Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis comes beautifully packaged in a VHS-style slipcover with a faux rating/advisory (“nerve-shredding tension, nail-biting thrills”); the book itself is styled as a VHS cassette. Something of an odd choice for contemporary YA, where – notwithstanding the recent boom in 80s nostalgia – a large part of the target audience may never have played a VHS tape. But with its darkly satisfying tale of a controlling and obsessive horror auteur, a town stuck in its past as a 1920s film set, and the secrets of generational abuse, Harrow Lake is a compulsively readable treat for horror fans of all ages.
There are all kinds of phrases I want to use to review this book: relentless, unstoppable, outrageous. And I want to see them all under five stars on a billboard-sized movie poster because that is the kind of book this is. Incredibly enjoyable, the only caveat I can provide is that, perhaps like an action movie, while you are in the midst of it you are unable to step back and work out whether it is purely playing with your adrenaline and your heartstrings, or if it is reaching your mind too.
It’s no stretch to say that the games produced by From Software – among them Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne – have all contained an obvious gothic influence. From sprawling cathedrals to lonely protagonists who transgress the rules of their worlds, it’s clear that these hallmarks of gothic horror have proved a significant source of inspiration for creator Hidetaka Miyazaki.
There’s no shortage of horror to be found on film and TV streaming services, particularly the likes of Shudder, which specialises in the genre. But much of what’s on offer leans towards the lurid, gory type. The nine films I’ve selected below, on the other hand, typify the quieter, more understated – perhaps more literary – side of the genre. If you’re looking for something new to watch on those quiet lockdown nights, perhaps one of these will fit the bill…
Stephen King’s The Shining is a modern gothic masterpiece, containing many of the core aspects which constitute gothic literature’s skeleton. The Overlook hotel is the monolithic, ruined castle riddled with malicious spirits; Jack Torrance succumbs to madness, ultimately becoming a doppelgänger of himself; monstrosity overtakes the mundane, particularly to Danny Torrance; Jack holds a quasi-religious reverence for historical items and locations, and also feels a sense of fallen society. While these attributes have been discussed at length, there is less discussion about its Female Gothic qualities.
If It Bleeds is Stephen King’s most recent collection of the macabre, released earlier than originally planned this year in response to the desire to escape into new Stephen King fiction felt by many Constant Readers practising social distancing. Each of the four novellas within this collection – including “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”, “The Life of Chuck“, the titular “If It Bleeds”, and “Rat” – feel like a return to vintage King, though each accomplishes this feat through very different means.
Kev Harrison’s debut novella delivers an enchanting folkloric story with an eco-warning sting in its tail: be kind to nature, or destroy it at your peril.
If there’s anything Bethesda’s Dishonored franchise is known for, it’s whiskey, whales, and brilliant stealth mechanics.
Kathe Koja has been writing in multiple genres since the publication of her first novel, The Cipher, in 1991, but a consistent thread within her work – whether it’s in a dark fantasy vein, veering towards gothic historical fiction, or exploring the more surreal edges of horror – is its focus on characters who are fragmented, driven, and obsessive. In contrast to horror and weird fiction that involves fairly normal individuals being confronted with forms of the unknown, Koja’s characters frequently seem to harbour something strange and unsettling within themselves. The weird, in many of Koja’s tales, works from the inside out, not just the outside in. And her new book, Velocities: Stories (Meerkat Press), continues this theme.
Boy In The Box opens with the main protagonist, Jonathan Hollis, waiting in line to kneel before the coffin of his former friend, Gene Hendrickson. Two other mourners, the Braddock brothers, share a dark secret with Jonathan, one which led Gene to take his own life. The four men, friends since childhood, lost touch with each other following a hunting trip a decade earlier. A trip intended to be a stag party turned into something altogether darker, ending in tragedy and leaving each of them haunted in their own separate ways by memories and overwhelming guilt. Now the three survivors must return to the Gulch or their deed a decade ago will be discovered, destroying each of their lives and families futures forever.