October 31st is horror fans’ official holiday. This year I’m celebrating by dressing up as my favorite screen character, Baby Jane Hudson. I guess I’ve entered my Grande Dame Guignol years. I embrace it. I look forward to scaring the children on my doorstep this year.
Below are a few of my favorite Grand Dame’s, proving that they still got it past their prime (youth).
Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson
According to B.D. Hyman’s exposé My Mother’s Keeper, Davis showed up at the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane still wearing her make-up from the previous day’s shoot and just added more. Davis’ willingness to take her performances to the extreme without any regard for her vanity is impressive. But her famous counterpart held onto her glamour with her manicured nails for dear life. For that reason and others, she’s my personal favorite.
Joan Crawford in Strait Jacket & Berserk
Wearing a fright wig reminiscent of her Oscar winning role in Mildred Pierce, Crawford’s post Baby Jane turn as a hatchet wielding harridan in Strait Jacket is a grande dame guignol classic. Unfortunately it’s not a very good film. Still, it’s fun to watch at least once, and I have to admire Joan’s dedication to maintaining her girlish figure at 60. Even more impressive is how glamorous she looks in the 1967 British camp classic Berserk. With her perfect make-up and hairstyles, Joan plays a sixty-something carnival barker who not only still looks good in fishnet tights she sets the carnival hunks’ hearts (and other anatomy) ablaze.
Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic may be the start of of Grande Dame Guignol cinema. These were the days when the mere thought of a fifty-year-old woman (and Swanson looks incredibly good) making it with a handsome young guy in his thirties was enough to generate horror. For the record, I’ve always found Norma Desmond much more desirable than the young and perky Betty Schaefe, and fortunately my husband agrees. I think there are plenty of men today who would “take the Vicuna.”
And finally, we can thank the ABC Movies of the Week from the 1970’s for some other great examples of Grande Dame Guignol, where older movie stars found work in television. Below are some fine examples. If you appreciate camp (and some damn good stories), you’ll find much to enjoy here. Many of these are available in low res on YouTube.
Enjoy your Halloween!
Barbara Stanwyck in A Taste of Evil (1971)
Olivia De Havilland in The Screaming Woman (1972)
Shelley Winters in Revenge (1971)
Eleanor Parker in Home for the Holidays (1972)
The other night my heart thrilled at the sight of an enormous harvest moon making wavy gold streaks on the river’s surface. I smelled the crisp scent of burning leaves in the suddenly chilly air and knew my favorite season had returned at last. In Pennsylvania we get the weather extremes, and as much as I love the hot summer nights, fall is my favorite and it’s here at last. To celebrate the season of the witch, I’ve put together a reading list to hit the sweet spots of Halloween haunts, #Victober (a cool BookTube trend of reading Victorian era books during the October month), some true crime thrown in to keep me up at night, Gothic romance because I’ll find any excuse to read those, and a crusty 80’s era horror paperback from a recent thrift shop haul.
The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. I have about 200 pages to go. This is a re-read. Halfway through this nearly 1000 page tome while I was reading all about the Mayfair Witches history in the Talamasca file that goes on forever and ever, I kept thinking why? Why did I do this to myself? This book is such a commitment, but yet I couldn’t abandon it. It slowly seduces as much as Lasher and the city of New Orleans does. Yes, I will reread the subsequent books in the series, Lasher and Taltos. And yes, I’ll ask myself why the entire time. Can someone please make a TV series of this already so I don’t have to read it again when I feel the itch?
Small Sacrifices by Anne Rule. Again, why do I do this to myself? I must have read this book three times since it came out in the late 80’s. Some video about Diane Downs came up in my YouTube feed the other day and the next thing I knew I was loading up the book in my kindle and for the past few days I could barely pull myself away. There is something about the way Anne Rule writes that elevates hers from other true crime books. She not only reports the facts, she finds the drama and digs in deep.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. This Gothic romantic classic was written in the Victorian era so I suppose it counts for a #Victober read. This is another reread, but it’s been a while. Also, I just got myself a beautiful Easton Press leather-bound copy: perfect for cozy reading by the fire (or space heater) with a cup of tea.
For a less literary Gothic romance choice, I plan to read Volume Two in the Dark Shadows book series. They’re super short and I can knock one out in a day.
For my 80’s horror paperback pick, I’m reading Soul-Eater by Dana Brookins. I have no idea if this is any good, but the cover is fantastic. Let’s hope the story lives up to it.
And finally. I plan to finally finish Mr. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood that have been withering in my kindle for months. I just completed volume five and the stories contained within were my favorite so far. Now onto volume six. I can do this.
So, here are my best laid reading plans that will probably so awry, but what fun are plans if you can’t break them? Happy reading.
As another birthday roles around this August (Virgo,not Leo) and I do my habitual yearly self-assessment, I observe the following: I got healthier (sobriety, meditation, diet & exercise do work), learned to filter out (some) lingering negativity in my life (about time, eh?), grew out my natural hair color for the third time, read 78 books, started a BookTube channel, helped to organize a local arts festival, and wrote like the dickens (not Charles, unfortunately).
My production for the year included: three novels in a YA series, one novella, a good rough draft of one novel and the start of another, a bunch of poems, five short stories, and nearly weekly blog posts. I also quit Facebook, got back on recently then promptly quit again, and spent a lot of time alone in nature. Through all of the ups and downs, self-recriminations, broken sobriety dates, and moments of quiet (at times despairing) contemplation, I wrote. I may have skipped my exercise date, but never my morning writing session.
I owe a lot of my prolificacy to Wattpad. I joined the site just a year ago and the interaction and feedback I encountered there really spurred on my productivity.
The Exorcist’s opening Iraq sequence is a masterclass in visual metaphors. By using only images and sound (the brief dialogue is in Arabic), a portending evil is introduced.
The scenes taking place in an ancient arid land (you can feel the heat) slowly lull the viewer into a hypnotic trance with its stark imagery. These symbols remain in the viewer’s subconscious and are called back in later scenes: the black cloaked women in the Iraq street scene and the white cloaked nuns in the Georgetown street scene, the demon face of the women in the carriage and “old altar boy” bum in the subway, animal images and sounds, all adding layers of complexity that the viewer absorbs and feels, but perhaps doesn’t consciously understand.
Many films today would forgo this prequel setup as being ‘too slow,’ but by taking its time and showing the ancient roots of the Pazuzu, demon of the wind, and the sense that Father Merrin has dealt with its evil before, the film gains more gravity and deep symbolic meaning that lingers in the viewer’s subconscious long after the shock values of the spinning head and silly spider-walk wear off.
Often this sequence is forgotten about by the viewer when they recall the film; but the symbols are planted, priming the mind to receive the rich and layered storytelling of a film that has stood the test of time for a reason.
A blood red sky shines down on the archeological site of an ancient spiritual temple ruins.
I’ve Had Those Moments
As a woman in my mid-fifties, I’ve experienced the horror expressed in this classic moment of cinematic grand dame guignol. I started a YouTube channel recently, and I admit to spending as much time on my make-up, hair, and flattering lighting as I do my “content.” Like many Virgos, I’m vain. I can relate to that famous literary Virgo, Blanche DuBois, who once bemoaned about the “hard knocks my vanity has taken,” and she was only in her thirties at the time.
Vivien Leigh still looks damn good under the bare light bulb. My God, Tennessee Williams was a genius. Check in time at the Tarantula Arms. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Hello, my witchy friends. Just a quick update to inform you that the second book in my Young Adult Paranormal Gothic series is slated for release on August 25th. But, it’s available for pre-order on Amazon now! Of course, if you really can’t wait to find out what happens to Hannah and Sebastian, you may always read an early draft of the story on Wattpad for Free!
I have also completed about a third of the new book in the Chronicles of Dark Hollow series, The Lord of Blackshire. The first draft is now uploaded on Wattpad. You can start reading it HERE!
I have to give Wattpad a lot of credit for giving me a platform on which to develop this series. The first book has now surpassed 100K reads. The encouragement I’ve received from the readers and their responses have helped me to shape this story into something that is actively engaging all my creative faculties. Just when I think it will be the last book, I come up with a new idea for the next one. So far, I intend to have four books in the series (enough for a nice box set).
Anyway, I’m busy this summer writing new material and editing the old stuff, so I’d better get back to it.
Do check out this series if you love old-school Gothic chills with a bit of twisted romance thrown in. As always, a big shout-out to Consuelo Parra for the lovely cover designs.
Reading Richard Laymon
Back in the 1970’s, my cousin and his wife lived in a run-down trailer in a rural part of the upper county where I would sometimes babysit their kids. My cousin’s wife, a dead ringer for Michelle Pfeiffer with enviable Farrah hair, loved to read, her taste leaning toward the sleaziest horror and true crime books. I spent many hours poring through her stack of paperbacks that included tales of killer kidnappings, rape scenes involving hapless pregnant hitchhikers in vast Oregon landscapes, a teenage mom whose baby was eaten by the family dog, and a fictional work (I can only hope) involving incest that was too grammatically challenged for even my thirteen-year-old sensibilities.
One memorable babysitting episode involved me reading some trashy “novel” while my cousin’s hound dog gave birth to a litter in the chair next to me, forcing me to put down the book about a family changed into demons inside a grain silo (if anyone remembers the title I’ll be eternally grateful) and play doggie midwife. Those babysitting nights alone in the trailer seeped into my nightmares and gave me a sleazy thrill, like the times I’d stay too late at the drive-in when “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was the feature presentation, and the really creepy stuff would play after midnight. There were no trigger warnings in the 1970’s, and thus Trip With The Teacher became unfortunately seared into my teenage memory.
Reading Richard Laymon (this is my second time at the rodeo) gets me back in touch with that sick part of me that enjoys reading trash, but it also reminds me where to draw the line. I read The Cellar a few months ago, and as much as I love paperbacks from hell, the scenes from the rapist’s POV made me swear off Richard Laymon for good. But when my YouTube buddy, Peter Monn, included Laymon’s Endless Night in his popular Peter’s Book Club, I decided to give the prince of sleaze another try.
The book starts out good and scary when nubile (of course) teenager Jody’s sleepover at a friend’s house is interrupted by a crew of killers, known as the Krull, who break into the house wearing previous victims’ skins and start massacring everyone in sight. After Jody and her friend’s kid brother, Andy, manage to escape the Krull crew in a heart-stopping chase scene, the POV switches to one of the killer’s and that’s when Laymon really finds his writer’s “voice.” What follows are graphic descriptions of rapes and murders with a disturbing emphasis on the teenage victims’ suffering and lingerie. The word “panties” appears in the text a bit too often for comfort. Nipples run a close second.
I love a good, sleazy scare as much as the next horror hound, but there is something about Laymon’s work that goes too far, which is probably why he has such a loyal following.
I suppose his work gives a certain cheap thrill; I can’t say I’m a fan. Still, for the remains of this Sunday afternoon I’m reading The Endless Night till the bitter end. Then I’m taking a bath.
Postscript: I finished the book. The climax (hate to use that word) was even sleazier than I anticipated. I think I’ll pass on this author from now on.
I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place and started my BookTube/AuthorTube channel. I’m still working out the focus, lighting, audio, and awkwardness, but I started. I already have eighteen subs! Horrah! Watch, subscribe, like, and comment (if you feel like it).