Horror, Nature, and Polish Cinema in Sand & Fury

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Generoso and I rarely write about works that have almost identical characters and themes. Perhaps it’s the nature of the medium we each focus on, or perhaps it’s the time period, but in general we seldom manage to cross paths.

Consequently, when I picked up Sand & Fury a few days before our cross country move, I would have never guessed that the book would somewhat be an adaptation and expansion on Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout and the Robert Graves poem it adapted.

Cover of Sand & Fury

Whereas Alan Bates’s Crossley character in The Shout remains for the most part an enigma, his female screaming/shouting counterpart in Ho Che Anderson’s Sand & Fury receives a full character development treatment in the graphic novel. Our unnamed female lead carries a scream that brings death onto a person destined to die. Though her supernatural skills make her somewhat of a grim reaper, this angel of death is unwillingly on duty for someone else’s reign of terror; she has met and interacted with all of the victims of the the summer Hammer Killer, and all of these victims hear the angel’s scream right before the Hammer Killer strikes.

Consequently, the moments with the victims before the scream and before the Hammer Killer’s fatal blow haunt our grim reaper. To make matters worse, she let the Hammer Killer escape death from her scream once upon a time. She undoubtedly lives a horrific reality, but flashes of the angel’s previous life weave in and out of the current time, and gradually we understand that our reaper’s existence and all of the sadness and terror she must come to terms with stems from her hedonistic and selfish past.

Unlike some supernatural spirit directly out of the mouth of the underworld, this grim reaper once lived on Earth. A shark-like businesswoman and human being over all, she preyed on others’ emotions to reach her goals. Ranging from business partners to lovers to spouses, she chewed them up and spit them out with her philosophy of existence consisting of solely reckless hedonism unchecked by morality, loyalty, or any crumb of selflessness.

Though her pleasure seeking methods for the most part worked, she crossed paths with Elio Angermeyer, her boss, and after a long winded affair and a promotion, she also threw him aside, but alas, he was the wrong one to toss away. In a moment of pure wrath, Elio murdered the human predecessor to our angel of death and buried her in the desert; however, nature had something else planned for her, and when a rancher’s boy discovers her body and unearths it, she is unconscious but alive. When she wakes from her coma, she emits a scream that kills the family that discovers and begins her life as the angel of death bearing the fatal scream.

Loosely structured with fragments of various moments of time weaved together out of sequence, Sand & Fury experiments with the narrative structure to slowly reveal our angel of death’s connection to the Hammer Killer, but the reveal of this mystery lives in the shadow of the strength of the narrative: its ability to develop a rich understanding of why our unnamed reaper possesses her difficult power.

Toward the last third of the novel, our angel of death meets another screamer , Lydia Philadelphia and asks why they have the powers they do, and Lydia replies with, “It’s our burden.” In that simple and vague statement combined with the moments of the reaper’s past, we begin to understand that her current existence as the reaper and thus all of the awful moments she has to witness and prompt serve as an atonement to nature for her evil ways on earth before she died. The unnamed reaper carried no burden despite her cruel actions toward other people in her life, and after her mortal death, she now must carry the burden of the force of death.

Ho Che Anderson fills Sand & Fury with unnervingly horrific ideas, some which are realistic and others which are supernatural, and together, they succeed in what horror does best: understanding the truth behind human behavior under the most intense terror and duress. To further heighten each moment of terror, Anderson transitions his art style from a more flat black-and-white style to a more realistic black-and-white drawing style with splashes of red anytime blood is spilled, making each moment of violence more painful for the reader and for our grim reaper as well.

An example of the Black, White, and Red Illustration Style

With his narrative and visual form, Anderson alludes plenty of film styles, especially those of gialos and film noirs, but alas, his style in Sand & Fury most closely parallels that of Andrzej Żuławski’s in Possession with his use of hyperbolic moments of violence, fantasy, and horror and frenetic energy to better understand human existence. Whereas Possession uses horror to capture a spouse’s fears and sentiments about an infidelity, Anderson uses the same devices to understand karma-like forces, which restore balance to the world and to individual lives.

With the tale of the unnamed grim reaper in the Sand & Fury, we realize, as with The Shout, that as much as we feel we have control over our own environment and existence, forces exist (be it karma, God, Mother Earth, or the god and goddesses on Mount Olympus) that have their own plans for us, especially if we live only to please ourselves without any regard for others and even more so if we believe we can live beyond the grasp of their powers.

Sand & Fury by Ho Che Anderson is available via Fantagraphics Books.

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