A Tender Ballad From the Old Country: Mer Whinery’s Horror-Western Influences

Mer Whinery is the author of Muzzleland Press’ latest release, Trade Yer Coffin For A Gun, available here.

You know, I never even cared about watching or even reading a western until I got my greasy mits on that Jonah Hex comic. So when I decided to write my own take on the genre, Trade Yer Coffin for a Gun, that was where I started.

Man, I remember the first time I ever laid my eye on that gnarly Reb gunslinger with the jacked-up face. I was probably around ten or so. I was visiting a local junk store that always had a steady supply of issues of Eerie, Creepy and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines. One day, whilst thumbing through them, I stumbled across Weird Western Tales Jonah Hex Issue Number 18, August 1973. I got one gander at Hex and the big-ass werewolf leering at him from the rafters of what appeared to be some sort of barn or cabin, and was sold immediately. Other than the horror comics I mentioned I wasn’t much of a comic book fan. To this day I am not sure what attracted me to Hex, but later I would come to realize he was the gateway drug leading me into the realm of Italian westerns.

You see, the Spaghetti Westerns felt like the Jonah Hex comics. Look, I have really tried to get into the Duke’s films. Really. I feel like a damn turncoat to the American dream when I confess, without reservations, that I absogoddamnlutely cannot stomach any John Wayne Western. Or most any American western for that matter. Eastwood’s work in this country gets a pass pretty much because he took so many of the quirks and oddities of the Italian masters and injected them into his own films that they pretty much became their own thing. Peckinpah as well. The European westerns were possessed of a sensual severity, a brazen taste for the surreal and the sadistic that bordered upon the feral, which stroked a thirsty nerve in me. Not to mention their unapologetic embrace of the supernatural.

As big a nut for Sergio Leone’s work as I am, and I can proudly admit to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly being my favorite mainstream film of all time, I have to admit I find some of the lesser-known chestnuts of the genre equally as satisfying. The Great Silence and Django films of Sergio Corbucci are every bit as impressive as anything produced by Leone. The Great Silence in particular getting even higher marks in my book for having the nutsack to unleash that ending upon an unwary public. There were others as well. A Man Called Blade with its tomahawk-wielding anti-hero, the borderline gothic horror of And God Said to Cain all left an indelible impression upon me. But for sheer wotthefookery, one film stands out. That film is Lucio Fulci’s 1975 nugget, Four of the Apocalypse.

I think it was the weird-ass, John Denver/Gordon Lightfoot/hippy-strung-out-on-ludes theme song that hooked me. John Wayne, in all of his virile Americana-humping snoozefests, never encountered any of the freakish shit that goes down in this bad boy. Cannibalism, rape, peyote trips, skinning folks, and that theme song. Oh… that crayzay theme song. I didn’t catch this one until I was well into my fifth year (don’t judge) of college. I found the film at the local video store on a sort of a bootleg mix-tape of sorts that looked like someone had pointed a camcorder at their TV set and let the tape run until it was gone. I don’t even remember what the other films on the tape were, and the dubbing was so out of sync it rendered what was already a barely coherent movie damn near incomprehensible. That only added to the experience. That and the sixer of Coors Light I had polished off halfway through the viewing. I never forgot the flick, and when it rose from the grave decades later on DVD I snatched it up without thinking twice. Fulci’s flick has aged pretty well in my opinion and is still a gnarly ride. Well worth your ducats.

Oddly, while I was writing the book I found myself actually gravitating away from the Western genre for inspiration. Ultimately I ended up absorbing far more influence from the Italian crime films, or poliziotteschi, as they are called. True, these movies were mostly recycled riffs on the whole “pissed off and burned-out office of the law who is just done with all of the horseshit decides to just blow holes in folks with large caliber weapons” trope, ripping the Dirty Harry films in particular. But like the westerns, the poliziotteschi cranked everything up to thirteen-and-a-half. The nihilism so thick you could slice it, lightly braise it, and serve it with couscous and a finely aged Merlot. Two films were especially significant, Ruggero Deodato’s Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man and Umberto Lenzi’s Violent Naples. Deodato’s movie especially stuck with me with it’s immensly unlikable protagonists and were instrumental in the sculpting of the Coffin Mills Haints. I wanted that same sense of chaos and lust for violence I found in those films to be imbued in my protagonists. I think I captured it very, very well indeed. I’ve always been a sucker for the anti-hero, even if he toe-drags the dark side more often than not.

For the horror elements I returned to my old faves, the gutsplatter olympics of 70s and 80s gore films, again, mostly of Italian stock. I’ve always been a straight up sucker for the really really hardcore shitfests. You know the one’s I’m talking about. Really stinky awful turds like Night of the Zombies and City of the Walking Dead and, a perennial favorite, Burial Ground, Nights of Terror. That shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone who has read any of my work, especially my first short fiction collection The Little Dixie Horror Show. But it might be surprising to learn I was also impacted, quite profoundly, by the old Hammer Studio films as well. Especially for soaking myself up in some genuine Gothic ambience.

The Coffin Mills Haints, the dubious protagonists of Coffin, were created long before the book was even a twitch in my brain stem. I had actually mentioned them, in passing, in a short story of mine from my second collection of short fiction, Phantasmagoria Blues. It wasn’t much more than a blurb, but I had already formed and fully made flesh the profane trio in my head. Never before in all of my creative exploits have I managed to create such a vivid, painstakingly realized fistful of bloodthirsty sonsabitches. I knew it was a bit of a dice roll selling them as “heroes”, but I knew they were worth it. Each member of the clan contains a little more of my DNA than I would care to admit, even that infernal Princess of Hell, Sugar Bava.

It was all a bit like a carnival ride, writing Trade Yer Coffin for A Gun. The best sort of carnival ride. You know the kind I’m talking about. The threadbare midway spookhouse you stumble across toward the end of the evening when you’re good and ripped and slightly out of sorts. Manned by some greasy creature who looks like he’s been in and out of the joint for Christ-knows-what, settling into that ramshackle fiberglass mine cart and allowing yourself to be delivered into the mouth of the Unknown. It become a Stygian journey. A candy-coated stroll through the Abyss.

Kind of sad to see it all end in a way. But in Little Dixie these sorts of things never really go away. We kind of like to hang on to our folk heroes and tall tales. Legends are passed down from mother to daughter, grandfather to grandson, and whispered over for decades on. Perhaps the Coffin Mills Haints will rise again in some form or another. Just keep lighting a candle for them at the window and singing a song to keep you safe.

The song momma used to sing.

A tender ballad from the old country.

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Creature-Feature Conversations: Screamers

Creature-Feature Conversations is an ongoing series of informal discussions about obscure, unique, or cult horror films.

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters, movies, and especially monster movies. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and been collected in Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. From 2011 until 2016 he wrote a monthly column on vintage horror cinema for Innsmouth Free Press that has now been collected into Monsters from the Vault. You can visit him online at orringrey.com.

Jonathan Raab is the author of The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie, The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre, and Flight of the Blue Falcon. His novella Cold Call will be featured in Turn to Ash’s Open Lines anthology. You can read his short story “The Secret Goatman Spookshow” in the Lovecraft eZine.

Screamers (dir. Christian Duguay, 1995)

JR: I knew almost nothing about this movie going in, save it involves killer robots and is a Philip K. Dick adaptation. A co-worker shoved it in my hands and told me I’d like it, and he wasn’t wrong. It’s a movie that’s better than it deserves to be, mostly due to what I assume is the steady script by genre favorite Dan O’Bannon. I figured this would be a middling creature-feature about rampaging mechanical monsters. And while it is certainly that, there’s a lot more going on under the surface.

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Continue reading “Creature-Feature Conversations: Screamers”

The Home Invasion – Part One: Novels

by Alex Smith

I wrote HIVE in conversation with the home invasion narrative. Not necessarily a big fan that sought out such examples of the trope, I’d nonetheless read, watched, and gamed in worlds where something or someone was trying to get in. The idea of an urban home invasion drew me to closer to the challenge. What happens when someone gets into your building, your apartment? Where do you go; what do you do? Continue reading “The Home Invasion – Part One: Novels”

Horror as the world in crisis we live in now: An interview with Timothy J. Jarvis

Timothy J. Jarvis is a scholar and self-described (if somewhat reluctant) “antic-fiction” writer, whose work has appeared in Caledonia Dreamin’: Strange Fiction of Scottish Descent, Pandemonium: Ash, 3:AM Magazine, New Writing 13, Prospect Magazine, and Leviathan 4: Cities. His writes criticism for WeirdFictionReview.com and Civilian Global. His novel The Wanderer was released by Perfect Edge Books in 2014.

What’s “Antic Fiction”? Why did you choose that term to describe your work?

I’m fairly ambivalent about genre designations. Part of me is suspicious, both of the taxonomical impulse that lies behind their creation and of their use as marketing labels. I think the best writing will always be hybrid, difficult to categorize, and display an irreverence towards established tropes. But on the other hand, in my main job as an academic and university lecturer, I think genre is an important tool for understanding and teaching how literature works, and why it takes the forms it does. I’ve also always liked those scenes in contemporary music that define their own, abstruse, sometimes ridiculous, genres as a way of expressing their difference from other forms, and as a kind of game. Further, I reckon that thinking in terms of genre can help when attempting to transgress certain ways of writing.

I believe horror is a mode that particularly enables transgression, of all kinds (not just the obvious transgressions of the body or of tastes seen in certain subgenres like splatterpunk and bizarro). Horror occurs in an instant, at a frontier, a border, a limit, and lives in interstices. It is sudden, violent, unsettling. It is the disruption of a situation we thought stable or safe, the shifting of the ground beneath our feet. Therefore I think of it as a genre as a way of crossing borders, rather than as a static thing. Continue reading “Horror as the world in crisis we live in now: An interview with Timothy J. Jarvis”

I AM NOT IN A CULT: A guest post from the editor of Ravenwood Quarterly

I invited Travis Neisler of the upcoming Ravenwood Quarterly to share a bit about his new publication which features some terrific authors – including a few friends of mine – in the first issue. This project has been funded via Kickstarter and is on its way, slowly but surely, to print. Be sure to keep it on your radar. – Jonathan

Hi! My name is Travis and I am not in a cult… I think…

I had the idea for Ravenwood Quarterly after browsing and starting to buy chapbooks from the various small presses that specialize in them. I had been a part of underground metal and punk zines in the distant past, and I am intellectually unchallenged in the day job, so I wanted to do something that not only I would enjoy, but many others as well.

Over the years I’ve seen a fair share of magazines go online, or lose steam. Whether they were music, movies, or book related it seems the magazine is in decline… But then again, I don’t get out much, so I can’t know for sure..

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But seeing that there were a lot of unheard voices in the darkness just waiting for someone to pick up their frequency, Ravenwood‘s purpose is to bring to the front every talented author and artist that I can.

So Ravenwood was born, as a vehicle to bring the darkest, weirdest stories to readers. Ravenwood welcomes those dirty uncomfortable stories that rise from the darkest puss-filled recesses of the mind.

Ravenwood will be published four times a year,  in a full size (8.5″ x 11″) format. We aren’t going to specialize in one thing or another – just dark and or weird stories! We already have poetry, crime, Lovecraftian, and straight horror stories submitted for the first three issues!

The first issue includes:

David-John Tyrer

John Linwood Grant

Peter Rawlik

Sam Gafford

Matthew M. Bartlett

Anthony Crowley

Betty Rocksteady

Brian O’Connell

Roger Keel

And many more! Several talented artists have also joined us, like Dave Felton and Josh Yelle (who did the amazing cover). We will have a handful of interviews and articles in each issue. The first has interviews with  Sam McKenna from Skurvy Ink, Sam Cowan from Dim Shores press and Jordan Krall from Dynatox Ministries press.

We have several returning authors for issues two and three, but I’m always looking for stories and new faces. I don’t have a submission period really; I tend to accept or reject stories as I receive them, and many times if the story is awesome but won’t fit in the issue I’m working on, I’ll suggest it go to the next issue.

I also sometimes get stories that I want to get deeper into so I suggest a chapbook release – so we can explore the story further! I have three chapbooks planned for release between issues one and two, and one to follow issue two.

You can keep up to date (and soon buy issues and chapbooks) through RavenwoodQuarterly.wordpress.com and through our Facebook page.

– Travis

Dispatch from Providence: Matthew M. Bartlett Reflects on NecronomiCon 2015

The uninitiated might picture a convention dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft thusly: bent, twisted Practitioners of the Weird slink and lurch down the streets of Providence, heads in hands, some nearly clipped by rushing traffic as they navigate the orange- and white-striped construction cones, bemoaning the modernity of the whole affair. Silent, frowning men loom in booths, purveying worm-riddled tomes and moldering artifacts. In dimly lit elevators that stink of low-tide at some seaside resort gone to rot, fish-faced writers in tattered overcoats pick at the sores that fester on their necks. At night, from a high room in the storied Biltmore, a solitary writer looks down upon wretched creatures in the park below as they stare up at the stars with gape-mouthed dread. He retreats to the expansive bed, head swimming with thoughts of forbidden things, sleep an unlikely prospect. He scribbles madly on hotel stationery, occasionally crying out at the terrors leaking from his pen onto the tear-mottled page.

NecronomiCon was a touch sunnier than that.

I left Northampton at around 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, bags packed, along with a box of books I hoped to have the authors sign, as well as books of my own that I hoped to sell. Behind me, I left a time of financial uncertainty and banal dread. It disappeared in the rear view mirror.

I pulled my car into the convention center garage and contacted Sam Cowan using Facebook Messenger. He was busy running around trying to get his table set up, so I took the elevator down and sat in the lobby. The air was cool, almost chilly, a relief from the powerful humidity that would wait until Saturday to break. I wandered upstairs and happened upon the registration table, where I gave my name and retrieved my badge and pin. I turned around to see Sam rushing along. He looked…well, exactly like he looks in Facebook pictures, longish hair, bright eyes. The only difference was that he wasn’t ten feet tall like I’d pictured. He was trying to find the loading dock. We introduced ourselves and I joined him in his quest. The convention center staff were baffled by the question.

“Loading dock … hmm, loading dock …,” one said, scratching his head. Eventually, someone gave us vague, decidedly non-Euclidean directions. We headed bravely into the bowels of the convention center.

By some miracle we managed to locate artist Dave Felton in a side alley standing next to a car full of books and art. He was bald, bearded, and, like us, excited to be there, despite the stultifying humidity. Back the three of us went into the center, boxes in hand and on cart, down hallways crowded with stacked chairs and giant spools and rolled-up vinyl signs and miscellaneous this-and-that. We got turned around a few times. It reminded me of that scene in This is Spinal Tap when the band is lost backstage, yelling “Rock and Roll!” as they look in vain for the entrance to the stage.

“Weird fiction!” I yelled. Dave and Sam held aloft their books and bellowed, “Literary horror!”

At some point, Sam and his wife Rachael and I found time for lunch over at Murphy’s, an Irish pub with a pastrami-heavy menu. The Cowans were kind enough to provide me lodging in their room’s second bed for my first night, before I moved over to my reserved room at the Biltmore. They are kind, gracious, genuine people, and one of the best parts of NecronomiCon for me was that we became friends.

Soon after, we met up with authors Scott Nicolay and Anya Martin and helped them carry their stuff to the table.

The next few days were a joyous blur, and I fear I would bore you to death if I continued in narrative form. I want to get the highlights down. I want to remember them. Somewhere along the way someone said that going to this con was like Facebook come to life. It was better than that: it was Weird Fiction come to life, on every corner, in lobbies and in vendor rooms and in elevators and in restaurants.

So, the highlights:
-Meeting author Scott Nicolay (Ana Kai Tangata, After) for the first time.

-Meeting Scott Thomas for the first time, and hanging out with Jeffrey Thomas again (we’d met at Readercon).

-Watching Justin Steele emerge from the darkness like a plaid-clad Shuggoth (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) in the park across from the Biltmore, having had to make backup travel arrangements when his flight was cancelled.

-Sharing meals and/or drinks with Jeffrey Thomas, Damien Angelica Walters, Dominique Lamssies, Scott Nicolay, Anya Martin, Dave Felton, Michael Cisco, Nikki Guerlain, Michael and Lena Griffin, Sam and Rachael.

-Seeing both Ross Lockhart and Scott R. Jones in person, standing proudly behind the books they’ve published … and getting my Word Horde and Martian Migraine Press books signed. Both guys sold out of the books they’d brought—not a surprise. First-rate stuff.

-Attending readings by Daniel Mills, Sean Hoade, Joe Pulver, Scott Nicolay, Simon Strantzas, Richard Gavin, Anya Martin, Michael Wehunt, Peter Rawlik, David Neilsen, Tom Lynch, Robert Waugh, Jeffrey Thomas, and Scott Thomas.

-Meeting Nick Gucker—who will be illustrating the cover of my next book, Creeping Waves—and Dave Felton, who will be doing the cover and interior illustrations for The Stay-Awake Men, the book after that. And Michael Bukowski, who did the artwork for Scott Nicolay’s excellent book after. Are all horror/weird artists this great in person? I can only assume from this representative sample that, indeed, they are.

-Listening in on Simon Strantzas and Scott Nicolay’s late-night conversation about the coming Weird Horror boom, that is, Hollywood taking an interest: is it inevitable? Will it be good or bad for the writers swept up in it?

-Meeting Daniel Mills and swapping books with him.

-Seeing my friends Tom Breen, Joe Pastula (in from Japan), and Ray Majerski for lunch on Friday. Tom and I had gone to NecronomiCon 2013 together, and we marveled at how much had happened since then.

-The Future of Weird Fiction Panel: S.J. Bagley’s expert moderation; hearing Justin Steele mention Gateways to Abomination; listening to Joe Pulver talk about the writers and stories he loves.

-Telling Ramsey Campbell I loved his work when he was behind me in line at Starbucks.

-Talking with John Langan, whose work I love.

-Signing books at the Dim Shores table and dropping by the New England Horror Writers’ table.

-My wife Katie joining me on Saturday night and meeting a lot of the people about whom I’ve been raving for months, people whose work moves and inspires me.

-Seeing paperback copies of Rangel for the first time

-listening to Joe Pulver talk about…well, about anything.

-Spending money in the vendor room. I’d saved up bonus money from work and earmarked it specifically for NecronomiCon. In 2013 I did buy a few books, but spent most of my money on shirts, memorabilia, and artwork. This time around, it was mostly books. Let’s see if I can recall my haul from memory:

At Fear’s Altar by Richard Gavin
Conference with the Dead by Terry Lamsley
Bone Idle in the Charnel House by Rhys Hughes
The Lord Came at Twilight by Daniel Mills
Revenants by Daniel Mills
Children of Light by Daniel Mills
Cthulhu Fhtagn! edited by Ross Lockhart
The Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell
Cassilda’s Song edited by Joe Pulver
The Doom That Came to Providence edited by Joe Pulver
The Infusorium by Jon Padgett
The Narrator by Michael Cisco
Cthulhu Attacks by Sean Hoade
The Glittering World by Robert Levy
Purge Status by Shawn Mann
When It’s Time for Dead Things to Die by Clint Smith
I (Heart-cat) Ulthar t-shirt
Resonator artwork by Nick Gucker

I didn’t get to every talk and panel I wanted to, and there were events I had to miss, but such is the nature of NecronomiCon.

It might sound disingenuous to say, but it’s the plain truth: to a person, everyone was friendly, everyone was enthusiastic, everyone was great. The writers I mention above are people whose work has excited me and inspired me. It was a kind of oasis—dream-like and beautifully strange. Maybe some of it didn’t happen. I hope it did.

I’m already looking forward to 2017.

Matthew M. Bartlett is the author of Gateways to Abomination, The Witch-Cult in Western Massachusetts, and several short stories in multiple anthologies. His upcoming collection, Creeping Waves, is due out in early 2016, published by Muzzleland Press.

Late to the Party: True Detective as Weird Fiction (or not)

At first, I was disappointed.

Weird fiction/horror author Orrin Grey has described works that tease the supernatural but offer realistic explanations in their stead as “spookblocking,” a term that I intend to steal and use from now on. After watching the final episode of the critically-acclaimed True Detective, I thought the show had perhaps crossed into that territory.

Upon reflection, I’m not sure that’s the case.

True Detective is a show that garnered a lot of praise—and a lot of criticism—as it acted less as a generic police procedural, and more as a live-action vehicle for the philosophical ideas of Nietzsche, Thomas Ligotti, and even H.P. Lovecraft. What starts out as a high-quality murder mystery show quickly metastasizes into an exploration of the Weird Tale, more in line with Ambrose Bierce than Raymond Chandler; more Robert W. Chambers than David Simon.

Without getting too far into spoiler territory, the murder mystery begins with a single individual, but strands and threads are tugged and pulled to reveal a larger web of Southern-fried gothic conspiracy. Not only is there a killer on the loose, there is a whole network of influential people in very important positions in our society, all engaged in ritualistic “devil” worship.

Except, of course, that their particular devil isn’t the one of Judeo-Christian tradition. It’s of a much more alien variety. The object of their worship appears to be Chambers’ King in Yellow, an extradimensional figure that may or may not be a figment of everyone’s imagination.

Ah, that last line may have caught your attention. Grey’s analysis of his own frustration—resulting in the sexual innuendo-laden “spookblocking” term—may be begging your interpretation of this plotline. Matthew McConaughey plays Rustin “Rust” Cohle, one of the (if not the) titular detectives, slussing out this bizarre mystery, one lead at a time. Early on we learn that Rust is prone to hallucinations—damaged neurons resulting from his years of undercover work wherein he was forced to take drugs to avoid blowing his cover. It’s from his perspective that we witness several strange events—weird lights flashing by him as he drives; a flock of birds forming a spiral symbol; and the (pen[?])ultimate vision of a cosmic cloud moving to consume time and space amidst a serial killer’s dungeon altar.

Drug use; a damaged past. Can what we see through Rust’s perspective be trusted, or is this just HBO’s own version of spookblocking?

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Typically—and, admittedly, in the moments following my viewing of the last episode of True Detective’s first season—I thought the latter was the case. Here was another high-profile show, content to take two steps toward the Weird and the Unknown, only to take three steps back at the show’s conclusion. How frustrating to be treated to a grown-up’s version of Scooby-Doo. The monster is always just Old Man Jones, wearing a hokey monster mask and employing some lo-fi special effects to scare the kids.

But is that really the case? Does weird fiction—which most would agree this show falls into that category—have to be a binary, post-modern, either/or proposition? That is—would the writers that this show draws influence from have employed spookblocking, or is the idea of spookblocking perhaps not always applicable to a work that leans toward one explanation and form (realism/literary fiction) over another (supernaturalism)? Is spookblocking even applicable to weird fiction?

So, I thought about this show for a while. Season one was an immensely enjoyable ride, with twists and turns that never felt cheap or convenient. The detective work conducted by the two leads was always easy to follow and not at all overwrought, engendering a sense of participatory understanding in the audience; the cinematography was gorgeous and often intentionally understated; the dialogue was whip-smart with the exception of Rust’s ridiculous anti-religious, anti-rural folk screeds. While some reviewers have pointed out the problematic interpretation (or outright plagarization, depending on who you read) of the popular works of Ligotti, the true influence on this show is Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow.

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Understanding that the King is a character in this work, and that Chambers’ (and, to a lesser extent, Bierce’s) proto-weird fiction is a driving force, the idea of this show being an example of spookblocking becomes less relevant.

That is, in weird fiction—especially in the tradition of Chambers’ The King in Yellow—what the Truth is (capital “T”) is less important that what the characters’ experiences are. In real life—or in the cultural mythology that we build and call “real life”—strange things happen. Odd coincidences crop up, patterns emerge, or outright terrifying and unexplainable events (UFOs, poltergeists, cryptids, etc.) happen to seemingly stable, regular folk. It’s not just the backwoods, moonshine-drunk yokel who sees spacemen wearing silver suits and football helmets (full disclosure: there’s nothing wrong with backwoods, moonshine-drunk yokels… I happen to be a member of that particular population); it’s also the trained observer aircraft pilots, police officers and even several ex-presidents.

Although the horror-hound in me yearned for a more gee-whiz, flashbang supernatural ending, the subdued, almost reserved denouement made sense in light of what Chambers’ work with the King was. In his short story collection, there’s never a concrete explanation of who the King in Yellow really is, or what he wants, or what he’s doing. He does speak, in a fashion, and his influence is felt everywhere. But whether he was a demon, a hallucination, a government-created fabrication, or something else entirely is left up to speculation. The reader becomes an active participant in determining what the Truth behind his malevolent influence really is.

Even Lovecraft, in his vaguery and obtuse style, would often over-explain cosmic horror/weird concepts (in a relative sense, at least). Cthulhu was an organism, after a fashion. There was a hierarchy of Great Old Ones, forgotten gods, Crawling Chaoses, and so forth. That there exists a cosmology to his world, as bleak as it may be, makes it understandable, quantifiable. In Chambers’ treatment of the King in Yellow, no such stratification exists, and, therefore, our lack of understanding contributes to the terror and weirdness that he sows within our imagination. Each story could very well be a hallucination or the result of mental illness on the part of the various characters we meet. And yet—it is weird fiction. Solidly, inarguably.

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I’m not making a judgment call on whose style I prefer. I’ve read more of Lovecraft, but find Chambers’ work intriguing and beautiful. Lovecraft was inspired by Chambers, and took his ideas (and settings and characters) in new and interesting directions, just as Chambers was inspired by other proto-weird writers (such as my fellow Army-veteran-turned-writer, Ambrose Bierce).

Writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga have given us a work of weird fiction worthy of inclusion in such a pantheon. They’ve taken the ideas of literary weird fiction and converted them into a live action story about two men pushed to the brink: professionally, personally, and by their own misdeeds.

While I was tempted to consider this an example of spookblocking—to chalk up the supernatural elements as merely frosting on a cake built of convention and familiar tropes—it’s since become clear that Chambers’ work was often obtuse and strange, lacking definitive answers and explanations, even if we expected them to be pronouncedly supernatural.

My personal preferences tend toward the cosmic, the weird, the fictional, the supernatural—but true weird fiction doesn’t have to play by my rules. It doesn’t have to play by anyone’s rules—and that’s the point. Weird fiction, like its twin brothers horror and supernatural fiction—challenges conventions, ideas, and easy explanations. Grey’s posit that spookblocking is a tired, worn-out trope rings true. True Detective, when appraised from a historical, true weird fiction perspective—is anything but.

The King in Yellow is available for free from Project Gutenberg.