Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Scurry Stuff!

I find myself sitting in a rather chilly room listening to the white noise of an exceedingly dusty floor-fan, the din broken only by the caterwaul of the occasional passing freight train, reading a number of different articles about a number of various scary things, from movies to books to video games and beyond. As such, I've found my brain in the certain kind of condition conducive to compiling a list of my very favorite spooky things. You are traveling through another diatribe, a diatribe not only of sight and sound, but of mind; a journey into a tedious land of subjugation. Your next stop: Sean's Brain!

1: The Twilight Zone (TV Show)

          So, remember that one time when that dude was a bank teller and he was all Gosh, I sure do love reading, but his boss was all Nuh uh, you'd best be gettin' to tellerin', and then he went down into the vault and there was, like, this huge explosion, or whatever, and everybody died except him and then, like, he totally had time to read all the books he wanted, except he tripped and broke his glasses and then he couldn't read any books at all and he was like But, there was tiiiiiiiiime! but there wasn't time cause that dude was super blind and couldn't read squat? Yeah, that was awesome. So is this show. All of it.

2: Marble Hornets (YouTube Series)

          If you've ever heard of the Something Awful Forum myth of Slender Man, Marble Hornets is where it really took off. A low-budget short film series, Marble Hornets follows the exploits of some college kids as they try to make a student film, only to repeatedly encounter the Slender Man, a spindly featureless suited entity with malevolent intent. While the series isn't particularly complex and the later videos are a little so-so, watch this by yourself at night and its sure to give you the kind of heeby-jeebies that'll have you sleeping with a night light on and the curtains tightly drawn.

3: The Collected Works of H.P. Lovecraft (Print)

          Yeah, maybe this was on my best books list, but come on, there are few things out there quite as terrifying as the kinds of cosmic horror Lovecraft so skillfully... crafted. We're talking the kinds of ancient and forbidden horrors that will disembowel you, or, if you're really unlucky, you'll survive only to be driven completely and utterly insane by the things you've seen and known. The dude was so prolific in the creation of this genre that it's now known as "Lovecraftian horror." That's a win in my book.

3.5: Dagon (Film)

          Based on a combination of two of Lovecraft's short stories, Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, this film follows Paul Marsh, Miskatonic University sweater-wearing stock market tycoon, and his girlfriend, Maria, as they and a pair of friends are shipwrecked off the shore of a small Spanish town called Imbocca (a play on the Spanish words for 'in mouth'). Paul and Maria go ashore to get help, only to find that the town seems all but abandoned aside from a few rather strange, unblinking, near-translucent  residents with bizarre religious practices at a church of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. And things go from there. While the acting isn't so great and the special effects are mediocre, the film boasts an interestingly creepy story line and one of the most bone rattling murder (by skinning) scenes I've ever had the fortune of seeing. For the record, the rest of the film's violence is minimal.

4: Dead Space (Video Game)

          When a response team is sent to investigate the Ishimura, a derelict mining vessel in high orbit around an alien planet, they find that the greater portion of the crew has been brutally murdered or rendered insane by a collection of freakish monsters, called necromorphs. Separated from the rest of the response team, lone engineer Isaac Clarke must make his way around the ship repairing its vital systems and defending himself from the creatures. There's a scene in this game when the player must walk down a long corridor toward their next goal while, at the end of the corridor, you can see the shadow of a man repeatedly and deliberately bashing his head against a bulkhead. It was the one scene in the game that made me feel legitimately uneasy. While the rest of the game is plenty scary (relying on jump-out-and-grab you scares and the terror of being stalked and charged by nigh unstoppable freak-beasts), its the moments in between that are really spooky.

5: Pandorum (Film)

          Dead Space, but movie-style... sort of... Pandorum is the story of Elysium, a starship intended to colonize the Earth-like planet Tanis. But, when two crew members wake from hypersleep, they find that the crew they were intended to relieve is nowhere to be found and bloodthirsty beasts roam the corridors. You can pretty much figure out the rest. Oh, also there's space madness (basically a ridiculously intense version of cabin fever), that they call Pandorum (I know, spoiler alert).

6: Thinking About What Might Be Lurking Out of the Corner of My Eye Within Every Single Dark Crevice, Alleyway, Bush, Shadow, or Otherwise Whilst Walking Home By Myself in the Middle of the Night (My Imagination)
          I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.

7: Jurassic Park (Film)

          I know, I know; Jurassic Park isn't scary. Oh, wait. It is. Scary awesome, that is. Also, when I saw this movie in theaters, I was six and it terrified the bejesus out of me, especially the scene where Newman gets attacked by the Dilophosaurus (the little guy with the frills who spits acid). I legitimately had nightmares for years because of that scene. Lame, perhaps, but no less the truth.

8: Australia

Apart from the fact that this country/continent was founded by criminals so gnarly and uncouth that the U.K. didn't want them anywhere near civilization, every single feature, creature, or otherwise on this death island wants to unceremoniously destroy/devour/defile every single molecule that does, has, or will ever be a part of you and your existence.

Other Notable Scary Things:
A. Tape Worms (Parasites in General)

B. Oprah

C. Bees

D. Hospitals/Slaughterhouses/Sanitariums (Operational or Abandoned)

E. Mimes/Mime Offspring

F. Carnies

G. Juggalos

H. Drowning/Burning Alive/Awkward Family Get-Togethers

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Stuff of Euphonious Fortitude (High Gravity Edition)

          In the time of myth, it is said that Marsyas, the satyr, challenged Apollo, god of music (amongst other things), to a musical duel. Not thinking things through, Marsyas accepted that the contest be judged by the Muses (a trio, the goddesses of inspiration) and, though the satyr played well, he lost. For his hubris (challenging a god under any circumstance was a big no-no), Apollo flayed the satyr's skin from his flesh. Today, for your listening pleasure, I present you with a list of albums so rocktacular, they may flay the very skin from your flesh. So, grab your darkest intoxicant, whet your finest blade, and let the deafening begin.

1. Every Time I Die - The Big Dirty

          Something about the fact that Every Time I Die's vocalist, Keith Buckley, once taught English before realizing that touring the country playing a freakish chimera of hardcore punk and southern-esque metal would make him a better living and afford him better times makes me love this band all the more. The Big Dirty, their paramount album, only furthers this conclusion. Rarely do I come across an album so fluid and well-built that I can listen to it from start to finish as a single harmonious unit; this album is one of those rare cases. From the energizing opening track, "No Son of Mine," to the final line of "Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Battery" (It is better to destroy than to create what is meaningless, so the picture will not be finished), The Big Dirty is a tour de force of cacophonous glory. For reference: listening to this album garners the same satisfaction one might feel if one were a viking warrior of yore, sinking his mace deep into the fleshy gut of his enemies, for about 36 minutes and 20 seconds.

2. Protest the Hero - Fortress

          Protest the Hero is the Tango to Every Time I Die's Cash. If you don't understand that reference; first, get out of my house and educate yourself; second, here's what I mean: where Every Time I Die is a viking collapsing cranial cavities, Protest the Hero is a samurai decapitating noggins with a single fluid slice. Their second album, Fortress, is a brilliantly executed intersection of flawless technical performance, bizarre time signatures, and brutal lyricism. The one unfortunate thing about this album is that the opening track, "Bloodmeat" (a song referencing the violent escapades of a one Genghis Khan), outshines the rest. That is not to say that the rest of the album isn't notworthy, "Bloodmeat" is just the best thing they've ever written.

3. Children of Bodom - Are You Dead Yet?

          I once heard somebody call Children of Bodom the Disneyland of metal and, truth be told, the title is pretty spot on, though not in the sense that they are overcrowded with children and, as a result, lousy with germs. They are, however, fun, upbeat, and even whimsical (as far as ear-drum rupturing metal is concerned). Also, experiencing Children of Bodom is a good deal more fun than going to Knotts Berry Farm. Are You Dead Yet?, their fifth album, while short, is the best of the bunch (and stands the test of time, it came out in 2005). A point of interest: the lead vocalist, Alexi Laiho, is also the lead guitarist and does a good deal of writing for the band and, though he comes across as a silly little Finn, he is an exemplary musician. Furthermore, this band boasts the best keyboarding I've ever heard.

          As I have decided to finish this post so that I might make myself a cocktail, I'll do my usual rundown of the rest of the list, but with a bit more gusto:

4. Balzac - Beyond the Darkness

Japanese Punk brought to the states courtesy of the Misfits... except these Japanese dudes are far better musicians than their deathlock toting American counterparts, regardless of how silly their bag-wearing mascot may be. That is, with the exception of their vocalist, who pretty much just growls and yells indistinguishably (so I'm not sure what language they perform in half the time).

5. Cancer Bats - Hail Destroyer

Another hideous love-child of metal and punk, this band occupies the speedier route and does so with raw baditude. If I were in a modern version of the Warriors (oh, great, another cult film reference), not only would I want this album to be my soundtrack, I'd want these dudes in my street gang.

6. Bring Me The Horizon - Suicide Season

Unlike the previous entrant, these skinny limey Brits are not a group of fellows whom I would want to back me in a street fight. They do, however, manage to spew out an especially brutal and well put together hodgepodge of grindcore, death metal, and maybe even a dash of screamo.

7. Gallows - Orchestra of Wolves

And lastly, I give you another set of skinny limey Brits, Gallows. Their music, however, is vastly different from that of BMTH and, were I a roman emperor determining which group lives or dies, it'd be no contest; Gallows would be the victors, even if I did only keep them around to feed them to my rather corpulent lions (I'd be a tad to generous with their feeding in this fantasy). Anyway, Gallows occupies a large portion of the space in my brain reserved for the musically and lyrically punk rock elite. I know, it sounds like a terribly narrow brain-region, but I assure you there's not a lot of room up there for much else.

And that about wraps it up. Time for a gut-wrenching adult beverage.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Stuff of Literary Value

Hark! Hearest thou a sound from yonder hills? Liketh angels singing thine glorious hymns from up on high or the sweetest of songbirds professing a love purer than the finest gold. Nay! It is merely I, bard of the barreling tides, come yet again to profess an affinity for all things fantastic, bizarre, macabre, or otherwise. In this episode we meet a few of my favorite authors (and my favorite of their works). Preparest to be rocketh'd! Be stunned! Be amazed! Be more than likely completely and utterly indifferent!

1. Haruki Murakami - Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

          Yeah, hittin' you with the Japanese guy right outta the gate. Bet you didn't see that one coming. Haruki Murakami is easily my favorite non-English speaking (read: writing) author, and for good reason: he loves rainy days, smoky jazz clubs, whiskey, and questionably alternative realities. His body of work is like the match.com profile of a gentleman who'll get into my pants on the first date, no matter how many times I promise myself he wont. And Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is the cherry on top of the proverbial sundae, pie, cake, or otherwise.
          With chapters staggered between two parallel narratives, both stories follow an unnamed protagonist as he makes his way through a heretofore unfamiliar landscape. The first narration (the odd chapters) follows a man, identifying himself as a Calcutec (Calcutecs being a body of people responsible for protecting data from their counterparts, the Semiotecs, who are chiefly responsible for stealing data), as he takes a job for a mysterious scientist experimenting on "sound removal" deep within his city's sewer system. In the second (the odd chapters), the narrator comes upon a mysterious walled town and, through a process of excising himself of his shadow and learning to be a Dreamreader via watching the residual dreams from the skulls of dead unicorns (less the classic white horse variety and more an ugly breed of passive bovine creatures), becomes a citizen of the town.
          While both narratives have merits in their own right, it's how the two weave together that really makes this book special. Be wary, however, because Murakami is partial to his own brand of awkward sexuality, the one element of his work of which I am not fond, because it always removes me from my immersion in his books. Hard Boiled, thankfully, suffers the least of it. That being said, Murakami's collected body of work is something to behold. Check it out.

2. Salvador Plascencia - The People of Paper

          A curious book, to say the least, Salvador Plascencia's debut novel, The People of Paper, centers around the story of Federico de la Fe and his daughter, Little Merced, as they travel from Mexico to the United States following their abandonment by Federico's wife and Little Merced's mother, also named Merced, to wage a war against the influence of Saturn (yes, the planet). The narrative is littered with outlandish religious, historical, and cultural references, in conjunction with a tremendously unique physical layout (some pages follow a traditional paragraph structure, others are columned; some have only a single word upon them, others are completely blacked out; one name has been physically cut from each page upon which it appears; and, halfway through the novel, the narrative starts over). Some of these unique elements can be a bit jarring, especially the restart, and it is hard to separate the story with the breaking of the 4th wall (some of the author's personal life appears to intrude upon the book, though the nature of the novel makes it hard to verify the intrusion as fact rather than fiction), but the loveliness of the entire narrative, the characters, and really the book as a physical object (I implore you to get your hands on the hardcover version depicted above), makes this my current favorite book of all time. And it has held that title for five long years (and counting).

3. Joe Meno - The Boy Detective Fails

          It has come to my attention, at this point, that my list of all-time favorite authors/books could be perceived as somewhat bleak. The stories that populate this list are not, per se, the happiest of tales, but I think each of them have a merit beyond that of a simple binary happy vs. sad judgment system, and if your opinion varies therein, you're wrong.
          Joe Meno's The Boy Detective Fails follows the story of Billy Argo, the aforementioned boy detective all-grown-up, as he resides within the Shady Glens Facility, a home for the mentally incompetent, following the apparent suicide of the Watson-to-his-Holmes and his sister, Caroline. There amongst the (also mentally incompetent) villains of his past and with the assistance of another brother-sister team, the Mumford siblings, Billy, once more, takes up the mantle of boy detective to glean the truth behind his sister's out-of-character demise and confront the monotony (and oddity) of the real world.
          This book holds a special place in my heart, melodramatic as the blurb may seem. Anyone with as overactive an imagination as mine who has been confronted with the sobering agony that is the real world will understand my sentiment. Seriously, though, read this beauty (even if realizing that you'll never be super-anything does make you want to quietly sob yourself to sleep).

4. Dave Eggers - A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

          The first thing that you need to understand about Dave Eggers (beside the fact that he penned the big screen version of Where the Wild Things Are) is that he is impregnably narcissistic. The second is that, once you've read this book, you may find his narcissism somewhat deserved (and you'll probably hate that). The first of two memoirs on this list, this is the first I ever read (and willingly, at that). Truth is, I stumbled upon it accidentally in an airport on the way to a family reunion while I was in high school. I figured the title offered but two outcomes: something worth laughing at or something worth remembering. That flight took 6+ hours, but I can't verify that as truth because I don't recall voluntarily putting the book down, but for necessary bathroom breaks.
          Like Plasencia, Eggers likes to break the 4th wall. In Staggering Genius he does so through the character of his younger brother, and it is always self-deprecating. Unfortunately, as a result of his narcissism elsewhere, it feels like false modesty, more often than not. Still, its hard to deny that this book is a monument to the genre. Bear in mind, however, it has some of the saddest opening chapters I've ever encountered.

5. Mark Z. Danielewski - House of Leaves

          Probably the most difficult read of every other book on this list in regards to physical structure, narrative structure, and sheer girth, House of Leaves is equal parts unnerving horror story, star-crossed tragedy, and text book. Yes, I do mean like text book like the information tomes of your adolescent nightmares. Following, if I'm recalling correctly, up to 5 different narratives throughout different points in the story, the overarching tale follows a journalistic photographer, by the name of Will Navidson, as he documents his family's move to a suburban home in Virginia, only to find that the house is actually larger on the inside than it is on the outside. From there, everything goes the way of Wonderland (that is, to say, completely mad), and I would be remiss in my duty if I were to spoil even a fraction of the rest of this tremendous literary feat. Between the fragmented nature of the multi-layered narratives and the superb characterization and attention to detail, this book is like the McGraw Hill corporation had a love child with H.P. Lovecraft. Seriously, this book is as wonderful as it is terrifying as it is complicated and it is very easy to get lost in it.

6. Norton Juster - The Phantom Tollbooth

          When I have children, this is the book I will use, following the collected works of Dr. Seuss, to ease them from the world of non-picture book literature and into a world populated by the tropes of the English language, grammar, punctuation, and allegory. If you've never had the fortune of reading this gem, but you are fond of the English language and all of its foibles and follies, get off your good-for-nothing derriere and read it like a responsible adult.

And now, time for the honorable mentions (or, as I like to call 'em, the rest of the list that I am too lazy to write about):

1. Eiji Yoshikawa - Musashi
          A literary biography of the greatest Samurai who ever lived. 'Nuff said.

2. Cormac McCarthy - The Road
          The most hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic story of all time, and one hell of a love letter from McCarthy to his son.

3. Nick Flynn - Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
          The second memoir on this list. Tremendously sad. Poetic. Wonderful. Illuminating.

4. Eating Animals & Everything is Illuminated - Johnathan Saffron Foer
          The first, the best pro-vegetarian/vegan book I've ever read. The second, a lovely semi-memoir touching on the importance of family, history, tolerance, and the merits of being a very premium guy.

5. The Collected Works of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Kurt Vonnegut, etc.
          I don't believe this requires any explanation. Thank you, goodnight!