Devious Dialogues: A.M. Novak and Mike Thorn on FOX’s ‘The Exorcist’


In April, A.M. Novak and Mike Thorn discussed The Exorcist film series in detail. FOX recently announced a second season for Jeremy Slater’s television adaptation, so Novak and Thorn discussed the news at the request of a “Devious Dialogues” reader.

Mike: The first thing that struck me about this series is that its narrative approach is opposite to the prequels (Exorcist: The Beginning [2004] and Dominion [2005]). Whereas those films took different approaches with Father Merrin’s backstory (and, to my mind, equally unsuccessful), creator Jeremy Slater moves forward here to further explore the MacNeil family. In doing so, he reimagines a lot of what was presumably resolved at the end of William Peter Blatty’s novel and William Friedkin’s adaptation. As someone who admires both, I couldn’t stifle the cognitive dissonance — Slater’s MacNeils don’t at all resemble my recollection/perception of Blatty’s original characters. What do you make of Slater’s decision to create a story that builds off the original novel?

Anya: I did notice a disparity between the dynamic of Reagan and her mother in both the novel and the 1973 film, and that of their relationship in the show. There was a definite choice on the writers’ part to create conflict between the now-grown Reagan and her mother Chris MacNeil, due to Chris’ callous exploitation of her daughter’s ordeal after the events in Georgetown. However, in both the novel and the original, there is nothing but the deepest unconditional love between the duo. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of the people watching FOX’s The Exorcist have at least seen the 1973 film, and remember the strong familial bond, myself included. This bond is the source of so much empathy for the characters involved that, for me, their relationship in the new series feels like an unwelcome change that undermined that very empathy. That said, I appreciate the angle that Slater takes by exploring the entire MacNeil family, and found that the emotional ties amongst the other family members (sisters Casey and Kat, and father Henry) provides an adequate substitute for what was lost on Reagan and Chris.

Read the full dialogue in Vague Visages.

And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe: A Literary Showcase of Horror’s Possibilities


Gwendolyn Kiste bookends her short story collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe with two pieces written in the second-person. At first glance, the device might appear to work toward a tone of urgency, or a forced closeness between reader and text (and it does both of these things), but the technique works on several other registers, too. Both of these stories, “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” and “The Lazarus Bride,” undergo a complicated study of otherness and self-dissociation (two themes that re-emerge repeatedly throughout the book), all while foregrounding meticulously honed plot momentum and structure. This single example is one among countless demonstrations of Kiste’s heightened literary consciousness; this is an extremely rare breed of fiction debut, whose assuredness, complexity, and above all whose singular perspective suggest a lifetime of practice. Think Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood (1952), Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer (1986), Kathe Koja’s The Cipher (1991), or Clive Barker’s Books of Blood (1985).

Read the full review on Unnerving Magazine‘s website.

Thorn’s Thoughts: Robert Dunbar’s The Streets


The Streets
is the third novel in Robert Dunbar’s ambitious Pines Trilogy, a sequence of books connected by sustained interest in the Jersey Devil—a folkloric creature said to inhabit the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The first novel, The Pines (1989) mines old-school Gothic dread from its setting in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, while its sequel The Shore (2007) makes similarly eerie use of its coastal town, Edgeharbor. Although key characters from both novels return in The Streets, it’s not absolutely necessary to read The Pines and The Shore in order to enjoy the trilogy’s closer. Having said that, this novel’s impact is amplified when put into conversation with its predecessors; and for readers who have read all three entries, The Streets satisfyingly deepens its precursors’ previously established relationships.

Read the full review in Unnerving.

Hostel: Part II and the Monster of Neoliberal Late-Capitalism

hostel-part-ii

The torture scenes in writer-director Eli Roth’s Hostel openly evoked the 2003 Abu Ghraib photographs, which depicted United States military and Central Intelligence Agency personnel subjecting Iraqi prisoners to acts of profound cruelty and abuse. The film also addressed post-9/11 U.S.A.’s widespread xenophobia and confusion in the midst of an incompetent administration while satirizing upper-class masculinist group dynamics. Shortly after Hostel enjoyed overwhelming mainstream success, David Edelstein published “Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn” for New York magazine, an article that leveled unilateral arguments against the wave of brutal films flooding the American mainstream — including Hostel, but also films such as Wolf Creek, The Devil’s Rejects, and the Saw franchise.

This incendiary context set the stage for Roth’s Hostel: Part II, which acts both as an inversion and political expansion of its predecessor. Where Hostel offers a glib satire of homosocial desire among hyper-masculine males, the sequel focuses on a trio of young women. If Hostel reacts to the Abu Ghraib photographs by leveling a critique against unchecked western military imperialism, Part II condemns rampant late-capitalist neoliberalism at large. In 2007, the sequel’s political resonance was lost amidst blanket arguments against “torture porn” (a term that Edelstein’s article leaves unfortunately broad and open-ended); in 2017, its nastily incisive observations remain too relevant to be brushed aside.

Read the full article in The Film Stage.

Review: ‘Like Jagged Teeth’ – Betty Rocksteady’s Supernatural Bad Dream Novella

Vague Visages • Wave Faces

Many of the greatest supernatural horror stories revolve around mourning and loss. Often, the ghost plays not only the object of fear, but also acts as the remnants of unresolved pain or relationships cut painfully short. Betty Rocksteady’s new novella, Like Jagged Teeth, taps into this commonality, using the pain of grief as a driving force for both character psychology and narrative movement. It couches its ideas within the logic of nightmares while also attributing its plot with qualities not often associated with strictly supernatural horror. Specifically, it deals heavily and unapologetically with disgust and grotesquerie.

The plot begins with protagonist Jacalyn leaving an awkward party, feeling a little sad and hollow. When a group of men start following her down the dark street and harassing her, Jacalyn’s recently deceased grandfather (“Poppa”) suddenly drives up and interferes. He invites his granddaughter into his vehicle, and although she is surprised, her…

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Devious Dialogues: A.M. Novak and Mike Thorn on the ‘Alien’ Franchise

Vague Visages • Wave Faces

With the release of Alien: Covenant this month, the horror cineaste community has been buzzing about Ridley Scott’s latest work and the entire Alien franchise. Scott’s original film was widely acclaimed in 1979, and it’s now considered one of the top horror films of all time. Alien spawned three direct sequels, a crossover film that we dare not speak into existence, a prequel and now a new 2017 entry. In anticipation of Alien: Covenant’s release, Vague Visages contributors A.M. Novak and Mike Thorn take a look at the legendary sci-fi series.

Anya: Before we even get into each individual film, I have to ask — which film is your favorite?

Mike: I’ve looked ahead at your other questions, and I expect that some of my opinions on this franchise will be deemed scandalous at best. I love all four of the original films, and also hold Paul W.S. Anderson’s AVP:…

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Book Review: Gender and Genre in Aaron J. French’s ‘Festival’

Vague Visages • Wave Faces

Stephen King’s Danse Macabre (1981) offers a number of approaches for interpreting horror cinema and literature. Throughout his study, King touches repeatedly on the notion of “catharsis,” but also on the genre’s ability to tap into sociocultural “pressure points,” accessing what he describes as “artesian wells” of collective anxiety. At one point, he rather glibly suggests that a profound conservatism historically underlies the genre at large, stating that the horror story, beneath its fangs and fright wig, is really as conservative as an Illinois Republican in a three-piece pinstriped suit; that its main purpose is to reaffirm the virtues of the norm by showing us what awful things happen to people who venture into taboo lands. Within the framework of most horror tales we find a moral code so strong it would make a Puritan smile. The horror story most generally not only stands foursquare for the Ten Commandments…

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