Just in time for Halloween, the long-dormant feature Staff Picks is back from the grave.
This is a round-up of the Juneau Empire and Capital City Weekly staff’s favorite scary, or at least spooky-adjacent, media.
Books/ Short stories
Ben Hohenstatt, editor: “Mulberry Boys” by Margo Lanagan. This is one of the most disturbing and memorable short stories I have ever read, and like the videotape from “The Ring,” I feel compelled to inflict it on others. It’s a first-person tale by the wonderful Margo Lanagan about a young man working with a wealthy acquaintance to track down and secure an escaped member of the young man’s village. The dark allegory for colonialism and exploitative economies features some of the grimmest magical realism I can recall encountering. To say more would give away the queasy and unexpected places this story goes. It is available as part of “The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Four,” which can be checked out as an ebook from Juneau Public Libraries. It’s also available to read online at lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/mulberry-boys/.
Michael S. Lockett, reporter: “Johannes Cabal the Necromancer,” series: Starting fast out of the gate with a considerably more sarcastic retelling of the classic Bradbury tale “Something Wicked this Way Comes” where the purveyor of the haunted carnival is both unwilling and deeply annoyed to be harvesting souls with a menagerie of the terrible, the series stretches to several books and short stories, touching on subjects such as Lovecraftian horror, the Victorian monstrosities of vague Eastern Europe and man, which is most terrible of all. Jonathan Howard writes with a desert-dry wit, a handy use of footnotes, and a sense of black humor most delightful, introducing characters both well-written and memorable over the five-book series before concluding the series with panache. Howard would go on to write “Carter and Lovecraft,” another memorable horror-adjacent series.
Dana Zigmund, reporter: “ghostgirl” by Tonya Hurley. If you consider your high school years a horror show, you’ll love this book. It’s a young adult novel about a high school girl who’s quest for popularity lives on after her sudden and untimely death choking on a gummy bear. It makes a great book club read — it’s quick, clever and entertaining. If you host the discussion, nix the gummy bears from the menu.
Ben Hohenstatt, editor: “Raw.” This 2016 French-language film about the strange new appetites spurred on by a young woman’s time at university is overdue for a Hollywood remake. It’s a coming of age story combined with cannibalistic brutality and features one of my favorite final scenes in any movie. Like a hefty slab of meat, you’ll be digesting it for a while.
Michael S. Lockett, reporter: “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” This Farsi (Iranian) language film premiered in 2014, an Iranian-vampire-western in a genre of precisely one. Shot in black and white, it balances a rising background tension as the decision made between heartbeats come home to roost and the naivete of one of the leading characters is sandblasted away. It’s tense, artful, and spooky by moments- a satisfying execution on the vampire myth.
Peter Segall, reporter: “The Shining.” It’s cliche for a Halloween recommendation but Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” is an absolute classic. I don’t usually go in for horror, but I love this movie. I know it’s not exactly faithful to the book (never read it) and Stephen King isn’t a fan, but I don’t care. Classic.
It’s the scene in the bathroom with the former caretaker, Dilbert Grady, played by Philip Stone, that does it for me. “I corrected them.” One of my favorite movie scenes of all time.
Dana Zigmund, reporter: “Hocus Pocus” or “Halloweentown.” Both are easy to watch with kids and entertaining enough to keep parents from going crazy. For something more interesting, “Twilight Zone: The Movie” is fun without being too scary. Anything from the “Ghost Busters” franchise will make you laugh and feel festive.
Dana Zigmund, reporter: Any Halloween-themed episode of “Modern Family” and the classic Halloween-themed kid cartoons.
Michael S. Lockett, reporter: “Penny Dreadful.” By smashing all of the classic Victorian monster stories into one show, and carried by the likes of Eva Green, Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett, Penny Dreadful succeeds in bringing those old tales to life in a fashion that other shows often fall short of the mark in attempting. It also knows how not to overstay its welcome, tying off its run at three seasons.
Ben Hohenstatt, editor: “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West: Officially released in November 2010, enterprising music fans had their hands on most of, if not all, of this album by late October of that year. With eerie imagery, frequent demonic allusions and a song titled “Monster” it was a perfectly bombastic soundscape for the most horrorful time of the year. However, the true terror of being a Kanye West fan wouldn’t become apparent for several more years.
Michael S. Lockett, reporter: “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie” by Colter Wall: At 20 years old, Wall, a Canadian from furthest Saskatchewan released this song, sounding like he’d been gargling gravel and whiskey for four decades. The idea of fell beings offering musical glory in exchange for a price almost too dear to pay is scarcely a new one in music, but Wall executed it with precision, on an album of folk-country that we scarcely deserve.
Dana Zigmund, reporter: “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt Kickers.Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” for a close second.
Ben Hohenstatt, editor, “Comedy Bang Bang” Halloween episodes. This decade-plus-old comedy podcast has some of my favorite Halloween specials in existence. Every “Comedy Fang Fang” is guaranteed to generate some howls of laughter. While the podcast is childishly silly, one annually recurring musical guest is aggressively prurient and almost single-handedly makes this immature content for mature audiences.
Michael S. Lockett, reporter: “Old Gods of Appalachia.” An eldritch reimagining of the very real horror that follows life in Appalachia like a starving dog even today, “Old Gods of Appalachia” is a series of stories narrated drawing on real disasters and events in the 17th through 20th centuries in the mining towns and high hollows of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee colored in with the baleful and malevolent glare of ancient and dreadful things beyond our comprehension.
Dana Zigmund, reporter: Peanut butter cups shaped like pumpkins. The oblong shape allows for a better peanut butter-to-chocolate ratio that’s far superior to the standard, round peanut butter cup.
Michael S. Lockett, reporter: Peanut butter cups shaped normally. The round shape is convenient for stacking multiple peanut butter cups, unlike the asymmetrical peanut butter cups, whose design leads to less structural integrity. Furthermore, the dark chocolate ones are a pleasant incremental improvement.
Peter Segall, reporter: Peanut butter cups. I got here late but, yeah, peanut butter cups.
Ben Hohenstatt, editor: Frozen fun-sized chocolate bars. You know those sacks of assorted candies meant to be doled out in handfuls to pint-sized goblins and ghosties on Halloween night? Plop the bag right in the freezer overnight, and enjoy the frightfully addictive pleasures of frozen Twix —or peanut butter cups of all shapes.