Top 10 Lists for 2018 (Books, Films, Albums)

Starting in 2017, I decided to post a new top 10 films list every January 1. This year, I’ve decided to do the same for books and albums. My picks for 2018:Moby-Dick_FE_title_page

Books
01. Moby-Dick; or, the Whale, Herman Melville (1851)
02. It, Stephen King (1986)
03. Songs of Innocence and of Experience, William Blake (1789)
04. Melmoth the Wanderer, Charles Robert Maturin (1820)
05. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)
06. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (1927)
07. The Monk, Matthew Gregory Lewis (1796)
08. Ulysses, James Joyce (1922)
09. McTeague: A Story of San Francisco, Frank Norris (1899)
10. The Obscene Bird of Night, José Donoso (1970)

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Films

01. Prince of Darkness, John Carpenter (1987)
02. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas (2005)
03. La Région Centrale, Michael Snow (1971)
04. The Crowd, King Vidor (1928)
05. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Tobe Hooper (1974)
06. Citizen Kane, Orson Welles (1941)
07. Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles, Chantal Akerman (1975)
08. Alae, Lillian Schwartz (1975)
09. New York Subway, Billy Bitzer (1905)
10. Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages, D.W. Griffith (1916)

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Albums
01. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys (1966)
02. Streetcleaner, Godflesh (1989)
03. Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath (1970)
04. Street-Legal, Bob Dylan (1978)
05. Pornography, The Cure (1982)
06. Electronic Meditation, Tangerine Dream (1970)
07. “Heroes”, David Bowie (1977)
08. Treasure, Cocteau Twins (1984)
09. From the Inside, Alice Cooper (1978)
10. Structures from Silence, Steve Roach (1984)

The Last Jedi: Enjoying Corporate Cinema’s Quasi-Risks While They Last

The Last Jedi

Following my Bright Lights Film Journal reviews of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, I wrote a piece on Disney’s newest Star Wars spin-off, The Last Jedi.

“To date, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi has supposedly encountered ‘polarizing’ reactions. I wonder how this could possibly be the case, seeing as Johnson’s film lifts most of its framework and sensibility from the safer-than-safe ‘coming attractions’ reel that was The Force Awakens. The main difference between the two films is that Johnson’s work shows some evidence of authorial perspective and formal attentiveness, whereas Abrams’s carries the uncanny sense of something carefully and neurotically manufactured by a corporate collective in an effort to appease fans’ broadest, basest desires. Given the purportedly divisive reactions surrounding Last Jedi, I also wonder to what extent Disney’s marketing team is manufacturing or at the very least magnifying voices of dissent – why should a well-crafted and intentional variation on The Force Awakens incite animosity and disdain? Amplifying voices of disagreement would make sense as a marketing move, given Force’s swift downward critical trajectory. The first spin-off celebrated hyperbolic praise during the first month or two of its release, but its reputation seems to have drastically slipped in a surprisingly short amount of time. The popular critical and cultural narrative now deems it “too much like A New Hope,” which is puzzling, given that George Lucas’s complex and visually dense prequels have been retroactively damned for steering too far from their predecessor’s ‘roots.'”

Read the full review here.

Devious Dialogues: Mike Thorn and A.M. Stanley on the Psycho Franchise


Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary 1960 film adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Psycho is a seminal film for the horror genre’s development. That it ended up spawning a six-film franchise, and even a recent television series, is both puzzling and fascinating, but the franchise itself has provided a surprisingly varied approach to the depiction of killer Norman Bates. For their latest Devious Dialogues piece, A.M. (Anya) Stanley and Mike Thorn discuss the original film and all of its cinematic successors.

Mike: By now, the title Psycho is as bound up with Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation as The Shining is with Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 version of Stephen King’s book (if not more so). But, as with Kubrick’s Shining, Joseph Stefano’s script owes so much to Robert Bloch’s excellent novel, published the year before the film’s 1960 release. It’s probably impossible to write anything about this film that hasn’t already been written, but on this viewing, I noticed how effectively Hitchcock directs Norman Bates’ (Anthony Perkins) post-murder clean-up. This sequence effectively recalibrates the film’s P.O.V. and lays out all the routine details in such a painstakingly patient way. What struck you most on this recent viewing?

Anya: This time around, I ended up replaying the parlor scene a few times with a new appreciation for its bird imagery and sly suggestion of character intentions. Everything from the subtextual dialogue to the staging of the actors frames Norman and Marion (Janet Leigh) as predator and prey, respectively. As they sit among stuffed birds, Norman goes from stroking a tame, non-threatening bird at eye-level to leaning forward in a low-level frame along with intimidating, hawkish birds of prey as he becomes agitated about his mother. He notes aloud that Marion “eats like a bird.” At times, he is shot with both predatory and docile birds alongside him within the same frame, similar to his own conflicted psyche. From beginning to end, the mise-en-scene within the parlor exchange tells us everything we need to know about Norman, most notably his personality and relationship with his mother. We all talk about the shower scene and the final monologue of Psycho, but, as you’ve pointed out, there are plenty of brilliant moments worth absorbing.

Read the latest “Devious Dialogues” entry in Vague Visages.

The Wilderness Within: John Claude Smith’s Horror of Psychedelia, Phenomenology and Self

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I’ve thought a lot about both the correspondences and differences between a “philosophy of horror” (consider Noël Carroll’s methodology and 1990 book of the same name) and a “horror of philosophy,” which Eugene Thacker studies extensively in his trilogy—In the Dust of this Planet (2011), Starry Speculative Corpse (2015) and Tentacles Longer Than Night (2015). Upon finishing John Claude Smith’s bizarre new novel The Wilderness Within (2017), it strikes me that he is also invested in this intersection.

Is The Wilderness Within a horror novel proper? Well, sort of. Smith quotes weird fiction scribe Algernon Blackwood in his opening epigraph, and his novel does carry the haunting residue of The Willows (1907). But he also quotes the great philosophical magic realist of Argentine literature, Jorge Luis Borges, and Philip K. Dick, legend of metaphysical sci-fi paranoia. To be sure, there are elements of dread in both Borges’ and Dick’s oeuvres, but it is philosophical inquiry above all that connects Smith’s novel with these three names.

This book sees Smith undergoing a deceptively simple exercise of content-in-form: two metal-head writer buddies take a trip into the woods, resulting in an eventual descent into freaky psychedelia. Smith charts this progression through narration and experimental style: what begins as a series of dialogues (largely steeped in theoretical interest) slips into a punctuation- and perspective-busting freak-out with its roots (pun partially intended) in the works of William S. Burroughs.

This is a very fun novel to read on the basis of plot and execution alone, but Smith distinguishes his story from straightforward genre fare by investing most intently in ideas. The author ends up addressing the aporia that results from any attempt to frame nature within human-centric models of phenomenology—this quality made me think of Dylan Trigg’s The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror, but also of Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (2008). Many of the (potentially horrifying) problems that Meillassoux engages on the level of philosophy, Smith conveys through the medium of magic realist horror.

To be specific, The Wilderness Within confronts the “thing-in-itself” in the form of a natural space with insidiously quasi-mystic attributes (think the pan-psychism of Blackwood’s The Willows, but somehow even quieter and less explicit). This brings me to Meillassoux, who grapples with the post-Kantian concept of “correlation”—“the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other”; or, more plainly, that “we can never grasp an object ‘in itself’, in isolation from its relation to the subject […] we can never grasp a subject that would not always-already be related to an object” (5). The object-subject relation unfolds in a sequence echoing the human-into-tree imprisonment of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590-96)… if only Spenser had had access to Salvinorin A and nihilistic industrial metal.

Smith demonstrates that one can build a horror narrative around ideas—that a prominently conceptual framework can suffice just as well as a narrative one. And this is not to say that Smith disregards plot—I see echoes of Stephen King’s rigorously designed The Dark Half (1989) just as clearly as I see the philosophical considerations. This is the first novel I’ve read from Smith, and I’m immediately impressed by his commitment to thinking through the unique possibilities and problems of horror. I’ve never encountered anything quite like it. It’s trippy, bullet-fast and madly cerebral.

Read it.

2017 – Awards Eligibility & Publications Summary

Overall, 2017 has been good to me personally (I successfully defended my master’s thesis, was lucky enough to land a good job and published my debut short story collection); but on a global scale, yes, this year was hell. Here’s hoping for (at the very least) Trump’s impeachment/resignation in 2018, or better yet, the beginnings of lasting reconstruction/systemic overhaul.

For me, horror fiction feels like the most sane way to depict the contemporary world. Here’s a list of all the fiction and non-fiction I published in 2017.

Darkest Hours (Unnerving)
DarkestHoursCoverMikeThorn
In the bleak landscape of Darkest Hours, people make decisions that lead them into extreme scenarios – sometimes bizarre, often horrific, always unexpected. Between this book’s covers you will find academics in distress; monsters abused by people; people terrorized by demons; ghostly reminiscences; resurrected trauma; and occult filmmaking. Ranging from satirical to dreadful, these stories share a distinct voice: urgent, sardonic, brutal, but always empathetic.

Seven of the sixteen stories in Darkest Hours were original publications (“Mictian Diabolus”; “A New Kind of Drug”; “Party Time”; “Fear and Grace”; “Economy These Days”; “Satanic Panic”; and “Fusion”).

I’m seriously, indescribably humbled by the early reception, both from critics and authors I admire. Here are some excerpts from blurbs and reviews:

“Perfectly paced from the first sentence, these stories grab you by the collar with the urgency of mortal danger. Highly recommended.”
— S.P. Miskowski, author of Strange is the Night

“When you first encounter Thorn’s writing, a number of qualities impress themselves: the macabre intelligence (brutal really), the chilling wit, the naturalness of the dialogue. Plus there’s the skill and style of the prose. It may all play out like a nightmare, but a terrible logic remains inherent.”
— Robert Dunbar, author of The Pines and Willy

“Mike Thorn has delivered a promising debut with this collection showing off his commitment to stories of nuance, heart, and of course… darkness.”
— Daniel Braum, author of The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales

“Terrifying and sly, Mike Thorn writes with refreshing originality and hides fangs behind a smile.”
— John C. Foster, author of Mister White

“Mike Thorn’s debut story collection is not to be missed by those who enjoy an academic intellect with a potent flair for fiction.”
— Dustin LaValley, author of A Soundless Dawn

“Mike Thorn is brilliant.”
Waylon Jordan, iHorror

“…the most diverse selection of stories that I’ve ever read from a single author.”
Lilyn G., Sci-Fi & Scary

“I’m reminded not only of some of the best Stephen King from Skeleton Crew or Night Shift, but also of some of the more bizarre stories from Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood.”
— Tim Murr, Biff Bam Pop

“The hallmark of great horror is that it […] surprises, scares, and most importantly, entertains. Darkest Hours succeeds on all these levels.”
— Brandon Wilson, The Weal

dmd28smallFive of my stories were included in other anthologies and magazines.

Choo-Choo.” Polar Borealis Magazine, vol. 4, edited by R. Graeme Cameron (also in Darkest Hours).

Sabbatical.” Dark Moon Digest, vol. 28, edited by Max Booth III & Lori Michelle (also in Darkest Hours).

Entropy Major.” Unnerving Magazine, vol. 3, edited by Eddie Generous.

Speaking of Ghosts.” Vague Visages, edited by Q.V. Hough (also in Darkest Hours).

“Lucio Schluter.” DarkFuse’s “Darkborne Muse” series, edited by Shane Staley (also in Darkest Hours).

unnervingsmallThis year I began a review column for Unnerving Magazine called “Thorn’s Thoughts,” in which I provide in-depth analyses of horror and dark fiction books. To date, I’ve provided eleven write-ups for that column.

2017 saw the beginning of another column: “Devious Dialogues,” a horror-themed series I co-author with A.M. Stanley. We have written nine entries so far.

Additionally, I wrote three more book reviews for Vague Visages and thirteen film reviews/articles for a number of other venues:

Like Jagged Teeth – Betty Rocksteady’s Supernatural Bad Dream Novella.” Vague Visages.

Gender and Genre in Aaron J. French’s Festival.” Vague Visages.

Pain and Three Kinds of Death in Dustin LaValley’s A Soundless Dawn.” Vague Visages.

Mike Thorn’s 10 favourite horror films from the 2010s.” Kendall Reviews.

Underrated ’97 – Mike Thorn.” Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

Andy Muschietti’s It Struggles with Adaptation.” Vague Visages.

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Hostel: Part II and the Monster of Neoliberal Late-Capitalism.” The Film Stage.

No Desire If It’s Not Forbidden’: Dread, Eroticism, and Text Messaging in Personal Shopper.” The Seventh Row.

The Aesthetic and Formal Challenges of Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt.” Vague Visages.

 

Diary of the Dead and George A. Romero’s Formal Self-Awareness.” The Film Stage.

The Many Peculiar Virtues of Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take.” Vague Visages.

Moments of Revelation in Martin Scorsese’s Silence and Shutter Island.” Vague Visages.

Genre Trauma in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split.” MUBI Notebook.

What I Learned from Martin Scorsese’s Life Lessons.” Vague Visages.

Toxic Masculinity and Empathetic Comedy: Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” Vague Visages.

The Way of the Future: The Connections Between Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull and The Aviator.” Vague Visages.

Here’s to more exciting happenings in 2018…

Guest Post on Kendall Reviews: “Mike Thorn’s 10 favourite horror films from the 2010s”


Horror cinema still suffers from the burden of David Edelstein’s reductive, vaguely moralizing mid-2000s condemnation of “torture porn.” Throughout the 2010s, the genre has mostly strayed away from the urgency, viscera and political heft of films like The Devil’s Rejects (2005) and Hostel (2005), opting instead for low-budget supernatural found footage fare (see most of Blumhouse’s output) and prestige exercises in genre-deaf bluffing (see most of the most popularly praised titles of the past three or so years). I tend to like horror films that proudly inhabit their genre, paying respect to its central affect while also demonstrating formal knowledge and identifying new possibilities. I prefer to see horror films pushing boundaries within a contemporary context than vaguely “cerebral” repetitions of the past. Limiting myself to one title per director, I’ve highlighted ten of my favorite horror films released between 2010 and 2017 (organized chronologically).

Check out the list on Kendall Reviews.