‘Before you die, you see the ring…’
Today’s entry in our Spooktober marathon is going to be a little different because although The Ring was initially a novel by Koji Suzuki, I’m going to be talking mostly about the film adaptation(s). Why? Because The Ring is one of those rare anomalies where I honestly believe that the film adaptation is better than the original novel. Partly it’s because I’ve only read the book in translation; partly it’s because the films excise some of the more problematic aspects of the novel (including, the more sordid details of Sadako’s backstory, and Ryuji’s rather tasteless enthusiasm for sexual assault). Mostly I think it’s because this is a story that works better with a supernatural bent than a pseudo-scientific explanation: Sadako in the film is a ghost, in the Japanese tradition of vengeful onryo, rather than a combined electromagnetic/psychic manifestation of syphilis. But then, the first movie was directed by Suzuki himself, so it’s not like I’m downplaying his role by stating a preference for the film.
It’s also unusual in that the western remake is not only competent but arguably as good as the original. So whichever interpretation is your favourite is up to you.
In case you’re not familiar with it, The Ring is the story of a cursed videotape that kills anyone who watches it, and the desperate quest to find a way to stop it. Although it felt fresh and new to a Western audience, The Ring is actually working within a rich tradition of Japanese horror: ghoulish spirits seeking vengeance with power they never had in life; haunted, animated technology; the invasion of the everyday by the uncanny. It all reads like a subversion of the typical ghost story tropes, leading to an end that puts a genius (and savage) twist on the hope that appeasing the spirit will deflect its vengeance. Yet it’s also subtle: the Japanese film only features one horrifying moment towards the end, but I still had to stop and switch on the lights a couple of times while watching as the tension built but was never really allowed to deflate. It’s a work that lingers long after it’s over by playing on our paranoia, by stoking the fear that our everyday environment and all our technological comforts could be used against us.
“This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this premise before: a novel with notorious murderer Lizzie Borden as the protagonist, fighting Lovecraftian monsters from the sea. How many times have we heard that old chestnut?
The premise of Maplecroft by Cherie Priest is that Lizzie Borden was mistakenly charged with axe-murdering her parents, who had begun to transform into Things That Cannot Be. Now, Lizzie has retreated to her new home, Maplecroft, along with her sickly sister, Emma, where they keep an eye on the sea and guard against the encroaching hoards of fish-monsters. But the story is rooted in human drama: in Lizzie’s growing fatigue from caring for her sister while fighting monsters at night when all she wants is to spend time with her girlfriend. Emma, meanwhile, is determined to prove her worth as a biologist by sending away a sample her sister finds on the beach…
I love Cherie Priest: she has such a knack for narrative voice, for nailing the feel and tone of a place and time. She takes a premise that sounds far out on paper and manages to inject it with gravitas, filling the story with a creeping sense of dread as madness descends on the Borden sisters. Maplecroft is a beautiful hybrid of historical crime thriller and cosmic horror, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a little bit more from their Lovecraftian fiction.
“People want to forget the impossible. It makes their world safer.”
I have become convinced that Neil Gaiman is some a wizard. Because every story he writes somehow seems so effortless, so easy to read but jam-packed full of imagination. The Graveyard Book may not be my favourite of his novels (*coughs*American Gods*coughs*), but it’s definitely his most accessible.
The Graveyard Book is the story of Nobody “Bod” Owens, who is orphaned in the intro by a serial killer and raised in a nearby cemetery by a family of ghosts and a reformed vampire. Most of the book is made up of a series of short stories and vignettes about Bod’s adventures growing up in the graveyard, encountering ghosts and witches and werewolves and a human girl who slowly tempts him to rejoin the world of the living. And if anyone of this sounds familiar: yes, it is based on Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.
The Graveyard Book is a delight for all ages: it’s horror-themed without being too intense for young readers, while well-written and layered enough that it never feels “childish”. So if you’re looking for a break from all the terror of Halloween but still feel in the mood for something spooky, check it out.