#RIPXI ~ Pits, Pendulums, and Extraordinary Tales

season-of-the-witch-button-2016Season of the Witch

“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Pit and the Pendulum” was another of the Troll Communications adaptations stocked in my grade-school library. The Haunted Closet has a great bunch of scans from it.

While “Masque of the Red Death” has some clear allegorical content, “The Pit and the Pendulum” is a pretty straight-forward tale. Our first-person narrator is a heretic (of some sort) and sentenced to death by the Spanish Inquisition. Except, since an auto da fé has recently taken place, his punishment is actually to be tortured until he dies or until the next scheduled “sacrifice” by fire. Our narrator is put in a very dark room with a pit in the center. When he fails to fall in, he’s tied down with a gradually lowering razor sharp pendulum. When he manages to escape, the walls of his cell become glowing hot and begin to move inward, forcing him toward the pit. Each torture is more phantasmagorical than the last, each requiring more complex machines and architecture. Our narrator is then rescued at the last moment by a General Lasalle, placing this Spanish Inquisition in the early 1800s.

Really, “The Pit and the Pendulum” is more like the “torture porn” movies of the the early 2000s. Now, I have nothing against those kind of movies, I even enjoy them on a certain level. Indeed, I enjoy “The Pit and the Pendulum” as well. There is a certain satisfaction to characters attempting to use ingenuity to extricate themselves from hopeless situations.

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Extraordinary Tales (2013)
Directed by Raul Garcia
Narrations by Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Julian Sands, Guillermo del Toro, Roger Corman, Stephen Hughes, and Cornelia Funke.

Extraordinary Tales is an animated anthology of five Poe stories, each animated in a different style with different narrators. The wrap-around involves the spirit of Poe still on earth as a raven as Death tries to woo him.

Some of the adaptations are more successful than others.

The first tale is “The Fall of the House of Usher” narrated by Christopher Lee. This was one of Lee’s last pieces of work and I can’t think of too many people more up to the task. The angular animated caricatures and rich, dark colors are pretty wonderful.

My personal favorite is the mostly black and white animation of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” visually inspired by the art of Alberto Breccia. The slick animation is a great contrast to the hiss-and-pop recording of Bela Lugosi as our narrator.

Being a fan of Julian Sands, I wanted to like “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” more than I did. The narration was fine. The animation style is evocative of EC horror comics, but the color palate seemed off to me. Plus, there’s not too much story to “M. Valdemar.” It is a curious choice for adaptation.

I didn’t care for the animation style of “The Pit and the Pendulum” at all. While shooting for realism, the presumably computer generated characters felt unsubstantial and somewhat fell into uncanny valley.  The being said, Guillermo del Toro was a great selection for narrator.

I’m sort of torn by “The Masque of the Red Death.” The animation is like vivid water color paintings brought to life, but it actually lacked narration. Other than a couple words spoken by Prince Prospero (voiced by Roger Corman), the story is told in images and music only. “Masque” is an incredibly visual story and is well-“told” in this format, but I did miss the beauty of Poe’s language.

Through out this anthology is music written by Sergio de la Puente. It’s a soundtrack worthy of any Halloween or writing playlist.

#RIPIX – A Perilous Trio of Short Stories

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I’ve been really enjoying the October Reading Club‘s esoteric picks:

“The Chromatic Ghosts of Thomas” by Ellis Parker Butler (1907) – Thomas is a cat. But how many stories have asked, if a cat has nine lives, does a cat have nine…ghosts?

Our cat Thomas was very sensitive. I never knew such a sensitive cat as Thomas was. The slightest harsh word seemed to hurt his feelings and put him into a fit of the dumps.

“A Ghost of the Sierras” by Bret Harte (1878) – A Western ghost story, written during the era.

…he continued for some moments to dwell on the terrible possibility of a state of affairs in which a gentleman could no longer settle a dispute with an enemy without being subjected to succeeding spiritual embarrassment.

But not forgetting contemporary stories away from the Club:

“Cruel Sistah” by Nisi Shawl (2005) – Remember the “The Ensouled Violin”? Nisi Shawl’s “Cruel Sistah” is a great take on that tradition.

His thing now was gimbris, elegant North African ancestors of the cigar-box banjos he’d built two years ago when he was just beginning, just a kid. … The basic structure looked good, but it was kind of plain. It needed some sort of decoration. An inlay, ivory or mother of pearl or something.

Catch-Up: Deal Me A Witchy Horror

season-of-the-witch-button-2016Season of the Witch

“The Dunwich Horror” by H.P. Lovecraft

I’m still not a fan of the cosmicism of Cthulhu mythos, but I’m slowly gaining some appreciation for Lovecraft. Partly, this might be because I’ve been reading some of Lovecraft’s influences. His tales make more sense to me in the context of Ambrose Bierce and Arthur Machen—I just read The Great God Pan not too long ago!

The tale is slowly told, but less dry than some of Lovecraft’s stories. It’s told from an aspect of history. Within the story the events are the Dunwich Horror of 1928, as though a few years past…and seemingly leaving room for the Dunwich Horror of 1929…1930… And indeed the horror lives on. The horror genre is filled with mystical books, tentacled beasts, and backwater towns filled with inbred families. But the Horror also brought to mind a scene from one of my favorite science fiction movies:

Even the odd sound track evokes Lovecraft’s whippoorwills.


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What is Deal Me In?

“The Ghost to His Ladye Love” by W.S. Gilbert

Card picked: Three of Spades
From: Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown, edited by Marvin Kaye

Not a story this week, but a poem. W.S. is the Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan fame. Published in 1869, this poem is full of Halloween trappings:

Fair Phantom, come! The moon’s awake.
The owl hoots gaily from its brake.
The blithesome bat’s a-wing.
Come, soar to yonder silent clouds;
The ether teems with peoples shrouds:
We’ll fly the lightsome spectre crowds,
Thou cloudy, clammy thing!

It’s a fun, rather sweet poem; the type of thing I would expect Gomez Addams to send to Morticia as a Valentine.*

As with many poems written by Gilbert, “The Ghost to His Ladye Love” found a second life in one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s musicals:

* Fun fact: My first date with Eric was on Halloween. We’ll be celebrating our 19th anniversary this year!

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Mini Reviews ~ All Sorts of Peril


From the Dust Returned

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury
William Marrow, 2001, Hardback

In 1946, Charles Addams (of Addams Family fame) illustrated “Homecoming,”  a story Ray Bradbury sold to Mademoiselle magazine. This *almost* began a continuing collaboration  between the two. Both got busy on other projects, though Bradbury occasionally added stories to the history of the Elliot family, residents of October Country. Where Addams’ family is “creepy” and “kooky,” Bradbury’s is more in the realm of uncanny and maybe even evil. Many of the stories are told through the eyes of Timothy, the normal and unfortunate one of the family. While strong on atmosphere, the plot of the book is rough, stitching together a collection of short stories.

A Vampire Quintet

A Vampire Quintet by Eugie Foster
Self-published, 2013, Kindle edition

Simply, five pretty darn good vampire tales by one of my favorite authors. The settings are diverse, from a fairy tale land to a cyberpunk cityscape, and all present a new little twist to vampire mythos. A shock to no one, my favorite was “Ascendancy of Blood,” a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.

Ghostbusters Poster

Ghostbusters (2016)
Directed by Paul Feig
Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones

The 1984 Ghostbusters is one of my favorite films; the only way that the new Ghostbusters could possibly “ruin my childhood” would be if it were so superior that I’d have to have a new favorite Ghostbusters. And that’s win-win, you know? Alas, the new Ghostbusters isn’t that good.

The best thing: This movie is about four grown women and in no way involves weight loss, marriage, or motherhood. These female characters get to be geeky about science, tech, and history. I’ll admit it, that’s cool to see in a movie.

Mixed things: Most of the comedy was what I expected—not very funny to me—but I was really surprised by how much I liked Leslie Jones’ character. Patty is pretty funny. I loved all the actor cameos, and not just from the 1984 cast. You don’t need Michael Kenneth Williams to play a DHS heavy, but it doesn’t hurt. I thought the ghosts looked great. I don’t think the up-ing of tech and action did anything good for the film. The derivative bits were very flat.

All in all, I wish this were a better movie. I wish it would have been so good that its critics had nothing to criticize. As it is, the fact that the characters are female isn’t what makes the movie not very good.

ripnineperilfirst ripnineperilscreen
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Witchy Peril ~ “Masque” and Other Short Stories

season-of-the-witch-button-2016Season of the Witch

The first read-along for Season of the Witch is my favorite Edgar Allan Poe story: “The Masque of the Red Death.”

I went to a small Lutheran school for grades K-6. It had a library that was about the size of my apartment’s front room and kitchen. In this library’s small collection were illustrated Edgar Allan Poe books published by Troll Communications. I clearly remember “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” but there was apparently a version of “A Cask of Amontillado” too.  Sure, they were abridgments, but the color illustrations were glorious. I checked them out often and they cemented my love of Poe at an early age.*

Illustration by John Lawn

The Red Death, illustrated by John Lawn

I always forget how short “The Masque of the Red Death” is. In less than 2500 words, Poe conjures a world dying a bloody death, a selfish prince, *and* gives us a lot of architectural details. The only place that the illustrated version of “Red Death” falls down is in its depiction of  Prince Prospero’s abbey. I was going to call it a hall, and I had thought of it in the past as a series of drawing rooms, but, in the text, it is an abbey. Nothing matches what my mind’s eye has built from Poe’s plans.

A subtlety I  noticed this time around, probably because I’ve been thinking about Romanticism since rereading Frankenstein, inside the abbey is a Romantic ideal of beauty. In fact, it’s literally Beauty with a capital B. At the end of the story we’re left with Death and Decay with capital Ds.

* Don’t worry. My mom was the school librarian and most people agree that I turned out alright.

Other Small Perils

I joined the October Reading Club on Facebook. The community features a short story every day throughout October. I haven’t read every story, but I’ve gotten a few in.

“The Red Room” by H.G. Wells (1896) – A fairly standard stay-the-night-in-a-haunted-room tale. That doesn’t mean it lacks tension.

It was after midnight that the candle in the alcove suddenly went out,
and the black shadow sprang back to its place there. I did not see the
candle go out; I simply turned and saw that the darkness was there, as one
might start and see the unexpected presence of a stranger.

“Man of Science” by Jerome K. Jerome (1892) – Men of science and their skeletons, both ones in and out of closets. This is a tale told to other skeptics by a man named Jephson. At the end of the tale:

Brown was the first to break the silence that followed. He asked me if I had any brandy on board. He said he felt he should like just a nip of brandy before going to bed. That is one of the chief charms of Jephson’s stories: they always make you feel you want a little brandy.

“The Terrible Old Man”  by H.P. Lovecraft (1920) – One of Lovecraft’s shorter, more straight forward stories. And also a reread for me!

It was the design of Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva to call on the Terrible Old Man. This old man dwells all alone in a very ancient house on Water Street near the sea, and is reputed to be both exceedingly rich and exceedingly feeble; which forms a situation very attractive to men of the profession of Messrs. Ricci, Czanek, and Silva, for that profession was nothing less dignified than robbery.

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Review ~ A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Cover via Goodreads

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface–and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil. (via Goodreads)

While I’d been hearing a lot about this book (it won the Stoker Award last year after all), it was the last part of the above summary, the “vexing questions about memory and reality,” that really got me interested in A Head Full of Ghosts. We place a great deal of importance on memory, but our brains are actually really terrible at remembering. And that’s before any questions about the subjective nature of perception. This is a ripe field for horror!

Unfortunately, there was an aspect of this book that was really distracting to me: what year did these events take place in? When I’m given a framing narrative that refers to events 15 years ago, I assume that the framing narrative is taking place in the year that the book was published; in this case, 2015.  Which means to me, unless I’m disabused of the notion, that the flashback narrative (and in this case the remembered narrative) happened in 2000-2001. But it obviously does not. There are too many smart phones, thin laptops, and a pope who didn’t become pope until 2013. Which means that the flashback narrative happened in 2015-ish and the framing narrative is set in 2029-2030. But that doesn’t quite make sense either. Considering that blogs are already being considered “retro” in light of platforms like Medium, I don’t think Karen’s blog is really going to be a thing in 2030.

Maybe it’s just me being OCD. For a while I thought that, yes, maybe Merry is simply misremembering things. Someone who grew up in a world where cell phones are common might default to “remembering” someone texting on their phone when (in 2001, in a family that is having money problems) that’s probably unlikely. But when hard facts show up and are included in the TV show recaps, I know it’s not just Merry’s memory.

*** SPOILER ***

Then again we only get recaps of the show from Karen, who is actually Merry. I suppose we could assume that every narrative Merry is involved in is unreliable, but I don’t think that’s Tremblay’s intent. Actually, I am kind of disappointed that the book doesn’t offer a second point of view which is what the blog seems to do until Merry reveals that she’s the blogger.


A Head Full of Ghosts does nod to a few feminist issues. When fourteen-year-old  Marjorie knows fun facts about demons and exorcisms, the adult men around her can’t believe that a girl would know such things. This attitude brought to mind for me both the Fox sisters and the Cottingley fairies. In both cases, young girls were seen as too naive and ignorant to pull off a fraud. Similarly, to me the most chilling moment in the whole book happens during the (rather tame) exorcism. Marjorie begs to be let up and let go, but of course, she isn’t because at this point the men in power believe she doesn’t know her own mind. But there’s a difference between not knowing your own mind and someone else deciding they know it for you.

Publishing info, my copy: ePub, HarperCollins, 2015
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: horror

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Deal Me In, Week 39 ~ “Prey”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What is Deal Me In?

“Prey” by Richard Matheson

Card picked: Six of Diamonds
From: I Am Legend, and other stories


The wooden box resembled a casket. Amelia raised its lid and smiled. It was the ugliest doll she’d ever seen.

The doll is actually a Zuni fetish in the likeness of a fierce warrior named “He Who Kills.” It is a birthday present from Amelia to Arthur, a very nice high school teacher and amateur anthropologist that she’s been dating. The fetish is wrapped in a gold chain which, it’s said, keeps the spirit of He Who Kills inside the doll…or something like that. After Amelia argues on the phone with her over-bearing mother mother and then Arthur, the doll is upended and the chain falls off.

Eighty percent of this story is Amelia battling the fierce seven inch warrior. She spends a good deal of time paralyzed in fear. To be fair, Matheson does a great job of writing action. The story moves at a great pace, never lagging. Amelia does manage to destroy the doll, but the spirit of He Who Kills continues on.

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