TerrorCon 2017 and the short films of XX (2017)

Hey everyone. A couple of quick items:

First of all: This weekend (Feb. 25th-26th) Black T-Shirt Books will be repping hard at TerrorCon 2017 in Providence, RI.

If you’re in New England, I encourage you to stop by. The guest list is insane and I’ll be there slinging books alongside superpals Matt Serafini and Patrick Lacey. Hope to see you there.

Second of all: thank you. The response to Video Night, The Summer Job, and Zero Lives Remaining being re-released has been truly incredible.


As a quick tip for anyone who’s purchased the paperback editions of any of these books (even if they were the old editions): through Kindle Matchbook you’re eligible to get a FREE ebook copy of the new edition. Just make sure you’re logged into the same Amazon account and that the kindle book rings up $0.00 before you click to purchase. Even if you’re a technophobe: claim your free ebooks because it helps out the books visibility on Amazon.

Lastly but certainly not leastly: I managed to get an episode of Project: Black T-Shirt up in observance of Women in Horror Month. In the episode I do a segment-by-segment rundown of XX, the new multi-director anthology film. Spoiler alert for the video, but: I recommend you check this movie out. Especially if you’re a Jack Ketchum fan, as it includes a great adaptation of one of his best (and most anthologized) stories.

As always: views, likes, comments, and subscribes on the YouTube page help me out immensely.

That’s all for tonight. Hope to see you at the show and thank you again for reading (and reviewing on Amazon) these books. I wouldn’t be able to keep writing if it weren’t for your generous support.

A Tale of Two Women

Warning: this review doesn’t get too bogged down in plot synopsis as I’ve already done that in my review of the novel which you can read here.

Film adaptation is tricky business. If you’re too slavish in your retelling the film becomes pointless, as the story already exists in another medium, but if you diverge too far from the source material, the internet rises up and starts a petition (or what ever it is they do). Additionally, adapting your own work adds an extra dimension of risk (I know it has its defenders, but I’m 90% sure the shot-for-shot remake of Funny Games was just Haneke eager to hang out with Naomi Watts in her underoos). For all its perils, however, the risk of the screen adaptation is one of the many reasons Lucky McKee’s new film, The Woman, succeeds.

How can adaptation be a strength in and of itself, you ask? When said adaptation opens new avenues of understanding into both of the texts. The source material in this case is the recent Jack Ketchum/Lucky McKee novel The Woman. But while the novel is a bleak and unrelenting meditation on the depths of human depravity and the hypocrisy of “civilized” society, the film plays like a pitch-black serio-comic satire of suburban life and America’s reliance on the traditional view of patriarchy.

The miraculous part of these divergent tones (tragedy v. comedy) is that both the novel and film are virtually identical in plot and structure. There are small changes here and there, but the story plays out exactly the same up until the ultraviolent climax.

The two versions of The Woman feel like a case study in auteurship. By this I mean that, regardless of how integral the co-authors actually were in creating each version, the novel very much feels like Jack Ketchum’s The Woman and the film feels like Lucky McKee’s The Woman. There’s a level of artistic vision in each project that allows both to stand freely on their own.

McKee’s direction is tight enough that the dashes of humor and quirky flourishes never seem forced or out of place, and much of this seamlessness is due in large part to the film’s music. Written and composed concurrently with the film, the soundtrack is filled with lyrical and tonal juxtapositions that may be jarring at first (especially the “bow-chicka-wow-wow” love theme that accompanies in the scene where Cleek first discovers the feral Woman) but soon mesh and become inextricable from the final product.

Also worthy of praise is the cast. Rarely do horror films have casts where the entire ensemble is of note, but The Woman has one. Pollyanna McIntosh plays the titular, (mostly) non-speaking Woman with a mix of primal detachment and animalistic heroism. Long time McKee collaborator Angela Bettis is as alluring and neurotically supercharged as ever, an underutilized talent if there ever was one. It’s a tough job to play a character as loathsome and disgusting (and charismatic) as Chris Cleek without delving into camp, but Deadwood’s Sean Bridgers brings a manic “Ward Cleaver-meets-Charles Manson” vibe to the role that just works. The younger members of the cast are all great. Lauren Ashley Carter, Zack Rand and Shyla Molhusen (possibly the cutest child actor ever in a horror movie) are all young folk who play young folk very well—a legitimately rare talent.

McKee has been on everyone’s radar for nearly a decade (his first film, the excellent May was released back in 2002) and I believe with The Woman he has finally made good on his promise of greatness. McKee’s had some near-misses (there are parts of 2006’s The Woods that work, some that don’t) and false starts (he was removed from the flawed-but-good Jack Ketchum adaptation Red, before he could finish) along with some legitimate, good work (his Masters of Horror episode is among the best of the two seasons), but nothing that compares to this: his best film yet.

After fielding a question about his painful experience with Red, McKee had this to say during the Q&A regarding The Woman: “I just wanted to make my Jack Ketchum movie.” Well, you’ve done more than that: you’ve made what feels like the first Lucky McKee movie since May.

It’s a brave film, not just because of its extreme subject matter but also the risks that it takes with the genre. It’s a film that will probably alienate as many as it wows, “hardcore” horror fans included. In my opinion, there is no higher praise.

Highly recommended.

Only Women Bleed: The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

Has the whole world gone crazy? We as a culture/subculture/peoples have plenty of opportunities to ask ourselves this question on a daily basis. Here’s one more:

There is a new book co-written by Jack Ketchum out and the world hasn’t taken enough notice.

A new Ketchum book, let alone one co-authored by filmmaker Lucky McKee (the man behind the indie neo-classic May and is also responsible for what I feel is the best Ketchum screen adaptation: Red) is a reason to celebrate, people!

A quasi-followup to Ketchum’s Off Season and its sequel Offpring, The Woman‘s titular character is the lone surviving member of the cannibal tribe in the first book. At the beginning of the story The Woman, injured and alone, is found by Chris Cleek, a small town lawyer and closet psychopath. Cleek captures The Woman and brings her home where he keeps her in his fruit cellar and tries to “civilize” her with the help of his family. Any more synopsis is spoiler territory, so I’ll stop there.

Those who read that description and shudder that Ketchum and McKee will be content to settle for exploiting the ol’ horror chestnut of “modern man is the real monster” can breathe a sigh of relief. The authors take the trope of man’s bottomless capacity for cruelty and twist it, emphasizing the “man” part (and place it in direct contrast to “woman”) and creating a bold novel that simultaneously works on two levels as both a philosophical critique of misogyny and an explosive, disturbing horror novel.

The work’s staunchest detractors (aside from those violently off-put by the subject matter, but let’s not count them) will probably claim that this is Ketchum returning to the well-trod “woman is bound and tortured” setup one too many times. I can see value in this argument as The Girl Next Door and Right to Life share similar themes and plot conceits. The Girl Next Door is probably Ketchum’s most widely read and controversial book, but where The Woman owes most similarities is to the lesser-known novella Right to Life. Much of The Woman‘s middle section parallel’s Life‘s prisoner/captor dynamic pretty closely, but there are some fundamental differences that not only make The Woman a very different novel, but a much better one.

First and foremost among those reasons: the ending. The final quarter of The Woman is absolute dynamite, truly the most satisfying and legitimately scary (how many horror novels these days actually pull that one off?) climax that I’ve read in ages.

Secondly: its literary weight. Ketchum knows his way around a pen, and, looking at the evidence, McKee does as well. The prose in The Woman is a strong confident step above most of the genre. It’s a short book, but that’s because it’s not bogged down by excess fat or padding. Every word counts and while every passage may not ring as lyrically, the book has more than it’s fair share of beauty(and purposeful, abject ugliness). I read it on the Kindle, and while I do enjoy being able to save parts for later, it is very rare that my fingers get such a workout highlighting so many passages. American Pastoral and Horns are the only books I’ve used that function as much for and those things were behemoths.

Finally: The Woman, though upsetting and unnerving in many places, devotes very little of its page count to descriptions of Cleek’s cruelty. For me, this is a huge plus. Ketchum and McKee wrote a book that is more about the ideas of ugliness and destruction than it is about the actual acts. It is a book that launches these ideas into the air, bats them about, and takes an introspective look at the wreckage.

I wrestled with the idea of not reading this book, as McKee had filmed a feature adaptation around the time the novel was being written. What we have here strikes me as a chicken/egg type of question. Of two works created at the same time, which will emerge as the dominant form of the story? Does there have to be one? We’ll see.

I’m more than excited for the film adaptation, but I’m also glad I got to experience the novel with all its shocks and surprises intact.

You can start reading The Woman instantly if you get the ebook from Crossroads Press. Cemetery Dance is also offering a hardcover edition, with a bonus novella “Cow” (that’s one double-dip I’ll be partaking in).