Someone said to me the other day, “It’s too bad ghost story (Winter Tales) season is over.” It’s always great to hear that someone enjoys what I post! So here’s another story (and a mini film review). Arjan, this post is for you.
In case any other readers are feeling ghost story withdrawal, here’s where I remind you that all my Dark Tales Sleuth posts also link to a copy of the (usually supernatural) story/stories that I’m discussing, either at the Internet Archive or to a PDF I’ve transcribed myself. And most of my posts to Ephemera are ghost stories, too. Whenever I post to one of those blogs, I eventually post about it here, too, so if you follow Multo, you’ll be up to date on all my blogs.
Anyway, today’s post involves vampires, of sorts. First, the vetala, a ghoul-like Indian revenant that haunts cemeteries and can possess dead bodies. And secondly the jiangshi, or Chinese hopping vampire, which consumes the qi, or life force of their victims, rather than their blood.
I’m more of a reader than a movie buff, but there are times (especially this past year, and—whoo-boy!— this past week) when my mind is too unquiet to focus on a book. At times like that, or times when I’m just too tired to attend to a text, I reach for an easy-watch movie. By this I mean a movie that’s not too heavy or weighty or intellectual, that’s fun and light and easy to follow, and preferably one that doesn’t overstimulate the senses: not too much gore or violence, no dizzying action (unless it’s silly), no cacophonic soundscape. A movie I can watch with a bowl of popcorn and my brain turned to “low.”
I think everyone has a set of movies or TV shows that they turn to in times of stress; different people find comfort in different genres. I often find that B-movies or “programmers” from the 1950s and 1960s do the trick nicely.
Every so often, though, I’ll turn on a movie that I think is of that type, only to realize — Hey! This movie is actually good! Yes, I have to turn my brain back on, but that’s probably a good thing anyway. These discoveries are always a pleasant surprise.
So here’s a short list of some movies I’ve stumbled on this way. I’m sure film buffs will read the list and say, “Duh!”, but hey—they were delights to discover for me.
Today’s featured writer Kristine Ong Muslim is a native and resident of Maguindanao province, southern Philippines. Her uncanny fiction, poetry and translations of other Filipino writers have been widely anthologized, and her most recent book is the collection of apocalyptic short fiction, The Drone Outside (2017).
My introduction to Ong Muslim was her short story “The Pit,” in the uncanny fiction anthology Uncertainties, Vol 4 (editor Timothy J. Jarvis), from Swan River Press. It’s short, unsettling, and ambiguous. There is much for the reader to reconstruct between the lines–as is generally true of the type of fiction that shows up in the Uncertainties anthologies. It’s the kind of story that will work for some readers, and not for others. I was intrigued; I wanted to find more.
Ong Muslim writes on a variety of dark themes, with a mixture of horror, science fiction, weirdness, and allegory. Not all of her tales are necessarily “weird,” but there’s always at least a trace of the uncanny in her prose. In the last few years especially, much of her fiction has had a decidedly apocalyptic theme running through it, and a deep pessimism about human nature. I won’t lie; a lot of her stories are hard to read, at this time, in the present pandemic situation. But they’re beautiful.
Much of her work is available online, and here are some stories that I especially liked. This is more links than I usually share, but many of these, even the “longer” ones, are quite short. The longer pieces are in roughly chronological order.
Switching back to a couple of contemporary Filipina writers for the next couple of posts, each of whom are featured in a collection from one of my favorite publishers!
Yvette Tan is a freelance writer who has written about many topics for magazines and other media sources. The supernatural is one of her special interests, and her fiction was brought to my attention by a fellow member of the Facebook Classic Ghost Story Tradition group. Unfortunately, the short story collection he recommended to me was in Filipino (which I don’t read); she also has an English language collection called Waking the Dead, which looked interesting, but seems to be out of print/only available in the Philippines. Darn!
As far as I can tell, most of Tan’s fiction has been published in Filipino collections that don’t always make it to the U.S., or at least not for very long. However, some internet searching uncovered her personal blog and a few stories as well. They fall more directly into the horror category than the ghost stories and weird tales that I usually talk about (two of them do, at least), but I love their quirky dark humor.
I’m switching gears for this post and highlighting a modern writer. I really wanted to include at least one Filipina writer in this series, but I can’t find any suitable ones in the public domain. Luckily, there are several Filipina writers currently active in speculative fiction who have examples of their work online, so I can still share their work with you. I plan to include a few of them in this series.
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a speculative fiction writer from Banaue, Ifugao who currently resides in the Netherlands. She originally trained as a musician, and her first forays into writing were realist, as is the tradition in the Philippines–part of the reason I couldn’t find any suitable works from an earlier period. She began writing speculative fiction in 2005 and was an Octavia Butler Scholar at the Clarion West Writing Workshop. She was also the first Filipina writer to attend Clarion West.
I found a horror piece by her several years ago that struck me enough to write about it: “Of the Liwat’ang Yawa, the Litok-litok and their Prey.” It’s inspired by mythical creatures from Filipino folklore, although I think the specific creatures of the story may have been created by Loenen-Ruiz.
The piece, as are most the stories by Loenen-Ruiz that I’ve read, is told in a “collage” format: specific scenes strung together that don’t directly flow one into the other like a linear narrative, but jump back and forth between different facets of the tale, until all the threads come together at the end. Some people may not care for that style, but I’ve always liked it. I like the pleasure of piecing together what’s happening as I read; it’s like unwrapping a gift. I’ve also found that this structure works particularly well for weird fiction, since what the reader imagines between the lines can be more unsettling than anything that a writer might explicitly say.
Loenen-Ruiz’s work spans several different genres, from horror to fairy tale to science fiction; some of it is heavily infused with references to Filipino (particularly Ifugao) culture, and some of it is not. For this post, I’ve picked three pieces that I particularly like, and that are online.
I’m about a week late making this announcement, but I’m pleased to announce that HorrorBabble has launched a five-part series, “The Horror of Horacio Quiroga,” based on my translations!
The first two have been released: The Feather Pillow and The Spectre (one of my favorites). The next three should come out one at a time every Wednesday at 1pm Eastern time, on YouTube.
And check out their other readings as well — they have a wide and eclectic selection of stories, including a series on “Tales from Foreign Shores”, focusing on works first published in languages other than English. By the way, I have a translation in that series, too: The Family of the Vourdalak.
As always, it’s a great feeling to hear Ian Gordon and the rest of the crew bringing these stories to aural life. And I have picked out the next few stories to translate when time permits, so stay tuned for that as well!
Sometime around the late ’80s, Italian director Dario Argento, who is a huge Edgar Allan Poe fan, called up George Romero with the idea of making a multi-director anthology film based on Poe’s tales. The original plan was to have four segments, one each by Romero, Argento, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven. In a 2009 interview, Argento also mentions considering Stephen King as a possible contributor.
Unfortunately, neither Carpenter nor Craven were available, and so Romero and Argento decided to do a diptych, for lack of a better term, to be filmed in Romero’s home town of Pittsburgh, and set in the present day. Romero adapted “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar;” Argento chose “The Black Cat.” The resulting film, which was released in Europe first, was Due occhi diabolici, aka Two Evil Eyes.
I’ve only just heard of this film. It had only a limited theater release around 1990-1991 (I’m not sure why), and fell into relative obscurity. Of course once my husband and I found out about it, we had to see it. We’re both huge fans of Corman’s Poe films, and I love the anthology format, so I’m especially fond of Tales of Terror (1962), which also includes versions of “Valdemar” and the “The Black Cat.” How interesting to see new versions of these stories!
As a bonus, the movie was shot in Pittsburgh in 1989, just before I moved there for grad school. So I had the extra treat of recalling the Pittsburgh scenery as it appeared in the background of the film.
Many of the stories in El crimen del otro are direct homages to Poe, and this one in particular is practically a love letter. It was a challenge for me to translate, partly because it’s appreciably longer than previous stories that I’ve attempted, and partially because neither of the characters in this tale are mentally stable. Much of what they say to each other straddles the border of nonsense, and it was not easy to, first, decipher what they were saying, and then to try to render it into “sensible nonsense” in English. Hopefully I’ve not botched it too much.
The fun thing about this story is picking out all the references to various Poe tales. Most of the titles transliterated into Spanish, so it wasn’t too hard to match them. Apparently the version of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” that Quiroga read was titled “El double crimen” (The double crime)–this cleared up the title of another Quiroga story for me: “El triple robo del Bellamore” (The triple theft of Bellamore), which is a riff on Poe’s Dupin stories. I plan to translate that story, too, as time allows.
I watched Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires the other night. I’ve been exploring Bava’s early giallos and proto-giallos, and my husband is an enthusiast of schlock 50’s style sci-fi and horror (“quantity cinema” is what he calls it). Planet of the Vampires was in his collection, but neither of us had noticed it was a Bava. Until now.
It’s not as groundbreaking as Bava’s giallos; it really is a schlock B movie. But it’s a fun movie. Terrible title, though.
The set design was mimimal, and very much of the genre, but it was well done, considering the teeny tiny budget Bava had: something like $200,000. Yes, it showed. My husband pointed out the thermofax machine that was doubling as a piece of instrumentation. The “captain’s log” (some years before Star Trek) also looked to be a copier or blueprint printer or something, and the periscope-style viewer on the bridge looked like it was cobbled together from a salon hairdryer. But it was endearing. And the elevator hatch thing to bring the astronauts down to the planet’s surface was clever.
I loved the costumes.
Considering Bava’s budget, the effects and production values were impressive. Supposedly the set for the planet’s surface was literally two styrofoam rocks, smoke and mirrors, along with some well done in-camera effects. But on screen, it looks pretty good.