Tuesday, August 30, 2016


In THE GOTHIC WORLDS OF PETER STRAUB University of Kansas professor John C. Tibbetts presents the first serious study linking Peter Straub to the evolving contexts of the Gothic Tale, including the fairy-tale tradition of the Brothers Grimm, the ghostly shivers of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James, the Weird monstrosities of H.P. Lovecraft, and today’s postmodernist trends in transgressive body horror. In addition to close looks at the celebrated novels, like Ghost Story and The Talisman (co-written with Stephen King), and the challenging short stories in Houses without Doors and Interior Darkness, Tibbetts examines for the first time Straub’s archives, working papers and correspondence. Several “close-up” interviews reveal the private and idiosyncratic sides of Straub, at work and at home. In short, continues Gary K. Wolfe in his Preface, “The Gothic Worlds of Peter Straub provides an invaluable road map to the complex, multileveled novels and stories that will eventually come to define Straub's legacy.”

Peter Straub with the bust of H.P. Lovecraft (photo by John C. Tibbetts)
In his Foreword to the book, cultural and literary historian Gary K. Wolfe writes that “perhaps more than any author of his generation—Stephen King included—Peter Straub has extended the literary possibilities of horror fiction.” Winner of every award and accolade in the field of horror, including the World Fantasy, World Horror, Bram Stoker, and International Horror Guild Lifetime Achievement awards, Straub’s standing in contemporary Gothic horror is indisputable.

John Tibbetts (left) and Peter Straub, Providence, Rhode Island

“[He is] the premier stylist of the modern supernatural novel,” writes historian Douglas Winter, “a writer of rare wit and intelligence.”

In an interview with Straub’s occasional collaborator, Stephen King, conducted especially for this book, King observes that Straub brings "a poet’s sensibility to the field of dark fantasy and creates a synthesis of horror and beauty.”


Spoiler alert!

Filmmaker Fede Alvarez has crafted a neat reversal on burglary movies: Instead of the thieves secretly contriving to enter a house, here they are desperately seeking to exit the house. It’s not the going-in that matters, it’s the going-OUT. And Alvarez does something much more disturbing. He delivers a piece of relentless, savage horror with an artful panache that is just this side of the movie it most resembles: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

The three would-be robbers, played by Jane levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto, have targeted a blind and reclusive Gulf War veteran (Stephen Lang), who lives alone in a blighted neighborhood. Legend has it that the accidental death of his daughter has left him with a stack of money secreted away in his dark old house. So off they go, confident they can get in, find the money, and get out, before waking the sleeping man. But no. The man’s preternatural senses wake him and enable him to stalk the very people stalking him.

The film plays upon our sympathies like a demented pianist attacking a keyboard. On the one hand, of course, there’s this poor old guy, alone, blind, the victim of these vicious robbers. On the other, we have three hapless thieves falling prey to a half-crazed guy who not only brutally attacks them with blazing guns and heavy hammers, but, it turns out, is hiding a nasty secret in his old dark house: He is holding captive the young woman who killed his daughter in a traffic accident. He will release her only after she delivers the baby that will replace the daughter she killed.

The second half of the movie is a nightmarish flight and pursuit through every room, attic, basement, trap door, and corridor. When the lights are on, the robbers have the advantage; when they are off, the power play reverses. And there is something especially creepy in the moments when pursuer and pursued—who is who continually shifts about—stand together in the same space, motionless, lights on or off, each waiting for the other to betray himself with the slightest sound or breath. Balancing the sheer audacity of the brutalities is the artful mise-en-scene. DON’T BREATHE is a miracle of canny camera placement and scene composition, almost elegant in its calculation and execution. Pursuer and pursued are constantly kept in the frame in every possible kind of shot composition. In other words, while we are repelled, sometimes disgusted at the atrocities depicted, we can appreciate the beauty of the film’s design. Here is the supreme paradox. How do we deal with unspeakable horrors when they are delivered with great artistry? Perhaps the former is all the more effective due to the latter.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


  “You Can’t Take the Sky from Me!”

Lately I have had the opportunity to revisit FIREFLY, the legendary, swashbuckling television series from 2002. Written and produced by Joss Whedon, it fell short of one complete season before the Suits at Fox cancelled it. But not before it garnered an enthusiastic fan base that has since grown over the years to cult proportions.

And the enthusiasm is justified.

Thank goodness, there’s nary a superpower or cape or mask among the nine members of the crew of Captain Mal Reynolds’s “Firefly” class transport ship. They are very human, flawed and heroic by turns. They ply the spaceways as they smuggle, steal, and scavenge their way in a futuristic world, caught in the crossfire of a galactic civil war.

Cast members are Nathan Fillion as the good Captain; Gina Torres as Zoe, his tough second-in-command; Alan Tuduk as “Wash,” ship’s pilot (and husband of Zoe); Adam Baldwin as soldier-of-fortune Jayne; Jewel Staite as engineer/ mechanic Kaylee; Morena Baccarin as the professional “companion” (read that: courtesan) Inara; Ron Glass as the priest Shepherd Book; and Sean Maher and Summer Glau as a brother and sister on the run from the Federal authorities.

FIREFLY, bless it, is concerned more with personalities and crew relationships than it is on special effects (although there are some beauts) and chases (although yes, there are a few). It has a great heart. And the joy and comradeship shared by the ensemble cast is compelling and real.

It is also one of the more heart-breaking might-have-beens, in that producer Whedon was blocked from finishing it and revealing its many secrets.

But at least the glorious fragment that has been left us is available for all to either revisit of discover for the first time. They can’t take THAT away from us!