Less Than Pulp, Issue 27
The Things That Haunt Me # 1
In 1968, George A. Romero released his seminal film Night of the Living Dead upon unsuspecting theatergoers. Though its black-and-white color palette gives the text a classical feel, every frame makes it clear that it isn’t anything at all like the movies that came before it. There are no creepy castles, seldom moments of levity, and no happy endings.
The young couple who would’ve been the heroes of a film made in the previous decade get blown up in the getaway vehicle and are feasted upon by flesh-eating ghouls after the flames die down. A mother gets stabbed by her reanimated daughter with a garden trowel in a dingy cellar. Every decision the protagonist makes gets people killed. Even he takes a bullet to the head when a militia member mistakes him for one of the walking dead—though the possibility of the shooter’s racist motivations can’t be ignored either.
It’s a savage work, even by today’s standards.
The movie’s thesis, one that Romero would return to again and again, is that when we’re faced with a crisis, we eat each other.
And that haunts me.
Welcome to the 27th issue of Less Than Pulp, a newsletter for fans of my work. Sometimes, I feature book and movie reviews. Sometimes, I include free fiction. You can check out previous issues here.
This week, I caught two of this years’ highly acclaimed films. First up was Nope. Directed by Jordan Peele, it centers on a Black-owned horse farm targeted by a flying saucer that isn’t quite what it seems. Peele and his DP Hoyte van Hoytema (Let the Right One In, Interstellar) do a great job creating shots that serve to make the movie feel big but also isolated. It was apparently the first horror film shot in 65mm IMAX.
Is Nope a horror film? That depends on your definition. If, like me, you count Jaws or Tremors as horror films, then Nope comfortably fits into that category. If you go into Nope expecting Halloween or Hostel, then you’ll most likely be let down. If you go into any major Hollywood production expecting A Serbian Film or a Guinea Pig movie, you might need your head checked.
The horror genre has a much wider spectrum than people sometimes think, and movies like Nope, Jaws, and Tremors fall into what I’d call “blockbuster horror.” That is to say they are sprawling, big-budget affairs that emphasize adventure almost as much as the suspense and dread commonly found in horror movies. They also typically eschew elements like excessive gore, sexual perversion, and nihilism.
Nope certainly isn’t perfect. There’s a subplot that makes sense thematically but drags the narrative down. The scenes making up that subplot would’ve worked better in a television show (perhaps alongside some other thematically significant subplots), but in a movie, they don’t work as well. Also, and this is strictly a matter of personal preference, it’s not trashy or weird enough for me. For a more unhinged outing from Peele, I’d recommend Us.
Overall, though, Nope is an enjoyable thriller. The historical significance of Peele’s success cannot be overstated, and I look forward to more of his work.
Next up, Jean and I watched Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. If you know me personally, you know that I judge horror movies as a separate art form from other types of films. They just feel so different from everything else in terms of aesthetics, themes, and the intended response from the audience.
That said, Everything, Everywhere is the best non-horror movie I’ve seen in a very long time. I’m not even sure I can remember the last time I enjoyed a movie so much that didn’t involve some variety of horror trope.
It’s a dense, heavy film, but it moves at a breakneck pace. The performances are solid, it’s conceptually ambitious, and it has a TON of heart. I stayed awake long after watching it because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. If you’ve read Digital Darkness, you know I’m fascinated by the idea of multiple dimensions colliding and the overarching consequences of such an event. Everything, Everywhere explores these ideas in a way that’s endlessly compelling. Most of all, I love its stubborn positivity in the face of apparent meaninglessness, as well as its bizarro sense of humor.
On the reading front, I finished up Judith Sonnet’s Blood Suck. It's a gory, darkly comedic bit of extreme horror, reminiscent of work from giants in the field like Ryan Harding and Ed Lee. I’m in awe of how much she's accomplished in a little over a year. It's inspiring to know people want this kind of stuff on their shelves.
I’ve also been listening to HorrorBabble and Classic Ghost Stories pretty religiously. Getting in the headspace to write something in that vein has been interesting. The ghost story is one of the oldest types of horror tales, but I think its framework is timeless and can be applied to more modern situations.
For example, I'm working on a piece inspired by the trip to Pennsylvania I took this past summer, only in this version, it's winter, and the character standing in for me makes wayyyy worse decisions than I did on one night in particular.
Also, there's a ghost.
We're talking about the things that haunt me this week, remember?
Jeff and I didn't get to record a new episode of Make Your Own Damn Podcast on account of holiday shenanigans, but we did upload some exclusive content to our Patreon. For just a buck, you get a bonus episode each week. In these, we talk about more current movies than we cover on the regular show, as well as whatever solo endeavors we have in the works.
On Tuesday, I performed a piece at Max Booth III’s The Ghoulish Show this past Tuesday at Radio Coffee and Beer in Austin alongside the likes of John Baltisberger, Ryan C. Bradley, Michael Louis Dixon, Andrew Hilbert, and R.J. Joseph. It was a great time, and you can check out the entire show right here.
That's gonna wrap things up for this week. Thanks to everyone who has subscribed and takes the time to read these. It's encouraging to know you're out there, and I appreciate you.
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