The Burnt Offering

A Miscellany

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #96. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


The Burnt Offering is where Stu Horvath thinks too much in public so he can live a quieter life in private. 


I haven’t had time for weighty thinking on culture this month. I’ve been viewing my son’s impending birth as a sort of hurricane warning, and using my time to frantically complete as many projects as I can before he arrives. As such, I have a nice new patio now (ugh, my aching back) but have not had the time or energy to write. I fear that “I have not had the time or energy to write” is going to become my mantra over the next several months.

Instead, I’m going to offer up the columnist’s equivalent of a clip show and briefly mention a few things that have been kicking around my brain but likely won’t ever support a full essay. Let’s start, shall we?

* * *

Well after publishing last month’s column on memory and history and my hypothetically imminent son, I had a new realization along the same lines. My life, up till now, has been very much about me. I don’t mean that in a selfish way, but rather, more in a Cartesian sense of “I think, therefore I am.” Having a child has made me think about myself less as a person with a biographical narrative from birth to death and more as a set of recollections that will inform someone else’s story. Everything I do once he is born will be edited down by his brain until, at some point in the future, I will exist only as interconnected memories.

Human ego (or at least, my ego) makes it a curious thing to realize you might not be the main character of a story. This isn’t a surprise on some level, of course, but I rarely think about how life is actually a tapestry of shifting, Roshamon-like perspectives. As a rule, I’d wager no one else does in their daily lives. We’re too much bound to the I.

* * *

The last decade has produced a lot of brilliant horror movies and even more flawed gems. Since February of 2015, I’ve been endeavoring to assemble a viewer’s guide of them, focusing on films that might be more apt to fall through the cracks. I’ve recently added another 20 entries. You can check the guide out in its entirety here, but I wanted to draw attention to one film in particular. Here’s my entry for A Dark Song:

A Dark Song – 2017 – Liam Gavin
A powerful bit of character driven horror, A Dark Song follows the grieving Sophia (Catherine Walker) as she enlists an occultist, Solomon (Steve Oram), to lead her in a months-long magickal ritual in a remote house in Wales. Trapped in the rented mansion until the completion of the ritual, the two work through their personal demons, as well as some other entities drawn to the power of the working.

The process is grueling. It is rare to find any kind of movie, let alone a horror film, whose construction – the 90-minute depiction of the performance of a European style Kabbalistic magick ritual in this case – mirrors not only the substance of the movie (the transformation of the characters by that ritual) but also the effect it has on the viewer. We are running the psychological gauntlet along with these characters, purifying ourselves, supplicating, enduring it to the end.

While A Dark Song is creepy as all get out, it is also deeply transformative. Not a pleasant experience, little in life is, but one I am happy to have had (several times, nearly back to back, if I’m going to be completely honest). My favorite horror movie of 2017, it has lingered in my mind far longer than most movies and has colored my reactions to everything I’ve seen since. | Trailer

Consider giving it a try if you’re in need of an unusual horror film this spooky season.

* * *

In a weird (and awful) bit of kismet, another essay of mine from 2015 (little over a month after the initial publication of the horror movie guide, in face) is suddenly worth a re-read. It was called “The Tyranny of the Fan.” I thought to read it again in the wake the McDonald’s Rick and Morty Szechuan sauce incident, the attempt by lingering GamerGate trolls to fire up a new front in the comic book industry (idiotically called ComicGate) and a swirl of about a dozen other fandom-related flashpoints in recent months.

It wasn’t hard to predict that the toxic elements of fandom would gain prominence in the wake of GamerGate, but it is a bit staggering to see the scale and scope of it all. Nazis were a problem in GG (Nazis are always a problem, I say, as someone who grew up in the North Jersey punk rock scene), but it is infuriating to look back and see how brazen they were in exploiting fan dogmas that exist in traditionally “nerdy” spaces to foster fascism. And not just a little fascism. Like, a nearly out of control, barely held in check, my god, these people put a moron in the White House fascism.

We’re in these trenches together. I don’t need to tell you how it is. But looking back gave me an eye-opening bit of context. It might do the same for you.

* * *

Finally, there’s been a bit of hubbub in the games journalism community about the notion of freelancers “talking shit” and how that can cost you gigs if you get a rep as a shit talker. Which is nonsense. Freelancers should be free to talk about what outlets pay on time (full disclosure: Unwinnable doesn’t always manage to do that!) and what editors are assholes and any other aspect of the business they think they need to put the word out on. Not talking about this stuff is what let the games journalism vampire lord Kill Screen to suck the lifeblood out of so many writers for so long.

We need more people talking, not less. But I get it. It is a small pool. You don’t want to burn bridges and risk shrinking your potential revenue. So I have an offer for you. I don’t freelance. I’m not beholden to other editors or outlets. If you have some bullshit weighing you down but are afraid of the blowback you might get for speaking out about it, you can always write about it for Unwinnable under a pseudonym.


Stu Horvath is the editor in chief of Unwinnable. He reads a lot, drinks whiskey and spends his free time calling up demons. Follow him on Twitter @StuHorvath.

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