Archive for February, 2020

Update 02/27/2020: Dark Fairies, Horrorticulture and Spectral Realms #13

Posted in Errant Jenny, Hector Laureano, Hell-Flower, Horror Harvest, Horrorticulture, Obadiah Baird, Rosaire, S.T. Joshi, Scott J. Couturier, Spectral Realms, The Audient Void, Weird Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

This morning I received the good news from S.T. Joshi that my little bit of Horrorticulture verse, Hell-Flower, has finally been accepted for the esteemed pages of Spectral Realms. What is Horrorticulture you ask? Well, that is an arch phrase I coined long ago for my poem Flower of Evil that mixed horror and horticulture, and I have used it as a designation for like poems and prose ever since.

I wrote Hell-Flower a few years ago, maybe somewhere around 2014-15, and had shown it around to friends with mixed reviews. I sent Mr. Joshi the poem after some brief revisions but he was not impressed with it at the time. In fact, I was taken aback by his demurral, as I thought it a good poem which even bore the enthusiastic approval of my fellow weird poet Scott J. Couturier. Defeated, I shelved it for a while, but pulled it out again when I sent some poems to Frank Coffman for recommendations on how to improve them. I applied his suggestions and resubmitted it to Spectral Realms with the positive end result.

Mr. Joshi went on to say that since this is the 2nd of my poems slated for inclusion in issue #13, I will be allowed one more short poem for that issue, totaling three in all. However, I’ll have to look around for something else to send him.

This past week I also got news that my short story Errant Jenny, about a dark fairy, was rejected by The Audient Void. Although this is about the 4th time in a row they have declined to accept my work, I am not going to give up on submitting to them, as it is a quality publication and the apogee in desktop publishing for dark fantasy fiction. Even so, it is disheartening, as I thought my dark fairy tale was a good story as well as unique.  I am going to revisit that tale and perhaps submit it somewhere else. I also am considering getting in touch with Hector Laureano to see if he is still going to use Rosaire for his Horror Harvest. He has had it for a year and has not published it yet. If he releases it, I may submit that to Mr. Obadiah Baird for consideration.

Update 02/22/2020: Spectral Realms #12

Posted in Derrick Hussey, Satanic Sonata, Scott J. Couturier, Shayne Keen, Spectral Realms, Thérèse Lavery, W. H. Pugmire with tags , , , , , , , on February 22, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Got my copy of Spectral Realms #12 and am very pleased to find that Mr. Hussey was able to get in my final revisions before publication! The cover is stunning and Ia m psyched that my prose poem “Kiss of Life” is now an ipso facto cover story after my changes. I have so far gotten one compliment from fellow poet Scott Couturier,

Cheers Manuel Paul Arenas! Your ‘Satanic Sonata’ is superbly diabolic. Did a recitation for Shayne Keen last evening…fiddles made of coffin wood, indeed! Hope your copy does arrive today, a pleasure (as always) to share pages.”

Mr. Couturier’s contributions to this issue are admirable and inspiring, as usual. I particularly liked his werewolf poem, The Pack. There are some lovely tributes to the late weird scribe Wilum H. Pugmire by his long-time writing partner, David Barker, and some great weird poetry & prose by the usual gang. I may have more to say on that as well as the book reviews once I have had some more time to take it all in.

Snapshot by my friend Trezie of me with my contributor’s copy of Spectral Realms #12.


Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979)

Posted in Angela Carter, Morbidezza, Neil Jordan, Nosferatu eine Symphonie des Grauens, Poppy Corby-Tuech, Robert Eggers, Snow White (fairy tale), The Bloody Chamber (book), The Company of Wolves 1984 with tags , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas
Last night I was thinking about the adaptation of literature in film, specifically Horror and Dark Fantasy. I thought of how the stories of certain celebrated authors, like Poe and Lovecraft, are often filmed but with arguably marginal success because their pieces are written for the theater of the mind and are more impressionistic. Many things are implied rather than explicitly delineated, dialog is kept to a minimum, characters are thinly drawn, and mostly only there to react to whatever horror is the real protagonist of the story. I wondered how my work, if it were ever filmed would fare in this medium, who would portray my characters, and what might change within the adaptation to fit the flow of a film?

Actress Poppy Corby-Tuech as Rosier in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald (2018).

I thought actress Poppy Corby-Tuech would make a great Morbidezza, but feared that audiences might tire of her laying in a coffin through most of the story. Rosaire might work better, as it has a bit more action and there is the love of a mother and her child, as well as a pact with the devil. This in turn made me think of the Neil Jordan movie The Company of Wolves, based on a trio of werewolf narratives by Angela Carter from her Fairy-Tale/Horror collection, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. I re-read the last three tales on which the film is based and thought of how Ms. Carter and Mr. Jordan incorporated these three tales, essentially prose poems, into a cohesive story.

Dust jacket from the first edition of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979, Gollancz).

In the story The Company of Wolves, Ms. Carter retells the story of Little Red Riding Hood, an allegory about a young girl’s coming of age and dealing with menses (the red cloak) and the attention of men (the wolf) with the twist of the external threat being a werewolf. The tale is also peppered throughout with a series of anecdotes and folk beliefs on lycanthropy. In the screenplay for the movie she and Mr. Jordan put those into the mouth of the grandmother, who tells these tales to her granddaughter, Rosaleen, the Little Red Riding Hood stand in. The movie is great fun, despite some dated, yet gory, special effects (they take Carter’s quip about these wolves being hairy on the inside to heart), and I am fortunate enough to have a rare DVD copy to reference whenever I get the jones to do so. It plays like a Hammer film, with a natural setting in an artificial environment, and has some great character actors such as Angela Lansbury (as the feisty grandmother), Terence Stamp, and David Warner, as the devil and Rosaleen’s father, respectively. Neil Jordan regular Stephen Rea makes an appearance in one of the anecdotes about a lost bridegroom returning to his home after a prolonged absence to find his wife remarried and with a brood not of his own making. Without giving too much away, I’ll say things do get hairy for a bit. The film also features the young actress Sarah Patterson, in the role of Rosaleen (one of her only two starring roles, the other an adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale Snow White) before she retired from acting to return to the private sector. She apparently had a brief comeback in the early 2000s with two listings on IMDB, but nothing notable or recent.

Sarah Patterson as Rosaleen, in the Company of Wolves (1984).

The story is that after translating a collection of the Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, she decided to try her hand at the form:

“My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories” — Angela Carter

[, retrieved 02/15.2020]

Carter’s prose continues to enchant me. Her voice is distinct and clear, erudite yet earthy. I have been trying to write like her for decades now and yet I know that I will never attain the level of brilliance displayed in these tales; a perfect mixture of fairy tale, folklore, Gothic horror, and bawdy tale. I have read that Carter spent a good portion of her youth living with her maternal grandmother who inculcated her with a love of folklore and fairy tales and it shows in her masterful re-imaginings of many familiar tales, like Bluebeard, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, the Erl-King, Beauty & the Beast, Puss in Boots, etc. However these stories also include vampires and werewolves, as well as other Gothic Horror tropes. Her heroines are strong, and often display feminist ideals, without being heavy-handed or preachy. There are scenes, which are artfully erotic, and others that are drolly ribald, all written with the skill and discerning of a master storyteller. These tales, as she states in the aforementioned quote, are so much more than just adult fairy tales.

Apparently, before succumbing to lung cancer, at the too young age of 51, Carter and Jordan had talked of doing other projects together. According to some sources I have read, one of these was an adaptation of her radio play, Vampirella:

Jordan notes how Carter was “thrilled with the process” of making a film, as she “had never really been involved with one.” After the film, Jordan and Carter looked for other projects which they could work on together. However, no others came to fruition, partly because of Carter’s later illness. According to Jordan, he and Carter discussed a possible adaptation of Vampirella, Carter’s radio play which served as the original version of her short story “The Lady of the House of Love” from The Bloody Chamber. This is not to be confused with the actual film Vampirella, released in 1996 and based upon the comic book character of the same name.

[, retrieved 02/15/2020]

As I have mentioned before, The Lady in the House of Love is one of the highlights of the book for me, and no doubt an indirect inspiration for Morbidezza. I wish someone would film it nowadays. I think director  Robert Eggers would be ideal for the task. I know he was considering doing another remake of Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, but why not film something that hasn’t been done to death already?

Or he can always try my Sanguinary Saga of Morbidezza Vespertilio, Vampiress.

Nikolai Gogol’s “Viy” (1835)

Posted in Black Sunday (1960), Folk-Horror, Mario Bava, Nikolai Gogol with tags , , , on February 10, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I first came across  Nikolai Gogol‘s Viy when I saw it mentioned as the source material in the opening titles from Mario Bava‘s iconic Gothic Horror film La maschera del demonio (1960, a/k/a Black Sunday). I loved the movie so much I hunted down the story and was confused when it had nothing to do with the Gothic fantasia portrayed in the Bava film. The story I read, in The Complete Tales of Nikolai Gogol Vol. 2, was what critics nowadays would describe as a Folk-Horror story. It was full of colorful characters, clever wit, folksy charm, and almost surreal dark fantasy and horror. The tale recounts the misadventures of Khoma Brut, a philosopher (seminary jargon for sophomore) as he travels with a couple of mates during a holiday break in rural Ukraine.

The Complete Tales of Nikolai Gogol Vol. 2 (1985,University of Chicago Press).

The young men find themselves in search of shelter when they stumble upon a small farm in the middle of nowhere. They knock on the gate and are greeted by a withered beldam. Reluctant at first to take them in, she seems to take secret offense to a snide remark by Khoma and suddenly changes her mind, consenting to house them for the night with the stipulation that they stay in separate areas of the farm. The youngest one is allowed in the house proper, the eldest is put in a hayloft, and Khoma in the stables. Once everyone is abed the old woman visits Khoma. At first he thinks she is trying to lie with him and so he condescendingly rebuffs her. Nevertheless, she does not relent, and instead chases him around until, finally overpowering him, she mounts his back and rides him like a horse into the sky and over the  rural landscape. Here things become a bit fanciful. As Khoma strides over a wetland, he sees a beautiful water sprite, which Wikipedia, in their entry on the story, explains as a reference to Rusalki, the restless spirits of drowned maidens. That is as maybe, but I think the whole incident is basically all part of an elaborate succubus visitation. He is literally hag-ridden. Gogol describes how Khoma experiences sensual pleasure while being ridden and he has erotic fantasies about the nude water sprite. Even so, he eventually overturns the hag and starts to beat her savagely. When she cries out however, it is in the voice of a young woman.

He stops his frenzied thrashing of the witch and finds that she has transformed into the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. Fearful of the implications, both worldly and supernatural, of what has just happened, he leaves her and runs back to the seminary. Soon after, he is summoned by his master and told to travel to a rich cossack’s home to read psalms over his daughter who has crawled home and is at death’s door after being attacked by some ruffian. Her dying wish is that Khoma Brut (she asks for him by name) keep a vigil over her corpse and read psalms over her for 3 nights to allay her disquieted spirit and redeem her sullied soul.

Black & white still (the movie is in color) from the 1967 Mosfilm adaptation of Viy. The witch rises from her coffin.

Khoma is reluctant to comply after his recent scare but is compelled to go, escorted by a retinue of hardened cossacks (whom he betimes befriends during a pit stop at an inn where they get soused on vodka)  to ensure he completes his task. When he finally sees the girl in her coffin, he recognizes the young witch he’d beaten to death. The vigil is held in a neglected chappel and each night the cadaver of the young witch rises from her coffin and assails him, abetted by a host of imps and night creatures, all of which are kept at bay by Khoma’s psalm recitations from behind the aegis of a protective circle that keeps the fiends from either seeing or touching him. On the third night the witch summons  Viy, which Gogol refers to as The King of Gnomes in a footnote to the tale, as a capper to her phantasmagoria of goblins and devils.

Illustration for Viy by R.Shteyn (1901)

It wasn’t until around 20 years later that I discovered the 1967 film adaptation and actually got to see it in one of those aforementioned questionable DVD editions. This is not the only film adaptation of the tale, but I believe it is probably the most faithful one. It is a beautiful movie which captures the humor and fantasy of Gogol’s story very well, as far as I understand it, and paints a picturesque portrait of what the Ukrainian people were like in the early 19th century, at least as they are described by Gogol, and for the most part when the horror elements finally pop up they are very faithful to Gogol’s vision, save for the few scenes which were purportedly not depicted due to restrictions from the Soviet censors as well as the technological limitations of the time period. These scenes involved the young witch shapeshifting and displaying graphic vampiric behavior. That being said, there are plenty macabre sights during the 3 night vigil and some pretty impressive scenes featuring a flying coffin.

Black & white still from the 1967 Mosfilm adaptation of Viy. Featuring the flying coffin scene.

The Severin remaster, which is available in both DVD and Blu-ray formats, is very clean and sharp and is the best I expect one will ever see outside of the Russian Federation for some time. There are two video commentaries in the bonus features, one with South African director Richard Stanley, who is the talk of the town these days with his own adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 story The Colour Out of Space, and the other with John Leman Riley talking about the history of Russian fantasy film. These are, I believe, of limited relevance to the feature, and both men seem to oversell this idea of Viy being a pioneering bit of vampire cinema. Although Gogol’s story does have scenes of vampirism, none of these are actually shown in the film, where the young woman is only ever referred to as a witch. Also, in traditional lore many of these creatures are conflated. Witches and Werewolves, share traits and become vampires upon death, so when Gogol wrote Viy he was most likely not thinking of it as a vampire tale per se. Wrapping up the special features are three silent Russian fantasy shorts.

Severin 2019 DVD for Viy (1967).

In closing I feel that, yet again, I must acknowledge an influence on my own work. Seeing the film again after so many years and rereading the Gogol tale, I realize that the idea of the death vigil of the beautiful vampire/witch most likely was a subconscious influence, on my Sanguinary Saga of Morbidezza Vespertilio, Vampiress, especially in the Vampire Vigil episode. I also noticed that she sheds a tear of blood, which Morbidezza does in Kiss of Life. I, like most other authors, simply assimilate and regurgitate everything I read, watch, or hear. The trick is to give it one’s singular spin.