I’ve been reading, or trying to read Charlee Jacobs’ horror novel Haunter. It was recommended by Ben at Literacity. so I decided to give it a whirl. Ben warned that it would be pretty extreme, which is indeed the case — we’ve got the werewolf eating her son’s girlfriend and then feeding it to the family for dinner; we’ve got the maggots hatching in your skin and eating their way out (with special added bonus points for images of the critters crawling out of the head of the penis); we’ve got villagers being sawed in half and sewn back together in mismatched pairs; we’ve got atrocities in Cambodia and Mexico and Thai prostitutes and, yeah, just gore upon gore. Many of the individual moments are pretty amazingly repulsive…but, alas, I found the whole package kind of a bore. It’s really a lot more like Thomas Pynchon or William Burroughs than like Stephen King. Unlike Pynchon and Burroughs, Jacob has a plot, but, like them, there really isn’t any sense of pacing at all. Every page, every image just about, she goes for the jugular, and it quickly goes from suspenseful or terrifying to humorous and finally just to tedious. Every character (and there are quite a few of them) has some ridiculously violent, disgusting backstory, and, the narrative keeps flashing back — and since every flashback has the same over-the-top emotional content as every other, the narrative drive is completely vitiated. She’s sort of the anti-Lovecraft; instead of unnameable and unimaginable horrors, you get horrors that have been quite thoroughly named and catalogued; it’s like she’s some sort of monstrous horror clerk, checking off monstrosities on some dryly meticulous list.
“A Tale of Two Sisters”, a Korean horror film, is kind of the flip side of Jacobs’ approach. Hardly anything explicitly violent or gory happens — a bloody bag gets beaten and drawn across the floor, a woman appears in a room and menstrual blood slides down her leg, someone claims to have seen something under a sink. It’s much, much more scary than Jacobs’ book, though; the deliberate, agonized pacing and fraught emotional relationships create a painful sense of dread. Ultimately, the narrative breaks itself apart, a la The Sixth Sense or Spider — much of what we see is revealed to be a product of the main character’s madness. I was a bit torn about this; there’s something facile about this kind of psychological slight-of-hand, and I’m not sure it quite manages to support the high-art seriousness and gaping sadness that are at the core of the film (John Philip Bardin’s “The Deadly Percheron” works much better for me, since the pulp psych switcheroos are placed in a much clearly pulp context.) Still, the movie is very affecting, and it’s smart enough to leave a lot of loose ends dangling; what exactly is going on is never quite clear. Plot is something of a red herring here; it’s more about poetic sequences and images. One might say the same about *Haunter*, I guess; but if you’re going for poetry, you really do need to have a lyrical control of pacing and register; constantly screaming just doens’t quite cut it.