"Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places." ~ H.P. LOVECRAFT
From Jim Thompson’s “The Killer Inside” ::
“It was like being asleep when you were awake and awake when you were asleep. I’d pinch myself, figuratively speaking – I had to keep pinching myself. Then I’d wake up kind of in reverse; I’d go back to the nightmare I had to live in. And everything would be clear and reasonable.”
“The Killer Inside” is rightfully considered an underground classic. It can be categorized in several genres from noir to true crime but I feel strongly that its cold, unflinching peek inside the mind of a killer is nothing short of horrifying, making it a perfect contender for a review here.
The publisher’s book description is a nice tease into the story ::
Lou Ford is the deputy sheriff of a small town in Texas. The worst thing most people can say against him is that he’s a little slow and a little boring. But, then, most people don’t know about the sickness–the sickness that almost got Lou put away when he was younger. The sickness that is about to surface again.
As an outgrowth of my love of horror, I have long harbored a fascination with what makes killers tick. Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees were, after all, serial killers in their own right. For all of the psychoanalysis that we have seen in the horror genre, offering a glimpse of the broken minds behind the carnage, we rarely see an exploration of true psychopathy in the way that Thompson presents.
His main character, Lou Ford is disconnected in the way that real killers are, unmoved and unaffected by their acts, but manipulating others into a state of comfort. Ford plies those around him with worn out cliches and good ol’ boy charm in an attempt to lull them into complacency, never forgetting “the sickness” that rules him and drives his actions. The above quote from the novel hints at this. Stanley Kubrick said of the novel: “Probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered.” I think this is true on many levels.
This is a wonderfully tactile book. You can smell the sweat and cigarette smoke. You can feel the Texas heat, the steam of the sex and the give of bone under Ford’s hands. You can taste the blood and meat. Thompson gives us something that engages the reader on a sensual level, that is to say, through the senses. Simply put, the book is a chillingly violent, sexual creep-fest with a truly dark soul with true physicality.
Annnd, Thompson did all of this in the 50’s. This book was written in 1952. 1952! The EARLY 50’s. Staggering. It would be considered a challenging novel if it was published this year, but to think that it was published the same year that Gene Kelly danced through the puddles of “Singin’ in the Rain” is genuinely stunning.
Stephen King had this to say of Thompson writing in his time: “He was crazy. He went running into the American subconscious with a blowtorch in one hand and a pistol in the other, screaming his goddamn head off. No one else came close.”
This is a wild, hair-raising psychosexual romp soaked in blood that plumbs the depths of the darkest places within the human soul. It is something that only the best books are, an experience.
RATING ………………. 5 STARS
Emily Dickinson is a master of the dark. Yeah, you heard me… Emily Dickinson. Simply put, her fascination with and expression of death’s gothic embrace places her soundly in the great cannon of horror. I know some may recoil at this characterization, but I absolutely LOVE her work and think it very fitting to pay homage to her here.
Only a select few have given us the sinew and bone of language that Dickinson shows in her poetry and I feel strongly that we see that muscularity at its finest when it explores death and its release thematically in her work. The poems move, challenge and inspire even after repeated readings. The images, so often dark and ringed with the steely edge of fatality and finality, dance and play with unmatched touch.
Look at this incredible example ::
That after Horror—that ’twas us—
That after Horror—that ’twas us—
That passed the mouldering Pier—
Just as the Granite Crumb let go—
Our Savior, by a Hair—
A second more, had dropped too deep
For Fisherman to plumb—
The very profile of the Thought
Puts Recollection numb—
The possibility—to pass
Without a Moment’s Bell—
Into Conjecture’s presence—
Is like a Face of Steel—
That suddenly looks into ours
With a metallic grin—
The Cordiality of Death—
Who drills his Welcome in—
Good GOD, the language. The dark beauty. The “metallic grin” of Death, drilling his welcome in from the last stanza is nothing short of stunning. In many ways, she manages to presage in just a few words the biomechanical horrors of HR Giger’s brilliant oeuvre in image, but imbues it with a devilishly welcoming presence. AND, she did it in the mid-nineteenth-century.
Another famous example ::
Because I could not stop for Death–
Because I could not stop for Death–
He kindly stopped for me–
The Carriage held but just Ourselves–
We slowly drove–He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility–
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess–in the Ring–
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain–
We passed the Setting Sun–
Or rather–He passed us–
The Dews drew quivering and chill–
For only Gossamer, my Gown–
My Tippet–only Tulle–
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground–
The Roof was scarcely visible–
The Cornice–in the Ground–
Since then–’tis Centuries–and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity–
Again, amazing. I almost feel that to say too much is to take away from the work itself.
And from the “Totally Epic Things That Will Never Happen” file, I fantasize about an album where total metal masters Baroness take Dickinson’s work and interpret it through song. Holy crap, talk about too much awesome. Hey, a boy can have his fantasies, right? Listen to these and imagine her work interpreted in this way ::
Boys, if you’re listening out there, help a brother out and consider at least one track like this. (PS — I saw your show at The Firebird here in St. Louis and I’m still riding on a musical high from it. Keep it up!)
I think the obituary that Susan Dickinson wrote about her friend summed Emily’s talent best :: “A Damascus blade gleaming and glancing in the sun was her wit. Her swift poetic rapture was like the long glistening note of a bird one hears in the June woods at high noon, but can never see..”
Emily, thank you for the rich, dark heritage you have left us.
From Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night ::
“Sometimes I think I’ll come into the room and be feeling around for the light cord…you know, it’s sorta hard to find…and instead of the cord, I’ll feel this face.”
Dale’s neck had gone cold.
“You know,” continued Lawrence, “some tall guy’s face…only not quite a human face…and I’ll be here in the dark with my hand on his face…and his teeth’ll be all slick and cool, and I’ll feel his eyes wide open like a dead person’s…and…”
Summer of Night is truly a modern horror classic, a lush story of youth and summer framed in genuine chills. This FINALLY made it to the top of my reading list. I have just finished it and wanted to make sure I reviewed it here.
The publisher’s book description actually offers a great intro to the story ::
It’s the summer of 1960 and in the small town of Elm Haven, Illinois, five twelve-year-old boys are forging the powerful bonds that a lifetime of change will not break. From sunset bike rides to shaded hiding places in the woods, the boys’ days are marked by all of the secrets and silences of an idyllic middle-childhood. But amid the sundrenched cornfields their loyalty will be pitilessly tested. When a long-silent bell peals in the middle of the night, the townsfolk know it marks the end of their carefree days. From the depths of the Old Central School, a hulking fortress tinged with the mahogany scent of coffins, an invisible evil is rising. Strange and horrifying events begin to overtake everyday life, spreading terror through the once idyllic town. Determined to exorcize this ancient plague, Mike, Duane, Dale, Harlen, and Kevin must wage a war of blood—against an arcane abomination who owns the night…
IMHO, great horror stories draw power from the juxtaposition of common settings and the gentle rhythm of work-a-day life with truly horrifying concepts and scenes. This is central to the power of Summer of Night. Simmons deftly uses this power to create a story with as much charm as it has horror.
The book is rich with the verdant, warm summers of youth. Though the story is set in 1960, so many of the details of the childlike aspects of summer depicted here resonated in a very personal way for me. From dusty dirt clod wars and the sound of bike tires on loose gravel to secret, leafy forts and outdoor community movies, Simmons puts the reader in those halcyon, coming-of-age days with a beautiful eye for detail and a heady tactile sense. This provides the base he builds his terrifying tableaus upon.
Those tableaus are at once ominous, threatening and at times bloody in the best way they can be for a story of this sort. Simmons conjures the terrors of childhood and makes them manifest. Though his uncannily experiential style you can feel, see, smell and taste the substance of those fears.
I highly recommend this book, especially to those looking for a way to put some real chills in the steam of their summer.
RATING ………………. 4.5 STARS