The Delectable Second Season of NBC’s Face of Hannibal Lecter

Just a heads up: this post is going to contain quite a few Hannibal spoilers.  If you haven’t watched through season 2, I don’t recommend you read this.  Instead, watch every episode.  It’s so good.

Last week I watched the season 2 finale of Hannibal.  Incredible.

As you already know, I really enjoy the books and films that feature the character Hannibal Lecter, and I have a particularly passionate love for the television series.  After watching the first season I felt that it was easily some of the best television I’ve ever seen– some of the best television ever to have aired, honestly– and it was with great excitement that I watched the second season, excited each week when Friday brought both the advent of the weekend and a new episode.  I felt that it brought a very wonderful new direction to Thomas Harris’s characters.  I find Hugh Dancy to be a wonderful Will Graham, Lawrence Fishburne to be a powerful Jack Crawford, and of course Mads Mikkelsen to be an absolutely incredible Hannibal Lecter.  I’m on the verge of just giving in to my temptation to say that he’s better as the character than Anthony Hopkins was.

Blasphemous, I know.  But he’s so good.

On that matter my wife says that Hopkins is a better Hannibal, but Mikkelsen is a better Dr. Lecter.  A very good way to look at it.

Okay, so in my last “Faces of Hannibal” post I basically just said that the series is a piece of art.  Let me dig a bit deeper this time around, because I’m writing this more for people who already have a great appreciation for the show rather than to give a teaser of what makes it different from the other iterations of Dr. Lecter.

For starters, I just want to gush over the story for a little while.  Hannibal-season-2-posterThe arc of the first season felt very full– we see Will Graham kill a serial killer– the Minnesota Shrike– become a surrogate father for the Shrike’s daughter alongside Hannibal, and then get framed by Hannibal for that daughter’s death, which is done in a way that Will himself questions his own innocence.  So we see a good man be forced into madness– or at least what appears to be madness– by Hannibal.  The characters are very vivid, as are their motivations.  Will has a very powerful, very real sense of empathy.  This makes him an extremely sympathetic hero to cheer for because his life is full of pain and compassion for the monsters he hunts.  Hannibal Lecter is a monster in the truest sense, viewing his own power as making him a god– a power that he exerts as both a slayer and one who gains influence as others give it to him.  He is controlling and manipulative, and he loves nothing more than to set horrible things in motion to see what happens, or to set things in motion to get outcomes that change people to being monstrous.  He takes this monstrosity as a sort of worship.  (I’m sorry this is coming out in a rather stream-of-consciousness sort of way, but I have to jump from idea to idea because every element– plot or cinematic– of this show is so perfectly crafted to form a cohesive, powerful piece of art).  So, in the framing of Will Graham we see Hannibal finish the first season by showing just how powerful he truly is.

The second season then begins with Will Graham being incarcerated in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, a place familiar both from previous episodes (such as the involvement of Eddie Izzard’s brilliant character, Abel Gideon) and from all other things Hannibal as where Will Graham and Clarice Starling eventually stand outside of the cell of Hannibal Lecter to get his advice in dealing with the Tooth Fairy (Red Dragon) and Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs).  It is rather shocking to see heroic Will laid so low.  The first section of the season then deals with the evidence and legal proceedings against Will while he rebuilds his own memories and realizes who is responsible and how the framing was done.  Will begins to become darker, going to any lengths to try to bring down Hannibal– and in so doing he starts to become a monster himself.  This idea of his empathizing with the serial killers is taken in the direction the show has been hinting at from the beginning: that to defeat the monsters you must become one of them.  The show continues to deal with other killers, but from the first episode of the season these are clearly less significant to the story, in spite of how compelling they are.  Things get very intense as Jack Crawford’s assumed-dead protege is found alive and has been psychologically programmed to point the finger of blame for the Ripper murders on the head of the Hospital, Dr. Chilton, who has been framed in other ways as well.  She even pulls the trigger on him– which surprised me very much because Chilton plays a significant role in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs.  This was the first major break from the established Hannibal Lecter canon (other than the premise that Will and the FBI all know Hannibal before he is caught).  Finally, Will is set free as it becomes clear that he was not responsible for the murders and Hannibal steps up his game, putting Will in monstrous circumstances and trying to mentor him to become what he is.  So, all of this is sublime, and then the stakes get heightened as Alonna Bloom begins sleeping with Hannibal as Will meets one of Hannibal’s other patient’s, a character familiar from the novel Hannibal, whose twisted brother is the key force trying to bring down the titular character in the novel.  We see the introduction of many major elements of that book– obviously the Vergers, and the man-eating pigs, but they are done in a way that is much more compelling than the novel that they’re based off of.  Then things get really crazy as it appears that Will has murdered the ever-annoying Freddie Lounds (even featuring a nice tribute to Lounds’ death in Red Dragon) and brought a cut of her to enjoy with his new mentor.  The conclusion of that episode left me really shocked, struggling to believe that the show was going in such a midnight-dark direction.  It was interesting, but it wasn’t anything I expected.  Of course, the next episode revealed her death to have been staged, all part of an intricate plan between Will and Jack to take down Hannibal.  Finally, Hannibal and Will try to force each other into killing Mason Verger but Verger escapes very damaged but alive (as he is familiar in Hannibal the novel/film) and Will unconscious.  Will and Jack try to force Hannibal into attempted murder in an entrapment sort of situation, but that plan gets shut down leaving the desperate men to proceed without a SWAT backup.  Of course, this leaves the pair bleeding out in Hannibal’s house with Alonna Bloom broken after being pushed out a window and the twist that Abigail Hobbs was alive but has just had her throat slit by Hannibal.  Cut to black, return with Hannibal drinking wine in a plane next to his psychologist, who previously fled an attempt on her life.

What?  How did all that happen?

Okay, so this show is very complex.  There are a lot of interesting threads that come in, leave the show for a while, then turn up later as very important to the story (example, Jack’s cancer-riddled wife).  I’ve never seen a show where every line of dialogue, every character, every detail turn out to be so important.  It’s phenomenal storytelling that really demands the audience’s attention at a level that no other show I’ve watched has done.

The filmography of the show is just beautiful.  The way that every shot is framed, the camera effects, everything furthers the story and gives the series a very powerful tone.  It contributes to the piece rather than just being the way that the story happens to be captured.  It really deals with filmography in such a serious, artful way that is rarely matched in the finest of cinema let alone in television.

The special effects are unbelievable.  The CGI stuff with the stag and the horned man are really cool, but the murder scenes are both beautiful and horrifying.  tumblr_inline_n3mke3fY0Y1rnite0Take the tree murder– it is both terrible and lovely.  It’s the kind of thing that can give you nightmares because you just can’t stop thinking about it.  The same applies to almost all of Hannibal’s kills.  It’s no wonder that Stephen King joked on Twitter, “After watching two seasons of HANNIBAL, I think a new license plate motto is in order: MARYLAND, HOME OF EXOTIC MURDER SCENES.”

I really just can’t gush over this series enough.  It’s killing me that I don’t know what day season three will begin (if anybody knows, please comment), though I love that it has been officially renewed.  I honestly think that between Hannibal and the upcoming Constantine series, NBC is becoming my new favorite network.

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Mama

Anybody who is half as serious about Halloween as my friends are watch horror movies all throughout October.  Well, all throughout the year, but October brings a concentrated dose of the scary.  That said, a few nights ago I Redboxed Mama as part of a double date as one of my many Halloween-appropriate film choices.  From looking at reviews on IMDb I could tell that feelings about the film were mixed, the critics feeling pretty lukewarm about it, the users more positive.  The top five or so user reviews very articulately explained very positive (eight to ten stars) feelings about the film, so I decided to give it a shot.

As a whole, I liked it.  I’m going to break it down more than that, but I fear that my critique may give an unduly negative feel about the film, Sadly, this poster is slightly scarier than the film itself.so I just want to be clear that as a whole this is an enjoyable film that doesn’t make for a wasted evening.

For starters, just a brief blurb on the gist of the plot, as free from spoilers as I can manage: Mama is the story of a young couple, Annabel and Lucas, the latter of whom having a recent family tragedy in which his brother went nuts and shot a bunch of people, kidnapped his young daughters, and disappeared.  The broken family has a car crash, ends up in the woods, and the father is killed, leaving two very young girls to be cared for by a supernatural entity known as “Mama.”  For years Lucas funds a constant search for his brother and his nieces, and finds them– shaped by the years in the forest.  The plot then takes off with all these pieces in place.

That was surprisingly difficult to explain.  Let’s just say it sets all this up very nicely.

The most impressive element of this film is the acting.  The adult cast’s performances were all very solid, but the real stars of the show were the little girls.  They capture the broken social skills of the girls, really showing off in a tangible way (their movements) how inhuman living in the woods made them.  The differences between the two girls– with the younger, who has no memories of civilized life– being so distinct when they are reintroduced to society is also impressively portrayed.  In many ways the girls are the most frightening element of the film.

The story is also quite strong in the piece.  It progresses quite naturally, with strong characters whose interactions very naturally progress the story.  There is unfortunately one or two bits of Mama that relied on some deus ex machina (such as the non-Mama dream– you’ll see if you watch it) that bothered me, especially since there really could have been more plot-conducive reasons the related character performs a certain action, but the rest of the story flows quite smoothly and realistically.  I like that it used many conventions of the horror genre, and of ghost stories in particular, but did so in a way that manipulated audience expectations, using those expectations to form a sort of thrill ride viewing experience.  The story’s conclusion is surprisingly thought-provoking and sparked a fairly lengthy conversation among those I watched with, managing to be both satisfying and unsettling– which I feel is a rare and powerful thing in the genre.  I don’t always need that blended feeling, but it is refreshing that it mixes things up.  I feel with horror generally, and especially in film, [SPOILERS FOR 1408, FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE FOURTH KIND, AND CABIN IN THE WOODS] that too often everything is wrapped up too nicely  (1408, where everything is A-okay after he gets out), or wrapped up nicely but then with an unexplained shock ending (Jason surfacing at the end of Friday the 13th), or is just depressing, or with nothing gained or explained (The Fourth Kind, which resulted in both my wife and I just saying “What?” and vowing to never watch any movie with Milla Jovovich again) or extremely catastrophic (Cabin in the Woods and the destruction of the ENTIRE WORLD) [END SPOILERS].

And now to my beef with Mama.  Mama.  As I’ve stated, I’m pretty good with the story, and that, of course, extends to Mama.  She is pretty creepy in concept, and for about half the film, pretty creepy in execution.  The problem is that, in the latter half of the film, they show her.  A lot.  She looks pretty weird, yes, but stereotypical cartoon alien weird, which is not what I wanted for a freaky, angry maternal poltergeist.  And it isn’t so much that I’m disappointed with the effects people not making her creepy enough, it’s that I did not want to get a good look at her at all.  Just as the terrifying nature of Samara vanishes when you properly see her in The Ring, Mama loses the mystique of the unknown.  Honestly, if they didn’t show her face for the entire movie I would have found it twice and scary, easily.  When she’s being a floor shark, only her hair visible moving through the carpet, she’s solid.  When you can’t see her properly because the camera is showing the older sister’s vision without glasses, I shuddered wondering what she could be.  The director really missed something good with her.

I’d say pretty much everything else was pretty solid.  The score was good, contributing to the atmosphere while avoiding distraction.  The visuals (except as I’ve noted) were dark in a good way.  The opening credits, which made use of children’s drawings to tell the story of the girls’ lives with Mama, were very unsettling.

 

Waiting for Pyramid Head – Part 2

For starters, only read this if you’ve already read my previous post, found here: https://partisobscurum.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/waiting-for-pyramid-head-part-1/

Enjoy second half of my essay (I decided to only break it into two parts because I couldn’t really find a good breaking point again).

As part of my religious tradition I believe there are real, evil supernatural entities that plague the earth, that these were the followers of Lucifer, and that they hated us for our bodies. They were miserable, and wanted only to make us miserable. My parents, who were my principal religious instructors, would occasionally mentions these evil beings as they taught me but discouraged any form of lengthy discussion. They explained to me that thinking about evil too much invited it, and the last thing I needed to be dealing with in my life was manifestations of evil, be they temptation or literal creatures.

I took their word for this: I hadn’t had run-ins with evil, but others around me had, and I knew their stories.

My best friend, Nick, for example, was playing in his unfinished basement with his younger sister. She sat in a baby carriage that he shook back and forth like it was a ship. Abruptly the small bed began to shake and moved by an unseen force beneath the stairs, trapping his sister beneath while both screamed. It took both of their parents to free the little girl. Nick and his sisters were forbidden to go downstairs without supervision for years until the downstairs was finally finished.

Or my friend Jared, whose old house either had very peculiar wiring problems or something supernatural messing with their lights and electronic devices.

Or my uncle Keith, who faced down a possessed man while proselyting on his LDS mission, who snarled inhumanly with a visible darkness around him, charging my young uncle full speed before being repelled by an invisible force of light.

I sit, my right leg bouncing rapidly, a manifestation of my eagerness to take my turn to stand at the podium and read my story. At the beginning of the open mic night I let myself dive into the stories and essays and poetry being presented. Not so now– each word becomes dragging, road bump after road bump in the way of getting up and reading.

The piece in my hands is a revised copy of “The Cruelest Masterpiece of Gunfire,” part one of the horror novel I have named Dark Art. I can’t wait to read the words, even though I know I will stumble over them at times. I am hungry to see the reaction of my friends and peers. I crave the validation I’ll feel if I create a shock.

Writing horror is now more powerful than any other kind of writing for me. The emotional reaction– the strong emotional reaction– that comes with it is thrilling. The idea Pyramid_Headthat I can do more than just entertain my readers– or, in this case, my audience– but that I can make them feel a certain way, is exhilarating. It makes me create something real.

I’m going crazy to try to scare people.

As I finally stand at the podium, I can see a monster with a metal mask sitting in the back row in my peripheral vision as my eyes scan the text of the epigraph. “First smiles, then lies, last is gunfire. Stephen King.”

“Ah, what the hell.” I spat on the ground and went back into the warehouse, steeling myself against the horrors awaiting me. I put on rubber gloves and got on my hands and knees. My investigation took only ten minutes.

It didn’t surprise me that Verrick didn’t notice my discovery– he never had a very fine eye for detail. He was good at making connections, but he wasn’t good at finding the evidence that made those possible. I wasn’t surprised that when I showed him my little gem of evidence he instantly got an idea of where to go from here. I found a domino, white with a single black dot. It was hidden beneath a splash of blood. Familiarity flashed in my mind on several levels, but before I thought too deeply about the significance of the game piece, Verrick pointed out that not too far from us was a building with a sign bearing the same symbol.

I can’t help but feel a little sick inside as my mission president tells us he is revising a statement known as “My Purpose,” published in the church’s official missionary guide, Preach My Gospel, which states that as missionaries we are to “invite others to come unto Christ” by a variety of methods, instead reducing the statement to a mere five words: “My purpose is to baptize!”

I know that baptism is extremely important, but I do not believe for a second that it is my sole purpose as a missionary. Almost from day one of my mission in South Carolina, I have hated the bombardment of the idea by the mission president and other mission leaders that to be a successful missionary we must be a baptizing missionary, even though the scriptures– and most of the training materials published by the church– define success in much broader strokes than that. I see Christ’s apostles and church leaders helping change lives in small ways alongside the radical. I see people coming back to church, or coming to see Christ in their lives, or even just receiving a bit of kindness like brightening a day.

Soon the questions suggesting criticism of my work, proffered by other missionaries who are given assignments over me, become direct attacks. “Why are you not baptizing?” “Why don’t you stop seeing that person? They haven’t come to church yet.” “You are not working hard enough.” “You are not focusing on the right things.”

I keep my reactions bottled inside me, forcing myself to not shout back, You do not know what I am doing. You are not focusing on the right things. I am doing my best to try to help others, so shut up. You don’t know what you are talking about. You are baptizing without any care for what happens to the people you baptize. You don’t care if people actually change their lives. You just want to go home and say you’ve baptized X number of people, aren’t you so great? You just want a pat on the back from President McConkie. Instead, I just lower my head and keep doing the work I know to be right.

My mother always has hated horror- really, any form of entertainment that focuses on dark themes. M. Night Shayamalan’s film The Sixth Sense frightened her deeply. At the time The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings movie came out she barred me from watching it, considering the Ringwraiths too dark for me to handle– and I was eleven and had read all of the books– so I had to watch it behind her back.

I was very sheltered in that respect.

The strange thing is that my mother is a very strong, brave woman. It is no exaggeration to say that her example and that of my father helped me develop what I feel is a strong personal moral compass.

She advised I avoid horror. “You don’t want the bad spirit it invites,” she said, implying a connection to earlier lessons about thinking about real evil.

The nervousness I felt when my friends and I watched The Ring at my house for my thirteenth Halloween was only in small part due to the complications of the plot. My mom avoided the room where it was playing the entire evening.

Even though it was the middle of the night, we decided to try knocking on the door. The safest course of action was to fix Verrick up with a wire. This was a dangerous job, and I felt my curiosity should be satisfied with minimal risk. I didn’t want to risk my life in helping an old friend make a buck. Thank God I felt that way. That decision may make all the difference in the world.

I sat in his car, a few hundred yards away, listening on a radio as Verrick approached the building:

A door knocking, a faint creak as it opened. “May I help you?”

“Yes, my name is Dalton Verrick. I am a private detective investigating an accident that happened a few streets up. At the scene we found a domino that is identical to the one on your sign. I’d like to ask some questions.”

“Certainly. We would love to dismiss any possible suspicion of us with involvement with… whatever it is you’re investigating. Please, come in.”

The creak of the door opening wide to permit entry, followed by footsteps.

“This way, Mister Verrick. I’ll take you to my boss’s office. James Jackson. Lucky for you, we’ve been working a late night.”

“Oh, what is it you do here?”

“We’re in charge of shipping for various manufacturers. We have a big order to send out in the morning.”

“Happen often?”

“Far too often.”

Verrick laughed. “Yeah, I hear you there. As you can see, this job doesn’t exactly have the greatest hours either.”

“Ah, here we are. Make yourself comfortable while I find James.”

The sound of a door shutting, the clack of a deadbolt. Muffled laughter.

“What the hell’s going on?”

An inhuman squeal. Horrible screams. Dalton Verrick, one of the ballsiest people I know, screaming. A sloshing, ripping sound.

My shaking fingers turned off the radio with a click. What in God’s name just happened in there? I must be mad, but even though I had just heard Dalton Verrick die– oh God, I hope he died, I can’t imagine living after whatever it was that happened to him– I had to know what was inside that building. Verrick was right, my curiosity had to be appeased. I would go mad not knowing, just like silently not understanding my wife’s death ate away at the back of my mind.

The mystery of one death almost destroyed me. I could not deal with another.

I didn’t want to die, but I had to know. I absolutely had to. And now I’m not sure whether that curiosity is a blessing or a curse. Either way, I’m haunted by my decision whenever I fall asleep.

I am standing in an empty baptismal font with a woman standing next to me that we had been teaching for several weeks. I am filled with indescribably complex feelings of compassionate love for her. “Will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized?” I ask, tears filling my eyes.

She looks unsure at first, but the emotions that are filling me begin to reach her as well. She slowly says, “Yes.”

My companion Elder Edwards, a large, softhearted Texan, helps us out of the font. “Wait,” our investigator says, keeping us from leaving the chapel that is connected to the font. “I need to tell you something.”

I nod. “Of course.” We all sit.

“Well, you know I’m pregnant.” She had brought it up in past lessons, but she wasn’t showing yet. “The day that I met you guys, remember how I was sitting on the porch? Well, I was waiting for my boyfriend to come pick me up. He was going to take me to get an abortion. When you talked to me and taught me about Jesus, I just knew that I couldn’t do it. He showed up a little bit after you left and I refused to go with him. I’m keeping my baby.” Tears rolled down her dark cheeks, matching the ones that both my companion and I were crying.

That was the last time we saw her– she must have been told to stop meeting with us, and avoided us like we were an illness. We were sad, and frustrated, that she was not going to be baptized and become a member of the church, but those emotions were nothing in comparison to when we sat in the circle and learned of her decision to keep her child– and our role in helping that happen.

In high school I had three video games hidden in my sock drawer: Half-life 2, Resident Evil 4, and Silent Hill 2, each of which featured prominent horror elements or were full-blown horror games. I played them very rarely, only when I was alone (which , in a family with eight members, was pretty much never). I didn’t want my younger siblings to have the nightmares I had when I was eight, but moreover I didn’t want my mom to know I owned such macabre games.

After my youthful experience, I was pretty sure that if she saw the words “Resident Evil” on a case she would have been angry, or worse, disappointed.

I kept darker Stephen King books in my backpack rather than on my bedside table while reading them.

Simply, I kept my fascination with works of darkness in the darkness.

I drove home: I needed a weapon.

I snuck into my house, avoided waking up Natalie. Dug around in my sock drawer and pulled out my Smith & Wesson .357. I probably would have sold it if I had retired for any other reason than the death of my wife, but I had instinctively held onto it, feeling a need to protect my daughter from the haunts of the night. I dug out my shoulder holster, which I hid beneath my jacket.

I kissed my daughter’s head and slipped out. I drove Verrick’s car back to the building marked with a large domino. I popped open the trunk of the car and found some lock pick tools. I pocketed them, and slipped through an alley to the back of the building.

When I got to the back door, I drew a small bottle of oil from my pocket and greased the hinges and tried the door. Locked. I pulled out the lock pick tools and got to work. I was out-of-practice, so I was surprised at how easily and silently I was able to unlock the door.

The carpet was dark red, like you’d see at a movie awards show. It looked expensive, but looking at rest of the building, it probably wasn’t– the cement walls were cracking and there was dust everywhere. I had to fight to resist coughing– especially hard with my asthma.

Using my oil to maintain stealth, I began peaking into rooms one-by-one. Most were vacant, but a few held tools.

I have my headphones on, listening to a Silent Hill soundtrack, immersed in the macabre as I work on my craft, editing the third part of my horror novel, “The Artist.” My narrating protagonist, a middle-aged art critic named Laura, leads a group of her neighbors in battle against a bare-chested monster that was once a detective, while my ears are filled with industrial sounds of the quasi-religious nightmare Otherworld that the small lakeside resort town of Silent Hill becomes when sirens blare and dense fogs rolls in. As the creature saws through the chest of one of Laura’s fallen companions, I hear a long scrape of steel and wonder to myself if Pyramid Head is nearby.

It is widely believed in South Carolina that there is a dark entity known as the Hag that spends its time afflicting people at night. It is a shadowy figure that stands at the foot of one’s bed while you awake, paralyzed, unable to make a sound and unable to look at anything but the creature. Sometimes it just departs from there, other times it makes physical contact– prodding the sleeper, or even laying on top of the unfortunate victim. On my LDS mission to the said state, I heard stories of the Hag and shrugged them off as superstition.

Until I was shared a personal experience by another missionary whom I trusted– who was visibly frightened by his experience. The hag had stood over him, poking him until he awoke. My belief was underlined when, a few nights before Valentine’s Day 2011 a member of the church I was close to told my companion and I about when he had been “hagged” a few years prior, the awful creature pressing down on him as he was frozen in bed, about how he listened to talks by religious leaders on repeat all night for weeks.

The night of Valentine’s, I had an experience of my own.

I didn’t get “hagged,” but I did awake at about 2:00 AM, feeling confused beyond normal sleepiness. I couldn’t focus mentally at all. My mind darted frantically, voicing internal expressions of bafflement at the chaotic state I was in. It was as if there was another voice– another presence– in my head, controlling (or more accurately, fighting for control) of my thoughts. I couldn’t focus. It was beyond my grasp.

I had to force myself to stand, walking into the bathroom with my scriptures in hand. I washed my face, trying to get my body to wake up more. I tried to read the scriptures to clear my head, but I could barely get my eyes to focus on the words on the page, much less make them to make any sense. I fell to my knees, the scriptures clutched against my chest, and prayed.

I prayed until my knees started to ache, the whole time pleading to God internally while struggling to maintain control of my thoughts. My prayer was reduced to a simple phrase, repeated over and over, begging to be freed from the dark confusion.

The powerful duality of my mind persisted for most of an hour.

I wasn’t freed until I woke my companion and asked him to pray for me as well.

I held my scriptures like a teddy bear every night for the following week.

I came to a room marked with dozens of dominoes. I found that it held an occupant. It staring at me, wide-eyed. It was a monster. Its skin was the same color as its irises–red as rouge. When it saw it had a visitor, it smiled warmly and sloppily licked its pale lips with a deep crimson tongue.

My body stiffened. What the hell?

It had four main limbs, like humans, but rather than a distinguishable difference between legs and arms, it seemed to have four of the latter. Long hands with sharp claws clacked on the floor as it stood.

I ran, not restraining the screams that tore at my throat, forgetting I had brought along my handgun for protection.

The monster darted after me, catching the door before it latched and flung it open. It giggled and chattered in high, animalistic tones.

It was much faster than me. It caught me quickly, throwing me down to the floor. As I felt ribs crunch upon impact. As I stared at the carpet I thought it must be that deep crimson color to hide blood. I began laughing hysterically– no, that can’t be right! My mind flashed to the colors, the horrible yellow, from earlier.

My laughter transformed into screams as I felt its claws rip into my back. I tried to roll over to face my assailant, but as I turned, my face was ripped open, blood splattering into my eyes. It tore with claws like thorns. I felt my body surrender to imminent death, curling into the fetal position.

I am finishing a short story, nearly fifty handwritten pages in length, called “A Glass Darkly.” There are monsters in the story– a few supernatural, but the most frightening monster is a kind much more commonly found in real life: an abusive husband and father. Only known in the story as “Papa,” the creature leaves broken fingers and “clumsy accidents” in the wake of his drunken cruelty.

Just weeks earlier I had an encounter with a dark force that was beyond my ability to adequately express. Now, with pen and paper, I am finding my way through horror fiction to give words for an anathema that is real. Not problems that I have known personally, but rather the terrors I have seen hiding in the corners of eyes in many of the people I have been dedicated to helping and teaching who live in project housing. I write about poverty, of alcoholism, of dangerous relationships. I grow. I begin to understand.

Even Pyramid Head, who has been reading over my shoulder, can’t help but shake his head as my little protagonist, Alice, is left alone, crying next to the bloody corpse of her mother. I look up at the blood soaked monster and give him a nod of appreciation.

I am at Universal Studios’ Hollywood Horror Nights. I am breathing heavily, my asthma burning my lungs, drowning in smoke machine smoke, drawing heavily from an emergency inhaler that is not my own. I remember now that mine is in my suitcase. I silently curse myself for my stupidity.

We’ve just ridden the rides up to this point– Jurassic Park in the Dark, The Mummy, Transformers– so I feel now like I have my asthmatic body under control enough to walk through one of the horror mazes.

I have been dying to go one in particular to since I saw a friend’s link online– Silent Hill.

We move to stand in the line leading to a passageway that loudly sounded with an air raid siren over and over and over.

Soon my friends and I find ourselves in Silent Hill, clearly built as the Otherworld version of the town, where things go from unnerving to openly hellish. I dart past a Lying Figure, a humanoid creature that almost looks like a man turned inside out with no arms. It throws itself at a chainlink fence as we pass. I hiss, “Oh hell!”

My hand in my wife’s, we slowly follow our friends through a room marked with the Halo of the Sun, a red symbol of The Order, a cult that worships a chaotic goddess and the creatures of her Otherworld domain. Then, another dark room, full of grotesquely sexualized nurses who move with inhuman locomotion, snarling at us beneath masks of flesh.

Room after room: the Bogeyman with his long-handled sledgehammer, three Robbie the Rabbits, each a pink amusement park mascot with a smear of blood matting the fur around their mouths. Two of the rabbits are props, one jolts to life just as we are about to pass it.

And then, him. Guilt himself, Pyramid Head, the Red Pyramid. He rushes us with a spear and we cower in a corner. He chases us down a hallway, then herds us into a room full of bloody corpses swinging from the ceiling, reaching for us with his long, muscular arms. His glove-clad fingers brush against my shoulder just before I step out of the room–

And find myself outside, in the smoke, once again with my favorite monster behind me.

Waiting for Pyramid Head – Part 1

I want to put more of myself into this blog, more of my relationship to horror.  In my penultimate semester of college (I only completed my degree in April) I took an advanced nonfiction writing class that was focused on the lyric essay.  We had to write two pieces, one playing with a conventional form (which I did as a piece called “Letters,” in which I wrote to some personal heroes of mine, most of whom are fictional– don’t worry, I’ll put it up here, eventually) and another following an invented form that fit the piece itself.  Due to the notable size of the latter work, I will be posting it in sections, probably three.  I feel like it is perfect for this blog because it was an exploration of my attraction to darkness, to horror.  I followed several threads throughout the piece: narrative of my interactions with the horror genre, self-reflection, descriptions of the fictional town of Silent Hill and its related works, and excerpts from part 2 of my horror-novel-in-progress, Dark Art (part 2 being titled “The Brightest Nightmares”).  I hope you enjoy this first section.  Also, don’t hesitate to post criticism or notations of errors, this is a work that deserves more polish, and I really hope to get it published.

“Horror is truth, unflinching and honest.”

-Kealan Patrick Burke

The creature stands tall, taller than most men, well over six feet in height. Muscled, scarred, looming, and yet his posture suggests indifference. That somehow is far worse than obvious menace.

His apparel is a long, stitched up robe with no arms. It’s fabric’s color is nearly indeterminable as it is totally filthy– covered with dirt and gore. The most prevalent feature is his mask, his long metal pointed pyramid-shaped helmet that totally hides any humanity the miscreation could possess. The metal of the pyramid is black mesh, rusted and blood-scabbed, the long point coming down to mid-chest. There is a long bolt in the back that secures the iron executioner’s cowl to his skull.Pyramid_Head

With one hand he holds a Great Knife or a long spear. The knife he drags on the ground; the screech of steel on cement heralds his approach.

He is Self-Loathing and Self-Fear. He is Guilt made manifest for those he plagues.

He haunts James Sunderland through the town of Silent Hill for smothering his cancer-riddled wife. In the neighboring town of Shepherd’s Glenn, he is Adam Shepherd’s guilt for breaking a pact to sacrifice his first son.

He is called the Red Pyramid, or Red Pyramid Thing, or simply Pyramid Head.

My Sunday school teacher reads from The Book of Mormon aloud, “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” He proceeds with his own thoughts: “It is absolutely important that we learn to love others– even total strangers– the same way Christ loves them. The best way to learn to love others is by serving them. So, help around your house, even when you are not asked to. Participate in service projects. Service is one of the best ways to follow Jesus Christ and become more like him. His whole life was dedicated to serving others– healing the sick, raising the dead– and His Atonement was the greatest act of love and service, sacrificing himself and suffering for everyone’s sins.”

I sit and nod. I have heard this lesson, worded slightly differently, dozens of times before, even though I am just twelve or thirteen. The message being taught is something I believe.

I can’t help but wonder, though, why a few weeks ago we talked about having good friends– and avoiding having friends with those who do things that don’t align with what the church teaches. I understand not joining with friends in making poor decisions, but how Christlike would it be to disassociate myself from friends just because they don’t have the same perspective of morality as I do?

Didn’t Christ spend his time among the sinners?

My phone rang at 11:32 that night. Verrick. He hadn’t called for help on a case in a year and a half, just a few months after I left the business.

I sat up, pulled on a pair of jeans, turned by habit to inform my wife I was going out. Felt a stab of pain remembering that she was no longer there.

I reached into my pocket for a cigarette. No carton. Remembered that I had quit last year.

Verrick sounded unnerved. That scared me– he wasn’t an easy man to unnerve, and it took far more for him to swallow his pride and call his old partner. He blamed me for his lack of success after I left.

The pay must have been monumental.

I found my shirt and coat and headed to my apartment door, which creaked loudly. I swore at it, then heard my little daughter’s voice come from her bedroom, “Daddy, where are you going?” Golden curls bounced as her little head popped up, gray eyes peering into the darkness.

“I gotta go help an old friend, angel. Be back in about an hour.”

“I don’t want you to go.” Heartbreaking.

“Don’t worry, honey, I’ll be back. I’ll lock the door so you’ll be safe. Go to sleep.” I hated myself for leaving her home alone like this. God damn life as a single parent.

She whimpered as I stepped out the door. “I love you, daddy!” I heard her muffled yell as I locked it securely, all three locks. I smiled, let my thoughts wander to the dream that had been interrupted by Verrick’s call. It was about my wife. She was still alive. It was my very last good dream.

When I was in the third grade I went over to a friend’s house and played PlayStation with him, primarily the game Oddworld, a quirky sidescroller. Shortly before the time set for my mom to pick me up, the friend popped in Resident Evil, a game featuring a mansion full of zombies and similar monsters, telling me that I would like it. The first combat experience opened with a cutscene featuring a zombie eating a decapitated body with the head laying across the room, face frozen in screaming agony. The image shocked and deeply frightened me. I backed against a wall and refused to let him show me more. Subsequently, I had vivid nightmares almost every night for three months.

My mother never let me play there again.

My uncle, Dallin, has always influenced my interests. It makes a lot of sense– he’s just four years older than me, so he seems much more like an older brother than my mother’s brother. On one visit to my grandparents’ house in Arizona when I was fifteen he showed me a couple of movies and two of his favorite video games– Half-life 2 and Resident Evil 4,we played each for an hour or two. I was pleasantly surprised with each of them, relishing the adrenaline rush of fighting off zombies and other twisted monsters.

Shortly after that experience, I saw a part of the film The Green Mile on TV. It was brilliant, and the supernatural elements of the plot caught me off guard. I interrogated my dad, who had been watching it, but found his explanation of the parts I missed lacking, so I turned to Wikipedia to learn more about it. I learned that The Green Mile was originally a serial novel by Stephen King. Immediately I sought out the book, and found myself deeply impressed with his powerful writing style. Intrigued, I began to dive into a wide variety of his works, including darker novels like ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining. I soon decided that I was going to read all of his books because I loved how powerfully evocative his writing was, and that it dealt with darkness in a way that I had not found in any other genre of writing before, expressing a fear of the unknown and of darkness, while still being willing to appreciate its complexity. Villainy was no longer just about power, some evil king wanting to conquer a land, but rather it was often very familiar. Very human.

Yellow. Bright, vivid yellow spattered all over the floor, on the walls, the ceiling. The world seemed to scream yellow. I inhaled the acrid stench of yellow, tasted a bitter yellow bite on my tongue.

I turned around and retched until I could only dry-heave. I stared at the puddle of bile and felt surprised and relieved that it wasn’t that god-awful yellow.

Shaking, I forced myself to face the room again. It was nauseating, but I managed to suppress more spasmodic vomiting. As my eyes moved across what lay before me, I took in other vivid colors. Greens and blues and oranges and violets splayed unnaturally over everything within sight. Every color but red. Well, there was a little of it, browning as it dried, but with what was decaying on the floor, there should have been red. Lots of red.

In the center of the room was a corpse. First glance showed a simple stiff, like you’d see dead of natural causes or a poisoning or the like. When I walked closer I saw the corpse wasn’t regular at all. The head was facing the wrong direction. So were the arms and legs. Small wonder the face was frozen in the most disturbing scream I’ve ever seen. Oh, and the skin was paler than normal, like there was no blood in the body at all.

When I realized just how awful the body was, I looked away to push away my resurfacing need to vomit. My eyes fell upon Verrick, in his distinctive topcoat and fedora, standing in a corner, looking as dazed as I was. I used to have a hat almost identical to his. My loving wife used to make quite a few jokes about our clothing, referencing to pulp detective stories and film noir. She loved to call me Sam Spade or Bogie. God, I miss those days.

I was able to find things in horror that I hadn’t been seeing in the other genres I was interested in– the genres my parents approved of.

With the exception of a lot of famous older horror writing, stories by Poe or Lovecraft or Stoker, I didn’t tend to see the typical good versus evil motif. Things were more complicated than that. Characters began to become more real. Nobody was just good or just bad, every person had their flaws or redeeming qualities. Even monsters and ghosts tended to be more complex than incarnations of pure evil. They had their motivations and ideologies, even if they were fueled with twisted logic.

For example, in pretty much any movie involving zombies the real, driving conflict of the film is internal among the survivors. Yes, zombies kill people, but it is almost always because of the decisions and flaws of the humans. Humanity is the problem, not the masses of undead. The horrifying monsters are no more the villain than a natural disaster is. The villain is human weakness, or of trying to live only by ideals in an imperfect (or downright hellish) world. Virtue can become just as deadly as vice.

In horror I was able to find a wide spectrum of exploration of the moral grays that fill real life, and it began to make me more complex, more thoughtful. I became more able to find ways to live what I believed in.

I’m fifteen, at a family reunion, shooting shotguns at clay pigeons with my dad, uncles, and some cousins.

I am disappointed with my shotgun. It is an accurate weapon, but it’s just a 20-gage while almost every other gun is of the more powerful 12-gage. It’s also a single shot, while the weapons my relatives own can fire again and again, the shotguns all semi-automatics. My mind starts to piece together an idea for a story about a master gunman who uses cheap, lower-quality weapons with great skill, “Surely a true master sculptor can create a masterpiece with any chisel. A true master gunman can kill with every shot, no matter what type of guns’ trigger was pulled.”

That evening, I pull out my notebook and write the story in a single session. The story develops in an unexpected way– instead of a hero sniper, like I anticipated when I sat down, the story becomes about a robber who creates a slaughter in the bank. Even more surprising, the story has a supernatural twist ending, a “Twilight Zone ending” as I like to call it, in which the robber only steals a painting from a safe deposit box on which is the “same scene of carnage” as the massacre he just created. I title the piece “The Cruel Masterpiece of Gunfire.”

I don’t know it yet, but there is a dark, masked figure watching my efforts from a distance.

In high school a good portion of my friends are not LDS, and a number who are do not live as the church teaches, spending weekends drinking or engaging in sexual activities at the ends of dates. I do not participate in any of their wilder activities, but I am able to look past what I perceive as faults or sinful behavior to see good, sincere people who I relate with. True friends.

I try to be there for them, even if others do not. Two of my closest friends (one of whom I had dated) struggle with understanding the lessons they had been taught in church, and I try to make it clear that if there is anything that they need help understanding, I am available to help. Even though my offers to help are rarely accepted, I do not stop offering.

I care deeply for my friends, even though they make different decisions than I do. Maybe in part because they make different decisions, because they are more complicated. They are real, flawed people, like the characters in the books I read and the movies I watch and the games I play.

Verrick watched me with wide eyes. “Terrible, isn’t it? Lord, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life- in my whole career.” He lit a cigarette. I bit my lower lip to keep myself from bumming one off of him. “It’s like god-damned horror movie shit.”

“Hell, worse.” I didn’t want to, but I had to ask, “It isn’t paint, is it?”

“I wish to God it was. It glowed under a black light. I think it’s blood.”

“God.” I shivered. “Any idea on the cause of death? The neck snapping when the head got twisted or what?”

“I turned him over– there’s holes in the belly. All the vital organs were ripped out. Like gutting a fish. Looks like that happened first.”

I swore again, staring at his cigarette. “Are the guts still around?”

“No. Ah, hell. Let’s walk outside. I don’t want to be in here any more than I need to.” He brushed past me and through the doorway, nearly stepping in my vomit on the pavement. I followed. The cool night air was soothing.

“Any clues?”

“No. No imprints in the blood. I haven’t dusted for fingerprints yet. No signs of resistance from the victim, nothing.”

“So, what’s the job, exactly?”

“Gotta figure out who did it, why, how. This would be a hell of a job for an FBI crime lab.”

“So you called me.”

“Yeah. I didn’t know what else to do. I need the money.”

I coughed. “How much?”

“They’re paying twenty plus. And you should have seen the girl who hired me, a real class-act. Almost a short, blonde version of Annette.” Ah, there it was. Typical– he brought up my wife.

A new story idea comes powerfully, unbidden, while I’m driving. Not a concept, but text, almost like the story is already written somewhere, being read aloud in my mind. The story being told is about a man who has vivid, head-splitting brightly-colored nightmares, then goes into a hardboiled crime story.

When I get to my destination, I track down some paper and scribble down the words that are firing through my mind. By the next day the story has become disturbing, a detective and his ex-partner investigating a grisly murder where there is a mangled corpse in the middle of a warehouse with walls splattered with multi-colored blood. My stomach churns as I paint the gruesome scene, and yet I can’t stop. Unnerved, I push forward to discover where the plot of “The Brightest Nightmares” is heading.

The story rapidly flows into a document on my family’s desktop computer. The detective and ex-detective argue about their pasts and then–

I stare at the screen, not believing the words that have clumsily made their way onto the page: “My wife never came home. In her place, almost the same time I expected her home, were two police officers that told me they had terrible news. The love of my life had, along with many others, been gunned down at the bank by a robber.” I read it again. Again.

The story had connected itself to “The Cruel Masterpiece of Gunfire.” The “Twilight Zone ending” of the first story was no longer an ending.

It was a beginning. Of a horror novel.

A dark figure steps into the room where I am writing, dragging a long, blood-encrusted sword.

House of Leaves

I recently read Mark Z. Danielewski’s first novel, House of Leaves.

Wow.

The book is a horror novel, but strangely, it is not straight-up scary.  When I was given an explanation of what the book was about– a friend, who was rereading the book while in the car on a long road trip, offered, “It’s about a house that is bigger on the inside than the outside”– I shrugged.  It seemed a fun little idea for a short story, but enough to form a book as hefty as the one he carried around?  He could see my skepticism, and thankfully, handed me the book, inviting me to just read the introduction.House_of_leaves

Suddenly, I was introduced into the mind of Johnny Truant, a sex-obsessed, drug-abusing tattoo artist who, through unusual means, is introduced to a manuscript, heavily needing an editor to prepare it and its complex documentation for printing, written by a blind man who died gruesomely and mysteriously.  Immediately I both hated Truant for his lifestyle and was strangely fascinated by him.  Then, as quickly as I began to be drawn into what he said about the manuscript, which makes up the majority of the text of House of Leaves, the introduction was over, and my friend had reclaimed his copy of the book to resume his study thereof.

The introduction referenced a short film, “The Five and a Half Minute Hallway,” in which the owner of the titular House films an unduly long hallway in his family’s new residence.  This method of presenting the “bigger on the inside” idea was surprisingly riveting, and I had to know more.

So, a week or so after getting back from the trip, I tracked down the lone copy of House of Leaves a local bookstore had.  Wincing to pay nearly twenty dollars for a trade paperback (yes, I want to be a writer and make my money selling books, and yet I usually buy books from thrift stores), I walked home with my new acquisition, reading while I walked (a skill I acquired in college).  I quickly reread the introductory section, then excitedly dug into The Navidson Record, the blind man’s manuscript as edited by Truant.

I was surprised to see that it was written very much as a scholarly paper, with extensive footnotes (complete with publication info) for almost everything in the text.  It chronicled and picked apart a documentary film (which Truant explains in his own editorial notes he can find no other reference to, nor to most of the noted texts) filmed by Will Navidson, the owner of the house.  Quickly, the story begins to work on two fronts, the blind man’s Record and Truant’s experiences while working with the text (which, in spite of fictionalized sexual exploits and parties he throws in, quickly becomes very dark).  Soon appendices, referenced in footnotes, begin to become part of the story as well, working to further and provide context for both of the novel’s stories.  The book even goes so far as to contain letters written in code, which resulted in me writing in the margins of the book, something I doggedly avoid in spite of years of being told to do so by professors and teachers.  Simply, as the story drew me in, I had to know everything the book had to offer me.  I started with one bookmark, but midway through my read had to incorporate four or five at a time to keep myself from missing anything as footnotes of footnotes quickly led me down the rabbit holes that litter this story.  It is also very impressive how Danielewski makes use of how the house-of-leaves-sideways-2words are laid out on the page, or what color certain words are, as part of how the story is conveyed.  The reading becomes very difficult at times to follow because of the novelist’s wildly experimental techniques, but as a reader you feel as though the novel is worth all of the time and effort that was necessary to put in to get through it.

So simply, if you like fascinating, well-written horror that breaks genre conventions, read this book.  But, be warned: the novel is ergodic, confusing, and difficult.  It is scary on a very psychological level.  You don’t walk away from it feeling truly satisfied, because there are questions that cannot be answered– it’s what keeps the characters up at night, too.  And a heads-up to readers who don’t care for certain types of mature content, there are some uncomfortably sexually explicit sections in Truant’s notes (I skipped over most of these notes– they are important only as far as they show Truant’s imagined self, which gets broken down throughout the text).

A pro tip for those who want to get a really full experience in their read of the book, it may be worthwhile to get the album Haunted by Danielewski’s sister, the musical artist Poe, which is a companion piece House of Leaves (featuring such songs as “5&1/2 Minute Hallway” and “Dear Johnny”).

Obligatory introductions

faeAs per tradition, I feel I should introduce myself.  I am Nathaniel J. Darkish, an aspiring writer who is  yet to be published.  I recently completed a bachelor’s degree at Utah State University, majoring in English, emphasizing in creative writing.

My biggest interest is in writing horror fiction, and I have a horror novel in the works (currently in major revision– second draft).  It is Dark Art and is available for reading (as is most of my writing) on my deviantART account (see my link to check it all out).  I am also working on a fantasy novel (very slowly, I’m focusing mostly on Dark Art) and a number of short stories.

The purpose of this blog is twofold– one, to chronicle my experiences as a writer trying to complete something worthwhile and get my work published, and two, to share my thoughts on things like literature that I love (especially horror lit).

I hope you find a home here.

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