: the dangers of isolation and the beauty of rebirth

Editor’s note: as this is an analysis of the film Midsommar, there be spoilers ahead. 

Midsommar is Ari Aster’s latest horror offering following 2018’s Hereditary, and sees a group of friends who travel to Sweden for a festival that only occurs every 90 years, only to find themselves amongst a pagan cult.

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The universe is a haunted house – the Gothic roots of science fiction

“There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future, not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas of being close up to something that you know to be artificial but which thinks like you. If a machine seems like a human or you can’t tell the difference, then you’d jolly well better start thinking about whether it has responsibilities and rights and all the rest.” – “Ian McEwan: ‘Who’s going to write the algorithm for the little white lie?’

With this dismissive opinion of science fiction – writing that’s full of fun and gadgets, perhaps, but ultimately vapid and ignorant of more important concerns – Ian McEwan not only set the genre internet alight but also added himself to a list of hoary old authors and critics who’ve blithely dismissed genre fiction as little more than children playing with toys while the adults look on indulgently.

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Domestic horror in Lee Cronin’s The Hole in the Ground

Lee Cronin’s feature debut The Hole in the Ground, which premiered at Sundance Festival in 2019, marks a recent resurgence in Irish folk-horror set in remote parts of the countryside (The Lodgers, Beyond the Woods). Despite its wider setting of an ominous and dark forest, home to an ever-shifting sinkhole which pays homage to the off-the-beaten-track caverns of The Descent (2005) and the claustrophobic woodlands of The Blair Witch Project (1999), the film’s most horrifying and violent moments are intensely domestic.

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