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BLOT: (15 Jun 2015 - 08:28:43 PM)

Hidden (aka Skjult) [2009 Norwegian Horror]

personas. Directed and Written by Pal Oie. Starring Kristoffer Jone, Karin Park, and Bjarte Hjelmeland.

gist. Kai Koss returns to his hometown after the death of his horribly abusive mother, and finds that the same townspeople that years ago refused to intervene to help him are now blaming him for non-specified ills. When a pair of camping youth go missing, many look to Kai as suspect number one. As he helps to delve deeper into the mystery, the extent of the abuse and the horror of one night years ago when a family is destroyed starts to catch up with him. Kai is a haunted man, and the past is a monster coming to claim him.

Hand coming out of the dirt, holding a doll mask

review. One of my first thoughts when watching this film was that it was a tragic tale about Norway's lack of lightbulbs [and the sad story about how those few that exist all flicker and fade]. A second thought was that this is a terribly by-the-books ghost/horror movie. How cliche is it? In one scene, the protagonist shuts a bathroom medicine cabinet and sees a ghost standing behind in the reflection. I shit you not. My ire at the tired tropes was somewhat mitigated, though, by the knowledge that in the six or so years since this movie was released, Blumhouse (and others) have parlayed those same tired tropes into moderately successful flicks. Hidden's biggest sin is that it is merely an ok film, neither brilliant nor abysmal. It uses the tools in its toolkit adequately, and that is damning praise. When it pushes the envelope a little—the weird events that occur in the hotel, the odd imagery in the house such as the room full of wrapped dolls, the kind-of-obvious-in-retrospect birthing-mother imagery—it does so in a way that is haunting and effective. It does this semi-rarely, and those nuggets of brilliance will be ultimately lost in scenes where a man chases a shadowy figure through foggy woods and where a person hiding from a baddie is exposed by her cellphone, which is a shame. With earnest hope, I look forward to what the writer/director goes on to do from here, because there is a chance it will be amazing.

final score. 4 (on a scale of 0 to 8), +1 for those who are into ghost films or Nordic films, -1 for those who need films to be original to care about them.

more info. Hidden/Skjult's Wikipedia entry.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: June 2015


BLOT: (11 Jun 2015 - 08:36:14 PM)

This Batman cover looks like someone's subconcious splattered all over the page (Batman #504, volume 1)

Since I literally stayed up past my bedtime last night complaining about how people flavor information before displaying it, I'll play this one straight, and ask you to glance/look at this cover and tell me the first thing that you see...

Catwoman and AzBat...in an odd pose

That's from the first volume of Batman, issue 504 (link goes to Comixology's single issue version, which is where I got the cover image from). It is the middle of the KnightQuest story-arc (part of the broader KnightFall story-arc, which is about Bruce Wayne being replaced as Batman by Jean Paul Valley, aka Azrael (LGT Wikipedia)). It is part of AzBat's initial run-ins with Catwoman, and is supposed to be Catwoman holding AzBat down, but hell if it doesn't look like someone's subconscious splashed out all over the page.

Doesn't help that AzBat's first sighting of Catwoman led to him having real kinky wet dreams about her, something he brings up a number of times. Then she emasculates him as being an undersexed pretender. By the way, just in case you glanced at the cover and are confused, that's his arms...his plump, whippable arms.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: June 2015


BLOT: (10 Jun 2015 - 08:51:55 PM)

Someone was wrong on the Internet

Two-ish years ago, I wrote a blog post about the Monson Motor Lodge incident, in which I attacked a Tumblr post for claiming that a group of protestors were black children out for a swim (which I felt was not only disrespectful to the protestors, but also disruptive to discussions about the St. Augustine Movement in general), and talked about not only the context of the incident but also the way that images (as well as anecdotes) can be flavored before we even see them by a caption, or a link. You can read it yourself, that link above is effectively unedited (besides to put a bumper linking back to here). Read my write-up, if you haven't, and then come back. This'll wait.

It has gone on to be one of the most read posts on this blog, read much more than the horror and weird posts, and while not everyone agrees with it [for various reasons], 99% of the discussion that has come my way has been by people interested in why I worded something the way I did or why I wrote it or what not, basically intelligent discussion and debate.

Found out, today, that someone found the blog post a couple of days back, and completely misread it, tweeting out: "when I went looking for this pic [note: not the exact one in the blog post, but of the same incident], I found this hilarious blog which tries to say that it isn't that bad in context". Note that "this hilarious blog" he is claiming hand-waves the incident includes this paragraph:

Think about what would make someone see a photo of a man pouring acid into a pool full of people, an act designed to terrify and to attack, and then try to spruce it up by saying that it was children and kind of implying that these were kids just out for a swim. And think about people who respond to the caption rather than the evidence. Finally, think about all the other parts: the large crowd and the complex history and the fact that if you look at the second, where it is a very nice beach-side place, it doesn't look like a cheap motel pool turned into a tragedy, anymore. It loses its claustrophobia but gains a truth of what the protesters were really up against: institutionalized racism from the sort of people that were probably really nice to their pets and had loving parents and good, church-going children and, more importantly, thought of themselves as morally upright citizens doing the right thing for their society.

Which is a Doug way of saying that it was, if anything, worse in context. And way more complicated.

Part of what is going on here is that the picture resurfaces every couple of months. Last year was the 50th anniversary. That link goes to a NPR post about it that is worth reading, because it includes some comments from the protestors themselves. Another recent resurgence of the pic was due to the incident where a cop pulled a gun on teenagers at a pool party, which is being linked for obvious reasons to the Monson Motor Lodge incident.

However, because the picture keeps resurfacing, people keep refinding that blog post. Though it the second paragraph it responds directly to the "June, 1964. Black children integrate the swimming pool of the Monson Motel" Tumblr caption, and despite the constant callback throughout the whole thing that "why would you say it was children to sell it?", what I've found is that people tend to skip all the context of my post and assume that I'm somehow discussing whatever caption/link they saw connected with the picture. Then, depending on said link/caption, they try to apply my "don't make monsters when history made plenty of it's own" in varied ways. In the case of the aforementioned erroneous tweeter, it seemed to assume I was somehow defending James Brock, despite that language never showing up anywhere in the post. I guess the "plenty of monsters" language was also overlooked.

Where it gets interesting is that in the end, this incident verified the post further than anything else. One of my major points is that if you tell someone what a picture means, or what a bit of history means, before sharing it with them, you have already corrupted their ability to see it as part of a larger picture. They see it through your filter, even if later they find out they disagree with you. It is a powerful trick to play, like changing soundtracks to a movie to change the emotional experience. To wit, I've now seen a few other people link to my post as somehow against the protestors instead of against people calling them children.

To clarify, in a tl;dr fashion:

Again, you don't have to agree with me, but it does help if you address what I am saying instead of your fictional account of it.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: June 2015


BLOT: (02 Jun 2015 - 07:12:56 PM)

The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival 2014 Best Short Films DVD: thoughts and reviews

Upon spotting the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival 2014 Best Short Films DVD for sale, I went ahead and ordered it without really looking at the contents list. There is some risk involved, there, but I am a guy who loves short horror films and a guy who loves Lovecraftian media. Seemed like it would be a good idea, and it was pretty decent. Good job, past me.

There are nine proper shorts on the DVD. There are also three trailers, two promos, and a broader introduction/promo to the Film Festival and Cthulhu Con. The trailers are for the movies Exile, Feed the Light, and The Dreamlands. All three of those trailers can be seen online (just click the links). The two promos were a Festival bumper called "Dread Sign" and a music video for "No Turning Back" (LGT: said video) from the Dreams in the Witch House Rock Opera. Dug the silent-movie styling, though the back-and-forth kind of kicked me out of it.

Now we are getting to the main short films. The first (by order of how they are laid out on the DVD menu) is "The Celebrant", directed by Brian Lillie. It features a voice artist and a sound engineer recording one last poem for a Mordecai Saccades (sort of Crowley type, though apparently a tad darker) audio collection. Upon playing back the recording, though, they find another voice has snuck in, and something dark is answering the call. It is fairly simple in set up, and just about the right length for its story. You have to take a couple of plot expedients with a grain of salt, but it is pretty spooky and ends more wide-scale than your average short.

"Eyes in the Dark", directed by Alex White. This one involves an egotistical scientist explaining how his great discoveries are the byproduct of a box which answers questions asked of it, as long as the questions are big enough to be worth its time. One of the longer ones on the DVD, it backfires a tad when its big-reveals at the end fail to strike home. Might make a fair Call of Cthulhu module, but is one of the more skippable entries on the DVD.

"There's an Octopus in Your Head", by Ari Grabb. A man confronts Satan in an attempt to find out why he—the man, not Satan—likes making pancakes so much. It is an animated metal-opera that is surprisingly touching in places. It is also pretty much not Lovecraftian in the least (unless cephalods are all it takes). Still, one of my favorites from the DVD and one I'd recommend most everyone watch. You can watch a trailer of it.

"Black Sugar", by Hank Friedmann. One of the few you can currently watch online in its entirety. A group of kids find a "legal high", called Black Sugar, and decide to try it. It comes in mochi-like little munchies—read, the filmmakers had teenagers eat mochi—and biting into it takes you to a different realm of consciousness. Literally. Then bad things happen. It generated some buzz last year in some of the various online circles I frequent, but something about it, then, did not quite sit right with me. Watching it, again, I'm a much bigger convert. I quite enjoyed it this round, and would consider it one of the big standouts.

"Ikelos Below", by Thomas Nicol. Simple and weird, a dream-sequence short inspired by a dream. Has some neat visuals, but it is mostly weird for weird sake, and could be skippable (though it is fairly short).

"I Am Not Samuel Krohm", by Sébastien Chantal. A weasely little salesman for a Monsanto like company is trying his best to convince farmers in rural France to sign up for his products, and generally failing. On the way to a big talk, though, he is pulled over by a cop who mistakes him for someone else, the eponymous Samuel Krohm. This turns dark fairly fast and the salesman has to try and find out what is going on while staying alive. The longest on the DVD, I believe, and probably the meatiest in the way of actual characters (and something like development), plot, photography, and mystery. Well acted and the central tension is intriguing. It does sort of run out of places to go before it is done, but it is probably my favorite on the whole disk.

"Somnaphage, by Monsieur Soeur. Claymation short about a recluse who does not dream, and the lonely people she invites over, and the strange mask which enables her to enter the dream, and the dark thing that seems to be waiting there for all of her newfound and fleeting friends. One of the most different films in the set, sweet and sad and gorgeous. Well recommended as one of the "must watch" shorts.

"The Void", by Eric Schwartz. A quirky one towards the end of the DVD. A pair of girls go into a off-limits forest trying to find a kid who has gone missing in it (one of many). They are inspired by their favorite TV show but must face The Void, a horror of local legend. It strives to contrast the quirky sweet opening with the suddenly dark ending, but unfortunately has a too-long already-darkening middle for the contrast to sing. The world building around The Void is fairly effective, and it has charm, but did not quite come out filling whole.

"Vomica", by Andy Green and Darren Ormandy. Winner of Best Short Film. A trio of commandos in WW2 attack a Nazi research post in France to find out what is being held there. Bad things, ladies and gents. Bad things. A meaty little short, with effective use of repetition and slow reveals to help drive up the tension. The big pop at the end might be too big, but the rest of it is so well crafted it is forgivable. Not quite my favorite (almost entirely because of the too-big-pop), but I dig it quite a bit. The trailer does a good job of giving a glimpse.

Ok, those are the films. Of them, I would say that "I Am Not Samuel Krohm", "Somnaphage", and "Black Sugar" are my top three, with "There's an Octopus in Your Head" getting an honorary spot as the fourth of the three despite it's not-quite-Lovecraftian-horror-short status. "Vomica" is also another right up there. In fact, the only one that I didn't really like was "Eyes in the Dark". Even though I felt like "The Void" could have been more, it was fairly unique and watchable. That would be something like four great shorts, four fair to good ones, and only one I felt was meh.

I hope they keep this up, since finding some of the shorts would have been quite difficult otherwise.

Lovecraftian Miscellany

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: June 2015


BLOT: (31 May 2015 - 02:47:09 PM)

Additional Notes and Commentary on Doug Talks Weird 3: Thomas Ligotti's "The Frolic" and "What's a Lovecraftian?"

Glad to say that my Doug Talks Weird series had added a third main episode: Thomas Ligotti's "The Frolic" and "What's a Lovecraftian?". This one is about 3/4s the way to me hitting the sort of vibe/style I want, I just now want to pep it up just a tad. Which seems weird, considering the subject matter, but there you go.

Doug Talks Weird Title Card

I generally enjoy expanding upon the ideas in the video and spelling them out, again, so let's get to it.

Ligotti's "The Frolic" is the first story in Songs of a Dead Dreamer, a collection that was most affordable in ebook edition from Subterranean press, but that edition seems to have dried up (along with Grimscribe), meaning you will have to wait for this October's Penguin Classics edition of Dead Dreamer/Grimscribe to get a cheapish shot at it. The hardcopy editions tend to range from pretty expensive to fairly expensive, but those are an option. Another one is below.

There are at least two versions of the story. The 1980s edition and the 2000s edition. The alterations are minor. For instance, in one scene, Dr. Munck says (in the original), "Let's get drunk, shall we?," but in the 2000s edit says, "Let's get drunk and fool around, shall we?". Minor stuff like that. The upcoming Penguin edition will likely have the 2000s edition, but that's a guess.

Ligotti did indeed refer to this story as a normal story. In the Author Introduction section of the booklet accompanying the DVD of the short film adaptation (note: only place I see it available, now, is through the Amazon Marketplace), Ligotti describes the process of writing "The Frolic" thusly:

The stories I wrote at that time—the early to mid-1970s—were still bad and their characters were not normal. Very justly, they were rejected by the editors to whom I submitted them. When I discovered the world of small-press horror magazines in the later 1970s, I also discovered that—with some striking exceptions such as the twisted heroes and heroines in the stories of Ramsey Campbell—everyone was writing primarily about normal characters, that is, more or less ordinary characters who moved in excruciatingly normal environments. Desperate to get one of my stories published, I finally broke down and wrote about some normal characters living a normal life. The result was "The Frolic". The story was accepted by the first editor to whom I sent it, and appeared in the British fanzine Fantasy Tales in 1982.

Technically, he had broken through and had one of his "non-normal stories", "The Chymist", published before "The Frolic", but had written "The Frolic" before he knew of the publication acceptance.

In the video, I reference Jason Marc Harris's "Smiles of Oblivion: Demonic Clowns and Doomed Puppets as Fantastic Figures of Absurdity, Chaos, and Misanthropy in the Writings of Thomas Ligotti", which is an article I have previously written about. "Smiles" barely touches upon "The Frolic", but it does point out that the story ends with laughter as a response to the question, "Is everything all right?" Harris expounds on this more than I do, and in a different way, by asking who is laughing. Harris also brings up research that shows a cross-over between the Fool character and the Devil character in old puppet/mask shows. Of course, the Fool is also regularly used to ironically tell the truth of the story/play.

The layers of what makes something Lovecraftian, from the video, are, in order given:

Something I would add to this, around the second bullet point, is that there is potentially a layer where dark magic and highly advanced science are one in the same, but this is slightly post-Lovecraftian meta.

The line from (2000s) "The Frolic" about "A thousand [other] names" is:

According to him, though, he has plenty of other names, no less than a thousand, none of which he's condescended to speak in anyone's presence.

Whether that's meant to be a reference to "And pray to all space you never meet in my thousand other forms", I do not know. The Dreamlands bit is me stretching, slightly, since the line only says, "There's actually quite a poetic geography to his interior dreamland as he describes it." The descriptions seem more Dreamland than real-land. Of course, it also mentions Neverland, so you can go there, as well (and some already have!)

The above link to the physical copy of the short film is not the only way to see it. You can also watch "The Frolic" on Jacob Cooney's Vimeo account (or, if you want to send some money towards the creators, IndieReign. The VOD versions, of course, do not include Ligotti's write-up of the story or the other notes and goodies (including an interview fairly enlightening towards the making of the film), so that's a fair reason to go physical, even if it is not absolutely essential. You also get a copy of the story in the booklet.

What else? Oh, my post about The Blair Witch Project as a Lovecraftian movie. It was written in response to something Ramsey Campbell said on Reddit. Since writing it, I've went on to research the claims some more (looking up director's commentary and special features and such), and would actually say that I was wrong. Nearly everything unexplained, such as the stick figures, had a non-Lovecraftian origin. Putting it through the tests above, though, you get at least the Mythogenic layer, the Subverted Monomyth layer, and the External/Internal Entanglement layer. There are reasons to believe it, and disbelieve it.

I think that wraps it up. The video is down below. Enjoy. And, if you have a Youtube account and want to comment on my Lovecraftian definition, I would love to get a discussion going based on it.

Weird Fiction, Thomas Ligotti

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: May 2015


BLOT: (14 May 2015 - 08:52:59 AM)

Doug Talks Weird Bonus Episode: Re-Reading Aickman. Additional notes and commentary, with some response to Jason Wilcox's "The Shadow Woman: A Re-reading of Robert Aickman's 'The Trains'".

I've posted a bonus episode for Doug Talks Weird, this one about re-reading Robert Aickman's stories and the way it enhances enjoyment (and is a companion video to my Doug Talks Weird episode on Aickman's "The Trains" and irrealism). The original title was going to be "The importance of re-reading Aickman", and was going to say that Aickman has to be read two or three times for someone to "get it", but that's kind of dangerous talk. I still hold that Aickman is best upon a second or so reading, but the immediacy of the original reading is also very powerful.

In the above episode, I quote Vladimir Nabokov's "Good Readers and Good Writers", talking about reading. I'll share it again, here:

Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader. And I shall tell you why. When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. When we look at a painting we do not have to move our eyes in a special way even if, as in a book, the picture contains elements of depth and development. The element of time does not really enter in a first contact with a painting. In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second, or third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting.

That quote is the first reason I give in the video, that we have to work upon a text like listening to a piece of music or watching a movie, we never catch everything right off and it takes time to fully embrace every nuance (and unlike books, movies and songs are generally something it is socially acceptable to re-enjoy). By Nabokov's reasoning, you do not fully understand a book until you have gotten past the act of "moving the eyes". In this way, only after you have read a book more than once have you been able to fully appreciate the text of the book and how the whole thing works together. I am not 100% behind this, in that I think some books are not meant to be read more than once (which is another dangerous statement and I'll leave it alone), or at least were written for the excitement of the first reading moreso than any subsequent ones. As a bonus, from roughly the same place in the same Nabokov lecture, another line: "The mind, the brain, the top of the tingling spine, is, or should be, the only instrument used upon a book."

The second reason I give is that as we read, we bring in ourselves at a given time to the reading. Our emotions, our life circumstances, our sense-of-importance we attach to text-as-read, all of these are also-read when we sit down with a book. By re-reading at a different time in our life, a different set of circumstances, you are better able to assail the boundaries you place on a book and see it as more timeless.

I became aware of the re-readability of Aickman, perhaps ironically, with an audiobook. The Reece Shearsmith audiobook of Wine-Dark Sea was picked up by me as something to listen to while out walking at night (etc). The slower, human reading of the tale forced me to listen to the gentle, slower, human elements of the story. While I had previously thought of stories like "Into the Wood" as inexplicably strange and kind of creepy, I realized that was mostly set-dressing for a story about a woman dissatisfied with suburbia but yet too out of touch with the strangeness of reality to fully face it [at least at first]. I've enjoyed Aickman since the first time I read Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories (which has "Ringing the Changes"), but I truly fell in love with his writing on the second (and later) readings.

You can watch my video, below:

Funnily enough, in a recent article which I had the pleasure to read yesterday, Jason Wilcox talks not only about re-reading Aickman, but about specifically re-reading "The Trains":

["The Trains"] is a story that demands re-reading, as on a first read it engages us on the level of surface narrative, while most readers will, I think, be aware that much of its significance and detail is lost if the attention is paid only to this level. A second reading should reveal its hidden paths, or the level of the 'unconscious text' (a term which seems to have been first used by the French critic Jean Bellemin-Noel, a follower of Lacan). Which is not to say that Aickman as author is unconscious of this deeper level: on the contrary, I would say that he is writing most, if not all, his best stories with this level very much in mind.

That is from Jason Wilcox's "The Shadow Woman: A Re-reading of Robert Aickman's 'The Trains'", published in Wormwood 24 (i.e. The Spring 2015 issue). The gist of the article starts with, "it could be said that to attempt to 'understand' Aickman's stories is to fall into a trap...", but he holds that certain stories can be understood, and the article is him attempting to analyze "The Trains" by an "unconscious" understanding [that is, that elements of the story can be taken as a indicative of the story's unstated, though present, intent].

Warning, I'm going to spoil some elements of the story to discuss Wilcox's article. Leave now if you still need to read the story and care about specific plot points.

I believe Wilcox to be spot-on to point out the juxtaposition between Margaret and Beech (and between the largely unused Guest House with the Roper House). Margaret is a confused character. She is unsure of herself, but on the surface is merely plain. Beech's self-doubt is manifested in cross-dressing (and enhanced by a largely unexplored strange black ring, which could possibly be a sign of cult-like activity, or of secret marriage). In both, the real character is underneath, and in both the companion-of-choice—Mimi and Wendley, respectively—is a person that seems to be more socially acceptable though hides other layers. Much in the way the pattern of four-stones-to-a-map-of-a-house motif shows a reflection of the sad Guest House and the Miss Roper-less "Miss Roper's House", the character of Margaret can be understood by Beech and vice versa.

However, Wilcox links this to an attraction of Margaret for Mimi. This I am unsure about. While sexual confusion is there, and while Margaret is more positive in her assessment of Mimi's looks than of any man the story has to offer, I see it instead as Margaret being more jealous of Mimi's ability to wear herself in public, while Margaret cannot. As for lines such as the taboo of Beech barging in and of some of the discussions of sex and gender matters—not mention the quote about "you know what love is", which is perhaps Beech over-assuming—, this story still feels to me to be a comment on the gendered Victorian ghost story. What should not have mattered in a modern world, a female family servant to a male family member, becomes corrupt and confused because the house itself is a ghost of an earlier time.

Wilcox's interpretation bests mine, mind you, in that it asks the pertinent question of why bother with such a set-up, and does a nice job of comparing Margaret's killing of Beech with her own sexual confusion. I simply think assuming Margaret wanting more from Mimi besides to feel accepted is possibly, to quote Wilcox's own line, "a trap".

Is definitely worth a read, though, and is a good example of how Aickman comes across in layers, and how those layers show up not on first glances, but on subsequent ones.

Nabokov, Vladimir. "Good Readers and Good Writers". As collected in Lectures on Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980.

Wilcox, Jason. "The Shadow Woman: A Re-reading of Robert Aickman's 'The Trains'". Wormwood 24, Spring 2015.

Robert Aickman

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: May 2015


BLOT: (04 May 2015 - 10:47:10 AM)

Tartarus Press to release book chronicling early development of Robert Aickman's style, includes documentary, Robert Aickman: Author of Strange Tales

Apparently it was a good week to post my video about Aickman's "The Trains" and my definition of Aickmanesque (followed up a post expanding on some ideas), in that Tartarus Press announced today that they are going to be publishing The Strangers and Other Writings, which will collect some previously uncollected/unpublished works on a range of topics. The first bit that excites me is that it will chronologically present the unpubished stories/fragments so that you can see the development of Aickman's early style. The second bit that excites me is that it will include the 50+ minute documentary, Robert Aickman: Author of Strange Tales.

Book trailer embedded below.

Robert Aickman

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: May 2015


BLOT: (02 May 2015 - 10:47:11 AM)

Some additional notes/commentary about Doug Talks Weird 2: Robert Aickman's The Trains, Aickmanesque, and Irrealism

Couple of nights ago, posted the second video in my Doug Talks Weird series. This video looks at Robert Aickman's "The Trains", as well as the concept of what makes a story "Aickmanesque" and/or gives it a flavor of irrealism. You can watch the video by clicking the "thumbnail" below, the first link, above, or see it embedded at the bottom.

Wanted to take a moment and fill in some more blanks and give some additional commentary. I dug around a little online to find out how other people identified "Aickmanesque". Anecdotally, it seems to be considered a phrase tied to the inexplicable, though Brian J. Showers points that out there's more to it than "an oblique and impentrable ending" (that's about al he says about Aickman in the inteview, but it's a good interview). The Curious Tale's blogpost about Poor Soul's Light, gives these keywords: "mysterious, elliptical, uncanny, unsettling." Throughout that post, you see a few other elements: loneliness, gentle prose, and dreamlike. On Thomas Ligotti Online, a comparison of Ligotti to Aickman, by "Nemonymous", concludes that Aickmanesque is..."various metaphors becoming humanity", which I like the sound of though probably do not agree with. To end it with one more, let's look at Mario Guslandi's definition [as applied to "The Swords"], given in his review of Cold Hand in Mine: "inscrutable and disquieting, blending eroticism, weirdness and the disturbing feeling that something terrible lurks behind our trivial daily existence." "Oblique" and "puzzling" shows up, as well.

Almost humorously, to me, though I discuss the puzzling nature and the trouble of applying a single definition to an Aickman story, when I was searching for my own definition of Aickmanesque, I seem to have focused more on the practical. It is not that I disagree with much of the above (though I think a lot of it, like a lot of the critique of Ligotti, misses out on the humanity of the situation), it is simply that most of those definitions could be equally applied to the later stories of M.R. James (stuff like "Story of a Disappearance and a Reapparance," I mean) or to the stories of Edward Lucas White. Reggie Oliver (and Ramsey Campbell, and Laird Barron, and so on) has many of those qualities in his stories, but I would not say that their stories are fully Aickmanesque, merely that they tap into the same vibes, presumably on purpose. Some of my more specific elements include:

I did not go too much into a formal definition of "narrative lacuna", because I have not had much luck finding one. People seem to use the term in relation to their own definition.

I did, however, go into a more formal definition of Irrealism, which can be dangerous. As a literary critique, it seems almost a little too new to have full staying power, but I find several of the articles about it, such as those in The Irreal Reader, to be fascinating. Some takes on it are pretty much just surrealism/Bizarro, but the more formal bits, including the articles I quoted in the video, demonstrate the style as a method to embrace the chaos of pure experience but then to apply, perhaps apophenically, the rules of consciousness to it.

Another book I quoted from, Gary William Crawford's Robert Aickman: An Introduction, is actually one that I was so-so on (you can see my review on Goodreads, in which I gave it the 2-star, "It was ok," rating). I really liked his biographical sections early on, and I liked the concentrated collection of critique and his bibliography, but I disagreed with several of his summations and commentaries on the individual stories (not all, of course, not even most, just some). "The Trains" was one where I disagreed with a lot of Crawford's critique/summation, but some snippets that might be useful for a contrast reading to my own follow:

The story is so subtle and "elliptical" to use Ramsey Campbell's term, that it is difficult to say precisely what happens in it. Yet Aickman creates an intensely frightening tale...[snipped section includes a summation of the story and gets a few details off by my reckoning, but I'll leave that up to the those who have read the story to decide]...But these events are filtered mainly through Margaret's perceptions, so it is very difficult to say which is dream or which reality...As in dreams and poems, the truth is presented metaphorically: Roper's home and "The Quiet Valley" are analogues of hell. For no reason, Margaret finds herself caught up in it, and this punishment, as in "The Inner Room," appears quite unjust.
[Crawford, Gary Williams. ROBERT AICKMAN: AN INTRODUCTION (Kindle Locations 835-852). Ash-Tree Press. Kindle Edition.]

If you want some other critique on "The Trains", there is quite a bit. A longer one that goes into a number of issues and ideas is Brendan Moody's " Blood and Iron: Robert Aickman's 'The Trains'. In the 24th issue of Wormwood (that is pretty new in that it came out a couple of days ago), Jason Wilcox has an article called "The Shadow Woman: A Re-reading of Robert Aickman's 'The Trains'" that I am curious about (I have it on order, but I have not read it). Based on its title, I have a suspicion about its focus and what sort of re-casting it takes about the end.

By the way, I meant it about Berberian Sound Studio. I think it hits pretty much all the right Aickman vibes. The only peson who has compared the two, though, appears to me. Ah well. I'm also the only person I've seen use irrealism to describe Aickman. If anyone wants to get a good journal article that proves me right, I'd appreciate it!

Alright, onto the video. The next full episode will be on Thomas Ligotti's "The Frolic" and will deal with the question, "What's a Lovecraftian?"

Weird Fiction, Robert Aickman

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: May 2015


Written by Doug Bolden

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