Tuesday, March 16, 2021

NIGHTMARES IN DIXIE, Or Short Stories That Make Good Movies

On the recommendation of T.S. Dann, a fellow member of the Atlanta chapter of the Horror Writers Association, I read Nightmares In Dixie, a collection of horror stories set in different states in the American South. Some were by authors I already knew about like Manly Wade Wellman or Karl Edward Wagner, but others were new to me, like Henry S. Whitehead.

(Whitehead as a person was particularly interesting to me, since not only he was he a horror and fantasy writer who corresponded with H.P. Lovecraft, but he was also an Episcopalian pastor. He served as Archdeacon of the Virgin Islands, where he learned about voodoo and through his fiction brought it into American popular culture.)

This reminded me of something S.M. Stirling once said at DragonCon--books make good miniseries and short stories make good movies. Some of the stories in the collection are too short to justify making an actual film out of them, but they could be put together in an anthology film in the vein of Creepshow or V/H/S. Here's how I'd break it down...

Full Films

"Coven" by Manly Wade Wellman-You could have a prologue set during the Civil War, with the main thrust of the story set in the 1880s. A young Confederate soldier, who'd been captured by a Union sergeant at (I think) the Battle of Shiloh, comes across the sergeant working as a preacher somewhere out west decades later. And said sergeant is fighting a group of Satanists.

"Ooze" By Anthony M. Rud-A man who's the legal guardian of the young daughter of a close friend after the death of said friend and his wife decides to investigate just how they died. He ends up running into some mad science down in the Delta. This is very stylistically like Lovecraft.

"Dark Melody of Madness" By Cornell Woolrich-A New Orleans band leader follows a bandmate whom he suspects has black ancestry into the black part of town and ends up involved in voodoo. He tries to incorporate voodoo rituals into his music and trouble ensues. Given how trendy it is to complain about "cultural appropriation," this might be timely.

"Where The Summer Ends" By Karl Edward Wagner-This is probably one of if not my absolute favorite story in the collection. Who or what is living under the kudzu that's slowly overgrowing a decaying part of Knoxville? You could make this a 1970s period piece, which would explain things like an old-but-not-too-old WWII veteran, the lack of cell phones to call for help, etc. Some stuff that's told could be shown to ensure it's the proper length. Also here's an audio version of the story.

"Beyond The Cleft" by Tom Reamy-In a small mountain town, the children start attacking other children and their parents. It's like a pint-sized zombie apocalypse.

"Night of the Piasa" by J.C. Green and George W. Proctor-A young Native American woman who thanks to a Spanish ancestor can pass for white has adopted a European-style name and has been doing her level best to conceal her heritage. However, she finds out she has a downright supernatural link to her past. Owing to increased awareness of sexual abuse of Native American women this could be a timely movie.

Parts of An Anthology

"The Fireplace" by Henry S. Whitehead-This is a ghost story involving a man murdered in a hotel.

"Fast-Train Ike" by Jesse Stuart-I couldn't even really understand what was going on here. I'm only including this for completeness' sake.

"The Legend of Joe Lee" by John D. MacDonald-This could conceivably be stretched into a film, but it would work much better as a short in a collection.

"The Wait" by Kit Reed-A young woman and her overbearing mother are stranded in a small town in rural Georgia where weird stuff happens.

"Cry Havoc" By Davis Grubb-This was not one of the stronger stories in the collection to say the least. Think the "Chief Wooden-Head" sequence of Creepshow 2, but with toy soldiers. Maybe work in some wartime PTSD for the father's character? With the prolonged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq leading to a whole new generation of veterans suffering from it, that could be timely.

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