Look on the Bright Side: Sunlit Terror and the Subversion of Horror Tropes

As the heat of summer fades into autumn, the usual melange of seasonal items are blooming in stores. As always, there are pumpkins to be carved, wreaths to be laid, candy corns to be consumed (or at least scorned by the non-believers).  The season lends itself well to horror, as the days shorten and night blurs the boundaries of the possible. However, it is worth taking a moment this year to reflect on the oft-downplayed sub-genre of sunlit horror, which tends to be ignored in favor of the obvious powers of the dark and grotesque.

Nowhere is this deficit more pronounced than in the leadup to Halloween. From early September through the day of, there’s no shortage of morbid imagery in shop displays, from grinning sugar skulls to the ever-present Scream mask and reaper robes. The intensity may vary by customer (stores are wary of parental complaints), but the underlying awareness of mortality is a constant theme. Rarely will you find decor that combines the balm of sunshine with the blight of decay.

In movies and books alike, the return of day is something of a threshold event. Once the sun exposes our surroundings, we are far less wary of being attacked by skulking predators. Likewise, in mainstream horror, the worst events are restricted to the ambiguous night. Using dark settings is perhaps the most intuitive way to write horror; after all, it’s hard to beat horror that’s been woven into our species’ psyche over millions of years of evolution. Sunlit horror lends itself particularly well to movies, from classics such as Jaws to more recent hits like Midsommar. Movies provide an easy scare with their ready-made horrific visuals (we will never forget Midsommar’s ritual cliff-jumping suicide and bloody mallets), but sunlit horror stories require an extra level of work to properly imagine and savor a horrific scene. However, this extra stretching of imagination’s tendons has a way of strengthening our sensibilities and capacity for savoring the finer, less-obvious aspects of horror. 

Perhaps one of the best examples of pretty sunlit horror is Bernard Taylor’s 1977 classic, Sweetheart, Sweetheart. In this forgotten gem, English ex-pat David Warwick abruptly returns to his home country after a disturbing premonition about his twin brother and his new wife. David soon occupies a centuries’ old rose-filled cottage fit to make HGTV swoon. Much like the pitcher plant that tempts the insect with nectar and bright colors, so does the house enfold David in a disturbingly pleasant embrace while he chases the mystery of his brother’s death through the nearby village. And like the insect, David only realizes the true nature of the threat when it’s too late for him and his loved ones, as he desperately tries to escape his rose-scented hell. 

Thomas Tryon’s 1973 chiller Harvest Home masterfully uses the sun-drenched, bucolic setting of a New England village as a backdrop for a family’s gradual immersion into ancient horrors. In this book, the Constantine family, seeking a change from their frenetic lifestyle in New York, buy a house in the tiny, close-knit village of Cornwall Coombe, where the corn farmers maintain their cultural traditions with a near-Amish fervor.  Though the villagers at first appear friendly and protestant, a series of sinister events at the town’s summer fair and autumn festivals slowly reveals that first impressions can be deadly wrong. As the episodes progress from a surprise sheep slaughter at the summer fair to the discovery of a tongueless man in the woods, Tryon suggests that sometimes, darkness is kinder in its ambiguity. After all, when we hear a bump in the night, we can reassure ourselves that, more likely than not, it’s really just the fridge. Or the dog. Or maybe a serial killer. But when we witness horror in the bright light of day, there can be no doubt. 

Perhaps the most popular sunny horror story is Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” which hits the ground running with a lush description of an idyllic summer day — June 27, to be precise. In this piece, the residents of a small village gather on the town common for an annual ritual with all the nonchalance of a city council meeting. Jackson matter-of-factly describes the procedure of the lottery drawing, interspersed with town gossiping and socializing, until the grotesque outcome of the ritual is revealed in the last couple of paragraphs. By spending so much space on the mundane details surrounding the rite, Jackson invokes a subtle “business as usual” vibe that heightens the ultimate horror of the reader’s realization of what the drawing is for. 

One of the more mainstream examples of daylight horror done well is Stephen King’s Cujo, the tale of two Maine families whose lives are torn apart when the titular Saint Bernard contracts rabies and goes on a killing spree. The book climaxes in a multiday siege as the sick animal traps a mother and child in a malfunctioning car during the heat of summer. As the temperature rises, so too does the reader’s anxiety as they visualize the bright sun sapping life from the four-year-old boy. Only the night brings temporary relief as it cools down the car. In this story, what should be a source of life and joy has become a deadly foe, just as much as the monstrous creature lurking outside. 

As we enjoy our pumpkin spice lattes this autumn, it is worth expanding our usual repertoire of horror devices into brighter territory. Oftentimes, the best terror to be found isn’t lurking under our beds at midnight. It’s on a sunny porch with a smile on its face – and a knife behind its back. 

Season of the Witch: Gretel & Hansel Review

As a dedicated tree hugger, the last few months of winter have been disheartening, to say the least. Normally I’d buy a copy of American Forests for some (ahem) private viewing. But when I heard that Orion Pictures had released a dark retelling of the classic Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” filmed in the dark woods of Ireland, I knew I had to see it. And I’m glad I did. Gretel & Hansel is a must-see for those who love fantasy with an edge.

The title Gretel & Hansel does feel a little odd on the tongue, as we’re all used to saying it in reverse. However, make no mistake about it: this story is only a loose adaptation of the traditional tale, and Gretel (Sophia Lillis of It fame) is the standout protagonist. Within the first twenty minutes, Gretel has the most #MeToo job interview ever, then is forced to flee her home with her little brother after their mother is driven mad by hunger. After wandering the dense forests for several days, they come upon a suspiciously well-stocked home in the middle of nowhere (sadly, there is no candy casa, but I did want to buy the A-frame house and renovate it on TV). Inside the house, they find the Witch Holda (Alice Krige, known as the Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact), who lets them stay as she mentors Gretel, who is discovering her own magical powers. After realizing that their savior is in fact too good to be true, Gretel must realize her inner strength to save her brother – and, ultimately, herself.

The original story’s moral could be summed up as: don’t trust strangers, and if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Gretel & Hansel includes that, but it is above all a movie about growing up and realizing one’s power in a hostile world.

The movie’s messages and themes are good, but its main draw is the aesthetic: the moody, dark forests and eerie synth-wave soundtrack delight viewers with gothic sensibilities. (Particularly those of us who tire of Disney’s saccharine treatment of stories that were originally often quite morbid.) As eye candy goes, Gretel & Hansel is 60% cacao chocolate: dark, but not mouth-puckeringly bitter. 

Although the dialogue is a bit weak at points, the three main characters deliver excellent performances in their respective roles. Krige, in particular, plays the Witch to near-perfection; she would be unsettling even to those unfamiliar with the original fairy tale. This rendition seamlessly includes a short back story as well that, oddly enough, makes her a partially sympathetic character. I find this a refreshing aspect of the retelling, as traditional fairy tales rarely include nuances in their characters. My only complaint about Krige’s performance is her ambiguous British Isles accent; at certain points, I needed subtitles to follow her.

Overall, Gretel & Hansel is not terribly scary, but it is lovely. Fans of the dark fairy tale genre (à la Coraline, Pan’s Labyrinth, etc.) will enjoy its beauty and sleep soundly after.

Movie Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Horror-loving millennials got a chance to indulge in some nostalgia this weekend as Guillermo del Toro’s much-anticipated adaptation of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” hit theaters with a meaty thump. Although the books were old when I was a kid, I happily added them to my collection of spook material, right next to Goosebumps and the Short & Shivery series. So when an ad for the movie popped up in my Facebook feed, you’d best believe I got the Husband on board to see it in our sketchy local theater on opening night.

“Scary Stories” is a cousin to the horror anthology genre, which includes my favorites, “Trick ‘r Treat,” “Tales from the Darkside,” and “Creepshow.” However, there is none of the traditional back and forth between story and reality: in this movie, the stories are the reality. In this adaptation, four teenaged friends in picturesque small-town Pennsylvania find a mysterious book in an abandoned mansion with ties to local lore. After they take the book home, strange and unsettling stories appear, sampled from the three volumes that make up the “Scary Stories” series. As the kids start dying, the lonely writer protagonist faces a race against time to discover the truth about the book and its mysterious author, Sarah Bellows.

“Scary Stories” is largely a creature feature, and on this score del Toro delivered (as usual). Illustrator Stephen Gammell’s monstrous drawings that once saw the series challenged by parenting activist groups in the ’90s come to life in utterly horrifying and satisfying fashion. The eldritch snowman horror that is the Pale Lady is my personal favorite, though the Jangly Man from “Me Tie Dough-ty Walker” comes in at a close second (he reminded me a bit of the titular character of “Jeepers Creepers”).

I was very pleased with the quality of the acting from the show’s main characters, though they could have been much worse and still been redeemed by the creatures’ shock value. Since I’m a sucker for small towns and autumn foliage, I enjoyed the setting, especially the charming-yet-threatening cornfields. The soundtrack was excellent, too; I particularly enjoyed the recurrence of the delightfully morbid “Hearse Song.” (I’m sure there’s an objective reason why music box tunes are creepy, but I’ve yet to figure it out.)

Overall, “Scary Stories” is a good time waiting to be had for horror lovers of the eighties and nineties. Anyone who hid their copies of the series from the nosy PTA members would be well advised to give it a try while it’s out.

Playing House, Part 2: Spreading my Wings and Buying Things

The second part of my decorating journey began, ironically enough, while I was still living at my parents’ old home in east Texas. I got my first full-time job in Jacksonville and commuted from Tyler. Suffice to say, it was not a great period of my life. As a new legal assistant, too, I faced the double problems of extreme shyness and awkwardness while learning a new field of work. At work, I was clumsy; at home I was stifled. I reminisced about my old apartment and furniture, much of which had been dispersed amongst charities and family. As I kept searching for jobs in DFW, I wondered if I would ever break free and be an independent adult. I was embarrassed to be “stuck” at home, though in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been; in 2016, roughly 15 percent of 25- to 35-year old millennials were living in their parents’ homes, thanks in part to the rising costs of housing and my generation’s debt profile (Pew Research). To keep my spirits up, I would sometimes look online for artwork that I wanted to buy for my first home. I began with the usual Google searches that took me to conventional retailers, like Art.com and Wayfair. It was during one of these “Windows shopping” episodes that I found my First Piece: “Woman in Red – Ascension” by Steve Goad. More specifically, I found this:

Credit (Pinterest)

This is the first picture that I can remember evoking an emotional response in me. What message could be more suitable for a new professional struggling to find her voice while battling imposter syndrome? The woman’s buoyancy, the flowing red fabric, the riotous black hair – in this picture I saw the image of the sort of woman I hoped to one day be – free-spirited, graceful, and self-assured. Ironically enough, this image caused its creator no end of annoyance. Goad made the picture, but someone else added the quote and began its spread on social media without giving him credit. This is the picture that opened my mind to the world beyond big box store art. I kept it in the back of my mind, and when I finally moved out, it was the first piece I bought, and I still have it today.

When I finally got landed a job in Dallas, I moved near my sister in a 1950s row house with questionable plumbing and a ghost-like property management presence. The duplex hadn’t been remodeled much, but it did have the holy grail of post-WWII homes: original. wood. floors. I’d never lived in a house with those, so I got to experience the magic for the first time. My floors were a smooth and lovely color, possibly from golden pecan trees. I had about 1,100 square feet to share with my eventual roommate, but when I first moved in, I rattled around the place. The tall ceilings in the downstairs area gave the place a lofty, rather refined feel, and the large windows let in plenty of natural light.

At move-in, all I had was my bed, a nightstand, and my old black ladder staircase (pictured below). I was at a loss to figure out how to outfit my place within a reasonable budget as a new Dallasite. I ended up buying the bulk of my furniture from Amazon: a beige couch (neutrals are safe!), a black wood- and particle-board dresser (suspiciously cheap, and for good reason), and a top-notch black wood coffee table. I rounded my selections out with a funky green and blue chair from Target and an elegant bistro table set from Pier One, which turned out to be too tall for my short self but was otherwise charming. For the most part, they were good purchases, except the dresser, which fell apart in the space of two years. But once again, I have to admit: they were very safe. They were cute, but blandly so. I started showing my personality a little more by designing my wall décor.

Over the next year, I bought several pieces from Wayfair and my then-favorite, Designs by Humans.  For those who don’t know, DBH is a sort of cross between Etsy and CaféPress.  It features independent artists from around the world who license their images for use on tees, prints, phone cases, mugs, etc. Once you have selected the image, you can print it in several sizes, have it framed, or (in some cases) change the background color to match your color scheme. I gravitated toward nature-themed art, with some whimsy thrown in for good measure. During the curation process, I learned more about the kinds of art and messages that spoke to me.

When I landed my current job, I moved from the townhouse to a generically pretty new apartment in Keller, Texas. (Note: for anyone who wants to commute to Fort Worth from Keller, here’s a tip: don’t. It can only end in tears.) While I had still had the basics to build on from my previous house, I continued buying DBH art, with a couple of basics from Wayfair and Bed, Bath & Beyond to flesh them out. I now try to avoid sourcing everything from big box stores, but I have to admit that Bed, Bath & Beyond has a good selection of metal art.

My last rental came about after I adopted my fur-baby, His Royal Highness the Pumpkin Prince Lionel (it’s his show name, if we ever do one). I needed to be closer to work, and I needed a place with a yard for my 40-something pound dog to run around in. I found a terrifically ugly duplex sans dishwasher for a reasonable price. (Note to millennials: always ask if an older building has a dishwasher. It literally never occurred to me to ask. I might as well ask if the bathroom had a toilet.) It was in this unprepossessing house 1950s home that I began experimenting with calendar art, as I ripped apart paper months and framed the attractive ones. It’s a good trick, if you don’t mind tiny holes from the hangers. I also used wall decals to spice up the living room, and after several months, I found the design mecca that is Etsy, which introduced me to the world of vintage and small-business artists. That is a story for Part 3, which began after I married and moved out of the duplex.

Playing House, Part 1: A Retrospective

The Husband and I have been in our new place for about five months now, and it has been a whirlwind of decorating and renovating. I keep looking around the rooms remembering what a mess we moved into, and how far we’ve come. I see the house as a sort of canvas for my design sensibilities, and I’ve been thinking about the ways my taste has evolved as a young adult. I’ve spent about a year finding pieces for my house, and the process has made me pause and reflect on the change in my approach to interior decorating over the last decade of my life.

My first foray into interior decorating was in my last year of college, way back in 2011. As a Real Grownup, I knew it was time to move out of the dorm rooms with their ironing board mattresses and generic furnishings. I was ready for the big leagues: a tiny studio apartment with a galley-style kitchen. My mom directed the decoration of the place, since she agreed to buy my first bits of furniture. Two words describe my mom’s sensibility: (1) high-quality; and (2) conservative. Thus, we got a solid walnut bedside table, a sturdy twin bed, and a round wooden dining table that doubled as a desk (which I don’t recommend for students with mountains of paperwork and projects). In the interest of saving space, Mom also got me a small wicker settee from Pier One Imports instead of a couch (the upside of being short is that you can nap in unconventional places, not unlike a cat).

My first apartment was utterly tasteful, shiny, and new. Mom helped me outfit my first kitchen with a set of Pier One dishes that coordinated with my settee cushions and wall décor. It looked much nicer than an average college apartment, but in retrospect, it lacked something in the personality department. In hindsight, I would say the problem was two-fold: (1) newness; and (2) matchy-matchy(ness). Almost everything in that apartment came from one of two sources: Pier One and Target.

Sadly, I don’t have photographic evidence of my matchy-matchy apartment, but I have included links to some of the Pier One product listings here:

Individually, any of these products could be considered tasteful and nice. Pared together with my other furnishings, they looked downright generic. My apartment could have been a cute Airbnb.

After college, I lived with my parents for a couple of years at my first job and stored/gave away most of my furniture and décor. Although this was an important time in my life, I chafed at the restraints of living in my parents’ house. Interior decorating is often seen as a superficial concern, but I’ve come to believe that it fulfills a deeper need. If you think about it, choosing pieces, paints, and textures for a room is an exertion of will. It is the one way we humans have of directly controlling our environment. So many things in life are out of our control, but the few that are, what we eat, wear, and design, speak to our need to feel agency in our most personal moments.

For a long time, I worried that I would never get a job away from home and regain the ability to reshape my home. As a new college graduate, I was shy and nervous about my skill set, and I didn’t do my best at job interviews. However, I eventually got Job No. 2 in Dallas, where the next part of my design journey began.

 

Movie Review: Child’s Play Remake

I’m not much of an early adapter. The Husband and I don’t have the latest phones, laptops, or fitness-shaming devices. In keeping with that vein, we don’t usually go to see movies on opening night. But when we heard the directors of “It” were redoing “Child’s Play” with Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky, we knew we HAD to see it on opening night.

My fears of crowding on a new-release were thankfully unfounded; our theater was so empty that it didn’t matter that the (probably) stoned ticket vendor mistakenly gave us passes to “The Secret Life of Pets 2.” I did, however, want to shame the parents next to us who brought their preschool aged kids along. (If your kids are young enough to sit in your lap, then they are too young for an R-rated movie, in my not-so-humble opinion.)

As a recap: this movie follows the same basic story outline as the first: busy mom, lonely kid, accidental find of a very expensive doll. However, this version scraps the voodoo entirely; instead, Chucky is created when a disgruntled sweatshop worker produces a robotic doll without the normal pre-programmed behavioral constraints. To make matters worse, the dolls in this movie are designed to tap into the smart-home technology produced by  Kaslan Corp., vis a vis home thermostats and speakers/screens. In this version, Andy and Chucky forge a friendship that quickly turns threatening when Chucky’s A.I. system misreads the boy’s unhappiness and social anxieties.

I have to say that I was more than a little impressed with the remake of Child’s Play. Where the first movie was good-time schlock with a bit of horror, this version managed a level of pathos not often seen in that genre. I took away two major fear themes from Child’s Play: (1) Fear of childhood innocence; and (2) Fear about our increasing reliance on autonomous technology.

The scenes where Chucky observes the kids’ fascination with horror films brings to mind those videos of children in former ISIS territory reenacting (and in some cases conducting) beheadings. The uncomfortable truth is that like children, A.I. does not have a robust moral core built in. Unlike children, A.I. cannot be expected to “mature.” This is not a new concern; vintage science fiction fans can remember Isaac Asimov’s famous “Three Laws of Robotics.” For as long as human beings have contemplated making computerized companions, we have also wondered: how can a being with intelligence but no animal empathy be made to understand basic moral tenets? How could they possibly be programmed to understand the social sub-contexts that lie under so many of our interactions? When Andy and his friends managed to shut Chucky down for the first time, I actually found myself feeling a bit of pity for the monster. It reminded me of putting down a rabid dog.

For the Luddites in the room: it was also interesting to see how the writers incorporated the developing concepts of smart-home technology and driverless cars  in the kill fest. As I write this, autonomous vehicles are being tested in select cities around the world. As thrilling as the idea is to those of us ground down by daily commutes, there’s no shortage of concerns with this technology, specifically: how can it be programmed to make decisions? It doesn’t take a malfunctioning A.I. to generate casualties, after all. What will a computer do when forced to choose between hitting an animal or a small child, for instance? What if it misidentifies a variable in a traffic situation? Furthermore, who will take financial responsibility for road accidents in a world in which computers do all the work? However, such cut and dry questions are not exciting enough to put in a movie: enter Chucky the creepy ginger doll and his swinging knife.

The topic of movie remakes is always interesting to me because I like to see how a story is retold over time. Unfortunately, we’re usually disappointed by remakes, often because the writers are trying too hard. In this case, however, I  can say the new “Child’s Play” makes or surpasses the original in its quality and writing. If you like your horror with a side of social messaging, this one is for you.

 

 

 

 

Why I Went to the Woods

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The first time I studied American transcendentalism, I found Thoreau, Emerson, and their ilk more than a little pompous-seeming. (Of course, everyone seems more pompous when you’re forced to read them in high school.) However, since the Husband, Prince Lionel, and I moved to our house in a nature reserve four months ago, I have to say: they had something to say worth hearing. Something has happened to us since we moved out here, and I now hope we never have to leave.

Since we moved in, the woods have gone from the stark twigginess of winter into a state almost jungle-like in their lushness. I can’t say whether we’ve “live(d) deep and suck(ed) out all the marrow of life” yet, as Thoreau did, but I do try to cram as much fun into the weekends as I can before the Texas heat makes life unbearable. (It’s worth noting that Walden Pond is located in Massachusetts, where the summers are significantly less punishing. I’d like to see Thoreau stay serene two weeks into 100-degree days.)

The woods in spring and early summer are nothing short of magnificent. I walk Lionel down the main road with a full leafy canopy of oaks, ash, and elm shading our path. The scent of lilac and mimosa blooms is heavenly; I only wish I could bottle it.

Something happens to me when I’m in the woods with Lionel. I’m not fond of exercise, and my gym phases have always been a begrudging nod to health and the need for cardiovascular endurance. But lately, I find myself losing track of time amid the trees. Instead of watching a clock on a machine wind down, I’m watching the sunlight filter through the leaves like so much stained glass. I find myself surprised when I return home and see that an hour has passed. I’m just as sweaty and gross as during my gym outings, but somehow I feel more renewed than drained. Normally, I would put music on my headphones to distract myself from the unpleasantness of exertion, but I have a built-in soundtrack in the forest. The cicadas in the morning are a near-constant hum (I call them “nature’s white noise machine”), and the bird song varies between the delicate chirps of the sparrows and the rather gauche quacking of the cranes and water fowl.

I don’t see many animals in the woods proper, as they tend to flee when they hear Lionel and me passing by. However, toward evening the deer and raccoons seem very fond of our house, thanks to the Husband’s habit of throwing out corn. In two of our rooms, we have picture windows large enough to observe the does guzzle feed a few feet away while their fawns frolic in the tall grass.

Of course, I’m far from the first person to notice the ameliorating effect of trees and sunshine and birdsong. Scientists have linked nature walks to lowered stress, improved cognitive functioning, and better moods. The Japanese have a practice called “shinrin-yoku,” or forest bathing, which entails freely wandering through the woods without a goal or electronic devices on the brain. (I’m not sure I can ever trust Lionel enough to wander aimlessly, given his self-image as The Great Slayer of Raccoons).

Not everyone can live in the middle of a forest, but DFW metroplex has many lovely parks, especially in the (better) Fort Worth end. As more research is done on the preventative medicine benefits of nature walking, I hope that more of my fellow Texans will take advantage of them. (As long as they don’t Mess with Texas, that is.)

 

Photos from the neighborwood:

Sources

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/205/205-h/205-h.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/08/forest-bathing-japanese-practice-in-west-wellbeing

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/spend-time-in-nature-to-reduce-stress-and-anxiety

 

Paper or PDF? A Consideration of E-Books

Anyone who knows me in personal life is familiar with my no. 1 vice: books (My uppers and downers are Stephen King and Mercedes Lackey). I’ve been a heavy reader since childhood, but my interest took off in my last year of college (2011) when I bought my first e-reader, the Barnes and Noble Nook. It was an early version with few features, but I instantly fell in love with the idea of mainlining as many books as possible without having to find space for them in my non-expanding dorm room.

Since then, I have worn out and replaced two more Nooks, and bought hundreds of titles that I can tuck into my purse at a moment’s notice. At first, I was so thrilled by the instant gratification that I made fun of the naysayers who said they preferred “real” books. Eight years into my experiment with digitization, I won’t say I was wrong, but I will say I have added two major concerns.

Pricing

When I started buying e-books, I was sure that the investment in the reader would be paid back by savings in reduced prices for digital copies. Intuitively, this makes a good deal of sense: e-book retailers have no problems with inventory, no paper, glue, or ink are used to create the products, and there are no transport costs to speak of. However, this hasn’t been borne out in real life. In fact, the average price of an e-book rose 35 percent from 2014 to 2017, while print book prices remained stable, according to Ithaka S+R’s Library Acquisition Patterns study. There is a caveat, though: e-books don’t go through a hardcover period the way many print books do. Pixels are pixels, and unless you’re an older reader who needs a larger print, you can make do with paperback editions. Also, while they can’t be beaten for convenience, e-books can’t be resold like print books. (Hello, Half Price!)

Availability

When I got over my first high from on-demand reading binges, I did make fun of all the people who said they had to have “real” books. To me, a story is a story, and I don’t care about the medium, provided it’s in good condition. (I’m not very interested in books as collector’s items, though. As far as I’m concerned, that’s confusing the meal for the plate.) After some review, though, I have to say there is some merit to the “real” book debate. When you buy an e-book, you aren’t actually buying a book; you are buying a license to access a digital file through your device. For the rest of your life, you will depend on the publishing company’s ability to maintain your access to these files. No problem, right? Amazon and Barnes & Noble have your back. Microsoft doesn’t, though: the company closed its e-book store this month, and will continue issuing refunds through July, as reported by BBC. And who would ever think a Microsoft service would crumble? Barnes & Noble has been struggling for a while. It’s not inconceivable that I could open my email to a notice that the Nook Store is closing within a few months. And as invincible as Amazon seems today, how can we know that they won’t be knocked off some day by a bigger (*shudder*) competitor? As long as most of my collection is digital, I’ll be vulnerable to the tides and waves of capitalism. It wouldn’t be a total loss, since B&N would refund the money, but it would be a tremendous commitment of time to find paper copies of a lifetime’s library.

Solution

Starting this week, I’m reviewing my Nook library and asking: What in here would devastate me if it disappeared tomorrow? Those are the titles that I’ll get in paperback. Amazon and Half Price Books are my top two purveyors, especially Half Price’s online marketplace, where you can often find good-condition books for $1.01, plus shipping. As of this writing, I’m up to forty volumes in my shopping cart (People say I have a problem, but that’s just because they’ve never gotten high off an old-book smell). It’s going to take a while to restock my metal bookshelves, but I know I’ll have them for life … or until the silverfish apocalypse.

Sources

Library Acquisition Patterns

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-47810367

Movie Review: Pet Sematary

As a longtime Stephen King fan, I was really looking forward to seeing the Pet Sematary remake when it hit theaters last week. I adored the first one, and after the colossal success of 2017’s It, I was hoping for a repeat. Although I think this remake is a good film on its own, I can’t say it equaled or surpassed the original for the following reasons:

  1. Acting – Nobody did a bad job in this movie. That being said, no one did a particularly outstanding job compared to the original. Frankly, this version was rather lacking in emotional texture. Jason Clarke (who The Husband and I agree has an unfortunate resemblance to a young Robert Englund) played this version of Louis Gage rather colder than the original version. I didn’t get the sense that he was teetering on the verge of insanity from loss as I did during the original. Amy Seimetz as Rachel also seemed too grounded compared to the original. Although the flashbacks with Zelda were back-crackingly eerie, I didn’t get the sense of near-hysteria from her that I did from the original Rachel’s monologue. Also, her instant rejection of her resurrected daughter didn’t tug at the heartstrings the way her original response to Gage did. That moment when a grieving Rachel thinks she’s getting her baby back are the most emotionally wrenching in the movie. John Lithgow had the hardest shoes to fill, having been preceded by the impressive Fred Gwynne. Lithgow was fine, but he didn’t reach the same level of backwoods wise man gravitas (if that’s a thing) that Gwynne did. I must confess, I was also very fond of Gwynne’s Maine accent.
  2. Plot Twist – I don’t see the point of this version’s biggest plot twist, which is Ellie getting killed by the truck instead of Gage. Dead children are creepy, but there’s something extra chilling about a dead toddler that is still learning to speak in complete sentences. They used Ellie to speak more lines from the book from other characters, but I don’t think they were particularly necessary, especially since they were absent from the original. It’s dangerous to give too many lines to a monster, lest you spoil the mystique. If I hadn’t seen the original movie or read the book, I would probably have been fine with this, though.
  3. Pieces I Missed – I’m not happy that they cut several of my favorite pieces from this movie. The Timmy Baterman story was reduced to a small line in an old newspaper, where the original was absolutely terrifying. They also took out my favorite line from Fred Gwynne: “Death is where the pain ends and the good memories begin.” Rachel’s original monologue about Zelda was better too, touching as it did on survival guilt.
  4. Speed – This version of the story is much faster paced than the original, especially Rachel’s race against time to reach Louis after he stops responding to phone calls. Also, the resurrections sped up, particularly at the end when Rachel surprises Louis with a blade in the back. (Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but it seems to me that a proper resurrection story should take at least a night of work. It just seems a little too convenient that she was up and at ’em just like that.)
  5. Special Effects – No complaints here. These were all excellent. The sequences with Zelda roaming the walls of the house were a perfect example of how fear sound can sometimes be worse than fear sight. Zombie Ellie’s weird eye was a nice touch, as were the staples in the back of her head.

Overall impression – I think that this movie is much more competent than most remakes (especially horror), but it’s just too smooth to be as effective. Pet Sematary is a messy story, and it deserves a properly gritty movie adaptation.