Friday, January 28, 2011

Ligotti's Comics and Stories

The Nightmare Factory, written by Joe Harris and Stuart Moore, illustrated by Ashley Wood, Colleen Doran, Ted McKeever, Ben Templesmith and Michael Gaydos, based on four stories by Thomas Ligotti, introductions by Thomas Ligotti (2007): Solid collection of four comics adaptations of Ligotti short stories. Ligotti, a contemporary horror writer who deserves far more popular and critical recognition than almost all his peers, supplies helpful introductions to each story. Art on each story seems appropriate, and Templesmith, whose work on 30 Days of Night I wasn't impressed by, really raises his game here, but all four story artists (and cover artist Ashley Wood) produce fine work here.

Inevitably, the stories are better simply as stories ("The Last Feast of Harlequin", Ligotti's secret sequel to Lovecraft's "The Festival", is a masterpiece of modern weird fiction), but that's in part because Ligotti's work relies so much on suggestion and ambiguousness. He's like the literary love-child born of a four-way among Lovecraft, Kafka, Borges and Robert Aickman, capable of existential horror that nonetheless carries with it a certain drollness and bleak humour. Recommended.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire, written by Jonas Frykberg, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson, directed by Daniel Alfredson, starring Noomi Rapace and Mikael Nyqvist (2010): Disappointing second film in the adaptation of Larsson's best-selling Millennium trilogy. Even though large chunks of the novel are (necessarily) discarded to make a 2-hour running time, what's left is still plot-heavy and characterization-light, to the extent that the ridiculous coincidences that drive most of the plot become way, way too apparent.

Rapace and Nyqvist are still excellent as super-hacker (and by this point, superhero) Lisabeth Salander and muck-raking reporter Mikael. Bonus marks for making a genetic disease with much the same effects as leprosy into the source of a villain's, well, super-strength and super-tolerance for pain. I'd only recommend the movie for people with a high tolerance for 1930's-Republic-serial level coincidence and villainous incompetence.

In a Lonely Place by Karl Edward Wagner

In a Lonely Place by Karl Edward Wagner (Collected 1983): This mid-1980's collection of short stories and novellas by Wagner includes probably his most famous story, the award-winning "Sticks" from the mid-1970's. Wagner, who died too young in 1995, was a major writer, publisher and anthologist in the horror, dark-fantasy, and sword-and-sorcery genres for more than 20 years, with his annual Year's Best Horror anthology from DAW pretty much setting the gold standard for genre 'Best of' collections from the early 1980's until Wagner's death and resultant cancellation of the series.

Here, we get many of his best horror stories, including the forementioned "Sticks", a whopper of a Lovecraft homage that also references the artwork and lifestory of pulp illustrator Lee Brown Coye. Did the makers of The Blair Witch Project read "Sticks" at some point? If not, it's an incredible coincidence.

Other stories bounce off Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman and Robert Chambers' seminal The King in Yellow in interesting and productive ways, all without requiring any actual knowledge of the references for readerly enjoyment. The novella "Beyond Any Measure" remains, nearly thirty years after its first appearance, one of the five or six cleverest vampire stories ever written. Highly recommended.

The Uninvited

The Uninvited, written by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos, based on the novel Uneasy Freehold by Dorothy Macardle, directed by Lewis Allen, starring Ray Milland, Donald Crisp, Ruth Hussey and Gail Russell (1944): Charming, occasionally comedic ghost story, nominated for a Best Cinematography Oscar (B&W) in 1945 (it lost, deservedly, to Laura). A middle-aged brother and sister buy an old house on the West Coast of England. It's cheap because it's haunted, possibly by more than one ghost. Reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rebecca (also based on a novel) in terms of how family secrets drive the narrative, with their revelation being key to closure. The ghost effects are limited, subtle and effective. Recommended.