Trolls, Shub-Niggurath, and the Dark North

Valancourt Books (previously) has increasingly been releasing horror in translation in recent years. Their Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories does what work in translation should do, “bringing the news” from other parts of the world to your own, or at least to your own language, and has shown up in reviews, on syllabi, and other places of honor. Not coincidentally, the press won the 2021 HWA Speciality Press Award, testament to their impact on the field, from reprinting forgotten classics to their translation work, to the Paperbacks from Hell series.

Recently they released a book that’s even better than the norm for them: Anders Fager’s Swedish Cults (Valancourt|Bookshop|Amazon). I no longer buy books based on blurbs, but I can honestly say that the blurbs for this book are correct. It’s a vigorous collection of Lovecraftian horror that belongs on a shelf with Caitlín R. Kiernan & kin. Reading it, I felt the same old/new shock that I got on reading Charles Stross’s “A Colder War,” that sense of a new take. Fager’s blend of sex and surreality is distinctive, he has one of the best uses of Shub-Niggurath I can remember reading, and there are no bad stories in this book. If any of the above resonated with you, check it out. Good reading for dark nights…

Anders Fager's book on a shelf of Lovecraft books
Swedish Cults in their native (?) environment

I should probably say that I was predisposed to be interested in Fager’s book. Growing up Scandinavian-American, my childhood was full of the usual stuff: lefse, rosemaling, Ole & Lena, etc. It also featured more than a little Norse mythology and folklore, including trolls of all shape and size. My interest in that has revived in recent years, partly for personal reasons and partly due to encountering works like Midsommar and Swedish Cults. I’ve bought or repurchased various related titles, some pictured below.

D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths, Berenstain's The Troll Book, the Kittelsen/Nunnally edition of Troll Magic, and the Nunnally/Gaiman Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbjornsen & Moe

Tack for reading, and check out Fager if his book sounds up your alley at all!

Watching Horror, “Classic” and Otherwise

image of vampire from 1922 nosferatu filmEarlier this month I read a Variety article about the last hundred years of horror films. It featured the usual suspects, but I had the nagging sense that I was missing some things about which I had vague ideas. So, naturally, I popped the films and their dates into Excel and quickly learned which of my vague ideas were on point, which were off-base.

In the “on point” camp, I’ve seen more recent horror films than older ones. No big surprise, though I was surprised to see how dramatic the shift is on the seen/unseen axis when it comes to films made since I was born. Likewise, while I like to think of myself as an “old horror movies” guy, apparently I’ve been a Universal Horror guy first, “old horror movies” second, 1920s horror dead last.

In the “off-base” camp, I’ve seen less Asian horror than I thought. When I started going down the list, I realized that my vague idea that I “hadn’t seen too many Asian horror films” could be more accurately described as “haven’t seen more than a couple of the biggest.”

In the “huh” camp, I apparently don’t watch horror movies much during times of serious stress or crisis. Not just when someone close to me dies, but at other life or job stress points. Sometimes I go back and rewatch the biggies of the period, but other times not.

If all of this sounds like excessive navel gazing for someone who doesn’t really write that much about horror films, you’re not entirely wrong. In the last couple years, though, I’ve been writing more horror or horror-adjacent nonfiction, as well as thinking about movies. (I had an essay planned for a volume on contemporary horror films, and I withdrew this month, as I’m 2020-blocked, and it’s just not moving quickly enough.)

I’ve read some of the standard horror film/studies books (Clover, Creed, Carroll, etc.), which, if you’ve made it this far, you probably have as well. Some of the more recent work I’ve enjoyed has included…

  • Orrin Grey’s Monsters from the Vault books.
  • Horror Pod Class, also featuring Orrin in recent seasons.
  • Aesthetic Horror, as well as more general film Twitter and YouTube sites
  • Xavier Aldana Reyes’ is a big name in the field right now, and I like his scholarly work (the affect stuff is killer), but I’ll confess to being especially charmed by his #gothiccinema366 project on Twitter this year.

I’m also a reader of various horror stories and novels that take film as their subject, whether Gemma Files’ Experimental Film or Stephen Graham Jones’ The Last Final Girl. I’ve contributed a story or two to the genre as well, including my “There Has Never Been Anyone Here” in Nightscript IV.

Do you have a list of “must-see” horror films? One you go back to pick new watching from? A favorite film book you use to guide your watching? Feel free to drop it in the comments. In addition to the titles and projects mentioned above, I love The Scarecrow Video Movie Guide.

I’ll close with with a still from a 1997 film I watched yesterday that did not make Variety‘s list… but which was a lot of fun.

still shot from anaconda

Totally Cosmic

This autumn I have a new story out in Of Gods and Globes 2: “The Touch of Lethe.” It’s an odd piece I wrote after attending Necronomicon in Providence a few years ago, somewhere between SF and weird fiction. It’s about the closest I’ll probably ever come to a Twilight Zone story, but it seemed to fit the bill for Lancelot Schaubert’s cosmic anthology. Check it out!

Book cover for of gods and globes 2