Closing Shop

Trust that I come to this post with enough sadness and disappointment to go around. Unfortunately, Silent Motorist Media is closing up shop. I’m going to give you two versions of this announcement: the short and the long. Feel free to read whichever suits your level of interest. You can ignore the other without guilt.  

The Short

I’ve run up against rocky financial shores and can no longer justify the ever-increasing expense of running a press. SMM came tantalizingly close to showing potential for profit only a few times over the course of its existence, and while it’s been fun, I am in a place where I’m forced to dedicate the entirety of my occupational efforts to more practical concerns. All future projects are canceled. The webstore will remain open until I run out of stock, or until the maintenance bill comes due again. I will try to ensure that SMM maintains some semblance of a web presence, and since the “blog” site ( is relatively cheap, this will probably become, once again, the “main” page. This will exist for nostalgic purposes only. Please do not expect regular posts. 

I will print and distribute Philip Fracassi’s Altar. I refuse to skimp on Kickstarter obligations, no matter how difficult a place I am in personally. Contributors to that Kickstarter have no cause to worry. I also refuse to “bail” SMM out with an additional Kickstarter while there are obligations waiting to be fulfilled from previous campaigns. 

All other projects are canceled. I know many of you were excited about Mysterium Tremendum IV, The Endless Walk, The Box, and our anthology of labyrinths, but they are no longer feasible undertakings. I am deeply sorry for this. I assure you that no one is more disappointed than I. 

We’re also canceling the annual list of “10 Weird Writers to Save Us,” as I simply do not have the time, between pushing Altar to completion and addressing hardships in my personal life, to dedicate the necessary attention to this list. I’m sorry for that as well. 

Patrons have no need to worry. I will close the page out before the next billing cycle.

The Long 

I feel the need, in this next segment, to show you how all this transpired. I need you to know that I don’t come to this decision lightly. Fair warning: abundant personal details follow. 

Throughout my occupational existence, I’ve tried to ignore my profound hearing loss. I worked in the medical field for ten years, and since my hearing loss is progressive, I had more and more trouble communicating. My hearing loss led to countless embarrassments, confusisions, and miscommunications, which I once swallowed and tried to forget, acting as “normal” as possible. I did this instead of accepting that I couldn’t hear. 

Then came COVID. 

When the mask mandates at work came along, I suddenly couldn’t communicate at all without great difficulty and embarrassment. I realized with dismay that I had been relying almost entirely on my ability to read lips. My job largely consisted of route responses and brief interactions that I could breeze through on the assumption that the patient was providing the expected response, but that’s a scary thing in the medical field, isn’t it? Assumptions have no place there, and I was wholly unable to navigate unexpected interactions, which occurred in abundance. 

In a panic, I alerted my supervisors to the issue. They calmly reassured me that they’d find me a more suitable position. I was relieved until the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. The stress of trying to navigate a world without faces and without the ability to understand speech was eating me alive. 

Finally, I reiterated my request for a new position. They refused, and also declined my request to provide documentation stating that my hearing had left me unable to perform my basic job functions. In desperation, I quit. 

Immediately, I contacted the workforce commission and began trying to transition into data entry, editing, or any computer-based industry utilizing my experience as an editor. Anything that wouldn’t require me to interact constantly with masked customers and coworkers. As nothing materialized, I leaned harder into Silent Motorist Media, initiating a series of projects I hoped would kickstart the press into providing some semblance of a humble living. At the very least, I wanted SMM to bridge the gap while I attempted to transition into a new industry.

Fast forward to Hymns of Abomination. Despite the consistent applications, I hadn’t even landed an interview for a desk or computer job. The workforce commission did little more than send me links to jobs I’d already applied for. Freelance work dried up. And worst, difficulties with Amazon forced Hymns onto a new distribution platform, one far more costly than what the Kickstarter was originally budgeted for. I sank into the last of my stimulus checks, refusing defeat. I fought tooth and nail and finally pushed Hymns through. 

In desperation, I turned back to the medical field. I have two children to provide for, after all. I landed an interview at the only major lab in my area, and was offered the job. I quit the job search, relieved that I’d somehow found a way to survive at the last possible moment. Days before I was due to start, the offer was rescinded. 

Penniless, I finally broke down and decided to apply for disability. The process is supposed to take 5 months, according to SSD. 

And that brings me to the present tense. I can’t survive for five months waiting on the disability application. I will have to somehow find work in a masked world that I can’t navigate, that I couldn’t truly navigate to begin with. I’m starting with entry level positions and hoping without true hope that I can find a manager willing to accommodate my hearing loss. 

How does this relate to SMM? Well, I simply won’t have the time to do this anymore. I throw my everything into these books, and my everything is needed elsewhere for the foreseeable future. And as Hymns has proven, even a successful book can reach deep into personal funds when ruffled by the slightest difficulty. I can’t afford making that gamble again, no matter how much I love the work I do.   

I hate this. It’s hard not to despair. 

I’d like to think that I’ll rise out of the dust to compile an anthology again in the future. But that will have to happen from a place of financial stability. I’ve never quite managed that before, and it seems an even more illusory dream now than ever. 

So thank you to everyone who bought a book, shared a post, followed the site, and sent words of encouragement my way. Much love to you all. I’ll always look back on SMM with pride. 

-Justin A. Burnett

PS. I’m including my personal PayPal below for those of you who want to donate. I’m also linking the SMM vintage SciFi eBay store, which still has stock. Please know that I deeply appreciate your help. I have no plans whatsoever to start a GoFundMe or other crowdfunding campaign.


The Whip and the Body (1963) by Brian O’Connell

Why do we enjoy horror stories? There have been a million attempted answers to the question, and almost none of them are satisfying—or entirely satisfying, at any rate. A common view holds that exposing ourselves to our deepest fears in a safe and artificial environment helps us prepare ourselves for and cope with them when they arrive in the real world, but this seems to fall apart with even the merest scrutiny: watching Hereditary would not seem to ease the pain of losing a loved one, for example, nor am I likely to recommend Audition to someone with a fear of needles. Stephen King, who once proposed this view in his 1981 survey of the genre, Danse Macabre, has alternately contended that watching horror movies allows us to satiate our deepest, darkest instincts and thus to keep them at bay, but again, this suggestion fails to account for so much; when I walk out of an especially traumatic or upsetting picture, I don’t feel that anything has been “purged” from me, I feel worse. Ligotti perhaps strikes closer to the mark when he argues that horror is the best genre for reflecting the eternal agony and absurdity of the mortal human consciousness, but I don’t think we can assume this holds true for a huge portion of the audience for horror movies, either. In each case the proposed answer seems either too trite, beholden to fundamentally conservative notions of art as serving some redemptive social or psychological function, or too specific, expressing a highly individual philosophy of life and existence that doesn’t adequately account for the genre’s popular appeal.

Without hazarding a guess of my own, I’d like to examine another response to this perennial question, a response suggested by the great horror auteur Mario Bava in his 1963 Gothic chiller The Whip and the Body. Unlike the above proposed explanations, The Whip and the Body centers a very simple and uncomplicated experience at the locus of the horror genre: that of pleasure. A strange kind of pleasure, to be sure, that derives itself from immersion in negative emotions, from scenes of death and degradation, from abject misery and anguish—but pleasure all the same. In short, the pleasures of masochism, that curious disposition that finds gratification and fulfillment in the darkest of places.

Masochism is, indeed, what this suggestively titled picture has been most remembered for, owing to the numerous cuts demanded upon its release by various censorship boards in multiple nations. Its unsubtle allusions to “degenerations and anomalies of sexual life,” as a Roman court declared in 1963, occasioned the butchering of the 91 minute film into a nearly incomprehensible 77 minute international cut, released in the United States with the fittingly perplexing new title of What!. This furor was mostly due to an early scene in which the female protagonist Nevenka (Daliah Lavi) submits to an erotically charged lashing from her former paramour, the imperious Kurt Menliff (Christopher Lee). This brief sequence, in combination with its winking title, accounts for The Whip and the Body’s reputation as a playfully kinky, if otherwise fairly standard and by-the-numbers, Italian Gothic of the early sixties. It’s not received nearly as much discussion as the consensus-held masterpieces of Bava’s oeuvre (Black Sunday, Blood and Black Lace, Bay of Blood, and Black Sabbath among them), and when it does, the sexual current of the film is spoken of mostly as if it were a gimmick, teased at in a few superficially titillating scenes but overall subordinate to the director’s stylishly gloomy atmospherics.

See the source image

It’s true that the slight scenes of masochism in The Whip and the Body are quite tame by today’s standards, hitting nowhere near the level of explicitness or perversity that would come to be regular fare in exploitation films only a few years later. Indeed, following that initial whipping scene, Nevenka’s sexual proclivities are hardly ever addressed—or at least directly represented—again, outside of a few scant moments and mentions. It’s presumably this reticence, or even potential disinterest, in probing the extremes of its implications that has led many critics to ignore or significantly downplay the sexual tensions of the film, instead preferring to situate it within Bava’s overall oeuvre by addressing its familiar motifs. But to do so is to fail to recognize that masochism is integral to the very texture of the film: that in truth it is the film’s principal subject, in ways far more fundamental and interesting than the mere surface play of its meager erotic scenes.

The narrative of The Whip and the Body is very simple. Kurt, the eldest son of the Count Menliff (Gustavo de Nardo), has been exiled for his entanglement with the servant girl Tania, a dismal affair that ended in the girl’s suicide. Kurt had been engaged to the beautiful Nevenka; in his absence, she marries his younger brother Christian (Tony Kendall) instead. One dark night Kurt returns, distressing the entire family, most especially the mother of the servant girl (Harriet Medin), who longs for Kurt’s death. He coldly offers his congratulations to Nevenka and Christian, but he obviously wishes to reassert his place in both the nobility and Nevenka’s heart. On a dusky beach, he reinstates their sadomasochistic entanglement, flogging her with a riding crop, reigniting in her a confused disorder of passions she had hoped to leave behind. But that very night, in a highly oblique and mysterious series of events, Kurt is murdered by an unknown culprit. Quite shortly after his death, his ghost begins to stalk the castle, leading Christian to investigate the mysterious circumstances of his murder and ultimately culminating in tragedy for Nevenka.

See the source image

On the surface, this reads like a stock Gothic plot, with only the barest hint of sexual sleaze to differentiate it from any other number of lurid Italian productions of the day. And it’s true that the plot is probably the very least interesting thing about The Whip and the Body, the element that feels the most underdeveloped and unrealized. At times, when it focuses on Christian’s quest to determine the murderer, it can even feel laborious, merely a series of ponderously paced generic machinations to provide a flimsy canvas for Bava’s aesthetic sensibility. It’s hard to fault those who take issue with the somnambulant slowness of such predictable and well-worn genre clichés. The inventiveness and enthusiasm of the visual craft does not extend to the details of the screenplay.

But the film finds an emotional and thematic key in the personage of Daliah Lavi. Her performance as Nevenka is so completely absorbing that she even manages to upstage the great Christopher Lee, who by comparison comes off as stodgy and wooden. (In all fairness, the horrendous dubbing endemic to Italian films of the period can’t be helping.) In a production full of cardboard cut-out horror movie stereotypes, the psychological intensity and uneasy ambiguity of Lavi’s role emerges with startling force. It is in her that the film locates its dark core.

For even though it is only overtly addressed in the early scene on the beach, the performance makes it clear that Nevenka’s masochism permeates every aspect of her being. Her reaction to the haunting has a troubling ambivalence unfamiliar to the Gothic heroine of more conventional stories. Lavi intentionally acts in a manner that blurs the distinction between gasps of fright and moans of pleasure; when she shivers, it’s uncertain whether it’s out of fear or exhilaration. Terrified glances become indistinguishable from desirous ones. This is The Whip and the Body’s real surprise: not the shallow tease of skin, but the sense that the horror is not inimical to, and perhaps even willed by, the person who we assumed was its victim.

See the source image

Consider the film’s most frightening scene, a nocturnal visitation from Menliff’s ghost to Lavi’s bedchamber. After an extended period of excruciating build-up, during which the doorknob gradually turns at the touch of an unseen hand and Menliff’s silhouette (bearing the same riding crop) looms before the window, we are treated to the terrifying image of his hand slowly extending toward her—toward us—out of the darkness. She screams, but instead of running away, she rolls onto her back, in an attitude of eager submission identical to that from the beach scene. The hand caresses her cruelly, commandingly, before tearing her nightgown open. These are the gestures of sadomasochistic theater as much as they are thrills in a horror set piece. The fact that this sequence acts as a double of the earlier erotic encounter on the beach points to the dissolution of boundaries between death and desire, pain and pleasure, horror and fascination that the film will affect even further in subsequent scenes.

The truth is that Nevenka does not seem to feel fear at all in response to Kurt’s return from the grave—or more accurately that her fear is indissoluble from, indeed synonymous with, her happiness. For her the haunting is not a curse or a nightmare, but a state of sexual fulfillment; the horror movie villain is not an antagonist, but the enforcer of her repressed desires. Over time, we come to see Kurt as servicing Nevenka rather than terrorizing her. Certainly, he seems to at least understand her more than the supposedly virtuous Christian, who Nevenka witnesses engaging in an adulterous rendezvous with another woman. Heartbroken as much by his hypocrisy as by his betrayal, she flees to a private room, where Menliff’s specter appears next to her in a mirror. She cowers and falls on the bed, where he whips her once more, more brutally than ever, but despite her theatrical protestations, she is quite discernibly and unequivocally moaning in sexual ecstasy, even smiling. “I’ve come for you,” Menliff tells her, in another telling double entendre. Quite contrary to the menacing threat we might typically interpret in such a statement, the implication is almost poignantly romantic. He has come for her, for her benefit, to serve her, because he knows this will make her happy, happier than she could ever be with the dull and proper Christian. For her, dread and pain are inseparable from joy and eroticism. Kurt’s aggressive resurrection, by which he can exert total terror and dominance over her, thus presents the most complete realization of the masochistic scenario possible. And it is my contention that this masochism implicitly doubles and illuminates the pleasure we as audiences often take in horror as a genre: we are drawn to these macabre scenes and ghastly experiences for themselves, not in spite of their negative emotions but because of them, because we find in them a pure and indefinable gratification loosely analogous to the sexual titillation the masochist takes in pain.

For clarity’s sake, it might be worth briefly contrasting this with a diametrically opposed but curiously complimentary philosophy explored in Michael Haneke’s infamous home invasion experiment Funny Games (1997). The young torturers in Funny Games have also come “for us,” the audience: the horrific violence they enact upon an unsuspecting bourgeois family is for our entertainment as viewers, an awareness rendered chillingly clear through a number of Brechtian fourth wall breaks. In this way Haneke aims to expose, explore, and critique what he understands as the audience’s sadistic voyeurism, evidently the underlying fantasy not only of many a horror film but of numerous forms of media consumption relating to images of violence. But what we find in The Whip and the Body seems to suggest that this claim is limited, at least when it comes to the horror genre. Bava instead proposes a masochistic understanding of spectatorship, predicated on identification with the victim rather than with the killer. We come not to terrorize, but to be terrorized; our pleasure is not derived from the thought of inflicting violence on others, but from experiencing the fear and agony of being subjected to violence at a physical remove. We do not align ourselves with the hollow coldness of the sadistic Menliff, who doesn’t even have enough personality to securely latch onto, but with Nevenka’s dark and heated passions, her inexplicable lust for pain. The terror she experiences is a crucial part of the thrill, the central and consensual term both of her unspoken contract with Menliff and our contract as viewers with a filmmaker: she wants this, and so do we.

Viewed through this lens, the whole of Bava’s filmic style takes on an almost subversive new meaning. The creaky trappings of old dark house pictures are reframed as the fetishistic signifiers of a totalized perverse fantasy: the fluttering curtains that bind and strangle Menliff before his death; the sinuous hanging branches that grope and choke the shadowy mise-en-scène of the ancestral vault; the darkened passageways, sliced by slats of icy light, that come to resemble the internal passageways of the human body. The more her madness progresses, the more Nevenka herself seems to merge with this environment, which comes to feel closer to a fearsome emanation of her ghastly desires than anything else. When Christian discovers her swooning in Menliff’s crypt late in the film, the panting sighs she emits as she languishes on the stone floor are more suggestive of necrophiliac euphoria than the shock of a kidnapping victim. The men are baffled, try to impose explanations, but she remains steadfast in her solitary quest. And Bava recognizes that, at least in art, this obscene pursuit has an inevitably suicidal terminus. The ending, which goes so far as to suggest that the ghost may have been a hallucinatory manifestation of Nevenka’s desires the entire time, finds her plunging a dagger into her breast, to Christian’s great horror. But this penetration is also a consummation, and she expires with the stamp of contentment on her face. “Let’s hope she’s free of him forever,” Christian mournfully remarks, but the final shot of hellish flames blazing over the smouldering remains of the riding crop suggests that her violent delights may not be extinguished even in death.

An exemplary early sequence, just as the haunting is beginning, shows Nevenka wandering the midnight corridors of the castle, drawn by an unusual sound to a heavy wooden door at the end of the hall. Bava intercuts between shots of the door and ever-intensifying close-ups of Lavi’s face as she approaches. Light and shadow play so delicately across her features that we’re unable to clearly identify her expression. We hear her quick, short pants of agitation, but it is impossible to tell if her mouth is curling in a grimace or a smile, if her widened eyes suggest building anxiety or yearning anticipation. By the time she is turning the handle the tension has reached an almost unbearable pitch, but, as any horror fan knows, the sickening frisson of suspense is also a source of ardent excitement. What lies beyond that door? Her worst nightmare? Or her darkest desire? The singular pleasure of The Whip and the Body is to suggest that there is no difference.

by Brian O’Connell

Brian O’Connell is a writer living in New York. He has been published by Plutonian PressMuzzleland Press, and Planet X Publications. He regularly cohosts the podcast Celluloid Citizens with Sean M. Thompson.

Hymns of Abomination Available in Paperback

“Hymns of Abomination is a vivid, communal nightmare. A fitting tribute to a contemporary master of the weird.”

Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase

Cover art by Yves Tourigny 

Finally, after a delayed paperback release, Hymns of Abomination: Secret Songs of Leeds is available in all its glory. This is our fully illustrated, 388 page tribute anthology to the work of Matthew M. Bartlett, and it’s packed with talent. Here is the full TOC:

“Let Us Fly and Feast, Like Winged Slugs: Some notes on Matthew M. Bartlett” by s.j. bagley

“Northampton’s Favorite Son” by Yves Tourigny

“Open Call” by Aksel Dadswell

12 Entries from “Anne Gare’s Rare and Import Video Catalogue” by Jonathan Raab beginning here and appearing throughout

“Dead in September” by Farah Rose Smith

“Suddenly my House Became a Tree of Sores” by Gemma Files

“Puppy Milk” by B.R. Yeager

“A Delicate Spreading” by Scott R. Jones

“Stump-Water” by Christine Morgan

“I Could Tell You So Much” by S.P. Miskowski

“The Beat of Wings” by Betty Rocksteady

“Missives from the House on Crabtree Lane” by Joanna Parypinski

“The House of Lost Sisters” by L.C. von Hessen

“Crawl of the West” by Cody Goodfellow

“There Will Always be Men Like Johnny” by Hailey Piper

“The WXXT Podcast, Episode 23: Leeds Regional High School” by Tom Breen

“On Hunger Hills” by John Linwood Grant

“Station Maintenance” by Pete Rawlik

“Seven Second Delay: in Which Terrible Things Happen to Tender Young Girls” by Jill Hand

“All Your Fathers Dead and Gone” by K.H. Vaughan

“Itemized Human Sacrifices, q4” by Sean M. Thompson and Cheshire Trask

“What Am I?” by S.L. Edwards

“Leaving Leeds” by Brian Evenson

“Father Ezekiel Shineface Sermon Hour” by Jon Padgett

“Uncle Bart’s Map” by John Langan

Welcome to Leeds! Pick up your copy today!

Illustration from Hymns of Abomination

From the back cover: 

Welcome to Hymns of Abomination: Secret Songs of Leeds, an anthology of fiction compiled to celebrate the work of Matthew M. Bartlett.

Bartlett is a beloved voice in contemporary weird fiction known for his richly nightmarish tales of Leeds, a fictionalized version of a village that’s part of Northampton, MA. What began as Livejournal posts circulated among friends in the early 2000’s, Bartlett’s short, macabre, and imaginative yarns found their way into Gateways to Abomination, a collection that swept the small world of weird fiction into giddy delirium. Since then, Bartlett has continued to influence writers and readers alike with his dark, grotesque, and tantalizing tales.

This book is packed with weird fiction and horror writers, both established and new, who have been invited to play in Bartlett’s imaginative sandbox. Featuring all original tales from John Langan, Gemma Files, Brian Evenson, S.P. Miskowski, and many more, Hymns of Abomination burrows deeper into nightmarish Leeds than is safe. This volume is a must for fans of Bartlett and horror fiction in general.

Illustration from Hymns of Abomination

About the Editor

Justin A. Burnett is the author of The Puppet King and Other Atonements, to be published by Trepidatio Publishing in 2022. He’s also the Executive Editor of Silent Motorist Media, a weird fiction publisher responsible for the creation of the anthologies Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh, which was named best multi-author anthology of 2019 by Rue Morgue magazine, The Nightside Codex, and Hymns of Abomination, a tribute to the work of Matthew M. Bartlett. His quarterly chapbook, Mysterium Tremendum, explores the intersection between horror and the holy. He currently lives in Austin, Texas, with his partner and children.

10 Weird Writers to Save Us Call For Nominations

For the past three years (see our 2018, 2019, and 2020 lists), we’ve been honored to publish a list of “10 Weird Writers to Save Us All,” wherein we celebrate weird  writers who might’ve missed recognition by more popular media entities. There’s no better opportunity to put your favorite writers in the spotlight!

How do we choose these writers? We don’t. You do!

Public nominations will be open until September 1st, 2021, and winners will be voted on by a panel of anonymous writers, editors, and other individuals connected to horror, weird, and bizarro fiction. The final list will be published here, with a short description of each author based on your comments and our research.

The Rules:

As a reader, you may nominate up to three weird writers by emailing your selection to Please feel encouraged to explain your choices briefly, since your comments will be presented to the panel for consideration during the vote. Please share this announcement as well, since sharing = more exposure for these hardworking authors, and that’s the whole point of this list. Please do not nominate yourself, since self-nominations will be disregarded.

We can’t wait to see your nominations!