Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Category: Uncategorized

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

A beautiful, mysterious corpse is discovered half-buried in the basement at the scene of a horrific crime. A father and son team of coroners unravel her history as they disassemble her body, and unleash a vengeful terror.

There are aspects of body horror as well as historical score-settling in this tight, tense story. The movie becomes darker and darker as layers of “Jane Doe” are (literally) peeled away and the awful history her body has to tell is revealed.

City of Ash and Red by Hye-young Pyun (translated by Sora Kim-Russell)

An unnamed man travels to an unnamed country to take on an unspecified role at his employer’s home office. The foreign country is in the midst of political and social upheaval, spurred on by an apparently virulent but possibly harmless (except for the paranoia it engenders) plague. Through a series of misfortunes, misunderstandings, and mis-remembered crimes, the man finds himself exiled to a rat-filled sewer in a foreign country, slowly losing his identity.

This is a grim, uncomfortable book. Many of the reviews have compared it to Kafka, and that’s certainly fitting: there’s faceless bureaucracy as in “The Castle,” a sense of paranoia as in “The Trial,” the weirdness of a foreign land as in “Amerika,” dissolution of the self as in “The Metamorphosis”, and the dissolution of society as in “An Old Manuscript.” Unlike a typical Kafka protagonist, though, the man in this story is drenched in guilt and part of his dissolution is an embrace of the worst, most inhuman parts of himself.

Rats, monkeys, garbage, knives (sharp and blunt), blood, and foul smells pervade the novel’s imagery. It’s a fascinating descent into horror; hardly a pleasant read, but a powerful one.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2

Charlie Manx prowls the secret roads between our world and an evil Christmasland of the mind in his Rolls-Royce Wraith, searching for children to “rescue.” Vic McQueen, psychically damaged by both her own abilities to travel those secret roads (first on her childhood bicycle, then on a restored Triumph motorcycle) and by an earlier encounter with Manx, needs to catch Manx to rescue her son.

“NOS4A2” moves along at a brisk clip, built as it is around Vic as both pursuer and pursued. It’s a lot like a classic Stephen King novel, jam packed with pop culture references (as well as references , both overt and subtle, to other Joe Hill and Stephen King stories), and full of broadly drawn, over-the-top characters. While it certainly doesn’t break new ground in the horror epic genre–“Talisman,” for instance, was more original in its world-hopping, and some of the spooks in “20th Century Ghosts” are more unsettling than Charlie Manx (though the Gas Mask Man is certainly a high point in chilling characters …)–it’s solidly written and holds the reader’s interest. I especially like that the magic in the book comes at a steep cost for its practitioners–no one can hop between worlds without suffering cumulative damage. The denouement is a little too tidy, but I’m glad that it ends on a happy note after so much pain, especially in the last 150 pages or so.

Icelandic Horror Movie: Grafir og Bein (Graves and Bones)

On the weekend before he’s to be sentenced for financial fraud, Gunnar goes with his wife Sonja to a remote house where Gunnar’s niece Perla is staying after the apparent suicide of her parents. Strange things start to happen, seemingly centered on the little girl and the house’s tragic history.

I watched this in part to prepare for a trip to Iceland: I’ve read the tour guides and restaurant reviews and even done a few lessons in Icelandic, so I wanted to get a glimpse into Iceland’s culture through a horror movie. A few things I took away: Icelanders drink a lot of coffee and wear a lot of sweaters, they don’t talk a whole lot, and they’re incapable of distinguishing a real little girl from an evil ghost. It was useful to hear spoken Icelandic, and I enjoyed picking up the handful of words (45 or so, according to the app I’ve been using) that are in my extremely limited vocabulary.

The story was a little sketchy, with gaps in the plot that didn’t seem to be just a matter of translation. At the end, it was unclear how much of the haunting was real, and how much was in Gunnar’s head. All in all an enjoyable movie, but I think it could have done with some editing for clarity.

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