Halloween Carnival Volume 1, edited by Brian James Freeman, provides a handful of efficiently written variations on its title theme. Its overall effect is pleasant, if not especially demanding. One gets the sense that this might be what Freeman wants: an assortment of easy and digestible Halloween-set tales. The collection’s structure is interesting, in that it begins with three relatively brisk pieces before concluding with a long story and a novelette. This layout seems to suggest a process of easing into or building up to the main event(s), but I think the book peaks with its second entry—Kevin Lucia’s genuinely powerful “The Rage of Achilles, or When Mockingbirds Sing.”
Nicole Cushing’s novella The Sadist’s Bible delves into the ideological, philosophical, and theological problems of binary thinking. I know… at the outset, this might sound like some highfalutin literary project, but Cushing commits totally to horror, and to the ways in which this genre can bring both insights and physical affects to her ideas.
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  and Dominion ). 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.
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).
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.
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.