Experimental Film by Gemma Files

When The Lovecraft eZine recommends a book, I listen. So it was that I found myself purchasing Gemma Files’ Experimental Film on Audible. I burned through the story at a pace akin to combusting Silver Nitrate Film.

I want to let you discover the plot of Experimental Film for yourself, so I’m not going deep into spoilers. The tale follows a film teacher, Lois, as she investigates Lady Whitcomb, who may’ve been one of Canada’s first filmmakers. Lady Whitcomb created films in the era of highly combustible Silver Nitrate Film, hence my reference above. Unfortunately for Lois, the deeper she digs into the mystery of Lady Whitcomb, the weirder things get for her.

Files deftly balances supernatural film, pagan deities, and the reality of raising an autistic child in her novel. The protagonist’s voice is incredibly strong, and I think that is part of what makes the story so effortlessly enjoyable. The narrative also unfolds with film slang being used in place of traditional chapter titles, a fun touch. If you like works such as Cigarette Burns, The Ninth Gate, or The Ring, you should love this.

P.S. Morgan Hallett does a fantastic job narrating this on Audible.

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Cruel Works of Nature by Gemma Amor

Gemma Amor is a name I’ve been familiar with for a long time due to The NoSleep Podcast. Her story, “Foliage,” is one of the most memorable tales I’ve heard adapted there. So, it was only a matter of time until I picked up one of her books. After Amor described her story “It Sees You When You’re Sleeping” as “Xenomorphs in Chimneys,” on Twitter, I had to pick up her collection, Cruel Works of Nature, to download that story straight into my brain.

The previously mentioned “It Sees Your When You’re Sleeping” didn’t disappoint, and I enjoyed all the other tales in this collection. I’d heard adaptations of “Foliage” and “Girl on Fire” on The NoSleep Podcast before, but I enjoyed getting to read through the printed versions. Aside from those two tales, all the others were new to me.

Gemma Amor has an interesting style. She often blends humor, heart, and horror in equal measures. Her characters are well developed, and you find yourself rooting for them. She also indulges her readers in the occasional amusing absurdity. In “Scuttlebug” she has a giant spider attempt to get intimate with the protagonist, and “The Path Through Lower Fell” concerns man-eating cows. But Amor manages to keep her zany moments balanced so that they don’t disrupt the darker tone of her tales. This is a feat that repeatedly impressed me while I read Cruel Works of Nature.

When it comes to horror stories, I think the spookiest scenarios spring from everyday people finding themselves in terrible situations through no fault of their own. I’m not saying you can’t have the occasional protagonist who transgresses and is punished, but I think horror works best when it’s reminiscent of a nightmare. Several of Amor’s stories fit this description, but “His Life’s Work” and “Special Delivery” are two that perfectly illustrate what I’m discussing. The protagonists in those stories are normal people who encounter frightening situations without any choice in the matter, and I loved reading about their terrifying experiences.

If you haven’t yet read or listened to a Gemma Amor story, you may be interested to learn that her Bram Stoker Award nominated novel, Dear Laura, is currently being adapted and released by The NoSleep Podcast on a weekly basis. You can find a link to the first installment here. I’m loving the story, and I recommend checking it out to get a taste of Amor’s work. You can also search for any of her stories that have been previously adapted by The NoSleep Podcast. If, once you’ve finished listening to some of Amor’s work on The NoSleep Podcast, you’re still hungry for horror, I’d be delighted if you checked out Episode 8, Season 14, where my story “The House Flipping Find” is featured.

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Till We Become Monsters by Amanda Headlee

A sibling rivalry plays out in brutal and shocking fashion in Amanda Headlee’s debut horror novel Till We Become Monsters. This book is a fun, brisk read that combines some classic horror mythology with a psychological thriller. The primary protagonist is Korin Perrin, but don’t think you can take everything he thinks for granted. You’ll find out quickly that he’s an extremely unreliable narrator. As the story unfolds, you’ll be surprised by abrupt changes in the narrative’s direction.

Spoilers Below

When the tale opens, Korin is a small boy learning about changeling mythology from his grandmother. In European folklore, a changeling was a fairy that had been left in place of a stolen baby. This leads Korin to conclude that his grumpy older brother, Davis, may in fact be a fairy in disguise. Korin’s belief only grows stronger when Davis seemingly pushes their grandmother down the stairs. Things get wild after this as Korin shoves Davis into a fire, only to discover Davis isn’t a fairy. Korin is then shipped off to a mental asylum, where he’s poorly treated. Years pass and Korin recovers to become a successful student while his brother Davis becomes a malcontent with a burned arm who won’t leave home. The siblings take a camping trip into the woods with their father and family friends, but things go horribly wrong. Korin ends up confronting the mythology of the Wendigo, an evil spirit that provokes cannibalism, which turns out to be realer than that of the changeling.

The unexpected shifts were my favorite part of reading this novel. When you start to feel like you’ve got a good handle on how the book will progress, Headlee pulls the rug out from under you. First, I assumed the story would deal with Korin trying to expose his changeling brother, then I thought it might concern Korin battling out of a mental asylum to kill his brother, and finally, we find out things from Korin’s mother later in the tale that recontextualize the opening to reframe the protagonist and antagonist of the novel. The shifts kept me on my toes. I recommend checking this out if you think you’ve gotten to the point where you believe you can predict how every narrative will unfold. This book should manage to surprise you a few times. I’m excited to see what Headlee puts out next.

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