Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Patreon and On

For some time now, I've wanted to write a book of Horror Culture reviews and essays--my own theories about the genre, as filtered through a lens of personal experience. Yesterday, I created a Patreon campaign page for this project, which will be called Dark Comforts. If you're interested in getting in on the ground floor, patronage-wise, you'll find it here ( You'll note in the pitch that when I start to produce said reviews and essays, they'll be going up here first in rough form, so one way or the other, this blog's content will hopefully start to swell.

Meanwhile, I also need to link to an incredible new(ish) review of Experimental Film recently posted by Nina Allan at Strange Horizons ( The whole thing is great, but I'm particularly struck by this quote:

"That motherhood is hard, that it does not always come naturally, is a fact that is not addressed in literature often enough. We can infer from Files's biography that she addresses it here from a place of deep personal experience. That the writing in these sections is so direct, so rich in insight, and so thoroughly unsentimental brings an aspect that works, once again, entirely in the novel's favour. In the confessional urgency of Files's narrative, in its emotional candour, I often found myself reminded of CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan's writing, in her novel The Drowning Girl (2012) especially. I can think of no higher praise."

Me either! This makes me happy as hell.;)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Late, O Miller: Experimental Film Review Round-Up

Because I suck, I've totally forgotten to link to Helen Marshall's amazingly flattering review of Experimental Film in the L.A. Review of Books, here ( It's only the nicest thing anybody's said about my writing since Laird Barron called me a punk in Locus Magazine (November 2015), while reviewing the CZP re-releases of Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart! And since I unfortunately can't link to that latter review directly, here it is in full, for those who're interested:

Canadian author and film critic Gemma Files hit the ground running back in the latter 1990s with a handful of brutal and macabre tales. Nominated for an Aurora and the winner of an International Horror Guild Award in 1999 for a short story called "The Emperor's Old Bones," Files quickly established herself as a vital presence. Two collections followed--Kissing Carrion in 2003, and The Worm in Every Heart in 2004. The ever-reliable ChiZine Publications have provided us with a beefy reissue of the original books. There are 17 stories, an introduction by Caitlin R. Kiernan, a self-administered Q&A (hello, James Dickey), and literary horror author Michael Rowe closes the show with a thoughtful afterword.

In the Q&A, Files speaks about trading in romance for viciousness and the honesty of horror as a genre. Diving into this book is to leap into a deep, dark subterranean well. It's not gateway horror by any means. Vampires, ghosts, the risen dead. Terminal relationships. Love, lust, unfulfilled desires, erotic compulsions, and blood--lots and lots of blood--are some of the precincts Files explores in her debut collection.

Kissing Carrion opens with the eponymous tale, and right off the bat the language is redolent of the 1980s, with an epigraph by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and a morbid paean to the body horror of the then-reigning king, Clive Barker. Barker-esque flourishes abound throughout Files's early work, and in this story there's a hint of Sylvia Plath in the cadence and in the bubbling rage of our narrator, a revenant chained to the mortal coil by unfinished business.
"Skeleton Bitch" is another vicious. brutal story. This one concerns the walking dead and is emblematic of Files's preoccupation with sex and violence at the dawn of the latest millennium. Goth girls, drug-fueled band parties, casual sex, casual death, and casual death-sex. Low red rage simmers throughout this tale and much of the collection. Less than a third of the way into the book and anyone who has paid the slightest heed to history will recognize Files is carrying on the good work of Poppy Z. Brite and Mr. Barker and was, at that moment, light years ahead of her contemporary, Caitlin R. Kiernan. 

This is reactionary, smash-mouth art that emerged directly from the Splatter Punk scene and subsequent decline and implosion of category horror. In retrospect, Gemma Files and her hardcore style can be recognized for what it was: signs of life in a dead and buried genre; a heartbeat. And what a heart.

Her aesthetic is as punk as Black Flag, The Sex Pistols, or Alan Ginsberg, punching back against a top-heavy culture that historically demonizes the Other, the poor, and the sick. Much as British author Joel Lane hewed to a miserablist line in matters of sexuality and suffering, Files, having lived through the 1980s when HIV was the bogeyman and greed was good, but good looks were best, utters a primal scream against the politics of sex and shame and, on a meta level, sticks a shiv into the erstwhile popularity of romantic/erotic horror. Yet for all her concern with visceral topics, I hasten to add, there's no lack of humor or wit. Files is playful as a cat with prey; she smiles when she sinks in her fangs. Files's prose magnetizes:

Because, Goddammit, it was her. Same white hair. Same white lips. Same cold limbs all a-roll in their sockets, lithe as bones. And her pale, thread-veined eyes, beneath their fresh black diamonds of mascara--still shiny, still blank, like old blood under ice.

The cohesiveness of her vision is impressive. We're looking at disparate stories, rather than a novel, written over a span of years, and so the thematic consistency, the painstaking textures, the art direction--so to speak--combine to reinforce a pervading mood of real, aching horror, a psychic ague that seeps from muse to artist to page and is eventually transmitted to the hapless reader. In "Skeleton Bitch," the shore of Lake Ontario is "cold and slimy" while its piers' foundations are"slicked with chemical foam," and while "Bear Shirt" continues a focus on chilly Toronto, the style is a half-step behind stream of consciousness and stinging as the rest. A theme of degeneration persists: "Skin City" features a dream wherein a character speaks through "a mouth full of blood" and the creature of the night narrator of "Dead Bodies Possessed by Furious Motion" describes a man's ejaculation (while she chomps his femoral artery) thus:

...beads of sperm choking his auburn pubic thatch until they hung in clusters, like limp stars.

Death in life. and vice versa. But mostly thformer, because life can't hope to escape the gravitwell of this existence. These capsule descriptionare signposts of malignancy that permeate everythinin the pages of Kissing Carrion, until eacstory is corrupted with squamous cells and assumes its link in a chain of cancerous DNA. This is literaturand so, hyperbole notwithstanding, the ultimateffect, while potentially physically scarifying, isn't injurious, except to those predisposed to fainting ooverly-susceptible to vapors arising from stronemotion. Indeed, art often results from extremes of feeling or experience. Kissing Carrion evokes extremes of both.

Along came not a spider, but a worm. In this case, Gemma Files's sophomore effort, The Worm in Every Heart. Nancy Kilpatrick provides a warm and gracious introduction this time around (the
afterword by Michael Rowe duplicates his contributioto the reissued Kissing Carrion) with an afterword by Files in the form of another self-interview (hello again, James Dickey).

I am uncertain whether even a hardened veteran fan of the genre can stomach the reissue of Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart in end-to-end succession. I am certain a brave soul who endeavors the task won't pass from this lifunrewarded. Reflecting upon The Worm in Every Heart, one gets the sense that, like Ligotti 's landmark novella, Gemma Files' work demolishincertain cultural taboos of the '80 was not yet doneexcept now she's vastly broadened her scope (whilparadoxically narrowing it) from contemporary urban settings, and concentrated her firepower upon the page of history. Now it's WWII, the French Revolution, the countryside and wildernesof older, wilder generations. and alternate realities named after demons.

Despite these welcome forays into historicamilieus and an expansion upon tempering influences which include Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and J.G. Ballard, she only continues to hack and burn and rip through issues with a steely-eyed vengeance, chewing on ideas and then spittinthbitterness out a story at a time.

Arguably Files's signature story, "The Emperor'Old Bones" is the crown jewel. Ballard providean epigraph, then we're lost in the living dream of an old man and his recollections of 1940 wartimeBlack magic, monsters, and monstrousness are thdishes on offer here and the author's self-professed roots as a fan of science fiction and fantasy are evident.

"Nigredo," which opens this tome, is another deftly consummated story nested in the sweepinevents of WWII and is surely evidence that Files would develop not only into a first rate horror authorbut also one with a penchant for period dramaShe's lost none of her edge nor her taste for thvisceral, as evinced by the opening line of "YeaZero" an elegiac counterfactual with vampires, which takes us even farther back into war-torn history to the aftermath of the French Revolution:

At the very height of the French Revolutionafter they killed the king and drank his bloodthey started everything over: New calendarnew months, new history. Wind back the national clock and smash its guts to powder: wipe the slate clean, and crack it across your knee.

"Year Zero" slips to and fro between the 18th and 19th centuries in a dizzying manner, mimickinperhapthe fictional bloodletting and it deleterious effects. "Beyond the Forest" is, by contrastan almost stark bit of world building, disjointed from reality except for a reference to mythical Raum, a noble of Hell, fitting perhaps for a nobllady vampire come home to roost. 

WherKissing Carrion was dominated bfirsperson narrators, The Worm iEverHeart exhibits pleasinarray of narrativmodeshighlighted by the aforementioned "YeaZeroand the second persoviewpoint of "Bottle of Smoke." Thipiece jumps around in timebeginning shortlafter WWIIand is something of a fairytale with mentions of djinn and a quasi-Roald Dahl tenor. Naturally, when I say fairytale, I mean the gritty, unvarnished kind, not sanitized or sterilized for 21st century consumption--but rather the gory variety, oozing plenty of explicit sex and violence. Dahl, for all his genteel comport and urbane delivery, would surely have approved of "Bottle of Smoke." I suspect he would've approved of the whole damned book.

The psychosexual dystopia that Files conjurelike some depraved illuminated manuscript inhabit a universe parallel to our own, and it's worse, or better, depending on your perspective. The parallereality bleeds into this one and becomes a labyrinth of mirrored walls. At time the savagery descends to a more primal wellspring and we find ourselves trapped in fellow Canadian David Cronenberg's nightmares of flesh and sex and mutilation, a la hilandmark Rabid or eXistenZ. Other writers and filmmaker have posited humans, especially women, as puppet or dolls, posable, consumable, and disposable. Seldom has this line of inquiry been pursued with such relentlessness--hot to the touchfebrile of gaze and grin, yet bone-chillingly cold beneath the veneer. Files's smirks are snarls waitinto happen; her grin simply bares teeth yearning for throat. 

A good artist is motivated by passion. A greaartist bends that passion in service of her medium. The Worm in Every Heart is convincing proof Gemma Files consistently attains that greatness.

So, yeah. Laird, like Helen, rocks hard--as do I, apparently. Who knew?;) It's odd and flattering beyond belief to see myself placed in historical context, not to mention cited amongst such wonderful company. Nice to finally have it all in once place, too.