Night Falls On Whoheim


The bite of the wind was as nothing compared to the teeth of his own hate, gnawing him ceaselessly. Clouds and gusts of snow danced before him like the ghosts of his kinsmen, hounded to what would be extinction when he at last joined them. Unless he could effect tonight’s rescue — and at the thought of his mission, the cold and ice and driving sleet that would have frozen a sleighful of his enemies only steeled his resolve.

Every Who’s hand was against him, and for his part he took bitter pleasure in the fact that his only garment was a ragged Who-skin, dyed red and lined with white scalps of the elders he’d visited in their bedchambers. In truth he had been a strange, bitter creature even before Whoheim’s campaigns to clear the caves of Mount Crumpit, a feral fighter and dwimmer-crafty strategist, but one preyed on by black moods that set him apart even from his fellow green-furred cragsmen. The Who-word for the people of the peaks was Grinch, from the Latin Grinchii, but this was merely a clumsy-tongued truncation of Garrinch, a word as old and sharp-edged as the mountains the aboriginals had stalked for ages as numberless as the snowflakes. His own name, when there had still been a reason to have a name because others of his race still survived to call him by it, had been Garrinchogh Dubh. The Whos, when they could bring themselves to refer to him at all, called him The Grinch, as one might say The Devil.

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Larry Fessenden and the Spirits of the Lonely Places

Deep silence fell about the little camp, planted there so audaciously in the jaws of the wilderness. The lake gleamed like a sheet of black glass beneath the stars. The cold air pricked. In the draughts of night that poured their silent tide from the depths of the forest, with messages from distant ridges and from lakes just beginning to freeze, there lay already the faint, bleak odour of coming winter.

Algernon Blackwood, “The Wendigo”

The small screen can deliver big scares; Eric Kripke has been proving that more often than not for two full seasons and a strike-shortened third with Supernatural. That show, in which two brothers drive the unluckiest backroads of the American night while being driven by a family mission that asks too much of them, crashes through The CW’s sugar-and-spice-and-spite like a classic rock power chord. And at least half the episodes of Mick Garris’ Masters of Horror were good unclean fun; sixty minutes without commercials can amount to the functional equivalent of a novelette, if not a novella. When Showtime wasn’t interested in a third season, the MOH auteurist anthology approach lived to affright another day as Fear Itself, eight episodes of which aired this summer before NBC switched to scaring us with flexi-dwarf gymnasts instead. As soon as the opening credits of “Skin and Bones,” the episode shown on the night of Thursday, July 31, revealed that the director du semaine was Larry Fessenden, I began hoping for a particular monster with which Fessenden has worked almost as often as did Scorsese with De Niro. . .the rottenest tooth in a knowing primordial grin, the blackness at the core of the rampaging blizzard.

At the start of “Skin and Bones” (written by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan. who also scripted one of my favorite Masters of Horror episodes, the John Carpenter-directed “Cigarette Burns”), the ranch-owning but city-dwelling Grady Edlund has been missing for 10 wintry days. He returns as the only surviving member of a party that unwisely elected to ride the high country in the teeth of a storm, and even while indoors, bed-ridden and being cared for by his wife, sons, and brother, reeks of . . .externality, of having come back wrong. If Famine rather redundantly put itself on a starvation diet, the result might look like Grady, who is played by Doug Jones, an actor-turned-human-canvas worthy of the best efforts of a Bernie Wrightson or Gahan Wilson, perhaps even a Goya or Bosch; as Larry Fessenden proudly notes of his “Skin and Bones” work “He is the special effect.”

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Never Bored of the Rings

Came across a couple of wickedly funny satires on YouTube, which both use The Lord of the Rings to skewer their targets, filmmakers Michael Moore and George Lucas respectively (and oh so effectively). I give you:

Fellowship 9/11: The beloved, saintly, indefatigable, scrupulously honest redresser of America’s wrongs visits Middle-earth and quickly discovers a sinister plot by corrupt elven, dwarven, and human bureaucrats, zealots, and pampered elites to demonize the poor, peaceful, third-world peoples of Mordor and steal their oil. This film not only inoculates the viewer from ever taking the Man from Flint seriously again, it also (perhaps unintentionally) tars and feathers the many film and book critics who used the appearance of Jackson’s (awful) trilogy to portray Tolkien as a closet cultural supremacist hiding behind a thinly veiled allegory of metrosexual good guys and dreadlocked, Ebonics-braying monsters.

Lord of the Rings by George Lucas: What if the sage of Skywalker Ranch had been the one who tackled the Rings trilogy on the big screen? Using hilariously on-point parodies of actual Star Wars prequel DVD supplement footage, along with animation that eerily captures the real life quirks and ticks of the people involved, the makers of this little gem demonstrate how vacuous and absurd Lucas’ insufferably pompous latter-day pronouncements have been in the face of his abysmal products.

Many such attempts at satire quickly lose steam and degenerate into bad Saturday Night Live sketches, but these two manage to maintain their momentum and become classics.

What a Mummer Wild, What an Insane Child

Mark’s post about the new Batman film from a Howardist’s perspective was one of the better contributions to the long Dark Knight of the soul that’s fallen on the blogosphere, arguably a wee bit more plausible than the following Andrew Klavan assertion in The Wall Street Journal: “There seems to me no question that the Batman film The Dark Knight, currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand.” Artist Drew Friedman begs to differ. And Cheney, the No. 2 who tries harder? Is he maybe Harvey Dent? Or remember the online debates when 300 was released? Was Bush Leonidas, or was he Xerxes? And who was Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith? Back when Viggo Mortensen was capturing so many imaginations in 2002 and 2003, a REHupan proudly reprinted a letter he’d sent to his local newspaper that anointed Bush the American Aragorn, the hero-king who was defending the West against the Evil gathering in the East.

Was there ever a time when popular culture did not lend itself to this sort of game, one that the left-handed and the right-handed both line up to play? The concept of a Manchurian candidate long ago escaped the control of Richard Condon or John Frankenheimer. High Noon, Rio Bravo, and High Plains Drifter have been arguing among themselves for decades (in his Playboy interview John Wayne labeled High Noon “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my life”. Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America is a book I dote on (and may well have quoted from more than from Howard’s own works during my REHupa years), and yet once in a great while a mulish part of me wonders, can every single Western between 1962 and 1976 really have been about Vietnam?

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Pan Versus Peter Pan; Or, Can’t We Have Some Adult Fantasy to Go with the Adulterated Fantasy?

Beginning in December of 2003 and continuing through 2004’s Oscar season, The Return of the King shook the earth like a mûmakil charge. Peter Jackson’s LOTR films served up something for almost everyone not named Grin: halflings, Howard Shore, monsters, Orlando Bloom for the maenads-in-training-bras, the Shakespearean dynastic/familial crises of the House of Eorl or Denethor and his sons, a cinematic siege with a fuse as slow-burning as that of Zulu, clashes between combatants in their thousands and tens of thousands that could hold their armored heads up in the company of Chimes at Midnight, Kagemusha, and Ran (the edged weapons became even edgier on the Extended Edition DVDs), and the realization that Frodo not only fails in, but is maimed by, his mission. So why have so many fantasy films since then settled for being merely a kindergarten of unearthly delights? The most “mature” spectacle to result from the Rings phenomenon has been the paroxysm of litigation pitting Jackson against New Line Cinema and the Tolkien estate against New Line’s corporate successors.

I have no quarrel with the Harry Potter films, at least not after the helm was relinquished by a Columbus who discovered only mediocrity. In fact Alfonso Cuaròn’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ranks with The Two Towers and Pan’s Labyrinth as the finest film fantasy of this decade — interesting that it took a Mexican director to relocate Hogwarts from an amusement park in Crassville to Gothic highlands atmospherically patrolled by the spirits of George MacDonald and Isak Dinesen as well as the Dementors.

As soon as Inklings were identified as golden egg-layers Andrew Adamson’s 2 Narnia adaptations, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) became inevitable (the more recent film has a severe case of Pelennor Fields envy, and its conquering Telmarines seem to have been airlifted straight from slaughtering the charges of eagle knights during la noche triste in Tenochtitlan).

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Cold Light and Winter Soul-Reflections


Has anyone ever devised a deadlier zinger about a major author than Oscar Wilde’s “Henry James writes fiction as if it were a painful duty”? Many people, among them some professed cineastes, would also claim that Ingmar Bergman made movies as if it were a painful duty, or at least made movies the watching of which is necessarily a painful duty. After the Swedish director’s death last week just about every obit or tribute online that offered a comments section was gate-crashed by reverse snobbery-afflicted knuckle-walkers and know-nothings who sneered that the Bergman cult was/is an affectation of pseudo-intellectual, popular culture-despising coastal or campus elites — blue-staters, most likely supporters of public television and Volvo drivers. Oh well, in many ways Bergman was the heir of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, so we might say attacks by trolls are part of his Scandinavian heritage.

Jeezis wept, Joe Blog-Reader thinks, is he really going to inflict a post about Ingmar Bergman on us? I can’t help it, having arrived in New York City as a college freshman just in time for the twilight of the pre-videocassette arthouse/repertory cinema era. It didn’t take long before I had ascertained that Fellini and Fassbinder were not for me, but Buñuel, Kurosawa, and especially Bergman were.

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