There is so much about Stephen King’s and Joe Hill’s In the Tall Grass that I want to know that isn’t answered by either the movie or the book. Normally I might consider that a bad thing, but in this case it lends an air of mystery and suspense to the age old question, “What does a field of grass really want?” In the Tall Grass is a dark tale with a mind-bending slant on other worldly experiences. The amount of scares you get out of the story might depend on your own personal experiences with grasses, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting thing to watch happen to other people, even if you’ve never been frightened of fescue before.
In the Tall Grass – Not even a book. It’s a 70 page short story.
Cal and his nineteen year old sister Becky are on their way cross county to drop off Becky’s still in the oven baby with a new family that wants to adopt it in San Diego. Somewhere just south of Nebraska’s Children of the Corn in Kansas, they get side tracked when they stop and hear a boy calling for help from some tall grass at the side of the road. They apparently didn’t have the common Midwestern knowledge of, you never stop in Kansas. In an effort to help, they enter the grass to try to find the kid and get lost themselves; literally, physically and metaphysically. Needless to say, mistakes were made.
I actually read the book after I first saw the movie hoping it would expand on the story told in the movie, only to find the exact opposite. The book is only really concerned with the characters of Cal and Becky, telling the tale of what happens to them in the grass. The few other characters in the book have clearly nefarious motivations right from the start, and aren’t really given any characterization beyond that. It’s a sordid little story and, while there’s nothing wrong with it, it also doesn’t stand out, especially compared to the movie.
In the Tall Grass – The Movie (or the expanded book edition).
The movie version of In the Tall Grass came out on Netflix in 2019 without much fanfare and was quickly buried by the algorithm after about a month. It’s a pity because it may be one of the truly great Netflix original horror movies on the streaming service. Directed by horror veteran Vincenzo Natali, with a screenplay by King and Natali, the movie builds on the framework of the book to make it what you might call a truly original work of the horror genre.
The story starts approximately the same as the book, Cal and Becky are driving through Kansas when they stop at an abandoned church after hearing a cry for help that draws them into the tall grass. What makes a difference here is being able to really see and hear just how disorienting being lost in the grass is; voices carry in odd ways, the sun seems to change position in the sky, other people will be close one moment then far away the next.
The movie also brings in the new element of the grass distorting time, as well distance and sound. It adds a whole new layer to the story and is actually one of the most interesting aspects of the movie. I won’t give too much away, the journey is really the best part of watching the movie, but because of this time distortion it allows the movie to introduce new characters and locations that weren’t in the book at all. Characters like Becky’s boyfriend Travis, played by Harrison Gilbertson (whom I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing more of in the future). When Travis enters the movie he almost becomes the main character, and as events unfold he helps lend more backstory and depth to the other characters.
Visually the movie is stunning to look at. Natali manages to make a field of grass truly seem like a living breathing organism. Inventive camera angles and wide shots of people moving though the grass, or even just the grass moving on its own in the wind, lend to the eerie and ominous atmosphere of the film. And credit where credit is due to the film’s concept art designer, manga artist Shintaro Kago for making grass seem threating in a variety of ways. Extreme closeups are used often to great effect to give a visceral feeling to feet squelching in hot mud, the fall of dirt on a dead bird’s body, sweat dripping down a face, or the relief of cool rain drops on a blade of grass.
There’s so much they did right in this movie you can certainly forgive the one or two overuses of CGI here and there, and the fact it was filmed in Canada instead of Kansas. I don’t even think I’ve mentioned the acting yet, which is spot on by everyone in the cast. If you can’t tell, I thought this movie was one of the best of 2019, and I LOVED US and The Lighthouse (2019 pretty much rocked the horror movies in general).
Final Girl Thoughts
In the Tall Grass the book may be a bit lacking, but the movie blew away all my expectations for what a Netflix original horror movie could be. Under Natali’s expert direction it may be one of Stepehen King’s scariest horror movies in a long time. Clearly I think it’s worth watching and rewatching around the time the grass starts getting greener outside. I would watch any number of prequels and sequels about this dimensional patch of grass in Kansas with a black rock in the middle of it because it clearly has more stories to tell. How did the grass fare during The Dust Bowl? Were Cal and Becky really chosen or was it just dumb bad luck they stopped? And how does the grass affect your game if you’re bowling at the bowling alley across the street from the Church of the Black Rock of the Redeemer? These are all important questions that still need answers. (5 / 5)
Blood Meridian, a Book Review
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy.
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy. This review discusses the digital copy of the First Vintage International Edition.
The kid wanders the West as a survivor and thug. After getting caught up with the ominous Judge Holden, his life remains forever entwined with the cruel force of the man. The kid becomes a soldier, a scalper, and an outlaw but always finds Judge Holden somewhere in the distance. Civilization approaches the untamable West, which forces the kid adapt or die. But it is Judge Holden who remains: an unchanging force of cruelty.
What I Liked
Cormac McCarthy remains one of the most brutal authors, both in narrative and writing. You will feel the danger of the West, its inhuman cruelty, and fear for the kid. Many often call Blood Meridian McCathy’s magnum opus. As a result, if this brutal novel satisfies your readerly tastes, you’ll have his entire collection to sample.
Judge Holden remains a true force of evil and cruelty masked in human form. McCarthy likes to represent forces of nature through his antagonists. Judge Holden doesn’t always directly antagonize, but his role becomes increasingly clear as the novel continues.
Few authors convey cruelty like Cormac McCarthy, who structures his writing so that sentences bleed into each other in frantic syntax. I mean this somewhat literally as he removes quotation marks in dialogue or creates blunt sentences to reflect the mood he wants to display.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Era-appropriate (using “appropriate” loosely here) racism encompasses this novel in a rather uncomfortable and upsetting way. We are dealing with the West, where scalping earned payment and slavery was a debatable issue. McCarthy doesn’t shy away from this reality. It also should be noted that some characters thrive in such industries. This reality certainly doesn’t make the reading any less harsh.
There is graphic violence and cruelty in every chapter, altogether influencing nearly every page. It will be a hard read for those sensitive to any kind of abuse, because all kinds appear in this novel. Few horrors depict the cruelty of man like a Cormac McCarthy novel, and Blood Meridian is no exception. In fact, it might be the leading example.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
McCarthy provides brutal and challenging prose. Blood Meridian is more accessible than many of his other novels; regardless, it still provides a difficult reading experience for those unaccustomed to his style. After the first two chapters, you’ll grow accustomed to the style, or it might be a skip. I say the first two as Chapter 1 runs through the boy’s life to the point of his adventure, which might be its own sore spot for some readers.
Don’t expect realism in the novel. As mentioned, McCarthy favors villains that represent a force of nature. This stylistic choice often makes his characters, largely the antagonists, superhuman forces.
Following down this criticism, or consideration, also extends to realism holistically. McCarthy brings life to his interpretation of the West, the States, and Mexico. Don’t expect accurate descriptions of locations or historical events. I didn’t note many historical inaccuracies, however I’m also not versed in that era.
Blood Meridian deconstructs the pop-culture West, lingering on the horrors of the era and the indifference of the West. Expect the psychological nature of man to be the center of its haunting.
Cormac McCarthy earns his reputation as one of the great living American authors, and Blood Meridian remains one of his most haunting novels to date. Few authors dare to display the cruelty of man, producing emotional truth and horrid images that can twist a reader’s stomach. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian dares all that and more.
(4 / 5)
A Pilgrimage of Swords, a Book Review
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan.
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan. The book is technically a novella, running slightly short of a novel-length, but reads like a collection of short stories. This review will cover Subterranean Press’ digital copy of the novella.
Desperate to change his fate, Pilgrim forfeits his name on his quest to meet a mad god. He and his fellow pilgrims travel a dangerous road filled with abominations and horrors in the desperate hope that they might have one prayer answered. With a twisted sentient sword, he fights his darkness and the God’s abominations in the hopes of something better.
What I Liked
As mentioned, this novella reads like a collection of short stories. Each story tackles a specific challenge and region. The strategy works well in building the torment of the journey and keeping the reader consistently engaged.
A voice plagues Pilgrim, constantly antagonizing him at every step of their journey. The style in which this “voice” delivers their intrusive thoughts, while not inherently unique, remains an enjoyable and satisfying read. The voice itself becomes a favored character of mine. Pilgrim and “voice” share a dynamic of brooding hero and antagonizer. Again, not unique, but done with great effect.
Despite the tight word count, several twists effectively engage the reader, helping to add to the world that we only get a glimpse of.
While the supporting cast doesn’t have as much time dedicated to them, they collectively add to the experience with unique perspectives and dynamics.
In terms of horror, the final chapter provides the most stunning examples. This review is spoiler-free, but the build-up certainly exceeds expectations for the first read.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
A Pilgrimage of Swords resides on the lighter side of grimdark high fantasy, but it remains grimdark. The world of A Pilgrimage of Swords is uncaring and cruel, producing characters that reflect that, functioning as opportunists.
Animals do die, and children are equally prone to potential death. Again, not entirely out of character for the setting, but it should be mentioned for readerly consideration.
As the description might indicate, torment and suffering are recurring motifs in the story. While the tortures certainly are sadistic, readers get the aftermath. The novel doesn’t linger in its sadism.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
As A Pilgrimage of Swords is a high fantasy novel with light grimdark elements, the horror reflects that concept. There are tense moments, and characters are prone to danger, but genuine horror remains lacking. The novel doesn’t claim itself as such, but our audience should consider this. However, walking gods of madness twisting their environment to reflect their psyche shouldn’t be ridden off too quickly.
While I mostly enjoy the brevity of the story and how the chapters read like short stories, it limits the time we have to invest in the characters and setting. This novel is the first of a continuing series, so this criticism doesn’t inherently apply to the other novels. This first introduction remains easy to recommend for those looking for a quick read, not a long investment.
Many plot beats are predictable and can somewhat underwhelm a reader when the obvious thing happens. I will admit that this isn’t too often a hindrance but compromises to accommodate the tighter word count. Luckily, there are plot twists to minimize this underwhelming predictability, but the chapters could still utilize an extended word count.
The name doesn’t exactly fit this first entry of the series. It might be a perfect name for the series, but this novel’s pilgrimage has little to do with swords.
A Pilgrimage of Swords has a few haunting moments but is an otherwise enjoyable and quick read. If a grimdark set in a high fantasy where cruel gods walk the earth sounds like an interest of yours, this will certainly satisfy that itch. While it remains a little too brief, this is by design and part of a larger narrative.
(4 / 5)
Horror in graphic novels
Creepy Comics Collages by Jennifer Weigel, Part 5
Well, you won’t get rid of me that easily… Ha ha, I lied about coming to the end and the afterlife in the Creepy Comics Collages segment, it was just an opportunity for rebirth. Besides, it’s World Collage Day! So having come into another comic book to rework, here we go again…
Creepy Comics Story 9: The Voice (of God or Reason or perhaps an homage to my ex)
“Come to me my children, the voice of God awaits!… Don’t let them escape!” Please beam me up out of this weird comic collage alternate reality. “God I am your hand! Lift me… to your place. I commend my spirit!” I want to go back to dreaming about starfish.
The computer programmer behind the scenes turns to face us and smiles. “Guardians! This is a place of God!… Come to the true voice of God!” “I am everything.” “Come to the voice!” And the horrific AI generated creatures abide by his every coded word.
Just like last night in the — signs posted for Nightmare, No Exit. The deer spirit faun screams in surprise, “Eeek!” “No! I defy you!” She returns to the form of a little girl with arms outspread to the open sky. “Y’know, a day like today makes all the stuff that happened last night seem just like a bad dream!” The dream seems so real…
Somewhere in the city, the computer programmer sits up at night in pensive monologue, “You try to make a difference… But it doesn’t really matter.”
Creepy Comics Story 10: The City (Metropolis becomes self-aware)
This segment is brought to you by Dead Artists and Talking Dinosaurs. No really, wait for it…
Woooooo Uhhhh Wooooooo Uhhhh… Wump! Uff! Wump! Uff! “She belongs to The City!” The Glenn Fry 1985 hit single looms ominously overhead as Metropolis becomes self-aware. “The City… will live!… The City… will breathe!” The City gasps for air, “Got to… breathe!… Got to… Breathe!“
Her breath is the wind… Her eyes are windows. Her heart pumps fluid through buried plumbing… “I’m The City!” Her mind is The City!
And we have a celebrity appearance by Rich Koz “Son of Svengoolie” WFLD 1973: “I take a nap for 10,000 years and look what happens… some-body builds a city!” Kerwyn chimes in, “Geez! Somebody’s been busy!” And we cut out to a scene of Svengoolie standing alongside his coffin.
Well, that’s all folks. Or is it? For now, any way… until I get more comic books… Duh duh DUHHHH…
If you want to see more art, check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.