Queer Weird Fiction: Joe Orton’s Head To Toe, a camp surrealist fantasia

British writer Joe Orton is famous for his blackly comic plays and and for the tragic manner of his death: being bludgeoned to death by his lover with a hammer. He is less well-known for his fiction. He published one novel, Head to Toe, a brilliant piece of Weird Fiction that languishes in obscurity. I say it’s brilliant, but your mileage may vary. The novel is set on the body of a giant being (referred to as an afreet) and concerns the wild adventures experienced by an ordinary schlub who wanders up on the creature’s body, finding that entire societies live there. The humor is Swiftean farce, but the underlying mood is one of Kafkaesque anomie. The text is marred by some archiac misogyny and the plot is episodic. It still manages to be haunting, full of dream logic. In a way, it’s like an adult, very camp and very queer Alice in Wonderland kind of phantasmorgia.

Head to Toe

American Horror Story: Coven, Ep. 1; Grand Guignol, High Camp and the Spectacle of Black Suffering

I loved American Horror Story: Asylum. It was an excessive mess of Grand Guignol horror and over the top campyness. The new season, subtitled Coven, debuted last night. True to form,It was luridly disturbing. Race and rape and gendered tropes abounded; it is unclear whether the story is subversive or not. Catfights, and scenery-chewing competed with some really dark material. I had more than a touch of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome watching the Madame LaLaurie sequence, where the black male body was tortured. Nightmare fuel =  the grindhouse horror of seeing flayed, punctured and surgically modified black flesh. Slave torture combined with high camp gave this opening gambit some serious mood whiplash. I hope that the story does give the enslaved a voice. At its best, horror can be cathartic. I hope that the subversive elements comes in soon. Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau and the rest of the excellent cast is not enough to erase the bitter afterimages of black suffering.


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