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Do you remember Marion Cotillard saying “Pain is in the mind” when she walked through your dream in a red sequin evening gown in Inception? Did you practice Aaliyah’s walk from Queen of the Damned in front of your mirror? Were you ever obsessed with Lady Macbeth? When someone tells you that you’re dressed like a bride of Dracula do you smile and say, “Thank you so much, I was questioning this lipstick before I left the house, and that just made my day!” Because, yes, you are wearing oxblood lipstick in the middle of the day, in front of God and everyone.
I’m Mary Kay, your Virgil, and if you answered yes to any of those questions, you might belong in this specific ring of hell, the Sexy Spooky. Welcome to The Fright Stuff, Book Riot’s weekly newsletter about the latest and greatest in horror. After all, Halloween, according to Mean Girls, is an excuse to wear lingerie in public. (Not that we need an excuse, am I right?)
Ear Worm: “Hot Knife” by Fiona Apple–arguably the sexiest, spookiest love song I’ve ever heard… plus, how dope is it that she plays the timpani in her own music video, which is directed by P.T. Anderson of There Will Be Blood (I want to be her friend SO BAD.)?
Fresh Hells: (FKA New Releases)
Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu edited by Carmen Maria Machado
Technically, this novella (published in serial) is the first published vampire text. Their mythology has been around MUCH longer than that, of course, but Carmen Maria Machado edited this version, and that changes things. While Carmilla has always been a lesbian romance, like so much classic literature, one can ignore the overtures due to the propriety of the time period in which they were written. Machado does not let that happen. In addition to fleshing out the story itself with myriad footnotes, she supplies clarification as to the nature of the protagonists’ relationship. This edit maintains the same kind of gritty urban legend tone as her collection of short stories, Her Body and Other Parties.
Tender: Stories by Sofia Samatar
This collection is divided into two parts, “Tender Bodies” and “Tender Landscapes.” The weird tales talk about the fragility of bodies in settings as vast as medieval Egypt to the stars, AND this collection was recommended as a must-read by the author above, Carmen Maria Machado. If you like Tender, then you should try Samatar’s Monster Portraits, next. (That one even has illustrations by her brother, tattoo artist Del Samatar, and it’s GORGEOUS.)
“Our Town’s Monster” in the collection, Growing Things by Paul Tremblay
Granted, although all of the stories in this collection are horrifying–or at least deeply unsettling–“Our Town’s Monster” is the one that will have you laughing and gasping in terror as the swamp/marsh monster attacks a couple who has just moved into a house nearby. The other stories in this collection will leave you unraveling them for days, as well, like the spooky sexy, “Something about Birds” or sort of (I mean, kind of, at first) “The Teacher.”
Crypt Keepers: (well-beloved reads that are still on-theme)
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
I can already tell I’m gonna catch hell for this one, but if you don’t get the burlesque comedy of this macabre novel… well, you aren’t really the best audience for the freak show. This book really packs a punch, it’s full of sex in a way that is not really SEXY per se so much as INTERESTING, which, let’s be honest, we who love to read horror want you to keep that perfect intimate moment crap to yourself! The premise of this novel is that a sideshow couple want to create their own sideshow, so they take powerful drugs to ensure that their children will all have anomalous bodies and odd powers. From there (yes, that is the starting point), things quickly spiral out of control. If you do like freak show horror, definitely check out “The Mermaid in the Tree” by Timothy Schaffert, as well.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Name an ’80s baby that didn’t experience their sexual awakening at the vampire Armand seducing their human sacrifice to succumb to the coven’s will at the Théâtre des Vampires. Or at the very least one who didn’t read a little more quickly when Lestat seduces Louis into immortality. If you haven’t yet read this new-and-improved vampire novel, now is the time. And if you like Anne Rice’s horror, but you want MORE sexy, try her erotic novel series, The Sleeping Beauty Quartet, which retells the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale for a much more adult audience.
I know you’re probably thinking, why so many vampires? Think about the O.G., Dracula: he was tall, darkly mysterious, rich, powerful, and his teeth were so white and straight and pointed… and unlike other sexual monsters, vampires require consent: they have to be invited in. Want to know who your vampire soulmate is? Yes, you do.
The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert
Ooh, y’all, if you haven’t read this, you got to get on it right away! This novel isn’t a book of straight-up horror so much as it has a horror attitude, if that makes sense, the way that stories full of whimsy and magic often slide into the macabre. When the handsome ventriloquist crashes the balloon he stole from Omaha’s World Fair at the turn of the century, and ghosts start showing up, and his dummy talks, and he falls in love with a Vaudeville actress, it has the elements of both the burlesque and the Gothic. It’s fantastic.
And if you want a bonus rec/reminder, definitely check out Robert Levy’s novella, Anais Nin at the Grand Guignol.
Victor Hugo (author of Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables) was kind of slutty? But in a fun way. I think.
In case you want to buy Jane Austen’s chronicle of outrageously horrifying dental procedures, you can do that.
Jared Harris and Lee Pace will star in the 10-episode adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi series, Foundations.
Speaking of adaptations, the Netflix original film Wounds is killing it, and it’s based on the novella The Visible Filth by Nathan Ballingrud.
This Irish whiskey bar has a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula on display!
Need inspiration for your literary Halloween costume? Look no further.
Spooky Empire is this very weekend. Y’all go see Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell and Mia Farrow and Elvira, and ME.
Also… everyone is changing their Twitter names to something spooky and Halloween-themed… what’s yours? (Mine’s Merricat McBrayer, hehe.)
I hope you’ve enjoyed this prowl through the spooky scary. Y’all come on and follow me through more circles on IG @marykaymcbrayer and TW @mkmcbrayer , and definitely, absolutely, please send me any horror news that I may have missed. Until next week…