January 2020: A Month in Horror

It’s been a fairly quiet month for horror. Well, there was a controversy over tweets made by Stephen King in reference to diversity at the Oscars, but nothing quite on the scale of the ChiZine furore that broke out late last year. So, let us take a gentle stroll through the occurrences of note in the first month of 2020…

Dracula - episode 1

I’m in a slightly awkward position writing this, a number of the highest-profile horror releases of the month are ones I haven’t actually managed to watch yet.

First we have the three-part Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss reimagining of Dracula. Some liked it, some loathed it; as a person who enjoys a bit of Moffat-Gatiss, I suspect I’ll be in the former camp when I’m able to give it a watch. Then we have The Lighthouse, The Turning and Underwater — not to mention The Colour Out of Space, which isn’t even out in the UK until next month. Oh well.


But I did manage to catch latest iteration of The Grudge, although I’m sorry to say, it didn’t do much for me. The first act — and this is a problem I see all too often in horror films — failed to breathe any life into the mundane world, with the characters coming across as scriptwriting constructs than as people (when a widowed mother’s tender exchange with her anxious son is little more than an excuse for Chekhov to show us his gun, something’s wrong). I pine for films like The Living Dead in Manchester Morgue, where the early scene-setting includes a shot of a random woman streaking through town — a vision of the mundane world that can surprise even before the monsters turn up is more credible, and as a result, the subsequent horror will have more weight.

To its credit, The Grudge mitigates this early problem with an elaborate structure, hopping back and forth between different characters in different times. It’s a puzzle narrative, with the viewer tasked with sorting things out as they watch. Not all puzzles are equal, though — with a jigsaw, you get to see a pretty picture when you’re done; with a Sudoku puzzle, all you’re left with is a bunch of squares and numbers. The new Grudge, I’m afraid, fell into the latter category for me. Better luck next time.


Finally, this month saw the announcement of the preliminary ballot of the Bram Stoker Awards. The thing that stands out to me about the ballot is the introduction of a brand-new category: Superior Achievement in Short Non-Fiction. Here’s the line-up…

  • “Evolution, Cognition, and Horror: A Précis of Why Horror Seduces”, Mathias Clasen (Journal of Cognitive Historiography 10/14/19)
  • “Between Hell and Earth: Rhetorical Appropriation of Religious Space within Hellraiser”, Gavin F. Hurley (The Spaces and Places of Horror)
  • “Magic, Madness, and Women Who Creep: The Power of Individuality in the Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman”, Gwendolyn Kiste (Vastarien Spring ’19)
  • “Slasher Films Made Me Gay: The Queer Appeal and Subtext of the Genre”, Vince A. Liaguno (Ginger Nuts of Horror 9/1/2019)
  • “The Beast Without: The Cinematic Werewolf as a (Counter) Cultural Metaphor”, Craig Ian Mann (Horror Studies Spring ’19)
  • “The Evil Aging Women of American Horror Story“, Karen J. Renner (Elder Horror: Essays on Film’s Frightening Images of Aging)
  • “Film’s First Lycanthrope: 1913’s The Werewolf“, Kelly Robinson (Scary Monsters Fall ’19)
  • “Riding Out the Storms”, Tim Waggoner (Writing in the Dark 5/20/19)
  • “Lord Byron’s Whipping Boy: Dr. John William Polidori and the 200th Anniversary of The Vampyre“, Valerie E. Weich (Famous Monsters of Filmland 10/19)
  • “From the Books of Wandering: Fin-De-Siècle Poetics of a Supernatural Figure”, Aaron Worth (The Times Literary Supplement 12/19)

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