Burn, baby burn. Witches, metal and plays.

Motionless In White’s “Abigail” and Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”.

“I say that God is dead!” Seems legit to say, if you’re a woman sentenced to death for witchcraft.. Or if you are a man who has lost his faith in mankind, and in the church he believed in. That’s one of the lines in Motionless In White‘s metalcore song Abigail. The supercool thing is that the whole storyline of the song perfectly corresponds to a metalcore account of Arthur Miller‘s play The Crucible. Indeed, the character John Proctor, at the end of the play says, “his mind wild, breathless”:

“I say–I say–God is dead!”

But, before going on following the track of desperation, I’ll give you a bit of background about the play. Well, it is a semi-fictional version of the Salem witch trials, occurred in Massachusetts in which “a group of young girls […] claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local women of witchcraft”. Miller’s real intent was to denounce the practice of McCarthism in the United States, using the events of the Salem trials as an allegory.

Motionless In White grasped the very dark essence of the play and the historical occurrence, and put it into music. They’re kinda the mastergoths of metalcore, all black everything. “Abigail”, which is the name of one of the characters in Miller’s play, is a single from MIW’s debut album Creatures, which is pretty cool considering that they let fans send them their ideas for lyrics and included them in the album, which is a great example of horror and gothic metalcore. The album is permeated with literary references, that is why I will definitely write a looong post about it. There are 12 tracks in the album, and each of them is devoted to a a “creature” or character belonging to the dark universe of gothic literature and contemporary film production.

There you go, enjoy the video of the song, remember to headbang!

Cheers, grim readers!

There is some thing within us all: is Penny Dreadful the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?

Horror Drama intertwines with Gothic Literature and Comics.

Victorian Badasses. That’s how you could easily summarize in two words the horror drama TV series Penny Dreadful, starring the amazing Eva Green and Timothy Dalton, among the others. The cast is terrific, I have just finished watching the first season, and I really wanna go on and watch the second. So, basically this series deals with the toughest people of Victorian gothic-horror literature like Dorian Gray, Dr.Frankenstein & Creature, and Van Helsing, and gives them a common thread to follow, which is the story of “Explorer Sir Malcolm Murray, American gunslinger Ethan Chandler and medium Vanessa Ives“. These three fellas are really stuck in the mud, and episode after episode they have to deal with rather creepy supernatural entities to carry out a successful rescue mission. No, I’m not gonna tell you anything else about it.

Well, I have to say, the pilot is not as catchy as the other episodes, I think it was because it’s as introductory as can be, so don’t be fooled. Keep watching. I don’t wanna give away too much, I think I’ll devote another post to a thorough review of the series.Of course, this series is really juicy material for us, grim readers. There’s plenty of literature, no doubt on that. We have Shelley, Wilde, Stoker and during the series you’ll also get a touch of Keats, and a whole other bunch of names you might have heard of if you like Victorian and gothic literature will pop up.

What I’d like to point out with this post is: first, this series is incredibly touching in some moments, as you can really feel how human the characters are. Of course, all of them have a ridiculously obscure past and they’re all stuck in the dirt for some reason in the present, but their strength lies in the acceptance of the darkness. By doing so, they manage to go on. While you’re watching the series, pay particular attention to the development of the characters in regards to this. Some of them realize this later than others, but it’s normal, isn’t it?
Second, Penny Dreadful is the sort of Goth cousin of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. They too are a group of extra-ordinary individuals who eliminate threats during the Victorian period, and despite their special abilities, they too are fallible and more human than what one can imagine. Can you spot the similarities?

Now, have a look at the trailer, let me know what you think, I’d like to include your suggestions in my review.

Cheers, grim readers!

“Beware of Crimson Peak”, Gothic vibes approaching.

Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak’s gothic narrative.

The new must-watch of every grim reader is with no doubt Guillermo del Toro‘s Crimson Peak. I’m not gonna review it, but just point out how exquisitely gothic this movie is, trying again not to spoil you anything, though I discovered myself not to be that good in that!

So, first thing: Victorian Age all over! The period in which the story is set is not of minor importance. The Victorian Age is the most loved from many members from different branches of the Goth subculture, and in Crimson Peak we get an interesting overview of the late 19th century. The movie is set in the first part in the States and then it switches to the English countryside. We are also introduced to characters who represent different stereotypical types of Victorian society: Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska, who has on her back a huge experience in costume dramas, lovely) who is the “I don’t wanna get married I wanna write” type of girl who happens to be able to see ghosts, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) the “tall, dark stranger” who very much resembles a Romantic Hero, I dare say a late-Romantic hero for his intensely dark traits that you’ll discover and sense all over the place and for this steampunkish characteristic of being an inventor; his sister Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) who from the very first start has something of a tragically-in-love psychopath, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver, yep, Bobby from Supernatural! They made him look a lil’ bit older in the movie) who, in my opinion, represents the late 19th century productive and pragmatic American upper-middle class, and Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) who incarnates the Victorian Value of Science and medical progress, and of nobility of heart.

I won’t forget one of the most important characters of the movie, namely Crimson Peak itself. It is quite obvious that the haunted and rotten stately home is crucial in the development of the story. As Edith is “Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers”. One of the main features of a gothic literary work, which this movie was as every visual media is, before transposing it into a visual experience, is isolation of the setting. The latter is pretty disturbing as not only it is a decadent Victorian stately house, full of dark corridors, creepy doors and so forth, but is it also build on a red clay mine, which will play an important role in the final part of the movie, visually at least.

Of course, as every classic horror the house is miles away from any living creature. There is only a post office, pretty distant from the house, and it is the only place in which Edith and Thomas can indulge in loving actions, as the house is haunted also by Lucille’s obsessive presence, which contributes to the averall doom and gloom vibe. Mystery, which is an important element is also present, as we discover more and more about the Sharpe brothers as the story proceeds, investigating in the creepy place alongside with Edith.

Of course, ghosts in this movie are especially.. let’s say misunderstood creatures. [SPOILER READ AT YOUR PERIL] Their purpose is not to kill, but to warn Edith about something hideous that might happen to her, but they are not especially good-looking (well they scared the crap out of me but I have to say I have a rather low tolerance when it comes to ghosts), they’re also pretty aggressive too. Nevertheless, they also carry a metaphorical, as Edith points out at the end of the movie: “Ghosts are real, this much I know. There are things that tied them to a place, very much like they do to us. Some remained tied to a bunch of land, a time and date, a spilling of blood, a terrible crime… There are others, others that hold on to an emotion, a grief, a lost, revenge, or love. Those, they never go away.”

Here you go, the trailer of the movie. If you have any opinions, or comments about the film feel free to post them.

Cheers, grim readers!

The Other(s): Exploring the outsider in cinema and literature

Literary Discourse on “The Other” meets with contemporary horror cinema.

Yesterday I was watching Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others, a very fascinating horror / psychological thriller starring Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, and Christopher Eccleston (yes, the doctor!)which deals with the story of an American family during the Post-WW2 period living in a mysterious darkened house in which Nicole Kidman’s character and her daughter perceive disturbing presences, which she calls “the intruders”. Jump to minute 1:11 to watch an example from a sequence of the movie (indeed, from the same channel you can watch the whole of it):

It is pretty obvious from the title to the entire film content itself that the largely discussed theme of “The Other” is evident. What is important to keep in mind is that even a movie starts as a written work. The question which pervades the work is What is Otherness? and Who are the others?

Amenábar’s insight on the topic is pretty original and devastating. I don’t wanna spoil anything, so I’ll try being a little discreet. Let me just say that when talking about “the other” it is necessary to also refer to a “we”, which excludes the other, and consequently giving it the connotation of outsider. In the film the used device is of course the horror movie structure, which includes the narrative frame of “we” -> “normal, natural creatures”, “them” -> “intruders, monstrous and supernatural creatures”. The extraordinary thing about it is that in the final part of the movie this starting statement is completely confused and then reversed.

I have talked in a previous post (“Are these monsters gonna kill me?” “Not as long as they think you’re a monster.”) about the narrative function of monsters, but in this case, the destabilizing end gives the “we” something to doubt: are “we” “The Others” in some way ourselves? Do we have something monstrous ourselves? What happens to us when we discover this?

I would like to tie this post with events which are happening around us right now in the world, as I think that the reason why it’s important to investigate literature and its various branches (in my case the darkest ones) as through them it is possible to elaborate better on the world around us. I’ve read lots of simplistic comments on various social media on terrorism. What’s my point with this? That I also think that what is going on in the world, and I do not only mean Paris, that what we call “Isis” from many regards is partly our creature, we are in part its Frankensteins. I think most of the times it is just too easy to claim to be a “we” and to create an “other”, when we are a mix of both, yes we are Others too.

Cheers, grim readers.

X-Lit: How King Arthur’s story influences Mutants

Connections between T.H. White’s “The Once And Future King” and The X-Men Movies

Apart from being a grim reader, I am also an ultimate geek. I could not go on with this blog without including something from the wonderful world of comics. Recently I started a re-watch of all of the Marvel X-Men Films, and I thought that there was a lot of interesting material.

I will mainly focus on the second movie “X2”, in which “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White is mentioned, and visually present in the movie. The novel is extremely interesting and retraces the story of King Arthur and Co. and offers a plot which basically unites the ancient legend with Disney’s Cartoon’s story, I made it veeeeery short.

Anyway, we can see “The Once And Future King” in the first part of the movie, when Magneto is reading in his prison cell, and then in Professor X’s school, as he uses the novel as a teaching tool.

Indeed, there are many references and levels of interpretation between the movie and the novel. One of the common points is the love triangle among Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot which very much resembles Scott, Jean and Logan’s romantic path during the X-Men movies. Arthur is married to Guinevere, but she shares a passion with Lancelot, in the same way Scott and Jean are married, but it is kinda evident how much Jean and Logan want each other.

While researching I found out this very interesting opinion by user shadowy_blue in the KMC forum thread about this topic: “There also was this one part in “Once and Future King” where there was a certain man that for some reason lost his nose. All the children who sees him were always throwing stones at him while insulting and making fun of him. This is also an example of how the mutants are being shunned by humans just because they are different and doesn’t look normal. Now in this book, the man who lost his nose also lost his temper. He was sick of all the children chasing him and stuff. He grabbed one of the children and bit the child’s nose. Since that incident, the other children also made fun of the child and did all the exact same things that they did with the man before. Now this incident reminds me of what Magneto did with Senator Kelly in X1. Kelly was the number 1 guy who was against the mutants and did everything he could to get rid of them. Then Magneto abducted him and shared his fate with him. For awhile Senator Kelly became a mutant himself and realized how it felt to be shunned by others. He felt the fear that the mutants have felt just because they are different. He was scared that the crew in the hospital will “treat him like a mutant””.

Of course, Magneto plays a really important role in the subtext which involves our novel. Although Xavier himself affirmed, talking about the book, that he would take Merlyn’s role of guide more than hero, Magneto con be associated as a Arthur’s foil. Magneto represents the will of becoming the once and future king, detroying humans in a war of races which until now, in the movies, has not succeeded, whereas Arthur is Camelot’s king and his bad end implies his return, in which he will end his positive design about a wide and just kingdom. Furthermore Magneto’s idea reagarding the use of force is morally opposite to Arthur’s: the first wants to use the force of mutants to destroy humanity, and Arthur wants, on the other hand, use the force of his kinghts in order to help the weak and the poor, and this is just another exemple of how deep literature can permeate pop culture and this is only a small part of how its influence is so important, offering multiple interesting subtexts to look at.

Cheers, grim readers!

Elementary, my dear Demon: Sherlock Holmes conquers Japanese Mangas

Intersections between Kuroshitsuji and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Speckled Band”.

Is your soul ready? Don’t let this post take it away, because we’re talking about demons today. I’m such in a poet mood I unconsciously did create a rhyme, how remarkable. Anyhow, I suppose you all know who Sherlock Holmes is. Indeed, his appearance in more than fifty stories has made him the most famous detective in the world. If you’d like to know more about the stories of Baker street and its inhabitants, I suggest you a look to Baker Street Wikia to have a sense of the universe you are approaching. Moreover, if you are curious about the stories themselves, here you go a complete list of the Sherlock Holmes Short Stories and Novels. If I were to summarize Doyle’s Holmes in a few words they would be: dark Victorians, swapped identities, irreverent genius, and great entertainment.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s most popular literary character is so loved that has crossed the Old Continent’s boundaries, arriving to Japan as well. And which is one of the most spread Japanese artistic forms lately? Mangas and animes. Mr.Holmes has become a star in them as well. In Yana Toboso’s amazingly gothic Victorian-themed manga Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler in English), Sherlock Holmes is present as much as his author.

To begin with, Kurishitsuji is a manga series developed by Yana Toboso about a child (Ciel Phantomhive) who sells his soul to a Devil (Sebastian), who will become his butler, in order to avenge the hideous things that happened to him and his family in a very grim and supernaturally-driven Victorian London. As the series is made of different adventures (arcs), which involve numerous tankobons (volumes), each story is fully developed in detail, and deals with very different topics, from Sherlock Holmes to cricket. Yes, cricket. In this case, the very figure of Arthur Conan Doyle is present throughout the “Phantomhive Manor Murders Arc”, which starts from volume 9. In this adventure, Ciel and Sebastian have to face an incredible mystery which regards a series of obscure murders in the Phantomvhive Manor. Arthur Conan Doyle appears as one of the characters involved in the mystery, as his real self, an optician who writes and reads detective stories. Moreover, he will not only help in the resolution of the case (the Sherlock Holmes of the story being Ciel and Sebastian), but also discover even more about the dark and terrifying nature of Ciel and Sebastian, this case also serving as an imaginary “prequel” to the creation of “The Speckled band”.

The thread which connects every murder in the manor is the same of Doyle’s inhis Sherlock Holmes story “The Speckled band”, a snake. I’m not gonna tell you in which way though, because I already spoiled too much. Anyway, both the manga and the story have in common a very strong dark touch, which is present throughout the whole narrative. In “The Speckled Band”, auditory sensations are enhanced so that in the description of murders tension is evoked more easily (“‘Because during the last few nights I have always, about three in the morning, heard a low, clear whistle. I am a light sleeper, and it has awakened me. I cannot tell where it came from perhaps from the next room, perhaps from the lawn.'”), whereas in Kuroshitsuji the visual traits of the murders, cured in every minimum detail, give the story a deep dramatic atmoshpere.

From Kuroshitsuji Wikia, here you go a couple of scans from the manga:

The snake as the center of the story.

Tanaka protects Ciel.

This all adds to the fact that the influence which Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes stories have deeply influenced the imaginary of detective stories all over the world no matter how different the cultures of the readers. Moreover, Toboso gave a very fascinating interpretation of the world of Sherlock Holmes in such a way that she made it her own, adapting the late 19th century British narrative to a contemporary Japanese new form of art.

Going pitch black in the dark side: Burzum and The Lord of the Rings.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence over the early Black Metal scene.

“En Ring Til Aa Herske”. This is lovely Norwegian. If you wanna know what this sentence means, you have to stick around and read until the end, I know I’m sneaky. It’s fundamental for this week’s topic, though.

First, I’m going down with definitions. I’m sure some of you already know, but since I will explore the connection between the Norwegian one-man-band Burzum and the legendary fantasy saga The Lord of the Rings, I’d like to make clear what Black Metal is, it is not that mainstream.

Some people will tell you that it’s just a bunch of scary people dressed in black who hiss and scream, burning churches to the ground, but it’s not really like that. According to the wonderfully detailed definition by The Metal Crypt “This is all Venom’s fault. In 1982 they released their second album, entitled ‘Black Metal’. No one would have called it a landmark release, but it was the seed of one of metal’s most prolific genres. Modern Black Metal claims descent from Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost, and to a lesser degree Mercyful Fate. The origin of the sound we now call Black Metal was born in 1987 with Mayhem’s first release ‘The Deathcrush’. The band took the raw, aggressive riffs of Celtic Frost and Venom, the shrieking vocals of Bathory, and the deeply satanic stance of all three to produce a new sound. By the early to mid 90s the sound became almost standardized, and now when we say Black Metal we mean a specific sound: fast tremolo riffing, blasting drums, and satanic lyrics delivered in a high-pitched shriek. There are endless variations, but that is the basic style.

Early on two basic schools of Black Metal emerged: the ‘Raw’ style, which imitates the primitive instrumentation and raw production of early Black Metal. (Exemplars would be Dark Throne and Dark Funeral, plus legions of others.) And the ‘Melodic’ school (sometimes called ‘Symphonic’) which explored the use of keyboards and more melodic songwriting to create atmosphere. (Adherents would include Emperor and Dimmu Borgir.)

Black Metal exploded in popularity in the mid to late 90’s, and while the tide has somewhat receded, the genre is still hugely popular. While Norway was the epicenter of the movement, now Black Metal scenes exist all over Europe, as well as healthy scenes in Japan, South America, and even Australia.”

It’s a genre which is rarely explored because of its.. I’d say nocturnal nature, it’s hidden in the shadows but at the same time quite fascinating. It’s strictly related to the idea of doom and despair, but also to the supernatural and the mythological. People connect this genre to satanism most of the times, but i my opinion this would be a way too general and simplistic opinion. If you wanna go further and read some more about it, have a look at this Quora question: “Is black metal Satanic by definition?”

I think it is right to point out that even though the band has been classified as Black Metal in themes and sound, Varg Vikernes (Burzum’s frontman and only member, I’m not going over his turbulent life) claimed he actually thought that it had also sold-out and proclaimed himself out of the system, as he wrote in his personal site’s library, in “A Burzum Story: Part I – The Origin And Meaning”, “It was very sad to see that this magic was ruined or at least reduced in 1993, when the media started to write about it, and a lot of former country, rock and Death Metal bands in Norway suddenly dyed their hair black and started to wear corpse-paint and play Black Metal; to become famous, to make money and to get laid – and not to change the world”.

But, indeed, in the same post, he also described his connection with J.R.R. Tolkien (also note that ‘Burzum’ is Black Speech, which means Darkness) “I grew up reading the traditional Scandinavian fairy tales, where the Pagan gods are presented as “evil” creatures, as “trolls” and “goblins”, and we all know how the inquisition turned Freyr (Cernunnos/Dionysus/Bacchus et cetera) into “Satan”. Tolkien was no better. He had turned Óðinn into Sauron and my Pagan forefathers into the fighting Uruk-Hai. To me the “dark forces” attacking Gondor were like the Vikings attacking Charlemagne’s Christian France, the “dark forces” attacking Rohan were like the Vikings attacking the Christian England. And I may add; the Vikings eventually lost their war as well, just like Sauron and the orcs did – and I didn’t mind supporting the loosing part. I have always believed in doing what is right, regardless of the consequences, and if I was fighting for a lost cause it didn’t matter. I would rather die fighting for what I believe in, than live for anything else.” So, even though Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings may have influenced the way in which Vikernes regarded his image and meaning as a band, for “the listeners to feel special and to feel that Burzum was made especially for them (and it was)”, he thought Tolkien’s ideas were not original as he did owe a lot to the northern mythology and pagan religion. If you wanna read more, here you go he link to the complete library of Burzum’s official Site.

It would be interesting to think that Tolkien’s influence over new generations is so great that he could inspire people from very different cultural backgrounds, with the totality of his fantastic universe. Indeed, the world of Middle Earth and all of his creatures are in my opinion so popular because they encompass every nuance of human emotions and contrasting feelings, from craving to sacrifice in great depth, no doubt that artists, no matter the genre or form, have been inspired by the saga.

Here you go, the text of the song “En Ring Til Aa Herske” (One Ring To Rule) with the translation to English.

I en moerk skog med kalde tjern (In a dark forest with cold lakes)
Et sted hvor Herren av verdens (Where the master of the world’s)
ild ikke rekker (Fire does not go)
I det moerkeste i den store (In the darkest and greatest)
av natten – av tid (Of nights and times.)
Og de samlet seg (And they came together)
og blev doedens hus (As the house of the dead.)
Barn av tidens krefter (The sons of time’s power)
Bran av den mektiges soenner (The sons of the invincible suns.)
Vi staar i en sirkel av svart. (We stand in the black circle.)

And here is the complete song, it’s almost completely instrumental, and really enjoyable, the melody actually shows mastery of musical composition and the fully developed theme of doom in Burzum’s production. It’s really worth listening.

Cheers, Grim Readers!