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The Full Lid
31st October 2019

Happy Horror Christmas everyone!

Yes we're a day early! Yes it's one of the three most wonderful times of the year! Yes doing an issue this size on a shorter than usual timetable was very tough but! Here! WE! ARE!

Thanks once again to the amazing Natalie Metzger for the graphic refresh, and to Matt Dovey for this week's very special bumpers and colour scheme.  They're both extraordinary talents. Go give them attention, kudos and money to do more things.

So, I'm Alasdair Stuart, professionally enthusiastic pop culture analyst, podcaster2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo finalist and BFS award finalist for this very newsletter. Here's what we do here; every Friday, around 5, you get all the details of the fun, clever or often all of the above pieces of pop culture I've encountered in the week. If you like what you read, the archive and sign up link are here. Please share it but if you do please tell folks how to subscribe and where you got it. Also if you want to buy me a coffee, that would be amazing.


This is a BUMPER issue, so let's jump straight in.

Contents

Satanic Panic
Unholy Trinity with Grady Hendrix
The Woman from the Black Lagoon
Unholy Trinity with Mallory O'Meara
A Lush and Seething Hell
Unholy Trinity with John Hornor Jacobs
Horror Christmas: The Creature from the Black Lagoon
So Where Can We Find You?
Signal Boosting
Signing Off/Playing Out

Satanic Panic

From the moment the pounding John Carpenter-esque soundtrack begins to the final, triumphant spray of profanity, Satanic Panic sits in the middle of the row, eating popcorn and laughing uproariously. There's a soul souffle, real time divination using human guts, a tree monster, an orgy, rabbits. it is a whole Thing. And a Fun Thing too.

Hayley Griffith plays Sam Craft, a broke singer with a boyfriend on the wrong side of the world. The only job she can get is pizza delivery. The only problem is that her gas money has just been taken as a 'deposit' on her thermo-bag. So, with nothing to lose she grabs an order from S Town, outside their zone. S, or Scrooge Town, is all mcmansions, no tipping and suburban angst. It's also, as one of her colleagues points out, just a hotbed of, well, hot beds. 'You go to S Town a delivery boy. You leave as a Delivery MAN' is an early standout line.

Sam goes. Sam is not tipped. Sam runs out of gas. So Sam goes back, ready to pass the helmet and walks right into a pep talk from Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn). Danica is confident, go getting, possibly immortal, definitely a witch. Danica is looking for a virgin. Sam...doesn't like to talk about it. The battle lines get drawn anyway.
If you asked me 'How much of this movie is basically Rebecca Romijn in a variety of amazing outfits doing that thing she does where she's simultaneously cheery and clearly BLOODY FURIOUS?' my answer would be: 'Very nearly enough.' She is SO much fun as Danica, a (possibly alive since the Viking era) witch intent on bringing Baphomet into the world and just absolutely done with her Valley coven. She's Gordon Gekko with better hair, Granny Weatherwax with an Amex card. Not so much stealing the movie as effortlessly buying the development company and arranging for 'accidents' for her competitors, Danica is just astonishingly good fun every time she's on screen. Romijn's husband, Jerry O'Connell also continues the Romijn/O'Connell household tradition of cameos where he gets his ass kicked and clearly has a blast. Honestly, the fact Hart to Hart or The Thin Man hasn't been rebooted with these two yet is beyond me.

Griffith is the other high point, playing Sam with the exact combination of chirpy good nature and seething resentment she needs. She's got a great sense of deadpan comic timing and a willingness to jump headlong into the physicality of the role that helps immensely. Sam's tougher than she thinks and less patient than she feels and the moment where those two collide in a massive, rolling string of profanity that would make Melissa McCarthy proud, is glorious.

The movie is never less than fun, often great, but the second act has a lot of juggling to do. You get the blue collar vs S-Town narrative, Sam slowly realizing just how much trouble she's in, coven politics and some wonderfully gunky special effects. Plus, in Rubi Modine as Danica's definitely-not-virginal daughter, the movie takes a very different and interesting spin on a classic character trope. There are lots of plates spinning but they do all pay off brilliantly in the third act, There, Hendrix and director Chelsea Stardust pull off two separate swerves, both of which land with surprising impact. This, it turns out, really is an S-Town world. But Sam is smart, and lucky, enough to find her way out the other side of it.

Satanic Panic is FUN, in a way that only horror movies can be. It's inventive, funny, anchored by three great performances and a killer third act. It strains the form to breaking point and beyond, creating a new, better shape for this kind of horror.  If you can, see it in a double with Ready Or Not.

Satanic Panic is available to buy now.

Unholy Trinity with Grady Hendrix

First horror movie that influenced you?
When I was about 6, at Peter Mansfield’s birthday party, his mom put on a tape of the Disney movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Supposedly a sprightly tale of Irish enchantment and tiny leprechauns, it also has a banshee who appears at the end of the movie, wailing like a lost soul, moving like something out of a nightmare. It reduced everyone in the room to hysterical tears, myself included. I’ve never recovered.

Favorite unsung blue collar horror hero? 
Chief Brody in Jaws (the movie, not the book). This guy is a model of law enforcement, and should be a hero to small town cops everywhere. He overcomes his fear of water, risks being fired, and puts his life on the line just to make sure people can swim safely. He’s also got a killer tan.

The one horror movie, besides Satanic Panic, everyone should see. 
Without a doubt the greatest horror movie ever made is Return of the Living Dead. It’s a perfect movie, delivering on every single one of its promises, if not over-delivering. Plus, it has a sitting president cast as the big bad who racks up a higher body count than any of the onscreen zombies. It’s a perfect balance of humor and horror and has been proven to reverse the effects of aging in its viewers.

Thanks so much to Grady for turning the questions around on a ludicrously tight time table. Find him here on Twitter.
For years people have asked me what inspired my hosting style. I've always told them the same thing; the Man in Black, Radio 4's deathless bringer of horrors in all his myriad forms. Urbane, darkly funny, rather too aware of the story. Always with a good last word. It's true, I love that show. 

But there is another.

Presented for the approval of you, the legend of Sir Simon Milligan. Master of Funk. AND EVIL!

Lady from the Black Lagoon

Milicent Patrick is the only woman to design an iconic Universal Monster, the creature from the black lagoon. But when screenwriter, producer and lifetime horror fan Mallory O'Meara began to try and find out more about Milicent, she discovered a decades old conspiracy of silence that spoke directly to her own career in Hollywood.

The story O'Meara uncovers is startling in it's depth and breadth. Milicent, it turns out, was the daughter of one of the men who built Hearst Castle. She was a keen actress but remained predominantly in background roles. She co-developed an art style that was used in key moments of Fantasia and was one of the animators on this astonishing, iconic piece of work. She designed this guy for God's sake. All of that gets her a spot in Valhalla and that's before we even get to her epochal work on the Creature. Yet  she's still a relative unknown. And as O'Meara discovers why, it becomes clear there are parallels between their careers that run deeper than their shared love for monsters.

O'Meara has been in the same trenches Milicent has and uses Milicent's experiences to contextualize her own and explore how the systemic discrimination she faced continues to this day. This isn't just honest, it's searing, unblinking self examination and exploration. One of the book's strongest sections reveals not only why Milicent was blacklisted (In essence, for the crime of being a woman in charge of talent and opinions) but also explores her own reaction to that, and O'Meara's rfesponse to that reaction. The sheer strength of will required to look at your personal response to a situation like this, articulate, question it and incorporate it into your book is incredible and O'Meara does exactly that. This is Milicent's story, certainly, but it's O'Meara's journey. She uses Milicent as a map point to trace her own path as a female creative, the ways she's been stifled, the ways she's worked around that, all of it with the same clear eye, enthusiasm and compassion. She's our guide into this world that has been so carefully edited out of existence, discovering as we discover, reacting as we react. The end result is not only a book that contextualizes itself in real time but an unblinking look into O'Meara's own creative and deductive process. To say this is brave is an understatement. It's honest, gripping, funny, inclusive writing of a sort everyone tries for and very few achieve. O'Meara, knocks it out of the park on page one and never stops swinging. Milicent wouldn't either.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon is a modern classic of film history shining a light on a remarkably prolific, versatile creative who has been lost to the sands of time and small minded male ego. It's also a snapshot of Hollywood as it was and far too often still is. Turned another way, it's a map of life as a female creative, a salute to a heroine of film and a story about what happens when we chase down our heroines and find they were, somehow, even more remarkable than we'd dared hope. Endlessly witty, informative, funny and inspiring, it's an absolute must for anyone with even the slightest interest in the field.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon is available now
 

Unholy Trrinity with Mallory O'Meara

What's the one horror bok, fiction or non-fiction, you'd gift to someone new to the field?
For a brand new horror newbie, I'd have to give them a copy of Shirley Jackson's THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. When you're new to horror, you need to meet the queen.

What other horror/film history titles would you recommend?
MONSTER, SHE WROTE by Lisa Kroger and Melanie Anderson is a brilliant book on the history of female horror authors. It's essential for any horror reader. I've also been recommending Sady Doyle's DEAD BLONDES AND BAD MOTHERS left and right. Doyle examines society's fear of female power and how that's affected our horror films, mythology and folklore. It's absolutely brilliant.
 
Is there a make up and special effects artist or house working now whose work embodies similar aesthetics to Milicent's?
There are so many! So many incredible female special effects and makeup artists are just crushing it right now. I'm a big fan of makeup artist Fernanda Machado (aka Pompberry), whose work is so innovative. There's also filmmaker and fashion designer Micheline Pitt, creator of VIXEN. Pitt designs clothes that would make Milicent (and all other monster girls) swoon, all while being a pillar of the female horror fan community. 

Thanks so much to Mallory for turning the questions around on a tiny timeline. Find her here on Twitter and find the amazing podcast she co hosts with Brea Grant, here.
SIR SIMON! HECUBUS! GANDAR!

A Lush and Seething Hell

John Hornor Jacobs wields language the same way a conductor wields a baton, a painter wields a brush, a surgeon a scalpel. In these two extraordinary novellas, he explores the concepts of folk and cosmic horror, where they collide and the fragile humans that are always both the cogs that connect them and the first thing they destroy.
 

"The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky" opens the loose duology and sets Jacobs' stall out with sun-drenched, narrow eyed flair. Magera is a fictional South American country whose exiles have scattered across the world. Two meet in Spain, a poet named Avendaño and a teacher named Isabel. They become friends the same way a bruise slowly changes colour, with neither truly noticing and Isabel finds herself by turns deeply annoyed and fascinated by the old man. When he is called back to Magera under mysterious circumstances he gifts her the guardianship of his flat, suggests that she may want to look at his books and mentions he owns a cat 'for her protection.'

Isabel is bored. Isabel is drunk. Isabel slowly, inevitably, circles down towards reading his books. What she finds there, what she begins to translate there, is life's work, a weapon and a map to somewhere no one wants to go. Jacobs continuallty uses our love of uncertainty and ambiguity to tease out multiple readings of just what it is we, and Isabel, are experiencing. There's a CIA man who may be a very different kind of Foreign Operations specialist, a torture sequence that will set your teeth on edge and a slippery, graceful transition between the past and the present as we find out what Avendaño did and the price Isabel is being left with for it. It's a book drenched in sunlight but somehow never daylight, desperate and feverish and looking straight at the horror at it's core. Nationality, identity, time, sexuality, creativity, poetry. All of it orbiting in fragments around the darkest core, all of it waltzing into shapes and language that is truly beautiful and truly disturbing.

if Isabel is a blank canvas on which something rich and strange is written, the lead of the second novella is a notebook scrawled with increasingly frantic cries for help. "My Heart Struck Sorrow" follows Cromwell, a music archivist at the Library of Congress. Cromwell is a man fractured by tragedy and when he's handed a job, it gives his life shape he thought it desperately needed. But as Cromwell and assistant Harriet dig deeper they discover something written into the fabric of American music, waiting in plain sight. Something that has met one of their colleagues before...

I love epistolary horror and this is epistolary horror at is absolute best. Cromwell and Harriet are sent to gather the work of Harlan Parker, a field archivist for the Library who tracked the evolution of music across the South. As they listen to his recordings, they discover the same thing he did. A pattern.

There's a moment in this novella where I almost dropped the ipad. There's a chapter ending so perfect that it drew me up absolutely short and then threw me headlong into the rest of the story,Jacobs uses music as both map and territory here and parallels the two sets of historians as they both buckle under the pressure of the work and find what's waiting for them once they finally do. It's heady stuff, the collision between oral history and technologically harvested history, folklore and nightmare and there isn't a single word put wrong. As the story unfolds and you find yourself tracing the history of a particular song and what it might mean, the text turns the volume down until all you can hear are the scratchy recordings of Harlan Parker. The claw marks left on the world by something we choose not to see. This is horror at it's most cosmic and most intimate, the unknowable forces of the universe bound, if not held, by the notes of guitars and voices. A nightmare reaching for us, but propelled away by the currents of history and the dilution of power that comes from knowledge. This is rich, loamy text thick with meaning, metaphor and horror and it's a perfect companion to The Sea. One is concerned with the price we pay to become who we are. The other is based in the heroism of memory, and the horror of recalling. Both are extraordinary pieces of work from an extraordinary writer. If you're even a little invested in horror as a genre, you need to read these books. Just, perhaps, be careful of what you're listening to when you do...

A Lush and Seething Hell is out now. Go buy it.

Unholy Trinity with John Hornor Jacobs

What text, be it movie, book etc, first introduced you to cosmic horror?
Disclaimer: I am writing this on a plane on very little sleep. Spelling, punctuation, grammar may appear larger in the mirror than they actually are.

First, I don’t know exactly how I feel about the whole branding of a certain stripe of horror as cosmic. Or at least mine. It works for “The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky” surely but maybe not for “My Heart Struck Sorrow”. It is, however, the brand of spooky they put on the cover. If you look at my body of work, I feel that what I write is fantastical horror, or horrific fantasy, both intimate and vast, and calling it “cosmic” is a delicate way of side-stepping Lovecraft’s influence. That is not to say I’m some Lovecraft purist, I’m definitely not that. Anywho, I’ll just proceed from here using “cosmic horror” as though I’m 100% on board with hanging that particular shingle on my door.

I think the first time, in fiction, I became aware of the indifferent universe and the insignificance of mankind – the latter of which I consider a hallmark in cosmic horror since we’re going with that label – was when I first read Jack London’s “To Build A Fire” and then later on when I became fixated on Robinson Crusoe, stranded and alone on his island (for a while, at least). Now that I think about it, Defoe’s masterpiece shares another similarity to Lovecraft: it’s overshadowed by racist stereotypes. All the native cannibals.

Anyway, both of those stories had the first whiff of cosmic horror, maybe. At that time, I was eleven or twelve and really into vampires, werewolves, ghosts, mummies, zombies – you know, the Universal classics. Reading whatever horror and fantasy and science fiction I could get my hands on at the local library or my local used bookstore. Classic horror tales often lean into the idea of humanity in ascent, the primacy of man – by sheer will or personal sacrifice the protagonists are able to defeat the evil and restore the status quo. Pretty standard fare and something I still tend to gravitate toward. Comfort food – mac-n-cheese. Side note, it’s very easy to indulge in nihilistic endings in horror. I’m guilty of it myself. But I’m trying to find ways to work in a little hope in there as well.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I saw H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond, the Tobe Hooper film with Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, and Jeffrey Combs – I’m pretty sure I was stealing HBO through an old cable box where you pressed down the buttons on either side of the channel you wanted and through that process unscrambled the signal, and now that I write those words, even that process of hacking into forbidden knowledge had an effect upon me. From Beyond was on heavy rotation for a while late at night and I watched it over and over. That was the first sample of media that opened me up to what I now know as Lovecraftian ideas and cosmic horror concepts.

Since HPL was in the title of From Beyond, it was easy enough to inquire after him at the library or bookstore and get some of his books, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Call of Cthulhu, and others whose names I can’t recall off the top of my head at my local used book store. You know
 the books, the slim black paperbacks with the melting and/or screaming faces and skeletal figures.
Like this, which John provided and is metal as all Hell.

Why do you think folk horror, which is cosmic horror in a local hat, is gaining in
popularity again?

Donald fucking Trump and his lunatic base. Seriously though, Trump and his supporters have shown us how ugly and dangerous our seemingly benign appearing neighbors can be. I don’t know if folk horror is as you said “cosmic horror in a local hat,” to me it seems like an inversion of cosmic horror. Cosmic horror is humanity as an insignificant and infinitesimal part of a vast and sometimes malevolent universe filled with titanic entities to whom we’re no more than obnoxious motes. Folk horror, on the other hand, drills down into the emptiness of our fellow humans. It mirrors cosmic horror, maybe, the empty fields, the rural darknesses where instead the dark spaces between cold stars or Ye Olde Gods there are the ancient peoples and their heritage of monstrosities. Like prejudice, man hands cruelty on to man, to bastardize Phillip Larkin.

What’s your definitive version of Stagger Lee?
I recently performed a version at my book release party – a blending of Archibald’s recording from the 1950s and Dr. John’s 1970s one from Dr. John’s Gumbo - but that one was mostly for the infernal couplets that feature Stagger Lee trumping the devil and torturing Billy Lyons. I don’t enjoy the Caucasian modalities of the song. They’re interesting sociologically but musically they don’t fascinate me so much. They’re played straight, without much emotion and they’re too moralistic for my tastes. The refrain of “He’s a bad man, Stagger Lee” doesn’t have the joy and inverted meaning of the southern Black version. They intend it literally. I dig into these issues of the “Stagger Lee” in A Lush and Seething Hell, the differences between the Caucasian and African American modalities.

For my money, I love the most famous version of “Stagger Lee” – the one popularized by Lloyd Price in which the jubilant chorus is “Go Stagger, Go!”

That version fucking slaps.

Of the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of covers of that particular version, my favorite is a live recording of Levon Helm’s The Midnight Ramble Sessions (Vol. 3). It’s a looser, more rollicking version, sounding like everyone’s a little drunk. Levon’s on drums and he’s playing with a host of Black southern blues royalty, all of them fairly long in tooth at the time. Having spent some time with Levon, seen him live countless times, when I listen to that version, I can place myself in the crowd in the theater of my mind. That Midnight Ramble was recorded during the period when Levon had been diagnosed with throat cancer. So he wasn’t singing. Just playing the drums. I like that recording so much because I love Levon Helm, another Arkansas boy, like myself. I also like it because it’s a perfect joining of black and white musicians playing the most famous murder ballad in the world.

MASSIVE thanks to all my interview guests this week but John especially who has gone above and beyond the call of duty with these answers. Find John on Twitter here.
VOYAGE INTO THE MIND OF HECUBUS!

Horror Christmas: The Creature from the Black Lagoon


Doctor Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) and his assistants discover a webbed, fossilized hand in a landslide in the Brazilian rainforest. Thrilled at the thought of proving the evolutionary link between land and sea animals, Maia orders his two assistants to stay in camp and returns to the local Marine Biology Institute. There, he teams up with old student and ichthyologist Doctor David Reed (Richard Carlson), as well as scientist and David's girlfriend Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) and Doctor Mark Williams (Richard Denning). Aided by Captain Lucas (Nestor Paiva) they return to the camp and find it destroyed but not unoccupied...

The funny thing about Lucas' tiny boat is how many people are on it. There's the crew you see, certainly, and on several occasions Ben Chapman wearing Milicent Patrick's beautiful nightmare of a suit. But there's also the crew of the Nostromo, the cast of Deep Rising, every Doctor Who base under siege story and so many more. This movie directed by Jack Arnold from a script and story by Harry Essex, Arthur A. Ross and Maurice Zimm is the trail head for generations of monster movies to come. The tension, the close quarters, the growing realization that their opponent is as smart, at least, as they are. While the original The Thing was released three years earlier, this feels like an evolution of the form. Something sleeker, more aerodynamic, ,more human.

So much of that comes down to two factors; the delightful moral ambiguity of the humans and Milicent Patrick's design. While it's true the creature does initiate hostilities it's also true that the film dives (ha!) headlong into an exploration of American machismo, albeit a somewhat sketched out one. Mark's death at the hands of the creature is surprisingly visceral even for now. It's also delightfully morally dubious. Yes he saves David's life (Although there is a spear gun shot that passes so close to someone's head here I promise you you'll duck) but he does so as much to take out the creature as to protect his friend. It's early days, and it doesn't get much room, but there's a clear sense of 'We need to kill it for science!' and 'We need to leave it the Hell alone and run away' being equally valid viewpoints and the latter, perhaps, even winning the day. The ending certainly has that tone, the bullet ridden creature allowed, by David, to leave and presumably bleed to death rather than die onscreen. 

But this, arguably more than any other Universal Monster movie, is all about the monster. Ricou Browning, cast to play the creature underwater, gives it a uniquely sentient and unusual style of movement that's genuinely unsettling. Coupled with the beautiful design work of the creature itself and Arnold's remarkably clear underwater cinematography, that leads to a couple of heartstopping moments. The creature taking a maskless Kay deep underwater, the creature exploding from a cloud of silt to tear Mark's breathing gear apart. The creature, lifeless, sinking slowly to the bottom.

That perhaps is the most haunting moment. While there are two sequels, there's a definite sense of this being a movie about a brush with the unknown and the unknown coming off worst of all. The Beauty and the Beast echo, discussed in The Lady from the Black Lagoon, is a big part of that but for me, there's something else too. The sense of something rich and strange disturbed. Of going not where we aren't wanted but where we don't know how to carry ourselves. Of the unknown, swimming just below us, fascinated and frightened and beautiful and doomed. At least until The Shape of Water...

ANY QUESTIONS?!

So Where Can We Find You?

PseudoPod 672: In Regards to Your Concerns About Your ScareBnB Experience and The Halloween Parade   

 

Signal Boosting

  • Patience Robinson-Campos (pictured above) is a staple of the Austin film community, a brilliant advocate for horror and a friend and colleague of one of my oldest, dearest friends. She has liver failure and her family desperately need help to cover her costs. You can find full details here. and her GoFundMe is here.
  • Nino Cipri is a fiercely brilliant writer with a new book out and a newsletter you HAVE to subscribe to. The last two issues of Cool Story, Bro have been a look at the comics code's history through a lens I never expected to see and details of how to self-finance a cheap as hell book tour. It's insightful, witty, perceptive, funny, brilliant stuff. Go subscribe.
Meet the newest bookshop in my old home town! The Portal Bookshop is at 5 Patrick Pool, York, YO1 8BB. Owner, friend and badass LeafWrites says: 'Awesome diverse SFF, LGBTQIA of all kinds, all the good nerdy gay stuff in between! Open 10-4 every day to start out, with an epic party on Halloween. Cake, games, prizes, and a free secondhand book for anyone in costume!'

Go along or get in contact, say hi, buy books. My parents just did! And I've just ordered Nino's new book from them!

Signing Off/Playing Out

Happy Halloween everyone! I know it's not Friday but while you're commuting, why not enjoy the plethora, the cornucopia even, of free fiction offered by the Escape Artists Podcast Network

Team KennerStuart's instagram is full of selfies, Destination Star Trek and notebooks this week. So it's a pretty good week over there even as we waltz with the burnout fairy for another few days.

I run off coffee and enthusiasm. The enthusiasm, I've pretty much got covered. But if you'd like to buy a professionally enthusiastic pop culture analyst a coffee, I know a guy. And also a link. This link in fact. Thank you:)

Remember, recovery always takes long than you think. Don't kick your own ass, do what you have to and don't let a single victory go uncelebrated. Especially this year. Howl it from the rooftops, werewolves of London and every other city. Listen to how many people sing along.

Massive thanks to Metz, Matt, all my guests and as ever, the luminous Marguerite. Love you, Red.

Playing us out this week! Why the finest butler in all of cinema, the greatest scientist in all of film, the Dark Master...himself, Mr Tim Curry! This, right here, was my first ever experience of horror. This is from the 1996 TV version of The Worst Witch and it's great. And know what else it is?
a Full Lid. Happy Halloween, creatures of the night. Catch you in eight days. :)
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