Welcome to Into The Void, a weekly pilgrimage into, well, whatever happens to be going on in the horror-obsessed (and unfortunately opinionated) mind of Scott Wampler, officially licensed opinion-haver and co-host of the FANGORIA Podcast Network’s The Kingcast. All sales are final. No refunds will be issued.
Hey, folks (stands around looking awkward for a moment, not sure what to do with hands).
OK, you know what, no. No, I did not think of a topic for this week’s Into The Void. It wasn’t for lack of trying, I can tell ya that. Sat here for hours yesterday staring at a blank doc, racking my brain to come up with something, anything that might cover 1,000 words or so, and you know what happened? Fucking nothing. Good work, brain. You’ve given up four decades into our run, good to know!
Maybe. But moreover, it’s just kinda hard to concentrate lately, isn’t it? Especially on the frivolous stuff? Every single day something awful happens, pushing us further towards some sort of cultural oblivion; it feels like ages since any of us have been given enough time to absorb even one terrible thing before another occurs. As you’ve surely noticed, that’s reached quite the fever pitch over the past several weeks – the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the revelations of the Jan. 6th commission (some of them admittedly not all that revelatory given that we always knew America’s #1 Big Boy was out of his gourd all along), the ongoing nightmare of mass shootings. It all adds up, and if you’re anything like me, it’s hard to set all those raging emotions aside on command. Especially if you’re a social media addict.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that social media’s a double-edged sword. It can allow for moments of absolute joy, and offers something that approximates human connection during a time when we’re still mostly staying indoors and waiting for things to calm down. Some of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life have happened on my Twitter feed. But being as plugged in as so many of us are also means subjecting ourselves to a virtually endless supply of … well, just go scan your Twitter feed for ten minutes, tell me what it looks like out there right now.
Kinda like this, right?
Next week, I’m taking my first vacation in a long time, and – beyond all the other fun stuff I’ve got planned for my time off – I’m most excited to turn off my phone for nearly a week. You simply have to give yourself a mental break from this stuff, have to let yourself enjoy something frivolous even when things are at their absolute worst. Soak too long in social media’s roiling cauldron of poison, and you’ll lose your mind.
As such, here’s what I’d like to do with this week’s Void: I don’t have an interview to share or a big point to make about a recent horror film or anything whiny to write in response to someone else’s whininess, but I do have some casual, horror-related recommendations to make, and maybe some of you will consider unplugging from social media at some point in the next week (could be for hours, could be for a few days; whatever it feels like your morale could use most at this moment), and take my advice on one or two of ‘em. It’s a terrible time, and we’ve gotta look all of that dead in the eye if we want it fixed, of that I am certain, but I’m just as certain that things won’t get any worse just because you gave yourself a wee mental health break from all the yelling.
So, here we go…
The Original Final Destination
It’d been ages since I’d sat down and watched James Wong’s franchise-starting Final Destination (2000). In rewatching the original, I realize that I’ve allowed the diminishing returns of the sequels to cloud my opinion of the one that started it all. Wong, Glen Morgan, and Jeffrey Reddick’s razor-sharp script doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it, the cast delivers across the board (particularly a very young Devon Sawa, who really grabs his bigger, emotional scenes by the throat; Sean William Scott is also fun here, playing what’s basically the goofy Jekyll to Stifler’s Hyde), and boy do those Rube Goldbergian kills make for insanely entertaining viewing.
Those elaborate clockwork kills are the gimmick that kept the Final Destination franchise going over the years, but also became so predominant that, somewhere along the line, I started thinking of these films only in those terms. The ingenious at the root of everything is positioning death itself as the slasher here. Freddy, Jason, Leatherface – those guys you can sometimes “kill,” or at least outsmart. There’s no outrunning death itself, though (still timely after all these years!), and watching these kids piece together some semblance of a plan to rally against that inevitability is great fun. I know these movies lost their flavor over time (honestly, this franchise is begging for a reboot, and I’d be first in line for it were someone to make one), but go back and watch the original – and the second one, which really does have the best opening destruction sequence of any of the movies – and you might be surprised how potent the franchise once was.
Rewatch Twin Peaks: The Return
Yes, yes, I know I just wrote something about Twin Peaks: The Return last week, but a very predictable thing happened while I was putting that post together: I ended up rewatching the entire goddamn series, which turned out to be one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself recently.
So many memories came flooding back as I worked my way through all 18 episodes of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s triumphant return to the Pacific Northwest (along with several other locations decidedly outside that region), details from long-forgotten conversations and sense memories from everything else that was going on in my life around that time. I tend to roll my eyes when people say that revisiting a beloved film or TV series is “like visiting old friends,” but even I’ve gotta admit that certainly felt like the case here. Rewatching The Return was basically the comfort blanket I threw over myself over the past week or so, and by God, it kinda worked. If you’ve been putting off a marathon rewatch of this one, consider making the jump now. Might soothe you much in the same way that it soothed me.
Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts, “Best New Horror”
A whooole bunch of people went to see Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone last weekend, and good for them – the Sinister director’s latest horror confection is a satisfying, nasty little piece of work, and the film’s success seems to have led a whole bunch of new readers Joe Hill’s way. I’ve been a fan of Hill’s for some time (I’ll confess to initially checking him out because I was curious what kind of writer Stephen King’s son was, and was delighted to find out that Hill’s a helluva scribe), but newcomers looking to get further into Hilly should definitely pick up his 2005 short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts. That’ll allow you to read the short story The Black Phone was based on, but it’ll also allow you to catch up with one of my absolute favorite horror stories of the past two decades – “Best New Horror.”
It’s the first story in 20th Century Ghosts (really, ya can’t miss it), and it’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever read in my life: Eddie, the editor of an annual horror anthology called America’s Best New Horror, receives an electrifyingly gruesome submission in the mail (a story called “Button Boy”), and quickly finds himself obsessed with meeting Peter Kilrue, the story’s mysterious author. This sets Eddie on a collision course with a very dark destiny, and before the story ends, things get hallucinogenic, deeply strange, and very horrifying, indeed. Even more so than The Black Phone, this story is just begging to be adapted for the big screen. If someone pulls that off, we’ll be in for one helluva ride.
It’s The Perfect Time to Reacquaint Yourself With Hellraiser
With David Bruckner’s highly-anticipated Hellraiser reboot on the way, it’s probably a good time for everyone to get reacquainted with what this franchise was once really all about. Much in the same way that the Final Destination franchise eventually wore out its welcome with fans, the Hellraiser franchise is comprised of a few great movies and … a bunch of other ones (some of which are good, to be sure, but most of them are admittedly straight-up trash – and I say that as a die-hard Hellraiser fan), but the first two in the series were absolute face-melters.
A reminder concerning Hellraiser’s roots seems particularly in order at this moment, given that Bruckner’s forthcoming version is rumored to take us right back to “The Hellbound Heart” – the Clive Barker story that started it all – while offering several new twists on the formula. David Bruckner has yet to make a film I don’t love, and given that he’s reuniting Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, the screenwriters behind 2020’s The Night House (those boys also wrote the excellent Super Dark Times, by the way, another film to investigate if you’ve never seen it). I am unbelievably excited to find out what this team does with this material and hope they’ll bring every ounce of Hellraiser’s inherent horniness and stomach-churning horror to the project.
Bonus: I’ll use this moment to also throw the much-maligned Hellraiser: Judgment (2018) a bone here. It’s a deeply flawed film, but a) the opening 20 minutes or so offer some of the most memorable imagery this franchise has ever had, and b) this one offers a legitimately interesting glimpse into the middle-manager Pinhead just goin’ through the motions of his job down in Hell. Yeah, you won’t really care about the central mystery that allegedly drives the plot or the human characters it contains, but every time Judgment focuses its attention on the goings-on in Hell, it’s kind of a blast. Also, Hellraiser: Bloodlines is way better than it gets credit for. OK, that’s it, I’ll move on now.
The Safety of Unknown Cities by Lucy Taylor
Speaking of Clive Barker…
Frequent readers of this column will remember a Void from just over a month ago wherein I explored werewolf erotica with my dear friend (and James Beard Award-winning author) Mallory O’Meara. You may or may not be delighted to hear that my journey into the world of horror erotica has continued unabated, and the one I’m reading right now – The Safety of Unknown Cities, by Lucy Taylor – is blowing my goddamn mind. The plot’s not so easily described, but basically it revolves around a hedonistic, well-traveled, and very wealthy woman named Val as she seeks out a fabled “secret city” where all matter of forbidden and horrifying pleasures await those who manage to find it.
Lemme tell ya, this book is so full of throbbing eroticism and jaw-dropping violence (which is, I shit you not, pretty much on par with any of the profoundly gnarly images Barker has ever put to the page), the thing practically vibrates in your hands while you’re holding it. That also makes this a book that is absolutely not for the faint of heart, so we probably shouldn’t consider this a broad recommendation. But for a certain type of freak (Hello!), The Safety of Unknown Cities is truly something else.
Alright. That’s all I got for you at the moment, gang. Time for me to take a bit of my own advice, studiously avoid opening a tab to Twitter as soon as I file this piece, and get back to packing for next week’s vacation (No Void next week, by the way). Here’s hoping the rest of you are holding up as well as can be expected at the moment, that you’re not giving yourselves over to the utter hopelessness that serves as one of the most common side effects of being alive in 2022. It’s very tempting to do that, I know – and it’s especially tempting right now – but something tells me we’re all gonna need to keep our heads on a swivel to navigate the immediate future, and we’ll need as many good people on our team as possible in the years that lie ahead. Stay sharp, but again: don’t be afraid to give yourselves a break from the real-world horror from time to time.