Review of Guillermo Amoedo’s Film “The Stranger”

“The Stranger” is a 2014 Chilean film directed by Guillermo Amoedo and produced by Eli Roth and Nicolas Lopez.

Writing at Hasting's Hardback Café, October, 2015
Writing at Hasting’s Hardback Café, October, 2015

Although most critics gave this low ratings in spite of citing some good aspects, I found this movie to be much better than average because of its thoughtful, understated style which is a relief from so many vampire films in which the violence hides the subtler qualities.   This film does have its violent moments (I thought the death of Caleb was one of the more interesting ways I have seen one vampire kill another), but they support the storyline instead of overwhelming it.

The best quality I found in “The Stranger” was its way of continually maintaining a haunting, eerie suspense without letting it flag.  I never knew exactly what was going to happen next or to where the film was leading me, although this is easier to see in hindsight of course.  I also thought its minimalist approach to the portrayal of vampires as average people afflicted with a horrific, contagious disease was a refreshing relief from the clichéd motif of vampires as hyper-erotic, ultraviolent superhumans.  The vampires here are average people tormented by an ailment that forces them to kill for blood while constantly threatened by incineration by the sun.  The vampires here do not revel in evil and, other than being able to heal very quickly from mortal wounds, do not have supernatural abilities.   This allows the viewer to become more sympathetic to their plight and to root for them when threatened by the antagonists.

The plot is not overly innovative, but it manages to be a decent vehicle for the suspense.

I give this 3.75 out of five stars.

Thoughts?  Comments?

 

The Saturday Night Special: “The Torture by Hope”

The Torture by Hope

by Auguste de Villiers de L’Isle Adam

from Nouveux Contes Cruels, 1893

(the Gaslight etext)

BELOW the vaults of the Official of Saragossa one night-fall long ago, the venerable Pedro Arbuez d’Espila, sixth Prior of the Dominicans of Segovia, third Grand Inquisitor of Spain–followed by a fra redemptor (master-torturer), and preceded by two familiars of the Holy Office holding lanterns–descended towards a secret dungeon. The lock of a massive door creaked; they entered a stifling in pace, where the little light that came from above revealed an instrument of torture blackened with blood, a chafing-dish, and a pitcher. Fastened to the wall by heavy iron rings, on a mass of filthy straw, secured by fetters, an iron circlet about his neck, sat a man in rags: it was impossible to guess at his age.

Portrait d'Auguste de Villers de L'Isle-Adam (1838-1889) par Loÿs Delteil (1869-1927). Gravure d'après une photographie de 1886
Portrait d’Auguste de Villers de L’Isle-Adam (1838-1889) par Loÿs Delteil (1869-1927). Gravure d’après une photographie de 1886

This prisoner was no other than Rabbi Aser Abarbanel, a Jew of Aragon, who, on an accusation of usury and pitiless contempt of the poor, had for more than a year undergone daily torture. In spite of all, “his blind obstinacy being as tough as his skin,” he had refused to abjure.

Proud of his descent and his ancestors–for all Jews worthy of the name are jealous of their race–he was descended, according to the Talmud, from Othoniel, and consequently from Ipsiboe, wife of this last Judge of Israel, a circumstance which had sustained his courage under the severest of the incessant tortures.

It was, then, with tears in his eyes at the thought that so stedfast a soul was excluded from salvation, that the venerable Pedro Arbuez d’Espila, approaching the quivering Rabbi, pronounced the following words:–

“My son, be of good cheer; your trials here below are about to cease. If, in presence of such obstinacy, I have had to permit, though with sighs, the employment of severe measures, my task of paternal correction has its limits. You are the barren fig-tree, that, found so oft without fruit, incurs the danger of being dried up by the roots… but it is for God alone to decree concerning your soul. Perhaps the Infinite Mercy will shine upon you at the last moment! Let us hope so. There are instances. May it be so! Sleep, then, this evening in peace. To-morrow you will take part in the auto da fé, that is to say, you will be exposed to the quemadero, the brazier premonitory of the eternal flame. It burns, you are aware, at a certain distance, my son; and death takes, in coming, two hours at least, often three, thanks to the moistened and frozen clothes with which we take care to preserve the forehead and the heart of the holocausts. You will be only forty-three. Consider; then, that, placed in the last rank, you will have the time needful to invoke God, to offer unto Him that baptism of fire which is of the Holy Spirit. Hope, then, in the Light, and sleep.”

As he ended this discourse, Dom Arbuez–who had motioned the wretched man’s fetters to be removed–embraced him tenderly. Then came the turn of the fra redemptor, who, in a low voice, prayed the Jew to pardon what he had made him endure in the effort to redeem him; then the two familiars clasped him in their arms: their kiss, through their cowls, was as unheard. The ceremony at an end, the captive was left alone in the darkness.

Rabbi Aser Abarbanel, his lips parched, his face stupefied by suffering, stared, without any particular attention, at the closed door. Closed? The word, half unknown to himself, awoke a strange delusion in his confused thoughts. He fancied he had seen, for one second, the light of the lanterns through the fissure between the sides of this door. A morbid idea of hope, due to the enfeeblement of his brain, took hold on him. He dragged himself towards this strange thing he had seen; and, slowly inserting a finger, with infinite precautions, into the crack, he pulled the door towards him. Wonder of wonders! By some extraordinary chance the familiar who had closed it had turned the great key a little before it had closed upon its jambs of stone. So, the rusty bolt not having entered its socket, the door rolled back into the cell.

The Rabbi ventured to look out.

By means of a sort of livid obscurity he distinguished, first of all, a half-circle of earthy walls, pierced by spiral stairways, and, opposite to him, five or six stone steps, dominated by a sort of black porch, giving access to a vast corridor, of which he could only see, from below, the nearest arches.

Stretching himself along, he crawled to the level of this threshold. Yes, it was indeed a corridor, but of boundless length. A faint light–a sort of dream-light was cast over it; lamps suspended to the arched roof, turned, by intervals, the wan air blue; the far distance was lost in shadow. Not a door visible along all this length! On one side only, to the left, small holes, covered with a network of bars, let a feeble twilight through the depths of the wall–the light of sunset apparently, for red gleams fell at long intervals on the flag-stones. And how fearful a silence!… Yet there–there in the depths of the dim distance–the way might lead to liberty! The wavering hope of the Jew was dogged, for it was the last.

Without hesitation he ventured forth, keeping close to the side of the light-holes, hoping to render himself indistinguishable from the darksomc colour of the long walls. He advanced slowly, dragging himself along the ground, forcing himself not to cry out when one of his wounds, recently opened, sent a sharp pang through him.

All of a sudden the beat of a sandal, coming in his direction, echoed along the stone passage. A trembling fit seized him, he choked with anguish, his sight grew dim. So this, no doubt, was to be the end! He squeezed himself, doubled upon his hands and knees, into a recess, and half dead with terror, waited.

It was a familiar hurrying along. He passed rapidly, carrying an instrument for tearing out the muscles, his cowl lowered; he disappeared. The violent shock which the Rabbi had received had half suspended the functions of life; he remained for nearly an hour unable to make a single movement. In the fear of an increase of torments if he were caught, the idea came to him of returning to his cell. But the old hope chirped in his soul–the divine “Perhaps,” in the worst of distresses. A miracle had taken place! There was no more room for doubt. He began again to crawl towards the possible escape. Worn out with suffering and with hunger, trembling with anguish, he advanced. The sepulchral corridor seemed to lengthen out mysteriously. And he, never ceasing his slow advance gazed forward through the darkness, on, on, where there must be an outlet that should save him.

But, oh! steps sounding again; steps, this time, slower, more sombre. The forms of two Inquisitors, robed in black and white, and wearing their large hats with rounded brims, etnerged into the faint light. They talked in low voices, and seemed to be in controversy on some important point, for their hands gesticulated.

At this sight Rabbi Aser Abarbanel closed his eyes, his heart beat as if it would kill him, his rags were drenched with the cold sweat of agony; motionless, gasping, he lay stretched along the wall, under the light of one of the lamps–motionless, imploring the God of David.

As they came opposite to him the two Inquisitors stopped under the light of the lamp, through a mere chance, no doubt, in their discussion. One of them, listening to his interlocutor, looked straight at the Rabbi. Under this gaze–of which he did not at first notice the vacant expression–the wretched man seemed to feel the hot pincers biting into his poor flesh so he was again to become a living wound, a living woe! Fainting, scarce able to breathe, his eyelids quivering, he shuddered as the robe grazed him. But strange at once and natural–the eyes of the Inquistor were evidently the eyes of a man profoundly preoccupied with what he was going to say in reply, absorbed by what he was listening to; they were fixed, and seemed to look at the Jew without seeing him.

And indeed, in a few minutes, the two sinister talkers went on their way, slowly, still speaking in low voices, in the direction from which the prisoner had come. They had not seen him! And it was so, that, in the horrible disarray of his sensations, his brain was traversed by this thought: “Am I already dead, so that no one sees me?” A hideous impression drew him from his lethargy. On gazing at the wall, exactly opposite to his face, he fancied he saw, over against his, two ferocious eyes observing him! He flung back his head in a blind and sudden terror; the hair started upright upon his head. But no, no. He put out his hand, and felt along the stones. What he saw was the reflection of the eyes of the Inquisitor still left upon his pupils, and which he had refracted upon two spots of the wall.

Forward! He must hasten towards that end that he imagined (fondly, no doubt) to mean deliverance; towards those shadows from which he was no more than thirty paces, or so, distant. He started once more crawling on hands and knees and stomach–upon his dolorous way, and he was soon within the dark part of the fearful corridor.

All at once the wretched man felt the sensation of cold upon his hands that he placed on the flag-stones; it was a strong current which came from under a little door at the end of the passage. O God, if this door opened on the outer world! The whole being of the poor prisoner was overcome by a sort of vertigo of hope. He examined the door from top to bottom without: being able to distinguish it completely on account of the dimness around him. He felt over it. No lock, not a bolt! A latch! He rose to his feet: the latch yielded beneath his finger; the silent door opened before him.

“Hallelujah!” murrnured the Rabbi, in an immense sigh, as he gazed at what stood revealed to him from the threshold

The door opened upon gardens, under a night of star–upon spring, liberty, life! The gardens gave access to the neighhouring country that stretched away to the sierra!” Those sinuous white lines stood out in profile on the horizon. There lay liberty! Oh, to fly! He would run all night under those woods of citrons, whose perfume intoxicated him. Once among the mountains, he would be saved. He breathed the dear, holy air; the wind re-animated him, his lungs found free play. He heard, in his expanding heart, the “Lazarus, come forth!” And, to give thanks to God who had granted him this mercy, he stretched forth his arms before him, lifting his eyes to the firmament in an ecstasy.

And then he seemed to see the shadow of his arms returning upon himself; he seemed to feel those shadow-arms surround, enlace him, and himself pressed tenderly against some breast. A tall figure, indeed, was opposite to him. Confidently he lowered his eyes upon this figure, and remained gasping, stupefied, with staring eyes and mouth drivelling with fright.

Horror! He was in the arms of the Grand Inquisitor himself, the venerable Pedro Arbuez d’Espila, who gazed at him with eyes full of tears, like a good shepherd who has found the lost sheep.

The sombre priest clasped the wretched Jew against his heart with so fervent a transport of charity that the points of the monacal hair-cloth rasped against the chest of the Dominican. And, while the Rabbi Aser Abarbanel, his eyes convulsed beneath his eyelids, choked with anguish between the arms of the ascetic Dom Arbuez, realising confusedly that all the phases of the fatal evening had been only a calculated torture, that of Hope! the Grand Inquisitor, with a look of distress, an accent of poignant reproach, murmured in his ear, with the burning breath of much fasting:–“What! my child! on the eve, perhaps, of salvation…. you would then leave us?”

 

Mad Love aka The Hands of Orlac

Source: Mad Love aka The Hands of Orlac

Here is a brief review of a long-forgotten Peter Lorre movie that sounds very interesting based upon critiques of the time and the modern-day reviews.  I will probably be seeking this one out.

The reviewer’s concise description of the plot is at the best inadequate.  He doesn’t mention what relation Stephen Orlac is to Yvonne Orlac (brother?  husband?)  and he doesn’t even allude to what Orlac does with his new-found ability with knives, though I suppose we are to guess that he uses them against Dr. Gogol in some fashion.  He probably could have done better.

J SHERIDAN LE FANU

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu 1814-1873
Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu
1814-1873

Source: J SHERIDAN LE FANU

Good article from Horrordelve.com on Sheridan Le Fanu, Irish author of the mid-nineteenth century.  In his day, he was well-known for his ghost stories, some of which are described in this article.

Wolf Creek – TV mini-series

John Jarratt of Wolf Creek and Wolf Creek 2 Please respect the owner's copyright.
John Jarratt of Wolf Creek and Wolf Creek 2
Please respect the owner’s copyright.

Source: Wolf Creek – TV mini-series

The renown movie will be an Australian TV mini-series come mid-2016 and will star John Jarratt.  Follow the link to the press release at Horrorpedia.com.   Filming started October 19.

FIRST-LOOK TEASER TRAILER: “THE WORLD OF KANAKO” From DRAFTHOUSE FILMS

Source: FIRST-LOOK TEASER TRAILER: “THE WORLD OF KANAKO” From DRAFTHOUSE FILMS

“Drafthouse Films will release Tetsuya Nakashima’s acclaimed thriller The World of Kanako in select theaters on December 4th, as well as making it available on multiple digital VOD platforms including Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vimeo, and VHX.  A home video release on Blu-ray and DVD is slated for early 2016.

“An uncompromising revenge thriller of operatic scope, The World of Kanako is a non-stop visual and emotional assault to the senses as it follows troubled ex-detective Akikazu (Kôji Yakusho, 13 Assassins, Babel) on the hunt for his missing teenage daughter, Kanako. What he discovers in his search is an unsettling and harrowing web of depravity––surrounding both Kanako and himself. As Akizaku stumbles along a shocking trail of drugs, sex and violence, he finds himself woefully unprepared for the revelations that affect all he holds dear.”  (Description from horrorunderground.org)

Drop over to horrorunderground.org and check out what promises to be first-rate Japanese horror.

Thoughts?  Comments?

“Horror” in Other Languages

The blogger on the banks of the San Juan River, Farmington, NM.
The blogger on the banks of the San Juan River, Farmington, NM.

I study other languages and generally do well in them, but today (October 3, 2015) I realized that I had never researched the word “horror” in other languages.  Therefore, I will start researching it and other horror-related terms today and either post my findings or add them to the Lexicon of Horror.   Be aware, that each word in each language has its own nuances, even if it is identical to a word in another language, and that I cannot possibly be completely thorough in defining each one.

At least initially, my published research will be limited to only those languages that use a Roman alphabet.  I am not familiar at this time with how to use non-Roman alphabets in WordPress.

Most of the dictionaries I am using as of this posting are somewhat dated.

German:  (from The New Cassell’s German Dictionary, 1971) das Entsetzen, Grausen, der Abscheu, Schauder; Schrecken, Greuel…[Note that “horror” in the sense of the literary genre is the same as in English:  “Horror”.  For example, Horrorfilm is a horror movie.]

French:  (from The Bantam New College French and English Dictinary, 1991) la horreur; avoir horreur de to have a horror of; commettre des horreurs to commit atrocities; dire des horreurs to say obscene things; dire des horreurs de to say shocking things about.  Finally, [from the Internet] horror film is film d’horreur.

Spanish: (from The University of Chicago Spanish Dictionary, 1971) horror [looking up the Spanish definition from the Spanish-English section, it notes that it is a masculine noun (el horror), and it can also mean atrocityDar horror is to cause fright or to terrify.  Tenerle horror a uno is to have a strong dislike for someone.  The Random House Latin American Spanish Dictionary (1997) adds enormity to its possible meanings.

Latin: (from Cassell’s Latin & English Dictionary, 2002) horror ~oris,  bristling, shuddering; roughness of speech; dread, fright, especially religious dread, awe, by metonymy object of dread; a terror

Thoughts?  Comments?

Notes on “The Hellbound Heart” Part 2 of 2

Clive Barker, Seattle, 2007 by Steven Friederich
Clive Barker, Seattle, 2007 by Steven Friederich

I finished reading The Hellbound Heart several weeks ago.  As noted previously, it is a truly terrific read.    I suggest reading it after seeing the movie (if you have somehow repeatedly missed your chances of seeing “Hellraiser” over the last twenty or so years).   Reading it beforehand will just spoil the movie, whereas reading it afterwards may enlighten parts of the movie.

I don’t have much to add to what I have previously stated, except that, if you are a student of storytelling, the book warrants a detailed examination for narrative technique as it exhibits some basic techniques of storytelling that Mr. Barker carries out very well.   I could go through the book page by page and expound on each ad nauseam, but instead I will focus now on one that sticks in my mind.

I do not recall if this is in the movie, but toward the end where Kirsty is trapped in the “damp room” by Frank, she slips on a bit of preserved ginger lying on the floor enabling Frank to catch her.  The method by which Barker establishes why that ginger is on the floor fascinates me.

Although I have one or two dictionaries of literary terms, I do not recall the name for this technique and I think of it as simply setting the stage for a future scene.  It shows the foresight, planning, and attention to detail that must go into any good story.

Earlier in the story, after Julia has released Frank from the Cenobite hell and he has regained enough flesh that he can once again eat, he asks Julia for a few of his favorite victuals, including preserved ginger.   At the moment I read this, I thought it was simply a natural but insignificant detail.  Of course, I could not know then that that bit of ginger would  skyrocket the dramatic tension later on in one of the novel’s most important scenes.

Anyway, that’s my post for the day.

I have been very negligent in posting anything over the last months,  my daytime job and personal matters consuming much more of my time than usual.  I have recently come to find out though, that many more people in my home town of Frankfort, KY, were enjoying my postings than I had known or even believed possible and sorely missed it during this hiatus.  For them and all the others who silently enjoy my works, I shall endeavor to pick up the thread.

I have not lost my desire to write fiction, however, and I am currently trying to finish a sci-fi/horror novella that I started sometime back.  The work is going well, but I am having to change some of my original concept to make it more exciting.  I would like to make it as gripping as some have found my “Murder by Plastic” (published at www.everydayfiction.com), but that will be quite difficult for something as long as a novella.  The part I find most challenging is to coordinate the details much as Barker did in the example I give above.  I would expound on the subject, but I do not want to give away the plot or run the risk of some unscrupulous cur stealing my idea and publishing it before I do–particularly as I am so close to finishing it.  After this I have another three or four unfinished works to bring to a close.  I could probably write eight hours a day like Thomas Mann and still not be finished by spring.

Thoughts?  Comments?

‘Tis the Season to be Scared!

From Ottawahorror.com
From Ottawahorror.com

Just a little Christmas fun from Ottawahorror.com.  Follow this link to their site and you can post this on Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, and others.Check out the following note to be found on their About Us Page:

Started in 2008, we are a blog and portal dedicated to all things horror in our nation’s [Canada] capital. If you are a filmmaker, musician, artist, or fan, this is the place for you. Also, recruit minions! When we travel out of town, we bump into more people and artists from home than we do when we hang around the batcave. It’s kinda cool, but kinda creepy. While we appreciate finding you wherever you are, finding you here is easier… because then we can send reporters and photographers after you easier.

Want to contribute? Check out the ‘submit’ page above. It’s new~
You can follow us on blogger, twitter, facebook or link to us with a groovy badge!
They accept submissions for their blog!  Maybe you have something you would like to contribute.  The site looks pretty cool.
Thoughts?  Comments?

NaNoWriMo: Classic Novels Written in a Month | Interesting Literature

Robert Louis Stevenson Portrait by Girolamo Nerli  (1860-1926)
Robert Louis Stevenson
Portrait by Girolamo Nerli
(1860-1926)

If you are having problems meeting a deadline or dealing with the demon of writer’s block the following article may help you feel not so alone.  Some, if not all, of the world’s most famous had to deal with one or both and often did so in novel ways:   NaNoWriMo: Classic Novels Written in a Month | Interesting Literature.

Note, horror fans, that of the authors mentioned here only one was an author of horror.  Of course, I mean the gentleman to the left, the author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which he apparently drafted at the Nineteenth century equivalent of warp speed.

Thoughts?  Comments?

Neil Gaiman: ‘Face facts: we need fiction’ | Books | The Guardian

Neil Gaiman at the 2007 Scream Awards Photo by pinguino k
Neil Gaiman
at the 2007 Scream Awards
Photo by pinguino k

Here is a fascinating perspective on fiction by Neil Gaiman: ‘Face facts: we need fiction’ | Books | The Guardian.

Horror or Not?

Take a look at this quick video called “Appearances Can Be Deceiving” from wimp.com and let me know if you this this might qualify as horror, given the final outcome.   The film is touching and does not set up a suspenseful, mysterious, or otherwise horror-like atmosphere, but there is a touch of the supernatural in its Twilight-Zonish ending.

“The Black Spider”

Albert Bitzius (1797-1854) was a Swiss pastor and author, who is better known by his pen name of Jeremias Gotthelf.  Gotthelf was a prolific writer whose novels and stories were based on the people of his village, Luetzelflueh, in the Bernese Emmental.

Albert Bitzius  (Jeremias Gotthelf) circa 1844
Albert Bitzius
(Jeremias Gotthelf)
circa 1844

Gotthelf is considered an important writer not only in Switzerland, but also as an important writer throughout the German-speaking world.  Gotthelf’s works were primarily what we would today consider mainstream literature, but he did write one short novel that would be considered horror and for which he is renown:  The Black Spider.  Wikipedia notes:

The Black Spider is Gotthelf’s best known work. At first little noticed, the story is now considered by many critics to be among the masterworks of the German Biedermeier era and sensibility.  Thomas Mann wrote of it in his The Genesis of Doctor Faustus that Gotthelf “often touched the Homeric” and that he admired The Black Spider “like no other piece of world literature.” [Thomas Mann quotation from One World Classics.]

The story can be read in the original German at Projekt Gutenberg DE.  A good synopsis can be found at Wikipedia.

I read The Black Spider as an undergrad around 1979.  It sticks in my mind to this day.  Admittedly,  I had to read the Wikipedia synopsis to recall all the details, but over the decades I can still picture the hunter/the devil kissing Christine on the cheek knowing something evil would come from that simple, slightly stinging kiss and then the outpouring of thousands of murderous spiders from that spot when she breaks her oath to him.  Somehow I can still recall how I felt the loathsome horror of that moment for her, not as if it were happening to me, but almost as if it were happening to someone standing next to me, as if it were happening to someone I knew.  Perhaps this is because I sympathized with her goal.  Christine was trying to save her village, her friends, and her family from starvation and overwork at the hands of a merciless overlord.  The only way she could do it was to try to outwit the devil at the risk of horrendous consequences if she failed…and she did fail.  I think it was the nobility and selflessness of Christine’s altruism that  still sticks with me emotionally after thirty years.  The Russian author Anton Chekhov once advised writers to write with “sympathetic characters”;  this is undoubtedly a terrific example of that principle. 

The Black Spider by Franz Karl Basler-Kopp  (1879-1937)
The Black Spider
by Franz Karl Basler-Kopp
(1879-1937)

One writing class I had several years ago advised to establish an “intellectual and emotional connection” between the audience and the subject.   That has always proven to be excellent advice.  In the case of “The Black Spider”, Gotthelf certainly established an emotional connection between Christine and myself.   There have been times in my life, as in  the lives of everyone else, when I have made sacrifices for the good of others (though of course not with the horrendous consequences that Christine suffers). Perhaps that is what enables us, the audience, to sympathize with Christine’s plight and to experience her torment vicariously.

Thinking back, it is with the characters with whom I have some type of shared experience, that I sympathize the most  when something horrific happens to them.  If we, as writers of horror, are to give our stories great emotional impact, then we have to develop characters that have their foundations in everyday experiences which our audiences can share.   Lovecraft advised having average people as characters, because this made the supernatural appear truly supernatural.   In “The Black Spider” all of Gotthelf’s characters are quite average, thus the supernatural events of the story strike home with great impact.  Perhaps that is because we can visualize these events more clearly on some level as if we were watching them occur to our neighbors.  Most of the characters in Stephen King’s writing seem to me to be quite average and we feel the same sympathy for their predicaments, because they are average..like us.

Sometimes, when I am reading an engrossing text in a quiet environment where I can fully concentrate on the text, I seem to almost slip into a nebulous world where I am experiencing the story as if I were in a lucid dream.   With sympathetic characters like Christine, what little remains to separate myself from that dream world is shattered and I feel their sufferings much more acutely, as if they were happening to me, as if I were actually living the experience.

For me, being able to shatter that barrier between dream world and reality for my audience is part of the magic of writing.  After all, isn’t magic the creation of illusion?

Thoughts?  Comments?

Hanns Heinz Ewers: A First Impression

Hanns Heinz Ewers 1871-1943
Hanns Heinz Ewers
1871-1943

The first paragraph of the Wikipedia article (as of April 17, 2013) gives a good, very basic introduction to Hanns Ewers:

Hanns Heinz Ewers (3 November 1871 in Düsseldorf – 12 June 1943 in Berlin) was a German actor, poet, philosopher, and writer of short stories and novels. While he wrote on a wide range of subjects, he is now known mainly for his works of horror, particularly his trilogy of novels about the adventures of Frank Braun, a character modeled on himself. The best known of these is Alraune (1911).[1][2]

The article continues on to describe some of his literary achievements:

“This was followed in 1911 by Alraune, a reworking of the Frankenstein myth, in which Braun collaborates in creating a female homunculus or android by impregnating a prostitute with the semen from an executed murderer. The result is a young woman without morals, who commits numerous monstrous acts. Alraune was influenced by the ideas of the eugenics movement, especially the book Degeneration by Max Nordau.[4] Alraune has been generally well received by historians of the horror genre; Mary Ellen Snodgrass describes Alraune as “Ewers’ decadent masterwork”,[2] Brian Stableford argues Alraune “deserves recognition as the most extreme of all “femme fatale” stories” [4] and E.F. Bleiler states the scenes in Alraune set in the Berlin underworld as among the best parts of the novel.[3] The novel was filmed several times, most recently by Erich von Stroheim in 1952.

Bleiler notes “Both Alraune and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice are remarkable for the emotion the author can arouse” and that Ewers’ writing is, at its best, “very effective”. However, Bleiler also argues Ewers’ work is marred by “annoying pretentiousness, vulgarity, and a very obtrusive and unpleasant author’s personality”.[3]

So far I have read only two of Ewers’ short stories:  “The Spider”, described as his “most anthologized work”, and “Fairyland”.   I will need to read more of his works to be able to speak with some degree of confidence that I know what I am talking about, but my first impression of Ewers’ works is one of disappointment.

I read both works in English (though I speak German with moderate fluency), and his command of composition, organization, language, clarity, and suspense are competent enough, but at least the stories noted above seem to fall apart at having a comprehensible denouement, and in the area of having good taste.

“The Spider” starts off well enough with a great opening paragraph that sets the stage for suspense:

“When the student of medicine, Richard Bracquemont, decided to move
into room #7 of the small Hotel Stevens, Rue Alfred Stevens (Paris 6),
three persons had already hanged themselves from the cross-bar of the
window in that room on three successive Fridays.”

As the story develops, Bracquemont volunteers to work with the police in finding out why the three previous residents killed themselves by reporting what he sees during his stay.  He records his observations in a diary.  Over the next three or so weeks, Bracquemont begins observing a girl in another room across the street, who constantly spins at an old-fashioned spinning wheel.  He begins to be attracted to her, he waves to her, they develop games to play over the distance (mimicking each other, etc.), he becomes infatuated with her, and obsession sets in all the while there are subtle hints of analogies between her and a female spider luring her mate to its death.   I will not spoil the ending for you, if you want to read it (I read the version at Project Gutenberg Australia), but I will say that the story seemed rather drawn out and the ending was confusing with no real explanation as to why the story ends as it does.  I suppose one could say it was “black magic”, as one critic noted, but there is nothing alluding to black magic anywhere previously in the story.  The ending is sort of deus ex machina and very unsatisfying.

Fairyland” is worse.  It’s only virtue is that it is very short.   It is the story of a cute little girl on a tramp steamer in Port-au-Prince who is the darling of the crew and who tells them of wonderful monsters she has seen ashore, monsters with enormous heads and limbs and scales.  She offers to show them to the crew and the crew agrees to go along wondering what she has found.   Not far from the docks, she shows them the local beggars who have enormous limbs from having contracted elephantiasis or scales from leprosy or a similar skin disease.  While the crew is obviously overcome with disgust, the little girl prattles on about how cute the monsters are.

I am not one to berate anyone else over a lack of taste, but whoever published this deserved a good horsewhipping for deciding to put this atrocity in the public view.   It is one of the more tasteless things I have ever seen.   However, I will discourage anyone from reading it.  After all, it is a matter of taste and we are dealing with matters of horror.

So far, Ewers is the one author of horror I have been most disappointed by.  Still I will read at least a few more of his works before I solidify my opinion.   At some point I may read Alraune only because it is his best known work, but from what I have seen of its reviews, it may be a struggle for me to wade through horrors which only the Marquis de Sade would appreciate.

Perhaps Ewers does deserve his accolades.  I will only know by exploring his works further.  So far though, I am not looking forward to the journey, which I make only out of intellectual curiosity.

There is one interesting sidelight about Ewers for fans of cinematic horror.  One reviewer commented somewhere (I forget where) that Alraune was the original inspiration for genetically-mutated femme fatales like the alien in the Species trilogy.

Thoughts?  Comments?

Okay…just one more addendum to German Horror

Skinner

I saw another really cool post on the photos of the German Horror Writers Circle that I just had to share.   The book cover above is of the novel “Meeting with Skinner” by Harald A. Weissen posted on Facebook on May 7, 2010.  The accompanying summary reads:

“Imagine, that everything great that has occurred in the world since the beginning of time has been steered from a control room – discoveries, wars, political reversals, poverty, and prosperity.

Imagine that a single person has been sitting in this control room for several decades and the fortunes of the human collective has been influenced at his own discretion.

Imagine that the next person in this room is crazy.

The search for the control room draws together a traumatised young woman by the name of Laika, Elendes Biest, and Skinner , the last illusionist.”

I just think it’s an awesome post and a fascinating concept.  The artwork is great too.

Thoughts?  Comments?

 

Addendum to Post on German Horror

Die Schattenuhr

I have been exploring German horror on the web since my last post, particularly the photos of the German Horror Writers Circle on Facebook, where I found this really beautiful, really cool cover that I just had to share.  The post is by Nina Horvath and says “Cover zu ‘Die Schattenuhr’, erstellt von Mark Freier nach einem Werk von Zdzisław Beksiński” (Cover to ‘The Clock of Shadows’, published by Mark Freier after a work by Zdzisław Beksiński).  At the very top of the page, “Die Bizarre Welt des Edgar Allen Poe” translates to “The Bizarre World of Edgar Allen Poe”.  One thing I have already learned about horror in Germany is that American horror is very popular over there–in particular Lovecraft and Poe.

German Horror (Deutsche Horrorfilme und Horrorliteratur)

I was checking my blog stats today and found out that two recent views came from Germany.    I was a German major in college and therefore I begin to be curious about what is happening today in the horror genre for both German movies and literature, since I unfortunately know little about either.

I did a quick search on Google for “German horror” and found this interesting article on IMDb.  I did another search for “German horror fiction” and “German horror literature” and found almost nothing of interest.  I searched for “German horror writers” and found the German Horror Writers Circle on Facebook, which I might use as a starting point for further investigations.   Later, I may search in German, but today I confined my inquiries to what is available in English due to a lack of time inflicted by other pressing matters.

I have to admit I have read very little modern German literature compared to German lit of the 19th century, that I am woefully unfamiliar with most modern German writers, and  that I am completely unfamiliar with modern German horror writers.  I know that in the distant past, Germany and other German-speaking lands have produced excellent writers of horror such as E.T.A. Hoffmann (see my post about Hoffmann) and Jeremias Gotthelf (“The Black Spider”, 1842).    Given the dearth of information readily available on modern German horror (at least on Google), I think the IMDb article mentioned above may have a point that because of German history since 1933, Germany may have (understandably) lost its taste for horror.   I find that unfortunate, because now that my curiosity about German horror has been aroused, I would love to read some first-rate German horror or at least see one or two first-rate German horror films from the last decade or two.

Therefore, my question for you in this blog is:  if you are familiar with German horror, what films or books do you recommend as introductions to the world of German horror?