The Photographer’s Dilemma (VIII)

She was so distressed by the mysterious message from the cafe she skipped her gala showing and the meeting she was supposed to have with Thompson afterwards and found herself wandering in The Tombs near where Greely had been killed. She passed by the stoop where he had called to her as night fell like a blanket of smog, the hairs on her arms rising ferine, her breath coming and going erratically. Nothing felt real. She had no idea what she was doing. Pure compulsion drove her to stand where the old man had called out, where, not far away, the strange man with the white jacket had warned her. She removed her camera and snapped a photo of the dead man’s after image and then walked up the stairs to the door of the old tenement, still adorned with police tape that had been severed.

She froze. Someone had been here after the police had cordoned off the area. She reached out her hand to touch the knob whereupon a voice sharp and clear rang out behind her and nearly made flee her very skin.

“Curiosity killed the cat.”

She whirled, eye bulging in great owlish disks and her breath catching in her throat. A middle aged man stood in the alley, he was baggy-eyed and disheveled, dressed all in ill-fitting cast offs.

“You scared the fuck out of me.”

“How much fuck did you have in ya, exactly?”

She rolled her eyes and traversed the steps, “What are you doing here?”

“Investigating. Its what I do. I’m Jervis Lock. Reporter.”

“Ariadne Campbell. Artist. Are you the one who cut the police tape?”

“Nope. Was just about to ask you the same thing.”

He didn’t seem interested in her, his eyes were fixed wholly upon Greely’s former tenement. She’d seen his kind before, lean, cold, restless, cynical; journalism seemed to draw such creatures to its fold as meat drew maggots.

“You know what happened here?”

He nodded.

“Sick fuck was kidnapping kids. Selling them, my sources tell me.”

“Whose your source.”

“Well I’d tell ya,” he grinned wolfishly, “But then I’d have to kill ya.” She didn’t find the jest amusing and for a moment just glared at him until the reporter became uncomfortable. He peaked up moments later, “I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere before.”

“I’ve been holding shows at the Thompson.”

“Oh you’re that photographer! Yeah, I seen ya, in the paper. Ariadne Campbell. Knew I’d heard that name somewhere before… So why are you here?”

“I’m here because I say him.”

“Who?”

“Greely. The kidnapper. Before… before whatever happened, happened.”

“No shit.”

“He was sitting right where I’m standing now. Asked me if I was looking for something. I think its only because I turned down his offer for… whatever it was he was offering that I didn’t end up like him.”

“Oh, I doubt that. See,” Jervis paused, uncertain if he should continue.

“What?”

“Well, its kinda confidential information pertaining to the case.”

“From your mysterious source?”

He nodded and shortly thereafter a mischevious look came into his eye.

“What say we get out of this dump and I can tell you about it over drinks?”

“Are you asking me out on a date?”

“Nah. I gave up on dates after my third marriage. I’m asking you to be my drinking buddy.”

*

The bar was cold and smelled of fried chicken and musk and old varnish. It occupied a seat next to a textile manufacturing plant which had been out of operation for over fifty years and the skeletal remnants of the great site of production loomed over the dive like a massive keep, covering it over in an omnipresent shade. Lock loosened his tie and as the drinks came, his a fruity margarita with an bright red umbrella, hers a forgettablely named bottom-shelf beer. He leaned back and looked his companion up and down briskly and then took a sip of his drink and jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

“You know the old plant?”

“Formerly a steel mill or something like that, right?”

“I’ve no idea. I just saw it and was wondering if we really knew our own history.” He gave a laugh, “Guess we don’t.”

She didn’t know how to respond and set to removing the cap from her beer; it wouldn’t budge.

“Ya want me to get it?”

“No. Its fine. I got it.”

But she didn’t and shortly her grip slipped and a ruddy gash appeared upon her palm. It stung but none too bad, even as the blood trickled down upon the table. It looked so beautiful that she could do nothing but follow the red lines like mercury and ketchup where they ran down her palm and splish splashed upon the smooth faux granite of the old dinner table.

“Shit, are you alright?”

“Fine. Just a scratch.”

“That looks a little deeper than a scratch.”

She ignored him and raised her hand up to her face, running her tongue out from between pristine red lips to slithered against her blood. After she had made the first pass across her bloody palm she gazed up behold the journalist whose face was contorted in confusion and disgust; she smiled and then took a sip of her beer and wrapped one of the cloth napkins at the table around her hand and leaned forwards over the table eagerly.

“So here we are. Drinking buddies. Now, why don’t you tell me why you said that you doubted that I’d have ended up like Greely even if I stayed.”

“What?”

“You said that, earlier, when we were by his tenement.”

“Oh yeah, yeah. Well, see,” he lowered his voice conspiratorially, “What happened to Greely… it’s been happening all over the city, not just in The Tombs, everywhere, for years now. Lot of old cold cases, disappearances are treated like stand alone instances, right, you have some sicko and he wants to diddle kids or eat them or whatever the fuck and the police think, well it’s just this one guy, this one mentally deranged guy. And usually that’s true but what I’ve found is something… quite different. See, I’ve been reading through every dissapearence and homicide for the past couple of years, no connection, no connection, then, suddenly bodies start dropping. One or two at a time, late at night, isolated locations, nobodies… or so it seems. One thing at least fifteen of these recent murders have in common, the victim was always a victimizer.”

He held up his hands, his fingers pressed to palm and them facing Ariadne, he raised his index finger first, “So most recently Greely, child kidnapper, may or may not be involved with a intercontinental human trafficking and drug smuggling ring. Then, last month there was this fellow Eric Graylane, smut peddler and a suspected money launderer, political player of some importance, couple weeks before that, there was this lady, Anna Conrad-Winthrop, criminal defense lawyer, real well esteemed pillar-of-her-community-type. Winds up facedown in a pool of her own blood, knifed through the chest with such force the blade lodged into her spine,” Ariadne’s brows rose, “Turns out, after the investigation, she was a covering for a migrant grooming gang who, only a couple of days before all just up and vanished. Poof, gone.”

“What happened to them?”

Lock shook his head grimly, “A kid found them in the docks, or rather, what was left of them, heads floating in the shallows. Hacked to pieces.”

“You thinking this is a vigilante?”

“At first glance it would seem that way, maybe like a syndicate of sorts that is taking the law into their own hand, cept for one thing… there is another point of commonality between all of the victims – and I do use that word lightly – they were all involved, at one point or another with the Merideth Foundation.”

“Thompson’s gallery is partnered with them.”

“Lots of galleries are. Merideth is the single largest independent non-profit organization in, not just the city, but the country. They’re everywhere.”

“So you think this might be political?”

“Merideth has given a lot of money to a lot of different people. Not all of them savory.”

“Mr. Lock-”

“Yeah?”

“Why are you telling me all of this? I’m assuming its not just cuz you wanted a drinking buddy.”

“Yeah, well… ya might have assumed right. I uh, could use your help-”

“You were just pretending not to know who I was, weren’t you? You were looking for me. You want to use me for your story because I work at Thompson’s. Fuck, I’m thick tonight…”

“I hope you don’t mind, I just didn’t want to come across as pushy.”

She wasn’t upset, she was elated. This was just what she had been looking for. Seeking. New forms of inspiration. Inspiration which the charnel hosue of the city’s filthy underbelly had graciously provided.

Ariadne smiled and closed her fist around the red-soaked napkin, soaking redder still.

“I’d be delighted to oblige.”

 

The Photographer’s Dilemma (VII)

*

As soon as she was able to get some distance from Partridge she pulled out her mobile and opened up her social media on Rattle.web. She squinted down at her profile photo, it was a top-down angled portrait; she didn’t like it, she was trying to hard to look interesting, she thought to herself. What caught her attention after a few moments was the eyeliner she was wearing and how wide she was holding her eyes open. After a comparison she was certain, this was the picture. She cursed under her breath, how could she not have made the connection? It was so obvious. So easy. As easy to realize as it had been for who ever made the photo, to obtain. The internet was a bountiful sea of information, most of it public or at the least, publically accessible, no matter how intimate. Like shells beneath sand.

*

Ariadne was surprised to find her work in increasingly high demand in the ensuing weeks after her first major showing at the Thompson Gala. The little boutique art papers and e-zines covered her gallery with enthusiasm, noting a “bold new voice” with a “distinctive eye for gritty realism.” Calvin continued inviting her to his compound raves and she began to dance for the first time and found to her very great surprise she was good at it. Everything was going so smoothly that she nearly forgot all about the murder which she had nearly been drawn into and the eerie photograph of her eye and the theft of her photos and the man with the white jacket. Yet the more attention she received the more stressed and irritated she became. It was not that she was ungrateful, or that the galas were unpleasant but rather that everyone began to twist her art to fit their own personal narratives, there were feminist columnists who declared her pictures displayed the crisis of masculinity and conservative yahoos who declared that her pictures of the city were indicative of the need for a revitalization of the faith and its attendant patriarchal norms and there were anarchists who took her grim realism to be a calling card to a morally vacuous modality of thought which sought out the beauty of destruction for its own sake. None of it was true. Before next gala, Jamie, Calvin and Svetlana met her at cafe just outside The Tombs known as The Orange Tree.

Svetlana hugged Ariadne and smiled broadly, “I’m so happy for you.”

“Thanks. I… wish I could feel the same way.”

Calvin titled his head inquisitively as they all sat down around one of only four rickety wooden tables in the joint.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t mean to say I’m unhappy or ungrateful – I owe you a lot of thanks, Cal – its just, every time there is a new article or podcast out about my work its always the same old song and dance. They don’t really care what it is actually about, they just want to use it for their own ends. They could just ask me.”

“Lynder once told me,” Svetlana broke in, “That there are only two reasons why a work of art is misunderstood, either because its author was lacking in talent such as to properly communicate its messages, or, it is deliberately twisted to fulfil a institutional function. You are certainly not lacking in talent.”

Ariadne balked, “I’m so sick of hearing that name.”

Svetlana looked to Jamie and Calvin for assistance. Neither had anything to say. When their drinks came Ariadne practically siphoned her cup down. She, typically prim and restrained in social outings, was too flustered to care about such trivialities. Jamies laughed suddenly and pointed to her lip.

“What?”

He was laughing so hard he could barely speak, “C-co-”

“WHAT?”

Calvin leaned in towards her over the table as a couple of detectives strolled by some five feet away.

“You’ve got a chocolate mustache.”

She twisted her spoon towards her such that it showed her reflect. Damn, he was right. She didn’t see what was so funny about it. Fuckers. Laughing. Laughing. Laughing. She reached for her napkin and from it a small slip of cream colored paper fluttered down into her lap.

She flipped it over and read it in horror.

Do you see?

The Photographer’s Dilemma (VI)

Thompson shook his head, surveying Ariadne’s works upon the wall. All her photographs hung from their frames where she had earlier placed them, all save one; the picture of the man with the albescent jacket.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Campbell, I’ve no idea where it went. It must have been…”

Ariadne nodded gravely, “Stolen. Its alright, Mr. Thompson. Wasn’t your fault. It doesn’t matter, I didn’t like it anyways, lets just focus on the show.”

He turned to her and gave a wry smiled and nodded and left off to answer the phones and order catering.

*

Campbell hadn’t seen him coming. She hated how silent he was.

“Now that you’ve finally got your gala-showing, do you look upon your work any differently?”

She turned furiously to behold Lynder Partridge standing behind her, a lit cigarette in his left hand, his right in his pocket, dressed all in a dark, sleek suit of diamond-patterned blue. She knew he’d show up sooner or later given that Thompson had invited him; had been waiting for him to do so. She dug the photo of her eye out of her pocket and thrust it in his face, “Mind telling me what the fuck this is?” He raised a brow slightly took a drag and then removed his right hand from his pocket and slowly took the photograph, examining it methodically.

“It is a photograph of an eye, Ms. Campbell.”

“No shit. You know whose eye?”

“It appears very similar to your own.”

“It is. Why was it in my house?”

“I’ve no idea what you are talking about,” She could tell he was legitimately confused which in turn confused her, “Explain precisely what happened from the beginning.” She told the tale and upon finishing he nodded, more to himself than to her and flipped the photograph around such that she could see it.

“I induce you believe this is the photograph I took of you at my last gala?”

“Yes. Obviously. What are you playing at?”

He shook his head fractionally, a movement so slight it was almost imperceptible and would have been had he not been standing so close to her, “You forget how flustered you were during our last encounter, your gaze were quite narrow, besides, this is a digital photograph, not analogue. Like you, I hem to the Leica, it is the only camera which I presently own. In fact, I was utilizing Mr. Thompson’s darkroom in place of my own, which is currently under construction. I can show you, if you should like.”

“If you didn’t take it than who did? You were the last person to take a picture of me.”

“As I said, it is digital. Consider how many pictures of yourself are presently available on the internet. It would be a matter of the moment to seize one, download it, crop it, blow it up to such exaggerated proportions and then print it. As for who delivered it to your abode, I could not say, but I can say that whoever it is they’re no artist.”

“On that we agree.”

She was angry. She had been positive Lynder was at the bottom of it, yet the more she considered the situation the more she realized how ridiculous her accusations must appear. He was one of the most popular up-and-coming artists in the entire city and given his previous comments on her lack of ability there was no reason for him to pursue her. She shook her head, hell, even now he looked disinterested. His comments about the internet and the ease with which one might obtain a photograph of her also rang plausible. Lynder was too much an artist to craft such a shoddy composition, there was no life in it, no message, no force or vitality. She took the photo from Lynder’s outstretched, black-gloved hand, gazing at it fixedly. He was right. It wasn’t art, it was graphic design. It wasn’t him. Then still the question: Who had left the photo? Was it the man with the white jacket? If he was indeed the killer of Greely perhaps he believed she had seen too much. Perhaps he feared she could identify him…

“Are you quite alright, Ms. Campbell?”

“No… no I am not.”

She turned to leave but he stepped forth, his presence of sudden interest restraining her like an invisible lasso.

“Congratulations on your first showing.”

She turned and smiled a hollow, cold smile, “Thanks.”

“I know you resent me because of my critiques of your work but know this, if I critique it is only because I believe it will aid your improvement.” He gestured to her artwork where it hung upon the wall, now swarming with students and professors and journalists and socialites, “As it clearly has.”

“Whatever, asshole.”

His face registered no emotion at the insult; he merely raised his cigarette back up to his mouth and took a drag and expelled a puff of smoke respectfully to his unoccupied left.

“Hubris is a sword, Ms. Campbell, be sure you don’t fall upon it.”

The Photographer’s Dilemma (V)

When she arrived at Jamie’s apartment she was surprised, it was far less expansive and glitzy than she had expected, given he was a friend of Calvin’s. She knocked and Jamie quickly answered, smiling.

“Hey, you alright.”

“No, not really, not at all.”

She went inside and was given a cup of coffee and sat down as the television rang out in the background.

“This report just in… we warn you, however, the details of the case are graphic. The victim of the suspected homicide which occurred last night at 500 Rose Place has been identified as a one Jamal Greely. Sources tell us that Greely had spent time in a correctional facility in his youth for molesting his sister and, more recently, had been involved in a child trafficking ring which the police believe to have ties to the Serbian Underground, though this remains a matter of speculative correlation at this point in time. Greely was found in his home after a anonymous tip was sent to Detective Sebastian Blanca of the VPD. Alongside Greely Detective Blanca discovered copious amounts of drugs, principally heroin as well as numerous dog cages, some of which were filled with defecation and discarded diapers.” The reporter took a moment to exhale and inhale deeply, unable to continue any further, he blinked and cleared his throat and then continued reading his report, “Uh, no… children were found at the scene though it is believed he was keeping at least two, possibly three, children in his compound. The… caller has yet to be identified. No suspects have yet surfaced.”

“What an ugly mug,” Jamie sneered in between mouthfuls of yogurt he spooned into his maw as he watched. Ariadne looked up from him, to the screen for the first time since the report had came on and gasped. The face upon the screen tagged “Jamal Greely” was familiar to her.

“I know that man.”

Jamie spun upon her.

“You what now? How?”

“I met him last night.”

“He was murdered last night. Shit… that means…”

She nodded solemnly, “I must have left just in time. He must have been killed very shortly after I walked away from his stoop.” She shook her head, biting her lower lip, “I saw him, Jamie. The man who,” she gestured to the television, “Killed that piece of trash. I saw him.”

Jamie placed his hand upon her shoulder and she slumped against him, into an embrace. His warmth was comforting and very soon, Ariadne forgot about the photo of the eye and the man with the white jacket and the kidnapper on the stoop and Partridge and the galas and the art world and her dreams. In that moment there was nothing but her and Jamie and the synchronous beating of their hearts.

 

Philosophy Circular 8/18/18

W E E K L Y   P H I L O S O P H Y


ARTICLES

Historian and philosopher Richard Carrier has penned a fascinating article – Could Be A 38% Chance We Are The Only Civilization In The Known Universe – discussing a paper on the possibility of presently existing, otherworldly civilizations, that is EM-radiating societies. Carrier’s principal point of reference is Dissolving The Fermi Paradox by Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler and Toby Ord of the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University. One of the more interesting ideas expounded upon by Carrier is that “maybe civilizations all reach a point when they don’t radiate [signals which are perceptible by instrumentation].” Quite a bit of background in the Drake Equation, the Fermi Paradox and the monograph of Sandberg et al. is required, but for those who take a interest in the extraterrestrial, it is worth combing through the necessary back-catalogue.

thevoid_005.jpg
The Drake Paradox is a argument based upon probabilities which seeks – through their utilization – to determine the number of “active” extraterrestrial civilizations within the Milky Way galaxy. The Drake Paradox was formulated by the American astronomer & astrophysicist, Dr. Frank D. Drake.

BOOKS

I have recently finished reading David Peak’s The Spectacle Of The Void (Schism Press, 2014), which, though brisk and, perhaps a little underdeveloped, was a truly fantastic text. The beautifully covered 96 page book principally concerns the inter-relational development of philosophy and horror fiction and why certain forms of fiction “work” in the domain of the macabre, unsettling or terrifying. Through the application of Nietzsche, Bergson, Brassier, Meillassoux, Kristeva and others, Peak examines, sometimes briskly, sometimes in detail, a procession of horror creators such as Dante, Brian Evenson, Roman Polanski, H.P. Lovecraft, John Carpenter, Laird Barron, Georges Bataille and many more. I was pleased to see the film Martyrs (one of the most unnerving films of the 2000s) receiving a sizable and fascinating exegesis in the tome.

voidsphere
“Reality is not what it used to be – this has never not been true.” —David Peak

The general thesis is that the trend in horror has been away from the particular and towards the all-encompassing, from known threats to the unknown. From being-thought-of-as-such to being-without-thought; to encapsulate and instantiate this uncovered progression in horror lit, Peak advances the notion of “the horror reality” (as typified in Martyrs or In The Mouth of Madness) as the new paradigm. It is no longer the masked killer one most fears, or even planetary extinction, it is knowledge itself. Some truths, as they say, are best kept secret. The Spectacle Of The Void is more descriptive than proscriptive and ends without really coming down upon whether the reification of this “horror reality” is bad or seemingly paradoxically, good; that being said, its potency (and utility for writers) lies in its ability to explain why and how a piece of fiction achieved its effect and thus, how one can also do the same. Highly recommended and the best of the week.


VIDEO/AUDIO

Having seemingly shed the rebarbative snake-skin of Randian Objectivism, Alex Epstein continuously impresses me in his on-going discourses upon energy (a subject which has been covered before in-depth on this website) and human-centered thinking. Ever since the 70s, various different “green” or “environmental” movements have sprung up, one of the most profligate (and often implicit, rather than explicit) today is the notion of deep ecology, the idea of the total equalitarian nature of all life on the planet seems to permeate in every single widespread discussion, almost regardless of the initial topic of the discussion itself.

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As a consequence, the centrality of energy infrastructure to civilizational integrity has fallen by the wayside in popular discourse; worse still is the fact that the environment without-us is increasingly becoming the paradigm (which is, I have argued before, intrinsically suicidal), thus, it is extremely refreshing to hear Epstein attempt to reframe the entire discussion in terms of what is good for us, rather than what is good for some nebulous conception such as “mother nature” (blatant anthromorphism) or “the environment” (which is just muddy, as it says nothing about particular ecosystems or indeed, arcosystems). The video below showcases many of Epstein’s central arguments concerning energy and anthropocentrism and was filmed at the 2018 Energy Disruptors conference. Long, but well worth it.

 

“Energy is the industry which powers every other industry.”

– Alex Epstein


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Fiction Circular 8/17/18

THIS WEEK’S FICTION


Flash Fiction

Noteworthy was the (very) short story Rescue from The Dark Netizen. A humorous excursion of misbegotten Don Juanism.


Short Stories

Give Was Her Resting? from Terror House Magazine a read, echoes of Reynolds Price.

“Well, ain’t that sweet? Old fool and his doggie.”

The voice came from behind him, and Bud jumped and turned. Standing right behind him was a a pale, cadaverous young man with a tuft of hair on his chin and large metal discs in his earlobes. He was wearing a filthy T-shirt and the rank odor of his body struck Bud like a fist. Behind the young man was an even younger black man, dressed all in black and wearing a knitted skullcap on his close-cropped hair. Both of them were sneering at Bud, and both of them had glittering, crazed eyes. The one closest to Bud lifted a pistol and pointed it right between the older man’s eyes.

“Where’s the pills?”


Serialized (Sometimes Ongoing) Stories

One of the more interesting pieces of writing I read this week was the fascinating and yet-unfinished fiction series, The Devil’s Peak (I & II) by R. C. Darabant of The Story Hive. It is one of those tales wherein, the less you know going into it, the more tantalizing it is and we are certainly interested to see how it ends.

In our own capacity, four parts of the fiction series, The Photographer’s Dilemma are now available here: Part 1Part 2Part 3 Part 4.


Novellas & Novels

I’ve currently been reading a number of novels, one of which entitled Dark Journey (Bantam Spectra, 1991) by the pseudonymous horror-writer, A.R. Morlan, stood out as being particularly compelling. Fans of Harlan Ellison’s work will likely appreciate the text, as Morlan explicitly makes mention of the fact that Ellison’s Gopher In The Gilly, played a vital role in inspiring certain sections of her own tale. From the backcover:

TOWN OF EVIL

Ewerton: a decaying small town, its glory days many years gone – if they ever existed… Few residents know that these times were built on corruption and lies, that the town was founded on evil. Palmer Winston glimpsed the eerie truth in a mysterious woman – and spent his last fifty years trying to recapture it. His oldest friend, Lamer Nemmitz, saw her too – it turned him sour and mean, as his humanity withered within him.

 

CARNIVAL OF HORRORS

The Water Carnival: a faded memory of imagined better times. This year will be the most memorable in Ewerton history. This year the South-State Enterprises Carnival, outlawed in Ewerton since 1923, returns. The crooked games, the mentalist, the freak show. And the true horror, disguised by a beautiful face and a Veronica Lake waterfall of caramel-blond hair, a thing born of corruption.

 

NIGHT OF JUDGMENT

The Ewerton High ten-year reunion: when she will return to her hometown and give birth to a terror from which there can be no escape…

Just as spooky as it sounds (only better written than the amusing, but rather in-your-face sensationalism of the promo text, which probably wasn’t written by Morlan herself).


Commentary, Critique & Analysis

A interesting entry from Alina Hansen this week in the character of Gertrude Stein’s “Autobiography” of Alice. The piece, though in no wise lengthy, was quite informative on one of the writer’s most popular works, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (it is not actually a true autobiography, hence Hansen’s deployment of air-quotes in her title) for someone like myself who is not well-versed with the works of Stein.


BEST OF THE WEEK

Our nomination for the best fiction-related piece of the week is not, itself, a work of fiction but rather a historical exegis of the life, times and works of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges by OddMadLand entitled, Erase Their Eyes, Ensure Their Devotion. As someone who knew next to nothing about Borges, the piece was considerably edifying (and exceptionally written, as is everything at OddMadLand). It is a lengthy article but well worth the read.

(The existence of these new events bring more to the event than there was before. There is a devil behind them, it is the antichrist. Jorge Luis Borges wants us to understand that by turning away from time in favour of space a wrinkle is created that allows the devil to dance behind our back. This leads to a powerful realization, that the apocalypse is cumulative, gradual, always already happening, that the antichrist is a time traveler who, in altering the timeline, creates chaos at a distance, chaos for the future. If for God time is always complete, than the only way for the devil to sabotage Gods absolutely completed space is to create alternative versions of the original events. That way, blasphemies would occur: like sons being peers to their fathers or christ’s resurrection.)


WORST OF THE WEEK

Thankfully nothing to report at present.


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Join us next week for more recommendations and literary commentary. Thank you for reading.

The Photographer’s Dilemma (IIII)

Campbell returned home elated. Finally, after all her struggles, she would be having her first major gallery showing, at one of the premiere lounges in the city and on a weekend no less where the maximal number of people would be likely to show up. It wasn’t just good, it was perfect. She moved sprightly to the kitchen, throwing her coat upon the kitchen counter and removing a bottle of wine from the fridge. She paused when she turned around to set it on the long faux-obsidian island. She had forgotten to open her mail, which sat in a thick cluster upon the table. Aridane set the wine bottle down and began shuffling through the papers, bills, bank statements, credit card offers and, at the last, a note that was wholly unlike the rest, all yellowish creme, with a tasteful silver ensign upon the upper left corner. It did not say who it was from but was addressed to her. She wondered if someone had delivered it by hand as she fished out a butter knife and slit the top of the tiny package. Inside was a small square, covered over in expensive parchment. When she folded it away a photograph of a human eye greeted her, sepia toned and eerie; it was beautifully bound in a simple black frame without ornamentation. With rising brows the woman set the photograph down beside the bottle and unfurled the parchment. It read: Do you see?

What the hell is this? Who would send this to…

She studied the eye on the table, it seemed familiar. It was certainly from a female subject. After a few more moments of deliberation she stood bolt up right and cursed underneath her breath.

Its MY eye. That means… Lynder… he’s the only person who has taken a photo of me recently. He took my picture at his last gala. It must have been him. It must have.

She picked up her phone and dialed the doorman.

“Eeeello, what may I do for you?”

“Grigs, this is Ariadne-”

“Oh hello Ms. Campbell, something the matter?”

“No, not really. I was just curious if anyone has come in the past couple of weeks, anyone you don’t recognize?”

“Uh, I don’t think so… oh wait, yeah, come to think of it there was a fellow came in early yesterday. Definitely didn’t live here, said he was visiting some friends. Had a white jacket, with a red design on the back.”

“What kind of design?”

“Looked like a chrysanthemum.”

“Shit.”

“What is it? You know him Ms. Campbell, cause if he’s giving you any trouble I’ll-”

“No. No its fine, Grigs. Something just occurred to me. Thanks.”

Her hand trembled as she set the phone down. Her mind reeling back to the alleyway and the man with the white jacket and the chrysanthemum ensign. Who was he? Why was he here? Was he the one who had left the letter with the photograph of her eye? How did he get it? Did he know Partridge? What the fuck was going on?

Suddenly it occurred to her – the copies. She ran to her dark room and gasped.

Her copies of the man with the white jacket were missing. All of them.

The phone rang out from the kitchen. Aridane nearly jumped out of her skin and then shook her head and swore under her breath and ran to the source of the noise.

“Y-yes?”

“Ariadne, its me, Jamie. I just wanted to make sure you were ok.”

“What?”

“I know we didn’t exactly hit it off, we were drunk and all, its just… there was a murder. Right outside of Calvin’s place, near the alley you take to get home.”

“How the fuck do you know what way I take to get home.”

“Calvin told me. Or, Svetlana told me and Calvin told her. I just wanted to make sure you were ok, Calvin would have called but he was in a meeting, he’s starting to get big offers and, er, it doesn’t matter.”

“What happened, who was killed?”

“Dunno. Police haven’t released any names or photos, they just got a anonymous tip that something was going down in The Tombs. They show up and some guy is lying on the ground in his house missing half his head. Skull was crushed.”

“Any suspects?”

“None. Lot of people live around there, even though walking at night you might not think it.”

“Well… thanks for calling me, Jamie. Listen… uh-”

“Is something wrong? You sound upset.”

“Yeah, actually, yeah something is really fucking wrong, someone broke into my place and stole my photos.”

“What… Why?”

“I don’t know. But I’m freaking out, does Calvin mind if I come over?”

“Like I said he’s in a meeting, he’ll be tied up for a while. You can come over to my place, I don’t live very far away from him. Ok?”

“Ok. Thanks Jamie.”

“No problem. I’m at 556 Essen Street. You know it?”

“I know it.”

“Ok.”

“Ok, I’ll talk to you soon.”

She hung up and grabbed her coat, silently cursing herself for not scanning her pictures and saving them online.

If I’d just scanned them whoever the bastard who had broken in would be shit out of luck. Dammit.

She starred a moment at the photograph of her eye and then pocketed it and headed for the door, locking it behind her. As she headed for the subway a man with a crisp white jacket watched from the shadows of a local parking garage. Eyes like lanterns in the night.

 

The Photographer’s Dilemma (III)

The wicked droning of the club-speaker’s drowned out all conversation, interaction was relegated to drunken glances and sensual movements. A communication of primal rhythm. Ariadne Campbell sat in the corner, starring sullenly at her half-empty glass. She could see them out of the corner of her eye. Dancing, kissing, rubbing, whispering about fucking. Her lip quivered. Head dizzy with drink. Knuckles white. The sound of the place was starting to become overwhelming, the sonic shredding roiling throughout the ambit of her mind like an ocean in a shell. She’d no idea why she’d accepted Calvin’s invitation.

I should have turned him down. I can’t dance. Don’t have a date. Probably look like a fucking loser. Sitting in the corner alone, sipping tequila. I don’t even know why I bought it. I can’t stand tequila… at least they didn’t drop a worm in it…

Some moments later a voice greeted her. Unfamiliar and husky.

“What are you doing sulking in the corner, beautiful?”

Her words came slow and messy, the alcohol haze masking the texts from the library shelves of her memory palace, “I’m not sulking. Who are you?”

“Rivers. Jamie Randall Rivers. You don’t remember me?”

“Oh, wait, we met at Calvin’s party, last Friday, right?”

“Right. What’s your poison?”

“Tequila.”

He raised his brows. That’s a whole lot of tequila for a little girl like you.”

“Hey, I’m not that little.”

“Little to me.”

“Is that a challenge? I bet I could drink you under the table.”

She had no idea where this sudden bravado was coming from and knew that she couldn’t out-drink the man if only because she felt extremely drunk already, yet even still, the words continued to gush from her mouth as if of their own accord.

“Well? Wadda ya say?”

He smiled like a wolf. “Sure.”

An hour and a half later, Ariadne and Randall were rolling with laughter, exchanging stories of their youth, business mishaps, their dreams, failed and achieved, all whilst knocking back shots like fish filtering water. Shortly thereafter, Calvin and his girlfriend finally left the dancefloor and made their way across the club to stand before the cackling duo, “Randall, I didn’t see you pop in, I’m glad you could make it.”

“Your parties are always great, man. Thanks for the invite, was only late because my kid was sick, poor girl couldn’t sleep.”

Ariadne sat bolt upright. Kid? He hadn’t mentioned a kid. Is he married? Does he have a wife? Why would he come over and call me beautiful if he did? I thought he…

“Why aren’t you two dancing?” Calvin’s girl inquired with a raise of a over-shaved brow. Aridane couldn’t remember her name. Was something strange. Foreign. Eastern European. Stoya or Stoylarov or Story or something like that. Calvin always had been possessed of a inexplicable appreciation for the exotic.

Randall raised his empty shot glass and shook the ice cubes therein which clattered like hollow bones, smiling. Calvin nodded and pointed to Ariadne, “How about you, you up for a dance… if you don’t mind, Svety?”

Svetlana, that was her name. Sounds like a low-shelf sugar brand.

Svetlana rolled her eyes, “I hate it when you call me that, sounds too much like ‘sweaty.'”

Ariadne and Randall burst into laughter as an embarrassed look ghosted across Calvin’s squarish, handsome face. “Sorry.” He mouthed sheepishly. She smiled and fixed him with her gaze.

“Actually, yes.”

“Yes?”

“Yes, I do mind. Now come on, this is one of my favorite songs.”

Without another word Svetlana dragged her hapless lover back into the crowded dancefloor as a saccharin pop piece thundered from the loudspeakers, “I just wanna taste you baby, I just wanna little piece of the pie, I just wanna feel you honey, I just never wanna see you cry-“

“I think I know this song, not really my cup of tea but-”

“You didn’t tell me you had a kid.”

He paused, confused, brows furrowed like a tractor-rent field.

“You didn’t ask. Is that a problem?”

“No. Its just… are you married?”

His right brow arched a little higher. Momentarily, he raised his left hand and wriggled his unadorned and evenly tanned fingers.

“Fraid not. You planning on proposing?”

“No, I was just curious.”

“Did you think I was hitting on you?”

Ariadne’s heart sunk. She didn’t know how to reply, every avenue, verbal and not, seemed equally likely to lead to social embarrassment.

“Uh, that isn’t what I said.”

“Because I wasn’t. I mean, not that I wouldn’t, I just-”

“Its fine.” She wanted desperately to say “forget it” but feared for sounding too forceful.

He cleared his throat and starred intently at his glass. Lynder’s words rang through Ariadne’s head as she observed the man, who looked so genuinely uncomfortable in that moment, “Art is documentation of one’s own creation, not of anothers.” This is MY creation, this moment of unease and emotional ambiguity, this voided mental space externalized.

She removed her Leica M4-P from her bag and, swiftly as possible, snapped a shot of Randall staring at his glass. He looked up in inebriated confusion and she snapped again.

“What are you doing?”

“I hope you don’t mind. I just felt… compelled.”

“Uh, well, I’m going to go and… get another drink. Be right back.”

“Ok.”

He never returned. After around ten minutes had elapsed she induced that he had like as not left or maybe had moved into one of the other chambers of Calvin’s strange, multi-stratified compound, a gift from his oft doting and well-heeled family. Perhaps looking for another girl. Perhaps not. It didn’t matter. He didn’t matter, not to her, not in that moment, all that mattered where her photos. Her art. She rose with such suddenness that she knocked over her glass, spilling the congealing contents of her cup across the table and made for the exit, she wanted to her, fearful that someone would catch her leaving and raise the litany of typical queries which the unimaginative always did in such situations. “Why are you taking off so soon?” “How come you’re leaving already?” and so forth. She had no time or patience or energy for such conversations. Her goal compelled her to swift action and that crystallization of purpose steeled her being and drove her through the foggy haze of alcohol and wavering, sultry bodies and noise and street-bound biomass into the winding labyrinth of the cities slums which had come to be known as The Tombs. As she rounded the corner of the first alley which let out from the Calvin’s northern block she bumped into a tall man with a white jacket.

“Fuck, I’m sorry.”

The man looked down upon her without sound, or at least assumed he did, for his face was masked in shadow, swallowed whole by the pall cast by a dark red ballcap.

The man continued to regard her a moment without moving and then spoke, his voice low and flat and strange.

“These streets are unsafe, especially at such an hour. It is unadvisable to walk them alone.”

“You seem to be doing just fine by your lonesome.”

“I am never alone.”

She was too stunned by this sudden theatrical turn to properly respond. What did he mean? Was he on drugs? He didn’t seem like a tweaker. It was only when the man had half vanished from sight that Ariadne regained the powers of speech. She noticed, as she watched him go, a curious ensign upon the back of his jacket. A red chrysanthemum. When the man had gone she continued on her way back to her apartment which lay at the south eastern corner of the Tombs. She raised her Leica and took his picture.

She passed by a old black man sitting upon the stoop of a decaying tenement who was dressed in a broad brimmed hat and ragged flannel. He looked up hungrily, speaking softly but excitedly.

“Hey honey, you looking for a little… something something.”

She wasn’t sure whether he meant drugs or sex or some combination thereof; the one thing she was certain of was that he was implying at least one of the three.

“Nope.”

“You sure bout that?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Cool, cool, cool. Suit yaself.” He lit up a cigarette and looked off into the dark vacantly, puffing and rubbing his chin as the wind picked up and tore through the massive concrete structures with the dessicated rattling of a hundred thousand cicadas. Once he’d looked off she snapped a photo of him as well. He suddenly looked back towards here.

“What the fuck you doing?”

“Just taking pictures.”

“Take them somewhere else.”

“Sheesh, don’t get your panties in a knot,” she sneered taking another picture of the man. A dark look came then over his face and he rose up from the stoop, his posture threatening.

“The fuck you say, bitch? Get the fuck out of here.”

She snapped mid-rise and at full height, as his mouth hung open, spittle flying, anger radiating from his eyes and vaporizing up with the cool blue of the moon.

“Alright, calm down.” She implored the man, turning, her heart racing a little faster than usual.

“Be calm when you ain’t taking no more pictures, I don’t do that tabloid shit.”

She pocked the camera and waved at the man whose wrathful glare continued to follow her down the length of the street until she vanished in the void.

Once home she grabbed up her mail, threw it on the kitchen island and shut herself up in the darkroom, developing her photos of Jamie Rivers.

*

“These are pretty good,” the old man stated flatly, as he examined the photographs, his brows slightly raise, his glasses perched upon the end of his nose, “I don’t tend to see a lot of slice-of-life work anymore from serious photographers. Documentation is out, digital manipulation is in. Fantasy portraits are currently the favored flavor of the month. Lots of demon-ladies and badly photoshopped levitation scenes, etcetera. Tedious. Very tedious. But this, this has some grit to it, unearths the petty squalor of the inner city, the emulsification of crushed dreams and the vain striving to move beyond that vitiation.”

“Is ‘pretty good’ good enough for your gallery, Mr. Thompson?”

“Well, you just get right down to business don’t you. Brass tacks then. Yes.”

Ariadne heard his words, registered them, but even still she could not believe in their veracity. For years she had been struggling to break into the gallery scene, into the upper crust of the art world. Now, at long last the delicious nectar of victory dangled tempting just above her tongue. To taste it…

“What?”

“Yes. I would love to put these up for display. However, before I do, I’d like to know why you’ve taken them. What’s your motivation, Ms. Campbell?”

“Um…” Her tongue caught in her throat. It was not a question she was accustomed to being asked, “To be… more than just a vessel. To show through my pictures of the city, how much one person can change it, even if only so slightly. We forget how much impact we have on those around us, especially when we chance into them but once and never met them again.”

The old man paused, strike buy the peculiarity of her answer.

“Most people just list off what they want to get with the attention that is brought by their art. Listen, Ms. Campbell, as I’d said before, I would very much like to put these up; I’m hosting a show in a week, Saturday; you can leave these here and my people will set them up along with the other displays.”

“That’s fine, I’ve copies.”

“Good good, but I assure you, we take the utmost care in the maintenance of our pieces.” The old man paused and looked out the window whereupon a enormously fat woman was slurping from a fast-food cup, “It is rare enough we take care of our bodies and thus our minds, to say nothing of their products. For this reason I like to look at art like a body, a extension of it, a fusion of the body with the world. Thoughts are bodies. Thoughts and dreams.”

“Art is the crystallization of a dream.”

The old man smiled even as he tilted his head in perplexity.

“You sound just like Lynder Partridge.”

 

Film Review | Hellraiser: Judgment | 2018

***this post contains spoilers

“I knew what I wanted to make, and I felt like ‘you know what, I wrote a traditional Hellraiser story with Revelations and I got raped by the fans. I’m not going to try and appease the fans anymore.’ I’m going to make a film for me and I have a very strong idea visually on where I want to go with the story and its going to be very different. I’m going to make a food for me and offer everybody a bite.” (“Interview with Gary J Tunnicliffe”60 Minutes WithArchived from the original on 12 November 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017.)

The Hellraiser films are not so much a “series” (as in, a continuation of a story or set of stories) as they are a reworking of various different motifs and considerably smaller number of characters into completely self-contained vesicles (which I do not mean as either a good or bad thing, it is simply the best description which occurs to me). The only consistency throughout all of the films and what holds them all together is the presence of the mysterious puzzle-box known as the Lament Configuration and the bizarre, other-dimensional beings known as the Cenobites (koinos, “common”, bios, “life” | used to refer to members of a communal, religious order).

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Hellraiser mainstay, Pinhead; leader of the Cenobites, the “High Priest of Hell.”

Of the 10 films to date, only Hellraiser (1st in the franchise), Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser: Bloodline (4th) and Hellraiser: Hellseeker (6th) can be considered any kind of proper series (Hellseeker only because it features the return of Kirsty Cotten, the protagonist of Hellraiser 1 & 2). This is especially true of the fifth installment, Inferno, which, though a very good movie, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any of the preceding films in the series, save for the cenobites (and they are all different save for the Chatterer – who lost his legs somehow – and Pinhead, who only shows up at the end of the film). Despite the disparate styles and plots of the various films, they (by and large) maintained a continuous mystique and consistently raised questions concerning the principal motivating factor in human activity: Desire. After the abysmal outing that was Hellraiser: Revelation (9th in the franchise) – despite it’s excellent script – I was interested to see what the talented FX artist Gary J. Tunnicliffe could do with Barker’s material in the capacity of writer/director.

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Hellraiser: Judgment (10th in the franchise), was released in 2018 and was directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe, produced by Michael Leahy and was created with roughly the same budget (approx. $300,000) as its predecessor. I had absolutely no idea what the budget for this movie was before seeing it and never once did a single thing throughout my viewing thereof ever appear “cheap.” It is also worth noting that the idea (floated by some critics and reviewers) that around $300,000 is a “small budget” speaks volumes of the excess which is bred by a distance from any real fiscal instability, from any real poverty and the unabated hunger for spectacle for its own sake.

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The plot of the film centers around three detectives, two brothers and woman, who are hunting down a serial killer known as The Preceptor, who kills according to the Bible. Every murder committed by The Preceptor corresponds to a particular “sin” described in the ten commandments and if that sounds almost identical to Andrew Kevin Walker’s script for Se7en that’s because it is. The generic (and often uneventful) police procedural is, thankfully, interspliced with numerous scenes of a otherword which we later learn is Hell. This extradimensional realm is, as per usual, populated by the ominous cenobites as well as another group of peculiar beings known as the Stygian Inquisition who appear to be headed by a horribly scarred and bespectacled human-like creature called The Auditor, who is responsible for processing the souls of those desired by Hell. The Auditor’s task is accomplished by sitting across from the prospect and inquiring into the nature of their past to unearth their sins whereupon the hell-clerk will type up a thorough documentation of the individual’s misdeeds on a typewriter affixed, not with paper, but human flesh. Ink is dispensed with for blood.

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The Auditor
The Auditor as portrayed by G. J. Tunnicliffe.

Two storylines run in concert. The first is that of detectives Sean & David Carter who are looking for a serial killer and who are quickly joined by a female detective named Egerton who is brought on by the higher-ups to both the expedite the case as well as keep an eye on Sean (who suffers from PTSD and turns to the bottle). The second storyline follows the Auditor processing souls in hell with the aid of various other grotesque and bizarre entities. The outer realm and the mundane collide when the Auditor absconds into his pocket dimension with Sean.

Process of the Stygian Inquisition.

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The Auditor.
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The Assessor.
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The Jury.
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The Cleaners.
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The Butcher.
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The Surgeon. The last processor of the Stygian Inquisition.

Sean unintentionally puts a damper on the Auditor’s plans when he declares that “no one can judge him but God.” Shortly thereafter, a angel named Jophiel appears and demands that The Auditor release Sean, stating that God has plans for him. The Auditor is confused and reluctant, greeting the angel kindly but coldly. Shortly thereafter The Auditor seeks council with Pinhead, the leader of the cenobites about what to do concerning the angel and the human. Pinhead asks where Sean is and they both return to the rooms of the acquisition only to discover that the detective escaped. Later it is revealed that the Preceptor is none other than Sean and that the reason he was killing those who had broken the ten commandments was due to his intense religiosity and hatred for the modern world. Pinhead seeks to claim the deranged detective’s soul but the angel Jophiel intercedes once more and demands the man’s release; God wants him out in the world, deeming those he kills to be “acceptable losses.” Pinhead, knowing that Egerton will shoot Sean given that she knows he is the killer, upon his return to earth, happily obliges and Sean is swiftly dispatched by the police woman just as planned. This infuriates the angel who then threatens the cenobite.

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Detective Egerton.

Pinhead, however, is none to happy being threatened with “pain” and decides to torture and dismember the angel and, after sufficient suffering, kills her. All the while the Auditor had been slinking and when the angel is dead he moves to the cenobite’s side and notes that he should not have acted so rashly, for God will surely punish him. Indeed, this is just what happens as a bright, white light envelopes Pinhead, who is transformed into a human and banished from Hell, forced to live amongst the mortals, presumably, for the rest of his days. He cries out at the loss of his “sweet suffering” and then screams. Credits rolls and at their end two Mormon missionaries appear at a house in Germany, peddling their creed, once the door is opened the Auditor’s voice is heard, welcoming them in and signalling that they are soon to be processed by the Stygian Inquisition. It is here that the film ends.

Whilst nowhere near as dense in symbolism and metaphor as some other Barker-inspired films such as The Midnight Meat Train, the film does offer some peculiar and unexpected critiques. One of the most unexpected to me was the criticism of the “anti-modern savior” in the character of Sean Carter, The Preceptor. Whilst his religiosity and hatred of other human beings acts as Sean’s primary source of motivation (especially when coupled with his desire for revenge against his brother and wife who were having a affair behind his back), he also takes sadistic pleasure in what he does, despite the fact that he feels considerable remorse afterwards (as he states in his confessions to The Auditor). Sean’s revenge against his traitorous brother and wife is understandable and his disdain towards those who act wholly without any moral consideration, is also, if not righteous, again, understandable. Yet, at one point later in the film, when he confronts his brother, he screams that he would kill every single human being alive if he was able due their sinfulness, completely neglecting his own past transgressions (beating his dog, slaughtering other humans in war, torturing and murdering those who broke the ten commandments) and the fact that he is precisely the kind of monstrous personality he decries. Sean then is, in many ways, analogous to the self-righteous religious radicals who use the phrase “modernity” with disgust and style themselves as revolutionaries despite being wholly chained to a tradition which has never even existed, those who state how much they cannot stand the modern world, even as it sustains them, those who state that they hate everyone, even as they spout fascicle platitudes of brotherhood and unity under God; those whose plans for change all invariably boil down to nothing more than murder and violent repression on a monumental scale which is always permissible so long as they are the ones carrying it out and so long as it is done in the name of their favored deity (who can, of course, do no wrong, and they, as the instruments of providence, likewise are absolved of all). Unlike this common crop of self-loathing, hypocritical, hysteric, psychologically damaged loons, Sean is, at least, willing to admit his murderous intentions. This vain, human wailing is sharply contrasted by the opening of the film which shows Pinhead and The Auditor discussing the increasingly outmoded nature of the Lament Configurations; they note that the interconnectivity of technological systems has rendered the puzzle boxes relatively ineffective as conduits of desire; people aren’t interested in rituals and puzzle boxes anymore, but rather, the liminal sea of the internet. Instead of bemoaning this, the two denizens of the outer world see this as a opportunity to try out new methods of their own, namely the pocket-dimension houses of the Stygian Inquisition who lure their victims via internet transmissions. Where The Preceptor flails and cries out, the cenobites and the inquisition adapt. And yet, just like many humans, Pinhead falls victim to his own hubris whereas The Auditor never overplays his hand and it is for this reason that it is he alone who stands triumphant at the end of the picture.

What is most interesting about The Auditor, in terms of his personality, was how polite and dutiful he was, in contrast to the cenobite, Chatterer, who is erratic and violent when unconstrained by his master; so much so that when Sean helps hurry the auditing procedure along, The Auditor treats him kindly, gifting him a reward of inhuman knowledge; yet he is, at the same time, completely sanguine about inflicting suffering, if it is necessary to complete his task. This contrasts with the cenobites who enjoy suffering for its own sake. “I am a man for whom pain is nothing more than a common currency,” The Auditor states flatly, during his interrogation of the child murderer Watkins, who had been reticent in divulging his sins, “I will spend some on you… if you like?” One can easily image The Auditor as having been a overzealous DMV worker in his previous, human life.

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“DMV? How dare you use that word. I am the DMV.”

It was a thoroughly enjoyable film, well-crafted and with something to say. I’d recommend it.