I finished The Girl Next Door in one freaking day. I was at work seven hours, but I managed to finish the 334 pager by midnight. So good! Brutal, but that’s Ketchum. I took a break from Matt’s list and have been reading urban legend books (ones that I haven’t read yet) and revisiting J.B. Stamper’ delightful Tales for the Midnight Hour series.
I finished The Keep. It was pretty slow going but fairly entertaining. Most of the characters were interesting. Now I’m reading Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. It’s highly reminiscent of Let’s Go Play at the Adams’s, but I am super stoked about it. I’m less than 50 pages in, and I’m hooked. This is only my second Ketchum book, and I’m a fan. He’s got a way with words; I found this passage particularly moving:
“She knows that pain is not just a matter of hurting, of her own startled body complaining at some invasion of the flesh. Pain can work from the outside in. I mean that sometimes what you see is pain. Pain in its cruelest, purest form. Without drugs or sleep or even shock or coma to dull it for you. You see it and you take it in. And then it’s you.”
Wowza. And that’s why I don’t write much fiction.
I’m trying to catch up with my favorite directors’ movies, such as Neil Jordan (Byzantium–was pretty good, can’t believe he made another vampire movie), David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises–not body horror, but intriguing). Today I watched Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Orion was really interested in it; I think it was the colors. He actually crawled into my lap and sat still for a little while.
After I killed a spider in the living room, I had a talk with Layla about spiders. She started talking about when she was a spider and how she ate honey and not bugs. Cutie!
Right now I’m working my way through Matt Molgaard’s list of 100 Scariest Horror Novels of All Time. I wouldn’t agree that they’re all super scary, but they’re all amazing. They Thirst is a Robert R. McCammon novel about vampires. It’s a sprawling 400-pager with a ton of characters. It took a me about 30 pages to get into it, but I like it.
I had already read Lightning by Dean Koontz (loved it–the protagonist is especially interesting, smart and strong and can save herself the majority of the time), Coraline by Neil Gaiman (pretty creepy), Coldheart Canyon by Clive Barker (I remember liking it, but I could use a re-read), Needful Things by Stephen King (eerie but homophobic), Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice (I read it when I was eleven and I think I liked it), The Stand by Stephen King (one of his best), Red Dragon by Thomas Harris (I liked it; one thing that stuck out to me was when Dolarhyde was a kid his nanny called him “possum,” which I thought was cute), The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin (loves me some Ira Levin), The Shining by Stephen King (I first read it when I was ten, and all the allusions to post-modern poetry were lost on me–super good), Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews (that’s a creepy one, especially since it goes a lot farther than the movies), John Dies at the End by David Wong (liked it–the movie doesn’t do it justice), It by Stephen King (one of my favorites, except the sewer gangbang, something the movie thankfully left out), Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (it’s a little old-timey but super good), Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite (the best homoerotic tale of two serial killers you’ll ever read), Psycho by Robert Bloch (I loved this book so much, but couldn’t find a copy of it when I was fourteen, so I copied the entire thing by hand–this was in the days before eBay and Amazon), ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (a childhood favorite of mine), Pet Sematary by Stephen King (scary!), I am Legend by Richard Matheson (good stuff!), Lord of the Flies by William Golding (I read this because my friend had to read it for a high school class; I might have read it for her–I liked it though), The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (one of my favorites–I even listened to the book-on-tape multiple times), The Ruins by Scott Smith (creepy, even with talking plants), The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (I own it and I know I’ve read it, but I don’t remember much about it), Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin (wuv it!), Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (I read this when I was ten, and it bored me at times but I liked it overall), The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker (I couldn’t remember if I had read this one, but the synopsis was instantly familiar-sounding to me–I had liked it).
The ones that I read for the first time so far are The Light at the End by John Skipp and Craig Spector (a vampire novel that’s a bit dated but fascinating), The Totem by David Morrell (creepy, but the monster is a bit unclearly sketched), NightWhere by John Everson (when there was a plot it was great, but at times it gets a bit porn-y), Let’s Go Play at the Adams’s by Mendal Johnson (a group of kids decide to hold a babysitter hostage–it’s an interesting take on what kids are capable of when they have power over adults), Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk (I wuv! It’s reminiscent of David Sedaris’s fiction, but more savage and pessimistic–it’s about a group of writers at a workshop who tell stories and compete to be the last one standing to tell their tale for the movie that’s bound to be made about them), House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (it was a bit of a bear to read–it’s a story within a story about a guy who finds a dead writer’s account of a movie that never existed, and everyone is crazy; Danielewski is an amazing writer, capable of telling a story in multiple styles and voices–also his sister is the singer Poe, and her album Haunted is a companion piece to this book, which is cool), A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons (it took me a minute to get into it, but it gets pretty great), Off Season by Jack Ketchum (short and brutal with cool protagonists–cannibalistic hill folk kidnap tourists and eat them), The Drive-in by Joe R. Lansdale (I’m glad I read it, but it was pretty depressing–a group of friends at a movie theatre are made into a movie themselves by aliens; it’s funny at times, but the characters are starving and eating yucky stuff to survive), Horns by Joe Hill (I love the exploration of how people act with no inhibitions), “Bubba-ho-tep” by Joe R. Lansdale (more funny than creepy, but it’s well-written), American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (it took me a really long time to get into because of the lengthy discussions of who and what everyone is wearing, but it gets interesting).
Janice and Bill Templeton have a simple and happy life with their young daughter Ivy. Suddenly a stranger (Anthony Hopkins) begins following them around, particularly Ivy. When they confront him, he reveals that his name is Elliot and he believes Ivy is the reincarnation of his daughter, Audrey Rose, who burned to death in a car accident. Janice takes him seriously after Ivy has an episode of terrible nightmares—which occur every year around her birthday—that cause her to leap out of bed and pound the windows, all the while screaming for her daddy. Janice allows Elliot to comfort her as Audrey Rose’s father, and the dreams become manageable in his presence. Bill continues to scoff, wanting Elliot out of their lives, which prompts Elliot, who believes she’s in danger, to take them to court for custody of Ivy.
I first watched this with my sister Leslie; when we were teenagers, we decided to review every horror movie at the now-defunct Hollywood video, in alphabetical order (alas, we started and ended with A). So there’s a pretty heavy nostalgia factor for me. But aside from that, there’s still a lot to like. I enjoy the courtroom scenes, when an exotic troupe of people come forth to testify for the existence of reincarnation. The performances are great, with special kudos to Susan Swift as Ivy. The characters are fairly likable; Bill gets on my nerves after a while for his stubbornness, but I’d be up in arms too if a creepy stranger were hounding my family and calling to say: “I didn’t see Ivy at school this morning. Is she all right?”
My only gripe is that I hate the aesthetics of the ‘70s; I like brown, but not mixed with orange and plaid. The Templetons’ apartment, with its wacky color scheme, epitomizes the decade (the only thing missing is a fondue pot), and is the most disturbing aspect of the film for me—though it may be evocative for others.
Despite the somber subject matter, the film has a message of hope: death is not the end, and that with death, “The soul is free.” Elliot has made a kind of peace with his loss. Thought-provoking and well-made, give it a look if you’re in a philosophical mood (or want to see a young and tasty Anthony Hopkins).
Charlize Theron: Jillian Johnny Depp: Spencer Joe Morton: Reese
Tom Noonan, Clea DuVall
Jillian is, as the title suggests, married to an astronaut, Spencer. While on a trip to space, he and his coworker Alex are repairing their shuttle and there’s an explosion, causing them to lose contact with NASA. Upon returning home, Alex soon dies. While Spencer is physically fine, he seems changed by his experience. He is offered a corporate job and jumps at the chance to stay out of space. Shortly after, Jillian discovers she’s pregnant with twins. Her suspicions about Spencer are compounded by NASA employee Reese, who tells her Spencer is now an alien that basically erased her husband like a cassette (or some other technical device invented after 1999). Jillian is left to wonder who the father of the babies is.
Something interesting in the film is the settings and minor characters, which symbolize the deterioration of Spencer and Jillian’s relationship. When Jillian and Spencer live in Florida, their house is big, but homey, with lots of natural lighting. The co-workers at their going-away party seem friendly and likable. Jillian, a second grade teacher, works in an informal setting, sitting among her students. In contrast, the new house is overly big, sterile, and when it’s not dark, it’s lit with an ominous bluish light. (Actually, all of the settings are dark after Spencer comes home, even the going-away party.) The welcoming party she and Spencer attend is full of phony, snobby people; even the kindly woman Jillian befriends is spoiled, pointing out the bracelet her husband bought her when she had a miscarriage. Jillian’s new teaching atmosphere is now a formal private school, where the children wear uniforms and sit in neat rows.
Jillian sports a haircut very similar to that of Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby, which is probably done on purpose since the films are similar in their themes of paranoia, supernatural babies, and untrustworthy husbands. Though the movie is a bit science fiction-y, I’d say it’s more classifiable as a horror movie. There are a few creepy moments, like when Alex starts displaying signs something is amiss—the viewer has no idea what will happen next. It reminds me of the Black Oil episodes of The X-Files, which are profoundly disturbing. Or Reese confronting Jillian about Spencer: “Can you swear to me that he’s still your husband?” The filmmakers do a marvelous job of building tension, and it’s unpredictable. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for a serious tale of alien activity.