But a funny thing happened…

Sorry about the “interruption of service,” so to speak.  I had some personal matters to attend to, and then I had to plan for the Dragon Con Horror Track.  And some of it can be attributed to that old bugaboo of mine, “overthinking it.”

When I coined the term “dreadpunk,” it was partially satirical.  I knew that sooner or later, some jackass was going to take the things I liked and give them a shiny new name, so I figured that jackass might as well be me.  But I also wanted shorthand for (say it all together, gang) “contemporary Gothic and Victorian-inspired Horror, Dark Fantasy, and Spooky Pop Culture.”

This time last year, we were in the middle of what appeared to be a new boom of new Gothic entertainment: PENNY DREADFUL had been renewed for a third season, Guillermo del Toro’s CRIMSON PEAK was being readied for theatrical release, and VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN looked like it could be breezy fun.  As we all know by now, PENNY DREADFUL ended on a frustratingly half-assed note, CRIMSON PEAK underperformed (even though it is gaining a cult audience), and VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN exploded on contact with the box office.

But a funny thing happened while all of this was going on: people began to embrace the term “dreadpunk” — many of them strangers, such as the administrator of the Facebook page Dreadpunk = Gothic Horror (and I love that self-explanatory title).  While some of these folks have placed an undue emphasis on Cthulhu*, overall they are getting more right than wrong.  Refreshingly, a large part of “getting it right” has been an embrace of the humorous, quirky streak that is embedded deep in dreadpunk’s overall DNA — the works of Edward Gorey, Charles Addams, and, of course, Tim Burton.

I have long said that dreadpunk is an entertainment aesthetic rather than a subculture, but I think that the term can apply to the fandom of this material as well.  And even if you write the term off as utterly ridiculous, hopefully you’ll enjoy reading the site if you’re a fan of “contemporary Gothic and Victorian-inspired Horror, Dark Fantasy, and Spooky Pop Culture.”

* To be clear, I am a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction. However, his work is more properly termed “cosmic horror” whereas dreadpunk is primarily rooted in Gothic horror and fantasy. There’s definite crossover — Chaosium’s CTHULHU BY GASLIGHT was an early inspiration of mine — but Cthulhu and co. have a sizable fanbase without swallowing up this one, too.

It’s Alive

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One of Nino Carbe’s excellent FRANKENSTEIN illustrations.

Sometime between 2:00 AM and 3:00 AM* on June 16, 1816, a teenager had a vision which continues to speak to us. Well, let’s let her tell it in her own words:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

That teenager was, of course, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, later to find literary immortality as Mary Shelley. The vision was the genesis of FRANKENSTEIN, one of horror’s greatest works as well as being my favorite novel. Without that novel, this site wouldn’t exist.

Rather than repeat myself at length, I will say, “thank you for everything, Mary Shelley.”

* Astronomer Donald Olson calculated this in September 2011. Science!

 

Upcoming Release: THEATER OF FEAR AND HORROR by Mel Gordon

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Publication Date: August 9, 2016
Feral House

Description: “Bloodcurdling shrieks, fiendish schemes, deeds of darkness, mayhem and mutilation—we all have a rough idea of what Grand Guignol stands for. But until now it has been hard to find out much more about it than that. According to the American theater historian Mel Gordon, no major history of the theater so much as mentions it, although it is a form of entertainment that held its own on the Paris stage for more than half a century. But Mr. Gordon has made a thorough job of filling the gap.”—John Gross, The New York Times

Here is the expanded edition of classic outré book, THE GRAND GUIGNOL, first published in 1988 and now long out of print.

Like the original anthology, it includes an illustrated introduction to the theater of Paris and abroad, a breakdown of its stage tricks, a summary of one hundred plots, extensive photo documentation, André de Lord’s essay, “Fear in Literature,” and two originally produced Grand Guignol scripts.

The expanded edition also contains additional graphic and textual material including a color insert of Grand Guignol posters; the 1938 autobiographical account of Maxa, the company’s leading female performer entitled “I Am the Maddest Woman in the World”; and the controversial playscript ORGY IN THE LIGHTHOUSE.


This is easily my most anticipated non-fiction release of the year. Earlier editions of this book are quite expensive on the secondary market, and English language books on the Grand Guignol seem to go out of print very quickly.

Upcoming Release: STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL by Leanna Renee Hieber

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Publication Date: April 26, 2016
Tor Books

Description: Originally published as two books, STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL unites Leanna Renee Hieber’s critically acclaimed novels in a single revised volume, restoring the author’s original vision for the work.

Miss Persephone Parker—known as Percy—is different, with her lustrous, snow-white hair, pearlescent pale skin, and uncanny ability to see and communicate with ghosts. Seeking to continue her education, Percy has come to Queen Victoria’s London, to the Athens Academy. What she will learn there will change her life forever.

Athens Academy is the citadel of The Guard, an ancient order that battles the forces of evil. The Victorian Guard, led by professor Alexi Rychman, is incomplete. They cannot defeat Jack the Ripper— who is more than the serial killer he appears to be—or the greater monster his appearance heralds.

Percy’s lifelong habit of concealment combined with Alexi’s fevered search for the Guard’s missing seventh nearly prove disastrous as ancient Greek myths begin playing out in modern, gaslit, Victorian London. Percy and her new friends and allies must overcome their preconceptions about each other and their own histories before they can set the world to rights.


Leanna is a long-time friend and I’m glad to see that her two breakthrough novels (The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker) are being issued as a single “author’s preferred edition.”

Reflections on INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE

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I love vampires and I make no apologies about it. I don’t love everything that comes out with vampires in it, but I’m also OK with saying, “that’s just not for me” and moving on. I refuse to buy into the idea that the subgenre is somehow “ruined” because of teen romance… or adult romance, for that matter. “That’s just not for me.” Easy.

What is for me are Anne Rice’s early books in THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES. Full disclosure, like many readers I disembarked after MEMNOCH THE DEVIL. I can’t fault an artist for following their muse, but that doesn’t mean I have to tag along. Maybe one day I’ll pick back up. But those first four novels are stone cold classics.

Chances are that if you regularly keep up with this blog, you’re a fan of at least some of Rice’s books. And if not, you are probably a fan of something directly influenced by her work.

As far as vampire fiction goes, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE is the most important novel of the 20th century. Some would argue that Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND is, but its impact seems to be more on “general” horror and zombie fiction. When it comes to vampire-focused fiction, the influence of THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES looms larger than any other book.

INTERVIEW wasn’t the first story to feature a sympathetic vampire, but it certainly popularized that trope as a literary subject. When I was on the young side of my teenage years, I was resistant to her books because of their reputation for being about “whiny” vampires. I wasn’t immediately blown away by INTERVIEW when I finally read it (THE VAMPIRE LESTAT was where I got hooked), but I appreciate it more and more as I get older .

Let’s get something straight about the idea that Rice’s books are about whiny vampires. I don’t know about most people, but if I was transformed into a supernatural being that had to murder people to survive, I’d probably have an existential crisis as well. And the excessive “woe is me” outlook is primarily Louis, anyway; Lestat is a much more fun-loving, proactive protagonist.

Neil Jordan directed a pretty good adaptation of INTERVIEW that was released in 1994. I give props to Cruise for committing himself so fully to portraying Lestat, but his appearance still looked off to me. Of course, that movie was light years better than its quasi-follow-up, QUEEN OF THE DAMNED. The rights to THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES were optioned again a couple of years ago, but I haven’t heard anything about that project in awhile. Personally, I would rather see a cable television series than films.

Of course, this was all a long-winded way preamble to me mentioning that INTERVIEW turns 40 today. I keep trying to ease up on the anniversary announcements, but INTERVIEW is such an iconic work that I couldn’t let the day pass without saying a few words.

Murders in the Rue Morgue Turns 175

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SPOILER ALERT: An orangutan did it. Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley.

I don’t mean to make a bunch of birthday and anniversary posts, but this one’s pretty important: Edgar Allan Poe’s MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE turns 175 years old this month. The story appeared in the April 1841 issue of GRAHAM’S MAGAZINE. Some sources have cited April 1 as the “official” anniversary date, so we’ll go with that.

There have been several films that are supposedly “based” on it, but the ones I’ve seen bear little resemblance to what Poe wrote. MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE’s greatest impact has been on the mystery genre, as it is generally held to be the first detective story. In fact, the word “detective” wasn’t even in use when this story first appeared.