REVIEW OF ARI ASTER’S MIDSOMMAR (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Graduate students Dani Ardor and Christian Hughes are suffering a meltdown in their relationship. Dani has suffered a shock—her parents and mentally ill sister have committed suicide. Christian has come to the realization both his anthropology thesis and his relationship with Dani are failing. They decide to take a trip to their friend Pelle’s home, a creepy commune in northern Sweden where the couple and their group of friends take a journey of self-discovery that parallels the unveiling of the darker plans the commune has in store for them. 

While MIDSOMMAR contains several familiar horror movie tropes—scary Scandinavia à la THE RITUAL, and the “we gotta get away from the twisted cult” of THE APOSTLE, it manages to steer off the heavily trafficked highway into its own territory. It dispels any typical “pagans are so wild and scary as opposed to what we’re used to” themes. It doesn’t go into great depth as to what the Hårga cult actually worships. In fact, Hårga’s cosmology/mythology is very sketchily drawn. It is refreshingly not “Cthulhu-esque”, there are no deities emphasized. Instead it is a kind of sun-cult mixed with a fear of a dark beast/devil from the woods. It draws in part from the lyrics of a folk song in which the young people of a village are seduced into an addiction to dancing. The cult’s beliefs center generally on cycles of nature drawn in basic terms.  

One twist is how the cult views time—on the one hand, it strictly delineates what is appropriate for each period of a person’s life. As Pelle explains to Dani, “spring” lasts until age eighteen, “summer” thirty-six, when a person is free to wander, “fall” thirty-six to fifty-two, when it is time to work, and “winter” lasting the remainder of their years until seventy-two, when it’s time to die. A time outside this structure is the Midsommar celebration during which the film takes place. This is a symbolic “time outside of time”. It parallels the period of life the main characters are going through, and the heavy ingestion of psychedelic drugs serves to prolong it. The lingering scenes where the Dani and her friends talk about their relationships and their careers meander from places of happiness and confidence to those of fear and anxiety about the future, and whether or not the members of the group will successfully transition to the next stage of life. They try and fail to escape their fates—they receive punishment for turning the cult into a graduate thesis, taking casual sexual pleasure from its members, and even for hubris at a simple potential marriage and career success. All collapses at the hands of the Hårga cult which itself becomes a metaphor for respect for the complexity of time, stages of life, and relationships. 

Dani remains the ultimate focus. The story belongs to her more than to the group and she and Christian as a “couple”.  As the cult dissects the group of friends, bringing them one by one to gruesome ends, Dani must navigate her own fate. Her family’s death and her flashbacks and memory of it also take on a metaphorical status. Her sister is very much her old self, and her parents a home that is now gone. Startlingly grotesque scenes follow, showing the price of failing to transition. The film takes on a feel more like a Grimm’s Tales for grownups than pagan bloodbath. Dani must outlast the Hårga cult members in a Maypole dance in order to become the May Queen. Christian must mate with a chosen maiden to supply new babies for the cult. They are two last chances for transition, but only one will make it through. 

In the end, MIDSOMMAR celebrates Dani’s awakening. She breaks free of the group that is slowing her down. She learns to show no mercy to the past and embrace her future, even if it involves the brutal sacrifice of those she once loved. Like a carnivorous flower, she gives us a new flavor of horror and follows through on how scary seeing the light can be.

THE REAL REASON THEY DON’T LIKE GAME OF THRONES

So it’s a thing now—to chat, post, go-off generally on how you’ve never seen Game of Thrones, don’t know no Game of Thrones, can’t stand the “G.O.T.” Some of this is honest apathy, nonchalant, “Sorry, just don’t know this stuff.” That perspective I certainly understand—I barely know who Kim Kardashian is myself. But for others, there is something more insidious going on. That’s right, there is an outright hostility toward the popularity of G.O.T. What is it? Is it the sex and violence? For some it may be. But I believe, deep down, there is something else at play—that’s right, somewhere between Jethro Tull, Dungeons & Dragons, and Revenge of the Nerds, what really gets the haters about G.O.T. is how it brings geek culture into the mainstream culture.

Imagine you see a geek at a bar (it happens—a lot of geeks make good money and enjoy good beer, right?) Imagine you see the same geek on a date with another geek—“Aw, look at those two little nerd-types out on a Friday night, aren’t they cute?” But then imagine this—you see a geek on a date on a Friday night and realize, “Hey wait a minute—what’s that D&D dude doing with the Miss All American Prom Queen? What’s that RPG chick doing on a date with the football star?” As Hamlet would say, there’s the rub. With the arrival of Game of Thrones, suddenly geek culture doesn’t know its place. Poindexter comes strutting into the club in a track-suit with diamond rings and an entourage. The Wall Street Journal is talking about nerd net worth. The President is referring to his office as the Iron Throne. You turn to your accountant husband to complain, but find he is halfway through A Storm of Swords. You tell your athlete wife a joke about the Throne-heads but she doesn’t laugh. This is a problem that needs to be thwarted, that deserves derision—geek culture is storming the gates of all we hold dear and must be stopped…

When I was a kid, to say you played Dungeons & Dragons was basically to say, “Hi, I don’t date. I’ve given up on a social life. PS, I suck at sports.” Not so anymore—it’s cool to post pictures of painted miniatures and having skills as a “dungeon master” is like being the lead singer for a band. RPG culture has developed a hip side, with all the positives and negatives that come with it. It could be argued much of this is owed to G.O.T.

But what about Harry Potter? Lord of the Rings, Twilight? True, these are popular fantasy stories. Yet none of them have a certain unique quality that G.O.T. possesses. Harry Potter, for all of its popularity among young and old is still mostly seen as a kids’ story. Twilight gets pigeonholed as teen romance. And while Lord of the Rings is arguably a forerunner of G.O.T., complete with a touch (but only a touch) of grimness, Lord of the Rings is ultimately Romantic with a capital “R” in that the good-guys prevail, the world is righted, light prevails over darkness and it reassures that epic fantasy is about saving the day.

What makes G.O.T, different is how it champions the beauty of Tragedy. It shows that the D&D players, the RPG fans, the nerd-world, can confront something the mainstream world usually has trouble contemplating, let alone enjoying—that is, real darkness, real tragedy. We are in the show’s last season, and we have yet to see whether George R.R. Martin’s once stated thesis—that the “bad guys” are just the “good guys for the other team”—will hold true to the end. But even at this point in the show’s narrative enough sympathetic characters have met tragic ends that we see this story, for all of its swords and dragons, has more to say more about real-world consequences than its critics want to admit. So let’s give it up for what fantasy can do when skill brings innovation to its clichés—it can make D&D as powerful as politics, give us a game where a checkmate is as potent as making—or losing—a touchdown.

Carl R. Moore is the author of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales and Mommy and the Satanists (Seventh Star Press).

REVIEW OF TOM PICCIRILLI’S SHADOW SEASON

Every March I start saying to my daughters, “This is the last cold day.” It begins early in the month and continues until a week or so after St. Patrick’s Day. Technically the first day of spring is March 20th, but here in Albany, New York, it’s about 30 degrees on March 23rd and it snowed last night. But today really is that last cold day, because tomorrow is in the fifties and the weather will stay over forty during the day until next fall. So that’s how I know today is meant for reviewing my winter re-read of Shadow Season by Tom Piccirilli.

For those not familiar, Tom Piccirilli is one of the late 20th – early 21st Century’s finest authors of thrillers, crime noir, and horror. I have featured his work on the blog before, and will again, because I feel his prose occupies a space that is uniquely insightful with regard to the crisscrossing of American cultural forces, and is also so skillfully rendered that it always reads with excellent pacing.

Shadow Season represents one of the novels where Piccirilli has already switched from crime noir-horror mashups to more straight ahead crime noir. It tells the tale of an ex-cop turned private school English teacher who is snowed in at his school’s campus in upstate New York. But Finn contends with something more than an already daunting list of trials from his time in law enforcement. Finn is also blind and must contend with a looming threat to St. Valarian’s Academy for Girls. Walking from building to building while three plus feet of snow is falling is no small feat even for one who is 100% fit—for someone who can’t see yet still detects that there is foul play afoot, it becomes intense and nightmarish.

Piccirilli already knows how to layer an elaborate description into a story without slowing the pace. But in Shadow Season, he delves into descriptions that are at once surreal in their engagement of a blind main character, but also stark in their realistic language so as to keep the mood of the sharp, hard-boiled crime novel alive. Many of the characters he interacts with are given faces from those Finn knew when he could see. This weaves in his backstory as a New York City cop without bogging the narrative down with backstory. It also meshes the present and past, the worldly and the dreamlike, in a web that is clear yet splendorous. When the plot reveals exactly what type of criminal threatens his colleagues and students, the reader has already developed an intimate concern for the Irish expat groundskeeper, the school’s alcoholic head mistress, and the deviant and snide, yet also talented and at times crying-for-help, students. The reader also witnesses a fusion of Finn’s quiet life as a teacher with his volatile past—the love of his life Dani, and Ray, his partner on the police force. Such are brought together in a story that walks the edge of triumph and tragedy, contrasts the animosity and kinship of the urban and the rural, and calls into question which is which.

So when winter comes around again, give Shadow Season a try. It will be there, as will all of this author’s many amazing books and stories, likely to continue to grow in their reputation and importance in the years to come.

 

Carl R. Moore is the author of Mommy and the Satanists and Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press. His lives with his family in upstate New York.

Welcome to the Deep Dark Night

So what’s up with the blog? I could come up with excuses—a trail of family health issues, domestic responsibilities, and as always, the rickety old house in need of attention. I could say it was overtime at the day-job (night-shift day job), that it was the polar vortex, the stressful political environment, the bastards who pass out drunk with a pile of losing scratch off tickets in my yard in Albany… But in years past I’ve been able to juggle all this and keep it up in despite, so really, what’s the difference?

Well—no excuses—in fact, only good stuff. In truth, I’ve been playing a lot of guitar and writing songs because I have had a few gigs. After the yearly nightmare of the commercial holidays, winter settles in to the part I love—February, the time for writing, reading, picking tunes by the fire with an ale. I’ve indulged in getting into the new novel I’m working on like it’s a game, an adventure in a snowbound forest with wolves and hunters, blood and lust. I have no apologies for having fun with it all. Because that’s what it’s supposed to be about, that’s why we do these things over others, the excitement, the discovery, the addictive dreams.

The time has come, however, to get things going again, yet with a few tweaks. The Crimes of Heaven and Hell blog as this has been named in the past, featuring the review/interview series Is That an Old Book? and Author’s Own Words has a new name and URL—Deep Dark Night blog—(www.deepdarknight.net).

The name change comes from a desire for a more fluid format. Some of my new material is still set in the Crimes of Heaven and Hell world, but I’ve also been having fun experimenting with more standalone work, the above-mentioned werewolf novel, and even dipping into some fantasy pieces. So I wanted a name that reflected this expansion in themes.

I think kicking off the new name dovetails nicely with Women in Horror Month. It’s always been my goal to read widely, review widely, and interview widely. My vibe is one that celebrates all the art and stories out there. I also try to avoid a lot of the bull. So it’s funny how many conversations I see on various social media platforms about the value of Women in Horror Month as if its existence should be debated. Egads—if nothing else can motivate us to be as inclusive as possible, can it not at least be that the promotions and celebration of women horror writers makes the genre larger, more interesting, and more fun? Any meat-headed resistance and stupid joking (like, When are we going to have Men in Horror Month? (gulp…)) is revolting beyond comprehension. It reminds me of that scene from the Simpsons way back in the day when the comic-book nerd finally finds himself talking with a girl. For a moment, it looks like he might have a real social interaction. Then she disagrees with him about a character and he’s like “Don’t try to change me!” Funny as it is sad and scary…

So for me this month has made me ponder not just who the new female voices in horror are, but also some of my favorite writers from the history of the genre. In keeping with my ‘antiquarian’ proclivities, it’s got me remembering the first time a friend turned me on to Clay’s Ark and the work of Octavia Butler. I think I might snag that one from the shelf and give it a re-read. And as I get the interview series going again, I most certainly be looking for the widest possible range of voices to feature here on the Deep Dark Night. Stay tuned and looking forward to digging into blogosphere once again!

Carl R. Moore is the author of Mommy and the Satanists and Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press. He lives in upstate New York with his wife Sarah and daughters Maddy and Izzy.

MOMMY AND THE SATANISTS EBOOK RELEASED TODAY!



Very excited to announce my new Ebook Mommy and the Satanists is now available from Seventh Star Press (also publisher of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, July, 2017). A disturbing, fast-paced little piece of sardonic horror, it might just brighten your Halloween lights, bring you back up from a sugar crash, cure your hangover, and perform a resurrection on el día de los Muertos!

By way of synopsis:

Overwhelmed suburban mom Annette Williams enlists a Satanic cult to help with the house and kids. When her husband George tries to stop her, all hell breaks loose in their quaint Vermont home.

So have a gander at this evil little book in hopes it will serve as an appetizer for more new work on the horizon!

Hailz and Horns up!

 

 

 

Book Signing at Barnes & Noble

Welcome to the Crimes of Heaven and Hell–the author page for  Slash of Crimson and Other Tales by Carl R. Moore, published by Seventh Star Press, and a number of new works coming soon. This is also the home of the Is That an Old Book review series. Looking forward to many new announcements, the first of which will be a special Halloween Ebook release of the satirical horror novelette Mommy and the Satanists. For now and for those who have not yet picked up a copy of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, please see the link below:

Thanks and read on!

Carl R. Moore

Author’s Own Words features Steven L. Shrewsbury’s and Brian Keene’s KING OF THE BASTARDS

Welcome to the fourth installment of Author’s Own Words. In this installment, we are honored to feature Stephen Shrewsbury’s and Brian Keene’s King of the Bastards, including an interview with author Stephen Shrewsbury.

Review:

On a bleak coast far from his homeland, Rogan, barbarian king of Albion, finds himself surrounded by deadly threats and spectacular wonders. Tentacles rise from the sea, winged beasts cast their shadows from above, and hungry corpses emerge from dark tides. For warrior-king Rogan, survival depends on steel, speed, muscle, and cunning. Thus opens Stephen Shrewsbury’s and Brian Keene’s King of the Bastards. A thrill ride of a novel with constant action, King of the Bastards satisfies fantasy, horror, and science-fiction fans alike with its blend of sword and sorcery, supernatural terror, and slight dash of speculative technology.

At first, the novel’s narrative arc is a straight shot—shipwrecked King Rogan agrees to save a tribal village from an evil wizard that has fortified himself in a mountain redoubt. The wizard Amazarek has summoned an army of undead humans, crossbred beasts, and Croatoan, a.k.a. Meeble, and ancient demon-like being. In Shrewsbury’s mythos, Meeble is one of the terrifying and fabled “Thirteen”—a group of elder and vaguely extra-terrestrial entities whose sole purpose is to glutton themselves on the suffering that results from torturing humanity. With this striking cast of villains in place, and with Rogan’s believable (if somewhat sardonic) sympathy for the abused villagers binding them together, the novel’s main confrontation draws its raw and enticing tension.

If Lord of the Rings is a heavy-crossbow of a fantasy novel, King of the Bastards is a light yet swiftly firing recurve bow. It is every bit as accurate in piercing the reader’s heart while also nailing the bullseye of its unique stylistic place across genres. In King Rogan, Shrewsbury and Keene create a character who echoes Howard’s Conan, yet who possesses a broader sense of humor and is embroiled in a more textured and nuanced type of political intrigue.

As the novel progresses, the authors weave in their own brand of alternate history. Even as Rogan and his companions—nephew Javan, a pair of amazon-esque archers, and a good wizard from the village—fight their way to Amazarek’s fortress, the dark waters of Rogan’s personal history, the kingdom and family he left behind, begin to tie-in with his motives. These factors intensify as Rogan battles furry mutants, deals with infighting among the tribesmen, and even enjoys a rough yet tasteful erotic scene. All of these elements mix well with the greater story of King Rogan’s life and fate of his kingdom.

When the climactic battle with Amazarek and Meeble arrives, the reader holds a strong stake in what success or failure means not just for Rogan himself, but for his family and dynasty. The climactic battle (without inserting a spoiler) is also where the speculative-technology aspect of the narrative comes into play and does so with the same ease and wonder with which the political-intrigue portion was introduced.

A unique gem in the vast trove of stories with epic heroes, King of the Bastards makes a strong claim to being a true classic. For all who enjoy musing on the various ways in which genre fiction can be served, this innovative novel provides food for thought that is both rare and bloody and offers an action-packed thrill ride into the bargain.

Interview:

Where did you first get the inspiration for writing a cross-genre novel?

SS: I never put on a cap and say THIS IS HIGH FANTASY but tell a story. The way I write comes out rough & brutal, be it a horror, romance or western. If anything, life is brutal and I try to be as close to real as possible. I don’t go out of my way to get my jollies being extreme… though some may think so. Life can be horrific and that is reflected in these tales.

Aspects of Rogan’s personality clearly echo Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and yet King Rogan has a certain rugged yet playful sense of humor that is quite original. What gave rise to this and other elements of his character?

SS: Well, I’d have to guess the dark humor that resides in Keene & myself. I think it’s good to temper such tales filled with action & gore with some humor… but I really don’t ever say I NEED A JOKE HERE. It just happens. A bit of us bleeds into Rogan. Plus, once the chains are off and a character has a broken moral compass, things roll.

While certainly a full-length novel, King of the Bastards is on the lean side for a story with strong fantasy elements. Yet it carries a great deal of depth when it comes to the characters and world building. Was rapid-world building something you thought about while writing the book, or did it come about naturally?

SS: World building is an interesting term. I hear it a great deal. Not a once in any book I do am I so worried about a map or the world that I let the story or characters suffer. I’ve seen folks labor over creating a fantasy realm or world and never start a yarn. I laugh at how folks are SO obsessed with setting such places on other worlds. HEY it’s the freaking EARTH in a different era. Jeez. I set this and my Gorias novels before the flood, in a long forgotten epoch where everything was possible. Certain weapons and metals were invented and lost in that epic apocalypse. Demons walk the earth. Angels too. The rules are fluid. But yeah, the story is pretty simple in KING. A forthcoming Rogan novel is very complex, though.

King of the Bastards is a co-written novel. What was that process like?

SS: Fairly straightforward. We kicked around ideas and lots, what we both wanted in such a work and I slammed out portions. We swapped things back & forth. Pretty fun really.

What makes the barbarian character so much fun, as opposed to say, knights in capes and shining armor?

SS: As I said above, Rogan has some sense of personal honor, but he’s raw, rough and has lived a long time. He will say & do anything to survive and gives all he has in a battle. At times, prolly cruel, but gritty and real.

This series features books both old and new, and King of the Bastards, while a fantastic read, certainly isn’t your latest work. Would you like to tell us about any particular upcoming releases?

SS: The sequel THRONE OF THE BASTARDS is out from Apex. My horror westerns featuring my one-armed ex-rebel Joel Stuart are out from Necro Publications; MOJO HAND, LAST MAN SCREAMING and BAD MAGICK. BEYOND NIGHT (written with Eric S. Brown) is a brutal fantasy about the Lost Legion out from Crystal Lake. Rumor is there is a third Rogan novel bleeding into existence. One never knows what else I’m working on.

 

Author’s Own Words thanks Steven L. Shrewsbury for taking the time for this interview. We wish to add here that King of the Bastards co-author Brian Keene has been badly burned in an accident. A GoFundMe page has been created to help with his medical expenses. Please use the following link if you would like to donate: https://www.gofundme.com/brian-keene-burn-fund

Steven L. Shrewsbury writes in the realms of horror and sword & sorcery. His novels include Within, Philistine, Overkill, Hell Billy, Blood & Steel, Thrall, Stronger than Death, Hawg, Thoroughbred, Tormentor, Godforsaken, and the just released Born of Swords.

Brian Keene is the Bram Stoker and Grand Master award-winning, bestselling author of over forty books, including Darkness on the Edge of Town, Take the Long Way Home, Urban Gothic, Castaways, Kill Whitey, Dark Hollow, Dead Sea, and The Rising trilogy.

Carl R. Moore is the author of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press.