What to read (and watch) if you liked Nightmare Alley ‹ Literary Hub

alley of nightmares reunited (albeit briefly) Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and for that we are eternally grateful. Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of William Gresham’s 1946 novel about the shadowy world of carnivals and tricksters is up for four Oscars: Best Picture, Cinematography, Production Design and Costume Design, indicating just how the film is visually appealing, a trademark of del Toro. (Notably, the star-studded cast didn’t give a nod.) No one knows how it will turn out on Sunday night, but more importantly: Did Lilith and Molly run away together?


The key to a good scam is to get things done quickly – pause too long to collect your thoughts or give additional information and you’ll end up showing your notes exactly how you play them. alley of nightmares, Guillermo del Toro’s sizzling new film about a devious carnival peddler-turned-famous mentalist, doesn’t follow its own guidelines for pacing or economy; it’s too slow and too long (150 minutes) and by the end of the movie you’ll have counted enough of its seams to mistake it for a striped marquee tent.

But that’s not such a big sin, because the movie doesn’t try to trick its audience into thinking it’s something it’s not; ultimately, the story is about nurturing the self-sabotaging desire to show your hand. “People are desperate to tell you who they are,” says a fake psychic character, about how easy it is to “read” participating audience members during an act. As such, rather than firing rounds, alley of nightmares spends his time watching his main character stir up the contradiction between wanting to scam everyone and also wanting to be seen for the scammer he really is.

It’s easy to see why alley of nightmares ended so long; who can resist this source material? Based on the gripping 1946 novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham (which was adapted into a superb noir starring Tyrone Power the following year), del Toro’s version, which he co-wrote with Kim Morgan , delves into the seedy and sordid world of Carney’s life for a first act that is almost the length of a feature film. (keep reading)



catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can, real. Steven Spielberg (2002)
Stream it on: Amazon Prime

I’ll just come out and say I hated alley of nightmares, even though it did feature a 1940s-style Cate Blanchett, and that’s kind of an accomplishment. This didcorn, make me think of a masterpiece of the old-fashioned crook genre, which is Catch Me If You Can, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the true story by Frank Abagnale, Jr. Starring a very handsome Leonardo Dicaprio, Tom Hanks on a mission to catch him, Christopher Walken as the father you can’t help but love, and a (beautifully stylized) view of life before air travel was torture, it’s one of the most captivating and entertaining movies I’ve ever seen. If you found alley of nightmaresthe engaging suspense-driven plot, you might like this one even more. –Corinne Segal, editor-in-chief

Geeky love, Katherine Dunn

Katherine Dun, geek love

Anyone with even a passing interest in the megalomaniacs, gothic Americana, and family grotesques of the Dust Bowl-era traveling carnival circuit should put that poor chicken down and pick up a copy of geek love. Katherine Dunn’s brilliant 1989 novel is the story of Olympia “Oly” Binewski, a hunchbacked albino dwarf whose eccentric parents set out to create their own freak show using various drugs and radiation to alter their children’s genes. . Oly’s siblings include handsome conjoined twins Elly and Iphy, the sweet-natured psychic Chick and the despotic “Aqua Boy” Arty, whose amputation-based cult of “artuism” threatens to devour the unheimlich Eden of his family. As weird as you think this all sounds, trust me, it’s even weirder. People have been trying to bring this to the screen for 30 years, and it just might not be possible. –Dan Sheehan, Editor of Book Marks

Alley of Nightmares (1947)

alley of nightmares, real. Edmund Goulding (1947)

Maybe this entry seems a little obvious, but my whole deal is asking people to watch original versions of remade movies, so I’m going to suggest it anyway. If you haven’t seen Edmund Goulding’s Noir, I invite you to do so. –Olivia Rutigliano, associate editor of CrimeReads


Chronos, dir. Guillermo del Toro (1993)
Stream it on: HBO Max, Amazon Prime

What alley of nightmares Lacking in surprise, del Toro’s feature debut (as writer and director) delivers in spades. The story of an affable antique dealer grandfather who inadvertently becomes a vampire, Chronos is tense, macabre, charmingly low-budget, and hosts excellent performances from two del Toro favorites, Federico Luppi and Ron Perlman, and the watchful young granddaughter. It’s set at Christmas to make the most of its religious connotations, so keep that in mind for an unconventional holiday watch. –Eliza Smith, Special Projects Editor

Mira Ptacin, The in-betweens

Mira Ptacine, The In-between: Spiritualists, Mediums and Etna Camp Legends

If you liked alley of nightmares for occult aspects, check out Mira Ptacin’s The in-betweena captivating exploration of Camp Etna – a long-standing Spiritist community in Maine – and a history of the roots of Spiritism in America. The in-between is not about scammers but about the nature of belief, and how phenomena like mediumship have given women the ability to speak (which is particularly ironic, given who speaks the most in alley of nightmares). –ES


The underrated genius of William Lindsay Gresham alley of nightmaresThe false spirit medium, the American Scientist editor and his wife • For decades, carnival shows have been an ‘alley of nightmares’The crooks and scammers of alley of nightmaresWhy spiritualism persists in our fictions and our culture • Spectacles and circuses: six novels that define the carnival genre.

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